June 9th, U.C. 0053, 9:16 PM
As Aina returned to the mansion, she didn’t know whether her new goshujin would be Nanami, the legal heir, or Nanami’s mother, who had tried to have her husband killed, and she didn’t particularly care either way. Both were shallow, impatient, and selfish. The best-case scenario was that they were both still alive, and that Aina could play them against each other to negotiate a better deal, but she thought there was a good chance Nanami was already dead. If Gen. Riku had contacted Nanami’s mother after he had captured Genjiro, she would know it was safe to kill Nanami. Infanticide was certainly illegal, but a goshujin wouldn’t need to care about the law. Even if Gen. Riku hadn’t contacted her, it had been hours since anyone had heard from Ginjiro, and she could likely put two and two together.
And so it was to Aina’s great surprise that she found Nanami firmly in control of the mansion upon her return. Nanami was seated in the great chamber, sipping a glass of wine as if she didn’t have a care in the world. The meido clustered around her, however, looked very nervous.
“Okaeri, Aina,” Nanami welcomed her with an amused look on her face. “Suwatte and have a drink with me. Shall we toast to your victory, or mine?”
“Nani victory would that be?” Aina asked, not moving to take the glass Nanami offered her.
Her question was met with a shrill “oh ho ho ho ho” that reverberated throughout the entire room. “Forgive me,” Nanami said, “you’re right. It is a bit premature to celebrate.” She turned to look at the meido all around her and shouted, “After all, I really should celebrate with my whole kazoku, shouldn’t I? Chichiue, come drink to my success. Oh? Nani’s that? You’re not koko? Hahaue, how about you? Nani? You’re not koko either?”
“Nanami-sama, doko is your okaa-san?” Aina asked firmly.
“Doko’s my okaa-san?” Nanami cackled. “Aina, minna here wants to know doko my otou-san is. Come now, we’re waiting.”
“Ginjiro-sama was killed by one of his own generals,” Aina said, “after he ordered me to the battlefield.”
“Sou ka,” Nanami said quietly. She took a large swig from her wine glass and reemerged with a strained smile on her face. “Here, take it,” she insisted, holding out the glass she had previously offered Aina. “Don’t be rude.” Aina took it but didn’t drink from it. “Hahaue is really terrible, isn’t she, to betray chichiue like that? And to try to kill her own daughter…”
“Nanami-sama, doko is she?” Aina repeated the question.
“Locked up in one of the safe rooms with Shiro guarding her,” Nanami said. “I can’t believe that bakeneko sided against watakushi.”
“That nekomimi saved your life once,” Aina reminded her. “Soshite, using such prejudiced language is unbefitting of a Wright, especially a goshujin.”
Nanami raised her free hand in front of her face, curling her fingers as if to laugh, but dropped it back to her lap and said, “Forgive me. I forgot that you associate with interesting hito: Nekomimi, gynoids… miko.”
This was clearly intended to be a threat. Nanami was letting Aina know that even if she couldn’t harm her directly, she could threaten her friends. Almost every homo sapiens meido in the mansion was by her side, and she had probably gained their cooperation by making the same kinds of threats. Unlike most of her caste, Nanami recognized the fundamental humanity of her house staff. Most goshujin wouldn’t pry into their meido’s private lives because they expected their meido not to have them. Their entire existence was to be devoted to their goshujin.
But Nanami had paid attention to those around her. She had talked with them, asked how they had been doing, and genuinely seemed interested in them. She had acted the part of the normal, down-to-earth teenage girl, and in doing so, gotten them to lower their guards around her. They had swapped gossip with her and told her things they would never dream of telling a goshujin. Her behavior had seemed so normal, so human, that Aina hadn’t realized how dangerous it was until Nanami learned of her relationship with Fumiko.
“Apology accepted, goshujin-sama,” Aina said, glossing over the threat. She wasn’t naive enough to believe that this would make the threat go away. For all she knew, Nanami may already have assassins in place to kill Fumiko if Aina didn’t submit to her. She had clearly planned this ahead of time, as evidenced by the fact that she knew what her mother was up to. Still, Aina wasn’t going to let Nanami know that she was concerned in the least by her threats.
“That’s not what I—” Nanami started. “You called me goshujin-sama.”
“Ginjiro-sama named you as his heir,” Aina explained, “and far be it from me to argue.”
“Ii,” Nanami said. “If you recognize my authority, go arrest my okaa-san.”
“All in good jikan,” Aina reassured her. “First, I need to know what you promised the prime minister in return for his assistance.” The prime minister had been strangely insistent that Ginjiro be present on the battlefield. There was a good chance that he was in on the plot to dispose of Ginjiro, but Aina didn’t know if he was conspiring with Nanami or with her mother. If it was the latter, Aina might still be able to switch allegiances and negotiate a better deal.
“Nothing escapes you, does it Aina?” Nanami observed. She took a moment to finish off her glass of wine before answering, “I’ll order the koenkai to support the prime minister’s hand-picked lackey until I’m old enough to serve in parliament myself. Once there, I’ll support his cabinet picks and defense policies unconditionally.”
