Although it had only taken Aina a handful of minutes, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, to reach the central spire, the fighting had already begun by the time she arrived. Five Soviet magical girls with matching red sailor fuku swooped through the air, carried by the peregrine falcon wings that sprouted from their shoulders. They flew in well-practiced formations, dodging and counterattacking at opportune moments. They faced three poorly-coordinated opponents. One was dressed in military fatigues, and sported brightly-colored wings; one wore medieval plate armor and wielded a broadsword, the combined weight of which was barely kept aloft by her large, angel-like wings; and the last was Kiyoshi’s younger sister, whom Aina had knocked unconscious only a few weeks prior. These three, Aina reasoned, had probably beaten her to the battlefield by teleporting, which very few magical girls were powerful enough to do. That the Soviet magical girls were keeping them at bay suggested they were evenly matched.
Further away from the tower, Aina spotted Koharu conversing with two magical girls under the protection of a barrier. From her current vantage, Aina couldn’t make out the details of the other two, as they were partially obscured by Koharu’s wings. It was the first time she had seen Koharu transformed, and she was impressed by the size of Koharu’s wings. They were large black swan wings, with white feathers on the tips. Like most magical girls with large wings, she couldn’t fold her wings to her side in the same way the birds that inspired them did, so she spread them out so that they wouldn’t drag on the floor.
Aina was tempted to join the fray immediately, but she knew that it was more important to coordinate with Koharu. As more allies arrived, the battle should turn in their favor anyway, and getting them into the central spire should be the priority.
“…but we were never able to control the reaction,” Aina heard one of the magical girls say as she jumped down from a building just outside the barrier. “We don’t know if it’s self-sustaining or if the damage is proportional to the mahou energy used.”
“If we’re not careful, we could be doing the Soviets’ job for them,” Koharu said solemnly.
Aina interrupted the conversation by tapping gently on the barrier. “Gokigenyou. May I come in?” Koharu craned her head to look at Aina, and then lowered the barrier, simultaneously creating a slightly larger barrier around them all.
“Arigatou for asking,” Koharu acknowledged. She knew Aina could have just taken down the barrier if she wanted. “You like killing mahou shoujo, ne? Help yourself to the Soviets.”
“I’m actually here to get you into the spire,” Aina informed her as she walked around Koharu’s side to join the conversation. To her surprise, she recognized both of the other magical girls. One was the medic she had met before. The other…
“Omae!” gasped the third magical girl. “You’re supposed to be shindeiru.”
“Ohisashiburi, Ikue-san,” Aina greeted her with as much sincerity as she could muster. It had taken her a few moments to remember the woman’s real name. She had never interacted with her much, and her parents had always referred to her as Experiment Roku. “I never got the opportunity to thank you for defending the lab.”
“Don’t mention it,” Ikue said, shifting her gaze away from Aina. Of all the magical girls housed at Aina’s parents’ lab, Ikue was the most cooperative, and the only one allowed to wander the lab freely. When the lab had come under attack, she had freed as many other magical girls as she could, but they all fled, abandoning the researchers to their fate. If they had fought, Aina’s parents might still be alive.
“It’s good to see you again,”Aina greeted the medic with a curtsy.
“You said you could get us into the tower?” Koharu interrupted. “How?”
“I can punch holes in the GINZUISHOU,” Aina explained.
“Bakana,” Koharu scoffed.
“Naomi-sama taught me the technique.”
“I believe her,” Ikue said, “but I don’t feel good about working with her.”
“Naze?” asked Koharu.
“Ikue-san,” Aina said through an obviously forced smile, “remember the rule.”
“The rule? Demo, your parents are dead, surely that rule—”
“I’m afraid I have to insist,” Aina cut her off. “It’s for your protection as much as mine.”
“Let’s just say it’s personal,” Ikue told Koharu.
“I wakaru,” Koharu said. “Demo, if she can get us in safely, I’m going with her.”
“Dare else are we waiting for?” Aina asked.
“We need to get in as quickly as possible,” Koharu stated. “There are only roku of them, and individually, we’re stronger.
