“Shall we bring it in then?” one of the meido gathered in the yard asked. “We’ll have to take down the kekkai.”
“It’s not worth the risk,” Chikako decided. “They probably booby-trapped the body. The kekkai will protect us from outside chemical and biological weapons, but it won’t protect us if we willingly bring them inside. Immolate the body without bringing the kekkai down.” The group moved to carry out the order. “Matte We also need to watch out for explosives. Don’t do anything yet.”
“How like you to not consider the political implications,” Naomi commented.
“I considered them,” Chikako huffed. “He’s the agriculture minister’s son, and the agriculture minister is remaining neutral. If the defense minister had his son killed, the agriculture minister will side with us, but not if we can’t provide the body as proof. Demo, all the support in the world is meaningless if we’re dead. This is the only decision.”
“Is that so? Then I suppose I’d better get out of your way and let you figure out how you want to dispose of the body.”
“We could throw an incendiary bomb at the body, then project a kekkai around them both to contain the explosion,” Chikako suggested.
“You will do nothing of the sort,” Akira yelled, tromping across the lawn towards them.
“Goshujin-sama,” Chikako protested. “You should be in one of your safe rooms. We still haven’t secured—”
“He’s the son of a goshujin,” Akira interrupted. “If we don’t treat his body with respect, we’ll lose the support we already have.”
“Soshite, he knows that,” insisted Chikako. “He’s behind on support among the goshujin, so he doesn’t have much to lose, and he can win the whole thing right here, not ni-jyuu yon hours after it started. You yourself have said that’s how he operates.”
“Even so, that doesn’t mean we have to commit political suicide,” Akira explained. “Demo, we don’t have to be stupid about it either. Casting a kekkai around the body is a good idea. I’ll call in some favors and get some mahou shoujo out here. In the meantime, don’t do anything. The agriculture minister is on his way, and whatever happens, I want him to be a witness.”
“You should still be in a safe room until we’ve cleared the area,” Chikako repeated. Akira ignored her.
“Naomi, you were going to let her do it,” Akira accused.
“Master, she was very insistent that she had taken all the political ramifications into consideration and had weighed them heavily,” Naomi protested in a mock earnest voice.
“She did say that, and you knew better,” Akira said bluntly. “I’m going to go prepare myself for the agriculture minister’s arrival. Don’t let her do anything baka.” And with that, he turned away from them and marched back towards the mansion, but he didn’t make it very far before he noticed a group of half a dozen meido approaching the front gate. His blood froze. Although they were on the other side of the barrier, and he had Naomi and Chikako nearby, a group of enemy meido so brazen to approach the front gate must have a plan to kill him. All of a sudden, he regretted not taking Chikako’s warning more seriously.
But that initial moment of panic washed away as Akira recognized their faces. They were his own, meido with better social skills than fighting skills, who he had sent undercover within the defense ministry.
“Minna, nani are you all doing koko?” He called out to them across the barrier.
“Moushiwake arimasen, goshujin-sama!” they cried out in unison, bowing deeply in his general direction.
“Our identities were compromised,” one of them added. “We have no idea how, but we were lucky to get out alive.”
“Luck probably had nothing to do with it,” sighed Akira. “The defense minister probably wants me to suspect that one or more of you are traitors. He thinks I’ll either have to cast you out, damaging morale, or treat you with suspicion, hampering my plans. Shinpai shinaide, I won’t do either. Demo, we’re in the middle of a situation right now, so I can’t lower the kekkai to let you in. The agriculture minister is going to be arriving shortly, so help guard him when he arrives.
“Ha!” they all shouted before fanning out along the perimeter of the mansion.
Raising his hand, Akira beckoned Chikako to his side. “Will Jin-chan be working in the kitchen today?” Jin was standing not ten paces from them, and he could have asked her directly, but Akira preferred that Chikako know his plans.
“I believe so, goshujin-sama.”
“Ii. After this is taken care of, invite our returnees to breakfast, and make sure Jin-chan spends some time with each of them. I trust them, but until Jin-chan confirms that none of them have turned traitor, I want someone keeping an eye on them. Either you or Aina. Wakatta?”
“Ha,” Chikako confirmed.
“Anyone you know, Mme Aina?” Naomi asked idly, referring to the trio of magical girls, dressed in olive sailor fuku, gathered on the other side of the fence from Saburo’s body.
“Iie, none of them were at my parents’ lab. Nani’s with those uniforms?”
“From what I gather, they’re part of a newly-commissioned group of magical soldiers within the GSDF.”
“I don’t like that.”
“It always pays to be cautious, but this group is trying to remain neutral in the conflict between the defense minister and our master. I don’t think they’ll give us any trouble.”
“That’s not what I mean. I don’t like the idea of mahou soldiers.”
“You’d better get used to it. Frankly, I’m surprised it took them this long. If they do turn against us, I’m making it your job to do something about them.”
“From the other side of the kekkai?”
“I’m sure you can figure something out.”
“Jya, it would be better to be close.”
Suppressing her spiritual energy as much as possible, Aina walked over to the edge of the barrier, keeping a foot away from it, and waited for the agriculture minister to arrive. She didn’t have to wait long. Flanked by four of his own meido, the agriculture minister walked briskly alongside the fence towards his son’s body. His face was hard and his expression difficult to interpret.