“That could be dangerous,” Aina cautioned. “The prime minister doesn’t have a strong position on our military posture. He just goes along with whatever keeps him in power, which is whatever the majority of the party wants. You’ll be giving up your ability to influence that, and the prime minister could use you as a scapegoat if he needs to switch sides.”
“As far as I understand it,” Nanami said, “the prime minister just wants the issue to be put to rest, one way or the other. He’s tired of it splitting the party, so he’s trying to elevate those to power who don’t have a strong opinion, marginalizing the others. That’s ichi of the reasons he passed Akira-ojisan over for the defense ministership. There is some risk, but if I play my cards right, I might become defense minister, or even Chief Cabinet Secretary. Besides, having a strong position on defense issues is what turned Riku-shogun against chichiue.”
“If you’re going to be goshujin, you can’t let your generals control you,” advised Aina. “You have to control them.”
“Soshite, I have to control you,” Nanami said, narrowing her eyes. “Go carry out my meirei.”
“Is that truly what you want, goshujin-sama?” Aina pressed. “You said you were going to seize chikara with your own te.”
“Aina-san, thank goodness,” Shiro’s voice came from the intercom to the safe room. “Do you have everything under control out there? Nani happened?”
“Ginjiro-sama was killed by one of his own generals,” Aina explained. “He named Nanami-sama as his heir. She’s goshujin now, and she’s angry that you sided against her.”
“I wasn’t siding against anyone,” Shiro pleaded. “I didn’t know what was happening, and I didn’t want anyone to get hurt.”
“I believe you,” Aina said. “That’s why I’m willing to negotiate on your behalf, but you have to surrender and swear allegiance to Nanami-sama.”
“I’m in that bad of a position?” Shiro asked.
“Nanami-sama was seriously pissed at you for foiling her plan, but I managed to calm her down.”
“Sou ka,” Shiro sighed. “If you can guarantee my safety, I’ll surrender.”
“I can’t guarantee anything,” Aina told her, “except that I’ll advocate for you. I’ll be on your side, which is more than I can say if you make me break down these walls.”
“Wakatta,” Shiro said. “I’m opening the doors.”
“You can’t—” Aina heard Nanami’s mother say before the intercom cut off and the doors slid open. “Don’t leave me, Shiro,” she begged. “I thought we were tomodachi.”
“We were never tomodachi,” Shiro replied as Aina stepped into the safe room, followed closely by Nanami. “Soshite, as grateful as I am for your help,” she said, turning to Aina, “don’t think this makes us tomodachi either.” Without allowing Aina a chance to respond, Shiro knelt before Nanami. “Gomen nasai, goshujin-sama,” she said, head bowed.
Nanami pulled a small, ornate pistol out of one of her pockets, pulled a power cell out of another pocket, and slotted it into the gun. She flipped the gun over in her hands, examining it, but keeping it pointed away from anyone. Neither Aina nor Shiro moved, and when Nanami was finished scrutinizing the pistol, she shifted her attention to Shiro and said, “This derringer probably cost more than your yearly salary. That’s how little we value you. Replacing you would be easier than replacing this pistol. It’s custom-made, ichi-of-a-kind, and there are millions of young onna in this machi. Do you wakarimasu your place?”
“I do, goshujin-sama,” Shiro said. “I am your tool. Please allow me to be of use to you.”
“As long as you wakarimasu,” Nanami assented. “Your service until now has been exemplary. If you promise not to repeat your mistake from today, I could see fit to keep you on as housekeeper, after a suitable punishment. Say, san days in solitary confinement?”
“Domo arigatou gozaimasu. That’s very generous of you, goshujin-sama,” Shiro said. As far as punishments went, it was a slap on the wrist. Nanami wasn’t even garnishing Shiro’s meager wages. For appearances’ sake, she had to punish Shiro, but having decided to let her live, she didn’t want to give Shiro a reason to resent her.
“That will be all,” Nanami dismissed Shiro. “Go confine yourself immediately.” Without another word, Shiro walked to the exit as quickly as she could.
With no one left to protect her, Nanami’s mother turned towards her daughter and began to plead her case, “Nanami, dear daughter, I gave birth to you. I love—”
“Damare!” Nanami yelled. “I don’t want to hear that from someone who tried to poison her own daughter.”
Realizing that appealing to Nanami would get her nowhere, she turned her attention to Aina. “Aina-san, you heard what she said. She sees you as nothing more than a tool. That’s the kind of hito she is. I tried to raise her better, but this toxic environment turned her into a bakemono. You should be on my side. We both come from the lower classes, and neither of us chose this life. All I wanted was to take revenge against the man who forced me to marry him, and to birth his demon spawn, against my will.”
“Spare me,” Aina scoffed. “That environment never seemed toxic to you until I helped Ginjiro-sama get your finances in order. Don’t try to pretend you’re an ii hito now.”
“I’m not the best hito in the sekai,” Nanami’s mother admitted, “but she’s even worse,” she accused, pointing at Nanami.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Aina shrugged. “Demo, she’s goshujin. Go head, goshujin-sama, I won’t stop you. Shoot her.”