“Can you fight?” Aina directed the question to the medic.
“Not on that level,” she gestured towards the fight taking place above them, “but I wield powerful protection mahou, which should benefit everyone except you.”
“Are you with us?” Koharu asked Ikue.
“She is,” Aina insisted. “Ikue-san, gomen for what happened before, but I was a kodomo. We both came here to defend this machi, and we shouldn’t let our past get in the way of that.”
“OK,” Ikue agreed, “but I’m going to be watching you.”
With the personal drama resolved, Koharu began issuing orders. “When I drop the kekkai, we make a run for the spire. How long will it take you to open a hole for us?”
“Ii. Don’t worry about anything else. Just get it open. We’ll protect you in the meantime. There shouldn’t be any resistance at the bottom of the tower, but I’ll go in first just in case.”
“Nani about Dai-jyuu Kohei Daitai?” Aina inquired. “Any chance they’ll mistake us as teki?”
“We don’t have to worry about that,” Koharu frowned. “They were zenmetsu. You’ll follow me,” she told her medic, “and the ni of you will defend the entrance until minna is inside. Ready?”
Koharu dropped the barrier and they all ran towards the tower. The Soviet magical girls noticed, and one of them dove to intercept the group. Aina increased her pace to reach the tower ahead of the rest. Two of the Soviets cast barriers between her and the spire, but Aina ran through them as if they weren’t there. She didn’t look back to see how the group was handling the Soviet who had dived at them. True to her word, Koharu shielded Aina from the spells that rained down on her. When Aina reached the wall, she slammed her fist into it, and the GINZUISHOU retracted, but the hole was only large enough for her arm to pass through. She punched with her other arm, and it, too, created a small hole.
Omoshiroi, Aina mused. Looks like it doesn’t fear me as much as it used to. Or perhaps it also fears the mahou shoujo inside? I wonder dare it fears more? Pushing with her spiritual energy, she was able to widen the hole large enough to easily walk in. It appeared the GINZUISHOU found her more frightening. However, the interior of the spire was completely smooth. The rooms and stairs had been removed.
“Dame,” Aina shouted back to her allies. “She has control of the tower. There’s no way to ascend from inside. We’ll need to enter from the top.”
“Fuck,” Koharu swore. “We need to take care of them first, and fast, but the one inside is stronger than the rest combined. I’m going to need to save my chikara for her, so it will be up to the rest of you.”
“She already has control of the GINZUISHOU,” Aina pointed out. “The quicker we beat them the better. We can gang up on the remaining one.”
“Too risky,” came Koharu’s assessment.
“Arguing isn’t going to solve anything,” Ikue pointed out. “Henshin!”
Everyone else instinctively covered their eyes as Ikue transformed. By the time they dared look, she had already taken to the sky, beating her jade-colored wings to ascend to battle. Two of the Soviets shot bolts of magical energy at Ikue. Knowing that if she dodged, the attacks would hit the group she left behind, Ikue summoned a barrier around herself and absorbed the hits. Defensive spells typically beat offensive spells of similar strength, which was one reason the fight had been going for so long without any casualties.
“If you can lure them lower, I can disable their kekkai,” Aina told Koharu. She could probably assault them with her spiritual energy at their current height, but if they ascended higher, they would be out of her reach.
Without responding directly, Koharu put two fingers to her mouth and whistled. The magical girl in military fatigues disengaged from fighting as quickly as she could and swooped down, dodging attacks along the way. One of the Soviets followed her down, but only one. Aina jumped up to meet her, and the Soviet flared her wings to pull out of her dive. She beat her wings hard to try to ascend before Aina could catch her, but Aina grabbed her around her waist.
