“She’s coming to,” was the first thing Aina heard clearly enough to make out, but she couldn’t tell who was speaking.
“How long?” Aina slurred. Her vision was blurry, but she could feel herself being lowered onto a bed. She was also becoming aware of the pain in her forearm again.
“Only a few minutes,” Fumiko told her. “Please don’t move.”
“Aina-chan, breathe,” Sena bade her, placing an anesthetic mask over Aina’s mouth and nose. Aina complied. Even though she wanted to know what was happening, and what would happen, to her arm, she trusted Sena and Fumiko to do what was best for her, and she didn’t want to get in their way.
The door to the infirmary slammed open and Aina could hear Ginjiro’s booming, wheezing voice.”Doko did you get… that thing they used as a battering ram?” From his heavy breathing, it was obvious he had run to the infirmary as quickly as he could.
“Ichi of the storage sheds,” Sena replied.
“Naze was it there?” Ginjiro demanded.
“I cannot tell you. I was ordered to erase all memories related to that object.”
“By dare? Ginjiro pressed.
“Akira, what foolishness…” Ginjiro muttered.
“I purified it for Akira-sama,” Fumiko spoke up, “a few years ago. Demo, I—”
Aina drifted into unconsciousness as Fumiko spoke. She had no idea what battering ram they were talking about, and so it seemed unimportant to her. By the time she recovered, she would barely remember that conversation, and she would come to regret that in the future.
10: 05 PM
Aina had the feeling she had been awake for several minutes, but she didn’t remember any of it. Coming off the anesthetic wasn’t at all like waking up from sleep. For one thing, her eyes were already open and adjusted to the light. She also wasn’t surprised to see Koharu holding a gun to her head. It was the first time she had registered the gun in her conscious mind, but she felt a strange sense of continuity, as if she knew the gun had been there for a while.
“You can put that away,” Aina told Koharu.
“Not until I’m satisfied that you’re still Aina-san.”
“Dare else am I supposed to be?”
“Ryoko-san’s been known to steal bodies. That’s why I didn’t want you to face her.”
“Sou ka. Demo, if I were Ryoko-san, that gun wouldn’t do you any good anyway.”
“Tell me something only Aina would know.”
“That’s a dangerous request. If I were Ryoko-san, I could probe your mind and learn where you were when Kesuke-sama was killed.”
“True, but I would feel her in my head if she tried,” Koharu said, lowering the gun.
“Nani’s my prognosis?” Aina asked. She could still feel a dull pain in her arm. She lifted it in front of her face and saw it was wrapped in ofuda almost up to her elbow.
“You owe a lot to that miko,” Koharu informed her. “She stabilized your energy, which prevented Ryoko-san’s energy from penetrating any further. After a couple hours, it crystallized, and it remains embedded under your skin. We were able to remove the pieces that stuck out, but you’re going to have some ugly scarring, and there’s still a lot left in you. You still might have to amputate it, but Ryoko-san’s last spell is no longer intact, so there’s no further risk of her taking your karada.”
“I should thank Fumiko-chan,” Aina said, trying not to sound too eager. “Is she still here?”
“Saa. She promised to check on you tomorrow, and you should rest for now. I have to return to base. You need anything before I go?”
“Gomen for worrying you, shishou,” Fumiko said into her smartphone. “I will return to the temple tomorrow.” She was sitting on the bed in the guest room provided to her by Ginjiro.
“Nani happened? Doko are you now?” her guardian asked.
“I was spirited away by Omoikane-sama to help him save one of his patrons,” Fumiko explained. “I’m safe now.”
“You’re at the Wright mansion, aren’t you?”
“How did you know?”
“Because otherwise you would have told me where you were. Look, I know I’m supposed to be keeping an eye on you for your otou-san, but you’re old enough to make your own decisions. I can trust you not to do something you’ll regret later.”
“You don’t have to guilt trip me, shishou. I agreed to train under you because I wanted to improve my self-control, remember?”
“I know, but let me offer you one piece of advice. You may worship Omoikane-sama, but he doesn’t worship you. The kami aren’t ningen, and even if Omoikane-sama understands our mortal lives better than the other kami, he doesn’t value them on an individual level. Just because he asks you to do something doesn’t mean it’s in your best interest to do it.”
“No one knows that better than watashi,” Fumiko assured him, “but what I did today was important.”
“Sou ka? Gokurosama then. Get some rest. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Hai, oyasuminasai,” Fumiko said, ending the call before he could reply. She knew he had been right, but it had still been frustrating to hear him say it. She didn’t have time to dwell on it, however, as a soft knock came on her door.
“Fumiko-chan, it’s watashi,” Aina’s voice came from the other side of the door. “Can I come in?”
Fumiko got up from the bed and, after adjusting her haori, walked quickly to the door and cracked it open.
“You should be resting,” Fumiko chided Aina.
“I feel fine,” Aina told her, “I wanted to come thank you in person. Can I come in?”
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea. I’m not sure I’m ready to be alone with you again.”
“I just want to talk. Dare knows when we’ll get another chance?”
“We’ll just talk,” Fumiko said hesitantly, stepping back from the door. “I suppose I owe you that much.” Aina entered the room, closing the door behind her.
“I’m the one in your debt,” Aina insisted. “Arigatou for saving me today.”
“You really should thank Omoikane-sama,” Fumiko said quietly, but despite her words, she couldn’t suppress a small smile. “He carried me to your side.”