“Goro-dono,” Akira greeted the agriculture minister, approaching the barrier near Saburo’s body.
“Akira-dono, nani the jigoku is this?!” the agriculture minister demanded, emotion creeping into his voice.
“We found him like this, not ni hours ago,” Akira explained. “We haven’t touched him. I wanted you to have the chance to see what they did to your son.”
“I’ve seen it. Get him down,” the agriculture minister ordered his meido.
“Matte,” warned Akira. “I’m concerned they may have booby-trapped the body. With your permission, I would like to have these mahou shoujo cast a kekkai around him and lower him to the ground.”
“He would go that far?” the agriculture minister asked incredulously.
“He killed the son of a goshujin. There’s no telling what he would do,” Akira asserted.
The agriculture minister hesitated before answering. “Do it.”
“Master, please step this way,” Naomi said, grabbing Akira gently by the arm and pulling him back. “You’re clear to cast the barriers,” she shouted at the magical girls.
Nodding, one of the magical girls stepped back a few paces, turned around, and cast a larger barrier around the barrier covering the mansion. Aina was impressed by how easily she cast such a large barrier. At the same time, one of the other magical girls cast an ellipsoid barrier around Saburo’s body. The girl, disturbed by the sight of the corpse, was doing her best not to look at it while casting her spell, and as a result, the barrier was weak.
“Oi, shore up that kekkai,” Aina shouted, startling the agriculture minister. “We could all die because of your carelessness.”
The magical girl who had cast the larger barrier turned to observe the barrier around Saburo. “Stabilize it,” she commanded. “Both of you, work together.” She pointed a finger at Aina. “And I’ll thank you to mind your own business. I can handle my own team without you.”
“Koharu-shoui at your service. I’m the senior most officer in the Dai-ichi Mahou Shoutai.”
“Did I hear that right?” Aina asked. “Koharu-shoui not Koharu-shousa?”
“You have a mondai with that?”
“Betsuni. I just expected they’d be treating you like State Alchemists. You’re getting a raw deal if you ask me. If you can cast a kekkai that large, that easily, you deserve more respect.”
“This is nothing,” bragged Koharu. “And you’re right. They aren’t treating us with enough respect. Maybe you could convince your—”
“Save the chit-chat for later,” the agriculture minister cut in. “Is the kekkai ready?”
“It is,” Koharu confirmed.
“It is,” Aina repeated, after the agriculture minister looked to her for confirmation.
“No one asked for your—” Koharu started.
“We are currently performing a security sweep between the two barriers,” interrupted Naomi. “When we are finished, we will lower the inner barrier, at which point. you will need to gently lower M Saburo’s body. Are you ready?”
“Hai,” the three magical girls replied.
For the next few minutes, Koharu alternated between observing her subordinates’ work and glancing at Aina, but she said nothing.
Eventually, the silence was broken when a voice buzzed in the meido’s earpieces. “There’s a gynoid between the kekkai.” Followed by a quieter voice, further from the microphone.
“It is just watashi.”
Aina was relieved to hear Sena’s voice, and though she tried not to show it outwardly, she reflexively relaxed her control over her spiritual energy, and it flowed outward from her in every direction. It pushed against the inner barrier, weakening it, which allowed some of the spiritual energy to escape and weaken the barrier around Saburo, causing it to slide away from Aina. There was a flurry of commotion as the three magical girls hurried to stabilize it, after which Koharu fixed her gaze once more upon Aina, and this time, she kept it there.
“It’s one of ours,” Naomi spoke quietly into her mic, “and you do not need to know why it is there.” Then, after waiting for the rest of the sentries to report in, she ordered the inner barrier to be lowered.
As soon as the inner barrier blinked out of existence, Saburo’s body was magically raised over the fence, then lowered gently to the ground at the agriculture minister’s feet. Carrying Jin under one arm, Naomi hopped over the fence, followed closely by Aina, and ordered the inner barrier raised again. Koharu wasted no time casting spells to detect the presence of traps or foreign objects within Saburo’s body. Halfway through her incantations, Aina focused her spiritual energy in Koharu’s direction, attempting to interfere with the spellcasting. Koharu didn’t let it interrupt her, and when she finished, she announced that the body was safe with a smug smile on her face. Naomi then stepped up to cast a few basic spells herself, and Jin examined the corpse carefully. Sena arrived with what looked like a scouter and made her own observations. All declared the body safe.
“Goro-sama, if I may be so bold, we can lift you over the fence when they lower the inner kekkai again,” Koharu offered. “It will be faster than walking around to the front gate.”
“Iie,” Naomi insisted. “We will stick to the plan. You are not to cast any spells on anyone or anything besides M Saburo here.”
“Agreed,” the agriculture minister concurred. “I don’t mind the walk. Pick him up and let’s go.”
“Not this one,” Aina interrupted, pointing at Koharu. “She’s too powerful to allow inside.”
“Fine,” Naomi said. “Keep her company.”
Koharu’s subordinates looked at their leader like they expected her to protest, but she just nodded, and the entire group, minus Aina and Koharu, walked away towards the front gate. It was hard for Aina to watch Sena go. She wanted desperately to speak with her about her… interactions with Hibiki, but right now, there was a more pressing problem to deal with.