“Get off of me, you capitalist monkey,” the magical girl grunted. She pulled an arm back to punch Aina in the head, but Aina quickly let go of the girl and grabbed her arm, swung herself below the girl’s wing, let go once more, and wrapped her arms around the girl’s neck from behind. “Are you crazy?” she complained. “I can’t fly like this. I’ll survive the—”
Aina slid the blade of Chikako’s prog knife across the girl’s throat. Immediately, the girl brought her hand up to her neck and began casting a healing spell on herself, but Aina poked the knife into her hand and started disrupting the flow of the girl’s magical energy with her own spiritual energy. The Soviets above then began casting their own healing spells, but Aina used her spiritual energy to pull herself and the magical girl she was holding backwards, rotating them in the air so that the tops of their heads were facing towards the ground. The healing spells hit the magical girl in her legs, and she and Aina began to plunge downward. The Soviets took aim again, and Aina began to spin them around like a cyclone, making the cut in her neck a more difficult target to hit. Just before they hit the ground, Aina jumped off the magical girl and flipped to land on her feet. The girl landed head first and fell onto her back. Her comrades, however, had managed to hit her with a protection spell just before impact, and were now casting more powerful healing spells to revive her.
“Hold her down!” Shouted the heavily-armored magical girl as she fell from the sky. She hit the ground hard and fell to one knee, but was quickly standing again. Koharu and her subordinate grabbed the fallen Soviet by the arms and forced her to her knees, locking her arms behind her so that she faced the ground. The armored magical girl swung her broadsword and decapitated the captured Soviet.
Enraged by the death of her comrade, one of the Soviets roared and dove at the group on the ground, peppering them with wide-area spells. “Don’t!” the others all yelled. Koharu didn’t even bother erecting barriers against the spells, but her medic cast protection spells on everyone except Aina, who was seemingly unaffected. Kiyoshi’s sister followed the angered Soviet down, and the three remaining Soviets, recognizing the lost cause they faced, retreated to higher altitudes. The lone Soviet didn’t stand a chance one-on-seven, and she was soon restrained, but before she could become the broadsword’s second victim of the day, the trio of Soviets in the sky began to sing.
The restrained girl’s body began to glow with a bright aura, and with newfound strength, she threw off her captors. Koharu tried to place a barrier between her and the singing trio, but the sound of their song traveled through it, continuing to invigorate their comrade. Still blinded with rage, and now feeling overconfident, the Soviet didn’t try to escape, but attacked as the song continued.
“Nani kore?” Kiyoshi’s sister yelled. “That’s an anison, not a Soviet ballad.”
“This machi is the only place in the sekai where mahou shoujo are born,” Aina shouted back. “Even when kidnapped and brainwashed, their mahou is still tied to this place.”
“Oi! Teme.” Kiyoshi’s sister exclaimed, recognizing Aina for the first time. “We have unfinished business.”
“Handle your personal issues later,” Koharu ordered. Aina was glad that Koharu was keeping a good poker face in front of Kiyoshi’s sister.
“Abunai!” Ikue called out. The Soviet magical girl had been snagged by magical ropes cast by Koharu’s subordinate, and was channeling all of her magical energy into one last suicidal attack. The armored girl attempted to slice into her, but was repulsed by her magical energy. Aina rushed forward and grabbed the girl. Holding her tight, she leapt into the air, and Koharu cast a barrier around those who remained on the ground. The Soviet continued to charge her energy and wrapped her arms around Aina, preventing her from escaping as she detonated herself. The other Soviets flew even higher to avoid the blast. Aina was thrown by the force of the explosion, falling onto the street a few meters away. She managed to shield herself with her spiritual energy, but she had had trouble channeling it to her hands, which had been wrapped around the magical girl’s back, and her gloves had been blown apart.
“Baka!” Koharu yelled at Aina. “We need you to get into the spire. Let someone else play the hero.”
Aina was about to argue, but the words caught in her throat. She could only point to the top of the spire. The walls and ceiling of the Crystal Palace had disappeared. From their current position, they couldn’t see the magical girl standing at the GINZUISHOU’s control terminal, but they could see the beam of magical energy emanating from her body. Glowing black and red energy mixed together in a solid column of magic which travelled from the Crystal Palace to the northeast, where it collided with the outer wall of the GINZUISHOU. From there, the energy slowly leaked into the GINZUISHOU, burning it away as it spread.
Aina and her allies shielded their eyes as, for the first time in their lives, they were exposed to direct sunlight.