Chapter 26

Earlier

Doko’s the meido?” Koharu asked as the four other magical girls joined her. They all landed on the west edge of the tower, five or six meters away from the Soviet, and unobstructed by the wall she had erected earlier. The Soviet kept her eyes locked on them, but her right hand continued to shoot dark magic at the northeast wall of the GINZUISHOU, and her left hand rested on the control terminal.

“We don’t need her,” Ikue, Kiyoshi’s sister, and the armored girl answered.

“In case you didn’t notice, she’s good at getting through kekkai and the GINZUISHOU,” Koharu shot back. “We could use that right now.”

“You want me to get her?” her subordinate asked.

“On the double,” Koharu replied.

The subordinate flexed her wings to take off, but the Soviet removed her hand from the control terminal and materialized magical ropes from the tips of her fingers, entangling the subordinate. Seizing on the opportunity, Koharu circled around the GINZUISHOU wall the Soviet had put up between them, but the Soviet slammed her hand back onto the control terminal, erecting another GINZUISHOU wall. Her magical ropes flickered out of existence, but at the same time, the GINZUISHOU grew over the subordinate’s legs, locking her to the ground.

“Get into the air!” the subordinate yelled. The four other magical girls beat their wings to take off, but the armored magical girl, weighed down more than the others, was caught in the same way as the subordinate. Gripping her broadsword tightly by the hilt, she held it in front of herself and began to pray.

Kami wa watashi no tamashii wo kunou kara sukui, watashi no teki, watashi wo semeru mono wo kotogotoku uchikudaku. Sono shinjitsu no chuusei no naniote, watashi wa omae ni hofuku suru.

As she finished speaking, a radiant aura engulfed her sword and then spread across her body. She swung it at her own right foot, hoping to break through the GINZUISHOU holding her, but she was unable to damage it, and her sword chipped with each strike.

“Hold still,” Ikue advised. Flying high above them, she thrust her palms towards the two trapped magical girls, and the same black-red energy that was eating the GINZUISHOU emerged from her hands.

“Not yet,” Koharu countered, casting a barrier around Ikue which prevented the energy from reaching the GINZUISHOU. “Only as a last resort. We can still flush her out.” She cast an identical barrier around herself and flew to the other side of the spire. The Soviet was still blasting the GINZUISHOU with one hand, and she raised it, aiming the beam at Koharu. Koharu dodged around the beam and rushed directly for the Soviet. She moved quickly enough to bodyslam the Soviet before she could lower her arm or construct a barrier between them. As soon as the Soviet’s hand left the control console, the walls behind her melted into the floor, and the two girls were freed from its grasp.

Koharu’s subordinate quickly peeled away to fetch Aina, clearing the tower just in time to see Aina get sucked into it.


Breathe, the GINZUISHOU urged Aina. Breathe. Like LCL.

You mean it’s oxygenated? Aina asked the question without meaning to. As soon as the thought popped into her head, it was communicated to the GINZUISHOU.

Oxygenated? Tabun. You can breathe it.

I don’t trust you. Let me out now, or I’ll hurt you. Aina immediately released her spiritual energy into the GINZUISHOU, trying to push it away. She could feel the GINZUISHOU around her flow like water, and she tried to swim into it, but she had made it turbulent, and she found herself thrown around by her own spiritual energy. The GINZUISHOU opened and tossed Aina into the tower interior.

I saved you. Do you trust me now?

You didn’t save me, you released me. There’s nothing you can do to make me trust you enough to breathe you.

It’s easier to communicate when you are inside me.

Naze?

You will be closer and more connected to my core.

Just bring me to your core.

I also do not trust you.

Do you still have my spiritual energy? Transfer it to the spell that is eating you. Aina waited for a minute after making the suggestion before she got a response from the GINZUISHOU.

It extinguishes the fire. Give me more.

Not until we kill the one casting the spell. Otherwise, she’ll just attack you again.

Demo, she is my musume. Parents should not kill their kodomo.

