“You’re late,” the prime minister complained as Nanami and Aina entered the room.
“Gomen, Tetsuo-sama,” Nanami apologized. “Has it already begun?”
“Just as you predicted,” the prime minister confirmed, his expression blank. “They tried to light her mansion on fire, but the fire suppression systems prevented it. There was an explosion on the south side a few minutes ago, but she managed to erect a kekkai over the damage.”
“Naze not erect the kekkai over the entire mansion?” Nanami asked.
“Shirimasen,” the prime minister admitted. “The mansion’s automated defense system seems to be inactive, aside from the fire suppression system. I don’t know why they’d disable the one and not the other, especially since they tried to set the mansion on fire.”
“Fire suppression is a completely separate system, with more redundancies,” Aina cut in. The prime minister cast a displeased glance in her direction, but she continued. “The defense system is less important, as long as you have a talented house staff.”
“We haven’t seen her meido either,” the prime minister said, “though she only has a few of them. Some of the rebels were even able to get in through the front entrance. I sent one of my scouts in after them, but she reports that the hallways have been warped by mahou. She didn’t see anyone inside, and all paths lead to the exit.”
“Aina,” Nanami snapped. “Go take a look. Don’t engage anyone without meirei. We need to know what’s going on inside.”
“Hai, goshujin-sama,” Aina said with a bow, before reluctantly adding, “Doko, exactly, am I going?”
By the time Aina arrived at Kei’s mansion, smoke was billowing from the south windows. Whoever was attacking it had managed to disable at least part of the fire suppression system. Aina wasn’t too thrilled by the idea of entering a burning building, but orders were orders. Affixing the scouter over her left eye, she walked up to the front entrance of the mansion. The foyer, at least, wasn’t yet affected by the fire. She couldn’t even smell smoke inside. Tapping the scouter, she brought up a miniature map of the mansion’s floor plan. As expected, she was unaffected by whatever spell was warping the mansion for others.
“This way,” she heard a voice call out from the north. “Keep one hand touching the wall to make sure you don’t get turned around.” Aina couldn’t see who had issued those instructions, so she hid herself in the shadows under the stairs and waited. A moment later, a group of four people crossed the foyer from the south. Three of them carried makeshift clubs, but one held a rifle in his hands. None of them were smart enough to wear masks or reflective paint, and so the scouter silently recorded their faces. She waited for a minute, but no one else came, so Aina followed in the direction the group went.
Tailing them was easy. It quickly became apparent that they couldn’t see more than a meter in front of their faces, and were following the voices of their comrades ahead of them. They eventually arrived at what appeared to be the door to one of the mansion’s safe rooms. Dozens of people were gathered around, most of them armed, as two of them cut into the wall with large, powerful lasers. They were both nearly finished cutting holes into the outer walls, but they would have to repeat the process with the inner walls. At the rate they were going, this was going to take a while.
Then, without warning, the door slid open just long enough to allow four meido into the hallway. Two of them charged at the cutter operators, while the other two pushed the crowd back. One of the cutter operators was quickly beheaded, but the other swung his cutter at his assailant, managing to slice into her arm before she skewered him through the heart. Before she could withdraw her sword, she was clubbed over the head and fell to the ground.
It was at this point that Aina expected reinforcements to arrive for the meido, but none came. She couldn’t fathom the strategy taken by Kei’s housestaff. The safe rooms were designed to be the last line of defense. Against a lone, powerful attacker, it might make sense for them to stick close to Kei, but against a large group, they were likely to lose if they allowed their enemies to cut through the wall uncontested. They should have secured Kei within the room and then hidden themselves outside. That way they could attack and harass the group from behind, preventing them from cutting through the wall. It was possible this group of meido was a distraction, and Kei was in a different room, but if that were the case, they should have waited for the attackers to cut through both walls.
The crowd pulled back, weary of the meido’s swords. This allowed the meido to gain a foothold, and they pressed their attack. Six more of the assailants fell before they advanced again on the meido. One of the meido was caught by surprise when a man with a rifle opened fire on her. She took a blast square to the chest, and the gunner shifted his aim to the next meido, who was able to deflect his shots back at him with her sword. However, because both meido now had to focus on the gunner, they were unable to protect themselves from the clubs of the others, and were swiftly defeated. A cheer went up from the crowd, premature, Aina thought, until she realized that the spell afflicting their senses had been lifted.