“Nani?” mother and daughter reacted at the same time.
“I’m just going to arrest her,” Nanami said. “I can’t shoot my own…” She didn’t finish that sentence. After conspiring to have her father murdered, it wasn’t a believable argument.
“If you arrest her, she’ll just get the death penalty,” Aina pointed out. “You told me you wanted to take chikara with your own te. This is your last chance to do that.”
“I meant through scheming and manipulating others,” Nanami clarified. “Great-ojii-sama led an army. He wasn’t on the frontline mowing down his teki.”
“He knew when to get his own te dirty,” Aina said. “Besides, the prime minister did most of the work. He probably planned the whole thing. You haven’t done much of anything, yet.”
“I’m just getting started,” Nanami said. “So what if I got a little help at the beginning? I’ll claw my way up and become the prime minister.”
“If you can’t do this, you don’t have what it takes to be the prime minister,” Aina goaded.
Nanami didn’t have an immediate reply to this. Looking from Aina to her mother, she took a few steps forward, raising her pistol. Her mother tried to run perpendicular to Nanami’s approach, but Aina shoved her back. She was quickly backed into a corner of the room, the gun mere centimeters from her chest.
“I can’t,” Nanami finally admitted. “I can’t do it.”
“Wakarimasu,” Aina told her. “I’ll assist you.” Aina walked over and placed her right hand over Nanami’s. With her left hand, she disengaged the safety on the pistol.
“Nani are you doing?” Nanami asked nervously.
“Mukashi mukashi,” Aina cooed, “there was a hito I needed to kill, but I didn’t want to kill her. So my senpai put a gun in my hand and pushed down on my finger. She was stronger than watashi, so even if I resisted, I would still pull the trigger. You see, senpai was doing me a kindness. Even though it was my finger on the trigger, it wasn’t clear who was to blame. She was the one who forced me to do it, but if I had been stronger, maybe I could have stopped it. Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough, but there may have been nothing I could have done. So in the end, who was responsible? Saa.”
Gently, ever so gently, Aina began to apply pressure to Nanami’s index finger. She could feel Nanami, with her feeble strength, trying to push back against Aina. Panic crept into Nanami’s voice as she asked, “Naze are you doing this?”
“Because you’re my goshujin, and I’m your meido. It’s my job to see to your desires.”
“Iie, iie,” Nanami insisted. “I don’t want this.”
“Of course you do,” Aina said. “You told me yourself this was how you wanted to take chikara. If you don’t do this, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.” As she spoke, Aina felt Nanami push against her harder. She stopped, holding her finger in place as Nanami strained against her. After a few seconds of this, she felt Nanami’s finger relax, and so she continued to slowly push it, millimeter by millimeter.
“Matte,” Nanami shouted. “As your goshujin, I order you to stop. Meirei da!”
“As you wish,” Aina said, pulling her hand away. But as she did so, Nanami fired the gun. She would later tell herself that it had been an accident. Her custom derringer had a light trigger pull, made for her delicate hands, and she had accidentally bumped it while trying to pull away, or that Aina had given her finger one last push. But no matter how much she tried to convince herself, she could never discount the possibility that she had pulled the trigger on purpose.
“Fuck!” she yelped in response to the gun’s discharge. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!”
As her mother’s body slumped to the floor, Aina leaned close and whispered into Nanami’s ear, “Medetashi medetashi.”
Just as she was drifting off to sleep, Aina was awoken by a pounding at her bedroom door.
“Senpai,” Jin’s voice called from the other side.
“Hairu,” Aina called back. “Gokurosama,” Aina congratulated her as she entered the room. “Did you just get back?”
“Nani did you do to Nanami-sama?” Jin blurted out. From her tone, it sounded like more of an accusation than a question. “She’s curled up in her bed and won’t talk to anyone. The pain she’s feeling, I haven’t felt anything like that since I made my first kill, but somehow, it’s worse coming from her.”
“Makes sense,” Aina yawned. “She conspired to have her otou-san killed, then she shot her okaa-san.”
“Jya, naze is she mumbling, ‘I didn’t want to, Aina made me do it’ over and over?”
“I may have forced her hand when it came to her okaa-san,” Aina said, her face betraying no emotion.
“Hontou?” Jin asked. Being unable to read Aina’s feelings had become more unsettling to Jin the more she got used to her newtype powers. She knew, more or less, what Chikako had forced Aina to do on the night that Karin was killed. Although she didn’t know the exact details of what had happened, she knew it had driven a wedge between Aina and Chikako, that it had affected Aina enough to take revenge. Now, by Aina’s own admission, she had done to Nanami what Chikako had done to her, and she didn’t seem the slightest bit phased by it. Was she just hiding her feelings, or was she that much of a sociopath? “Naze?”
“Because it’s easier if they’re warui hito,” Aina answered quietly. “It’s easier if I can hate them.”
“Sou ka,” Jin sighed. To anyone else, those words would be ambiguous, but Jin knew exactly what Aina meant, and for once, it wasn’t because she was a newtype. “Sorry to disturb you. Oyasuminasai, senpai.”
Aina didn’t return the pleasantry as Jin left the room.