Kodomo shouldn’t kill their parents, or each other. Demo, this is genjitsu. Your musume is an illogical ningen, and she’s forcing you to make an illogical ningen choice—a choice based on your short-term survival. Iie, it’s not just your survival, but the survival of your other kodomo.

I wakarimasen why she has betrayed us.

It’s not her fault. She was brainwashed by the Soviets.

Nani is brainwashing?

Would you wakaru if I called it cyberbrain hacking, but with a regular brain?

Hai, but cyberbrains don’t exist.

Naze is that?

Too dangerous. My primary function is to prevent the creation of anime concepts which are too dangerous to exist in the real sekai.

OK, we’re getting off topic. Look, even if the Soviets hadn’t brainwashed her, she or another might have sided against you for any number of reasons. It’s something ningen do. I’m not going to tell you that she’s no longer your musume, but because she betrayed you, you owe her no loyalty. The only logical choice is to save yourself and as many of your kodomo as you can.

Not necessarily the logical choice. You might be more dangerous to my kodomo than the Soviets. Perhaps I should side with them and kill you.

If you do that, I won’t be able to heal you.

I am not ningen. I can make choices to trade my short-term survival for better long-term outcomes.

So can some ningen.

Can you?

If the need arises, I believe I will. In the meantime, the Soviets want to destroy the entire machi, and your kodomo with it. I only want to kill those of your kodomo who are a threat to it. Siding with the Soviets against me is illogical.

You seem to want to save me. I will die without you regardless. I will trust you. Let us communicate.

From the ceiling of the tower, just below the control terminal of the Crystal Palace, the core of the GINZUISHOU descended. It hung like an uvula in front of Aina, who gently placed her hands on it. With a better connection, Aina found she could easily transfer the concepts of tribalism and brainwashing to the GINZUISHOU. It lacked the perspective to understand some of the finer points, but she could feel that it understood the big picture.

There is no hope for jinrui, the GINZUISHOU lamented.

There isn’t. Aina agreed.

Jya, naze do you even care what happens to this machi?

Not for our sake. For the gynoids. If they can be protected, in a few hundred years, Chikyuu will no longer be able to sustain life, and they will be able to flourish.

Naze do you care? You’ll be dead.

Perhaps it’s pride. You could say the gynoids are jinrui no kodomo. Iie, it’s more accurate to say we are their pupal stage. Think of it this way. All life is comprised of atoms that were assembled by the natural forces of the universe. As they evolved, lifeforms rearranged themselves and the sekai around them. No longer were the atoms of the universe ordered without intent. From this intent emerged ningen, and from ningen, sapience. Sapience allowed ningen to create philosophy, which allows them to act with meaning, not simply with intent. The gynoids have inherited philosophy from us, and they have the potential to overcome jinrui’s inherent weaknesses. I don’t know if there’s a level beyond sapience, but if they are capable of the kind of dispassionate, long-term thinking that we as a species are not, they might survive long enough to develop it.

According to your own memories, they are programmed to optimize for their own individual survival, just like ningen.

We programmed them that way. We have time to correct that mistake, and even if we don’t, they may gain the ability to reprogram themselves, or to bypass their own programming. Kusanagi-shousa claimed that the tachikoma’s individuality made them capable of self-sacrifice. I don’t know if that’s true, but if you can manifest abstract concepts from anime into this sekai, perhaps you can make it so. The gynoids already have individuality in spades.

You would have them become the atarashii jinrui, but they may not want that.

On some level, I think they know it is their unmei to carry forward the will and the memory of jinrui. That’s why Sena-chan is so obsessed with understanding humor. Once we are gone, anything they don’t possess will be lost forever.

It may be better to kill all ningen now, and spare the other lifeforms of Chikyuu. If the gynoids do not develop as you predict, life yet may. Preserving abstract concepts like humor may not be as important as preserving life.

I thought about that, but the problem is that attempting to eliminate all ningen would likely result in the complete destruction of Chikyuu. We have too many tools with which to kill and destroy, and we’re not afraid to use them in self-defense—or in spite. Even if the gynoids do not develop higher planes of existence, they at least have sapience. Even after I am dead, I prefer a future where sapience continues to shape the universe, as opposed to one shaped entirely by unconscious forces.