The door opened once again, and a figure emerged wearing one of Hideaki’s power suits. He lifted Kei’s decapitated head into the air, eliciting a second round of cheers. It was only then that Aina realized what Kei’s strategy had been. Her magic could be a massive force multiplier for her meido. Combined with the strength of the power suit, they should have been able to sweep away the larger group. It wasn’t a strategy without risks, but it probably would have worked had Kei not been betrayed.
With a muffled shout, the power suit pointed in Aina’s direction. She had made sure to hide herself out of sight, but the sensors from the power suit could see her clearly.
“I’m not here to fight,” Aina called out, throwing her voice a couple meters away. “I’m just observing.” The person in the power suit shouted something back, but it was muffled by the helmet. Frustrated, he pulled off the helmet.
“Come out,” he shouted, “with your hands up.” Aina’s scouter scanned his face, but she didn’t need it to recognize him.
“Really, Sora-kun,” Aina said, stepping into the hallway, “nani good will that do? You’re free to attack me if you don’t mind losing an arm.”
“Aina-san, ohisashiburi,” Sora said, displeasure evident on his face. The rush of invincibility he felt from besting a powerful magical girl evaporated as he found himself facing the one opponent his newtype powers were no use against. “Shall we talk in private?”
“Sure,” Aina agreed. “Walk with me.” Dropping Kei’s head to the ground, Sora pushed past the group to reach Aina. The two of them walked side-by-side towards the front entrance.
“I never expected to see you here, given your… adversarial relationship with Kei-sama,” Sora said once they were far enough from the group.
“It wasn’t my idea,” Aina responded. “Apparently Nanami-sama wasn’t too fond of Kei-sama either.”
“Jya, we have no reason to be teki,” Sora said. “In fact, you should be thanking me for taking care of her. Now her American supremacy ideology has much less of a grip in the Diet.”
“You’re an aho,” Aina told Sora. “Do you even have any idea who her heir is? Her racist oji-san is much more popular among the goshujin caste than she was, and much more single-minded.”
“At least he can’t hypnotize the other PMs into voting his way,” Sora snapped. He didn’t like being criticized so sharply.
“The other PMs were quite wary of that,” Aina explained. “She wasn’t in a position to get away with much, and she provided the key vote on a few issues I care deeply about.”
“Before long, that won’t matter,” Sora bragged. “This is just the beginning. Now that we’ve shown it’s possible to rise up against the goshujin, that they’re not invincible, more will follow. By this time next year, the Diet will be in the hands—”
“Sora-kun,” Aina interrupted, “don’t bullshit me. I know you wanted fukushu on Kei-sama for Kiyoshi-sama’s death. You weren’t starting a political revolution, and you certainly aren’t doing me any favors.”
“That’s not true,” Sora protested. “We have sympathizers within the guntai. Now that they’ve seen how vulnerable the goshujin are, it’s only a matter of jikan before they overthrow them.”
“Showing that the teki had a weakness worked so well for Gato,” Aina scoffed. “The guntai could have overthrown the goshujin at any time. They didn’t need you to show them it was possible. Anti-goshujin sentiment is limited to a few pockets within the guntai, and if they trace your actions here to one of those pockets, it will give them a perfect excuse for a purge. Soshite, don’t look to the civilian populace for help either. The prime minister already has the names of everyone who participated in this attack. Their tomodachi and kazoku will be rounded up and killed. Security will be beefed up, so if anyone tries this again, they’ll be obliterated. The goshujin aren’t as weak as you imagine. You only won because Kei-sama thought you were on her side and the prime minister held back reinforcements. He wanted Kei-sama to go down. How did you take her out anyway? Even with that suit, you’re no match for her mahou.”
“The element of surprise,” Sora answered.
“That can’t be all. I have ways of making you talk.”
“OK, OK,” Sora sighed, reaching into a compartment attached to his belt. “I know this is what you want. Nanami-sama can have it back.” he handed Aina a small, nondescript cube.
“This had better be the real thing,” Aina bluffed. She had no idea why Sora had something of Nanami’s, or even what it was, but it might explain how Nanami knew about the attack ahead of time.
“I’m smart enough not to lie to you,” Sora contended. “Just, please, don’t tell Jin I had it. I was only able to get my hands on it because she snuck me into Nanami-sama’s mansion.”
“By all rights, I should tell her that you used her,” Aina stated, “but she’s my tomodachi, and I don’t want to see her hurt. Nani are you going to do next?”
“We’re going to break out of the machi. The Soviet Expedition has promised us asylum. I’ll try to get word to Jin once we’re safe.”