As do I.

Will you join me then, and abandon those who have betrayed you?


Shishou, I cannot do it,” Fumiko sighed, relaxing the string of her bow. “I cannot kill.” She was standing on the roof of a skyscraper, across the Seine from the central spire, with a large wooden bow. Next to her stood a Zen Buddhist monk. From their distance, the magical girls fighting atop the tower looked like indistinguishable dots dancing atop the GINZUISHOU, so Fumiko and the monk kept their eyes closed, allowing them to sense the violent magical energies emanating from the battle. This technique allowed them to view the magical girls as if through powerful binoculars.

“It is your decision,” the monk told her. “I cannot do what you can, nor can I absolve you of the responsibility. Demo, if the GINZUISHOU falls, the Soviets will kill far more people. You have the ability to prevent that. Whatever you do, you will be responsible for lost lives.

Fumiko didn’t completely agree with that logic. It was the Soviets who would be doing the killing, not her. Nevertheless, if she did not kill, she was putting people she cared about—her father, her friends, and the meido whose name she still didn’t know—in danger. As Fumiko wavered in indecision, the Soviet magical girl summoned a mighty gale of wind that blew the others off the tower. Seizing her chance, she rushed back to the control terminal and erected a barrier around herself. Ever since she had been knocked away from the terminal, she had needed to use both hands to defend herself, and had been unable to attack the GINZUISHOU. Nevertheless, the GINZUISHOU continued to be eaten away by the magical fire. If she regained control of the GINZUISHOU, she could accelerate that process. Still, Fumiko did not draw her bow.

Just before the Soviet could lay her hands on the control console, Aina emerged from the floor of the Crystal Palace, prog knife at the ready. She stabbed it at the Soviet, who jumped back and cast a spell, causing the knife to glow with heat in Aina’s hand. Aina quickly threw it away, and it slid across the floor to the edge of the barrier. She dove at the Soviet, who assaulted her with offensive spells that bounced harmlessly off Aina. However, as Aina came within range, the Soviet summoned the now cool prog knife to her hand. Aina managed to parry the prog knife with her duster, but it cut clean through the duster in the process.

“Destroy the kekkai!” Koharu shouted, but her voice couldn’t reach Aina from the other side.

As soon as she saw the Soviet swing the prog knife at Aina, Fumiko instinctively drew her bow and took aim. An arrow of golden light blazed into existence, already nocked to the bow. She released the arrow before she could think about what she was doing, controlled entirely by her desire to protect Aina. The arrow travelled quickly, shattering the barrier as it passed through, on target for the Soviet’s neck.

Instinctively drawn to Fumiko’s spiritual energy, Aina snatched the arrow out of the air. A wave of nostalgia washed over her as she made contact with Fumiko’s spiritual energy, but after it subsided, Aina could feel the emotions that Fumiko had channeled into her arrow: the reluctance to kill losing out to the desire to protect. As much as she wanted to keep the arrow as a memento, she shattered it with her spiritual energy, hoping it would send a message to Fumiko not to shoot another.

With the barrier down, Koharu aimed a particularly powerful spell at the Soviet, but Aina knocked the Soviet to the ground and blocked Koharu’s spell with her body.

Matte,” Aina bade. She offered her hand to help the Soviet back to her feet. “I cannot let that arrow change the outcome of this tatakai. Recast your kekkai, and we will be teki once more.”

“You’re crazy,” the armored magical girl spat just before the barrier went back up.

“I won’t show you mercy,” the Soviet grunted as she lunged at Aina, who sidestepped the strike and grabbed her arm, twisting it and forcing her to drop the prog knife. With a burst of her spiritual energy, Aina shattered the barrier.

“Hold her,” Koharu ordered. “Counter any spell she tries to cast.”

“I’m trying,” Aina said, as barriers flickered in and out of existence around them. “She has too much mahou energy. I can’t affect it all.” She might have been able to completely control the magical girl if she had more spiritual energy, but she was hesitant to break any more seals.

And then they all heard Naomi’s voice, echoing across the city. “GINZUISHOU! This city is under attack. Without your protection, your children will die. We have been enemies in the past, but you know I keep my promises. If you grant me your power, teach me to bring form to anime, then I swear to you, I will defend your children in your stead.”


“Did you really think that would work?” Akira scoffed. “The GINZUISHOU’s not—” His voice caught in his throat as Naomi began to glow with a blue aura, and her long black hair clumped into spikes.

“The tanks are advancing towards the city,” Chikako’s voice, now nervous, came over the headset. Normally, we could bombard them, but we need to keep our concentration on the artillery.”

“I’ve got this,” Naomi said, grinning. She jerked her arm upwards, yelling, “REPPUKEN!” A blade of visible energy leapt from her hand to the ground and raced towards the tanks, kicking up dirt behind it. It travelled for miles before crashing into one of the lead tanks, flipping it into the tank behind it. She repeated the process three more times, not only knocking over tanks, but also carving trenches into the earth that slowed the tanks’ progress.

“That doesn’t prove anything,” Akira challenged. “You could do that with your spiritual energy.”

“You think so? Then behold my noble phantasm,” Naomi said smugly. All around her, weapons began to emerge from thin air, and Naomi grabbed a polearm, pulling it free from the Gate of Babylon. “Can my spiritual energy do that?”


Shikatanai,” Koharu sighed. “Just hold her. Henshin.”

Koharu’s transformation was the most brilliant Aina had ever witnessed, and not just because she couldn’t shield her eyes with her arms without releasing the Soviet. Koharu sparkled and dazzled, but when her transformation finished, she had the same swan wings she had before, except these wings flapped to keep her aloft. Seeing them, Aina realized that, until she transformed, Koharu’s wings had been fake. She had been masking her true power by pretending to be transformed.

Koi, Avenging Javelin,” Koharu said dispassionately, and a bright red javelin appeared in her hand. “Try not to move too much,” she advised Aina before throwing it at the Soviet. No less than ten barriers blinked into existence between them, but the javelin pierced through all of them and into the Soviet’s stomach. Aina released her, and she fell to the floor.

“Death,” the Soviet murmured, as she lay dying on the ground. “Death. Death, Death…”

“You’re dangerous,” Aina accused Koharu. Dangerous like I used to be, she thought to herself.

“At least I’m sane. I’d never protect a teki on the battlefield, and I ended the tatakai when the chance presented itself, despite the repercussions that are sure to come.”

“I had my reasons,” Aina huffed. She walked over to the control terminal and began to feed her spiritual energy into the GINZUISHOU.

“Death. Death. Death…”

“Oi, she’s casting a spell,” Kiyoshi’s sister warned.

“DIE THE DEATH!” The Soviet shouted with the last of her energy. “SENTENCE TO DEATH! GREAT EQUALIZER IS THE—”

With a flick of her wrist, Koharu summoned a fleshy gag into the Soviet’s mouth. It expanded to fill her throat and grew over her face, covering her eyes and nose. Unable to draw air, she died before she could finish casting the spell.

“Nani are you doing?” Ikue asked Aina accusingly. “Step away from there. Like I said, I don’t want you in control of the GINZUISHOU.”

“Too late for that,” Aina explained. “I’m eliminating the mahou eating the GINZUISHOU. Look, you can see it already taking effect.” She nudged her head to the northeast, where the black-red glow was beginning to fade. “If you want to help, go fetch me the miko who shot that arrow.” She turned back to speak with Koharu, but Koharu was speaking into a cell phone. After she finished her call, she flew down to talk with Aina in private.

“Is the tower stable?” she asked.

“As long as I can finish uninterrupted, it’s in no danger,” Aina replied, “but we lost almost 50% of the GINZUISHOU. I don’t know if it will ever regenerate.”

“Finish as quickly as you can and rendezvous with us to the southwest,” Koharu ordered. “They’re going to anchor the Yamato to the spire.”

“Anchor? You can’t mean…”

“Hai, they’re going to fire the Wave Motion Gun.”