“You’ll never make it through any of the border crossings,” Aina informed him. “They have heavy keisatsu presence. I can open a hole in the GINZUISHOU for you. Give me your keitai.” She took the phone from Sora and marked a location on its map. “Meet me here in an hour.”
“Naze should I trust you?” Sora asked.
“Because, like I said, I don’t want to see Jin get hurt. You may not care much for her, but she cares for you.”
“We’ll be there,” Sora promised.
“Gokuro,” Nanami welcomed Aina back at the Prime minister’s residence. She took the scanner from Aina and handed it to the prime minister, who in turn handed it to one of his meido.
“Is she really dead?” the prime minister asked Aina directly.
“Hai, Tetsuo-sama,” Aina confirmed. “There was no mahou or trickery involved.”
“Well, that’s that,” the prime minister sighed. “How did you know this would happen, Nanami-kun?”
“Their leader stole my mahou cancellation talisman,” Nanami explained. “I let him get away with it knowing he had a vendetta against Kei-dono, and had someone track him until we found where the rebels were meeting.” She held her hand out towards Aina, who pulled the cube Sora had given her from her pocket and handed it to Nanami. “Do you know where they’re headed next?” Nanami asked Aina.
“Ii,” Nanami smiled. “Tetsuo-sama, would you do me the honor of allowing me to eliminate them?”
“I don’t see why not,” Tetsuo said. “Avenging our fellow goshujin gives us a good cover story. We can let the keisatsu deal with their kazoku. There’s just one thing that bothers me. How did he know about the talismans?”
“Ah,” Nanami said, trying to buy some time while she thought of an excuse. “One of my meido… knows their leader. He’s a newtype. He must have read her mind.”
“She may have betrayed you,” the prime minister pointed out.
“Muri,” Nanami scoffed. “She’s the one who told me he was going to steal the talisman in the first place.”
“Perhaps you should give her a chance to prove her loyalty then,” the prime minister said. “Let her kill their leader. You may trust her now, but take some advice from a more experienced goshujin: it’s better not to have any lingering doubts.”
“Arigatou, Tetsuo-sama,” Nanami said through gritted teeth. She turned towards Aina and issued an order. “Go home and fetch Jin. Take her with you, and make sure she’s the one who kills Sora-kun.”
“I was beginning to think you wouldn’t show,” Sora said, as soon as Aina was close enough for conversation, “but you brought Jin. How can I ever—”
“Sora,” Jin cut him off. A tidal wave of emotions were conveyed within that single word, and they came crashing down on Sora.
“You’re here to kill us?” Sora gasped. “You don’t have to. We could all escape right now. Come with us to the Expedition.”
“Omae wa mou shindeiru,” Aina told him. “Even if I opened a hole in the GINZUISHOU, the guntai is waiting outside. Gomen for breaking our deal, but the prime minister was ichi step ahead. All I can do now is save Jin-chan.” She pulled a blade from the broom strapped to her back and handed it to Jin. “Please, don’t make this harder for her than it needs to be.”
Sora remained silent for a long time. He looked at Jin, and then back at Aina. He kept looking Aina directly in the eyes as he summoned his courage. “Jin,” he croaked, “I used you as a pawn. I didn’t even think about how this would affect you, or how you would feel.”
“I knew you were doing it,” Jin said quietly. “I didn’t know exactly what you were up to, but I knew you had another reason for wanting to see me. Demo, I let you do it because I wanted to be with you.”
“I… I never cared for you one bit,” Sora said, holding his arms out to his side. “I’m a terrible hito, and you shouldn’t feel the least bit guilty about what you need to do.”
Jin took a few steps towards him and raised the blade to his chest. “You’re a terrible liar,” she sobbed. “I can’t—”
Quicker than the human eye could see, Aina knocked the sword from Jin’s hand, grabbed it in midair, and stabbed Sora through the chest. She then grabbed Jin’s wrist and pulled her forward, wrapping her hand around the hilt once more. To the meido the prime minister had sent to tail them, it looked like Jin had stabbed him.
“Nakanaide,” Sora said with his last breaths, “whatever you do. If you do, they’ll know—” He was unable to finish his sentence before death took him.
“Naomi-sama was right,” Jin said, as she and Aina trudged back home. “I should have killed you.”
“I don’t mind if you hate me for a while,” Aina replied. “That’s only healthy. Demo, if you had killed me back then, it wouldn’t have saved Sora-kun. He’d still be dead, and you alongside him. You’re much better off with me as your nakama, and you know it.”
Jin didn’t say anything. Deep down, she did know that, but it didn’t make her feel any better.