“Of course,” Aina said evenly. That a kami had gone out of its way to help her concerned Aina. Unlike the gynoids, they weren’t sapient. They possessed the illusion of intelligence, but it was possible to see the cracks in that illusion if you interacted with them enough. They also possessed a definite will. As they were created by the GINZUISHOU, they were likely just its puppets. Perhaps the GINZUISHOU had been returning the favor to Aina, but perhaps it had ulterior motives. “Demo, it was you who saved me, more than once,” Aina added, holding out her left arm. The ofuda wrapped around it served more as a seal around Ryoko’s magical energy than a bandage for Aina’s arm. “I’m not even bleeding. How did you manage that?”
“It was just a simple healing spell. I barely managed to stop the bleeding. A real mahou shoujo should be able to repair the damage.”
“Unlikely. Healing spells don’t work on me,” Aina said, astonished. “They can’t penetrate my energy. What you did was amazing.”
“Our energies just melded together,” Fumiko said. “It almost felt like ni puzzle pieces interlocking, like we were made for each other.”
“Fumiko-chan,” Aina said, suddenly more serious. “I don’t want to sound ungrateful—I really appreciate all you’ve done for me—but you shouldn’t have placed yourself in danger like that. Rushing into that kekkai was dangerous. If anything happened to you, I don’t know what I would have done.” She meant it literally. After breaking two of her seals for Fumiko’s sake, despite resolving never to break them, there was no telling what she would have done in her grief.
“I only wanted to mamoru you,” Fumiko said, taken aback.
“I know,” Aina sighed, “and I wish I could tell you I didn’t need your help, but today I did. Demo, I was trying to mamoru you, and not just from teki. Perhaps you haven’t had the chance to really think about it, but you killed Ryoko-san.”
“I… hadn’t,” Fumiko said. As the realization of what she had done hit her, her legs gave out and she sat down on the edge of the bed. Aina walked to her slowly, sat next to her, and placed her right arm over Fumiko’s shoulders. Fumiko barely noticed. Her eyes were focused on her hands, which were shaking uncontrollably.
“I know what it feels like to take a life,” Aina said quietly. “I wanted to spare you from that.”
“I’m not a good hito,” Fumiko lamented, leaning on Aina’s shoulder.
“You’re a great hito,” Aina said, hugging Fumiko with her good arm.
“Iie, I’m not,” Fumiko insisted. “I’m selfish. I was so happy that I helped you that I didn’t even think about your teki.” Aina didn’t say anything. There was nothing she could say about that. “The way I ran from you was also unfair,” Fumiko said after a few moments.
“It was,” Aina agreed, “but I can understand why you did it. That kiss was overwhelming for me as well.”
“You didn’t hate me for it?”
“Of course not. I was upset, but I could never hate you. Aishiteru, Fumiko-chan,” Aina said, turning slightly towards Fumiko and wrapping her injured arm around her. Fumiko buried her head in Aina’s shoulder to hide her smile. She had been feeling terrible just moments ago, but hearing Aina say that she loved her had made her so happy, and she didn’t think she had a right to feel happy in those circumstances.
“Are you sure?” Fumiko asked, looking back up at Aina. “We barely know each other.”
“Completely sure. I had similar doubts, but my feelings for you go beyond what I’ve felt for anyone else. You literally make my life worth living. I can’t explain it logically, but perhaps if I could, it wouldn’t really be koi.”
“You’re a smooth talker,” Fumiko said, straightening up. “If I’d known that, I would have been more careful when you said you just wanted to talk.” She reached up and placed her hand carefully over Aina’s, and Aina realized that she’d been caught doing more than just talking. “Demo, I don’t mind that. Aishiteru, Aina.”
Now it was Aina’s turn to be embarrassed, but she had no way to hide the smile on her face. Caught in the moment, she leaned in to kiss Fumiko, but, remembering her promise to just talk, stopped herself.
“That sounded like a confession to me,” Aina said.
“Nani about you? You confessed to me too,”
“Yoroshiku onegaishimasu,” Aina said, accepting the confession.
“Yoroshiku onegaishimasu,” Fumiko giggled, accepting Aina’s.
“We should leave it there for tonight,” Aina said, doing nothing to separate herself from Fumiko. “Otherwise, I might not be able to hold myself back.”
“Please stay,” Fumiko said. “I don’t want to be alone tonight.”
Aina hesitated before answering. “I really, really, want to, but it wouldn’t be right. You’ve been on an emotional roller coaster today. Of course you don’t want to be left alone with your thoughts, but it would be wrong of me to take advantage of that.”
“You wouldn’t be taking advantage of me,” Fumiko protested, but Aina didn’t budge. “At least leave me with a kiss,” she pleaded. “Just a quick one. I can handle it. That’s what I’ve been training for, after all.”
“Just a quick one,” Aina said, leaning forward once again to place her lips on Fumiko’s. It wasn’t as intense as their first kiss, but they could feel the same heat spreading through their bodies.
“See, that wasn’t so bad,” Fumiko said as they broke the kiss.
“It was nice,” Aina agreed.
“So… a second wouldn’t hurt,” Fumiko whispered.
Unable to refuse, Aina went back in for another kiss. It lasted only a moment longer, but it was far more pleasant than the last. Aina pulled away, removing her hands from Fumiko’s shoulders, but Fumiko reached up and, placing her hands on Aina’s cheeks, pulled her into a third kiss, and down onto the bed. Once again, they felt as though a fire was coursing through their bodies, burning pleasure into their flesh. As they squirmed and wriggled into a more comfortable position on the bed, Fumiko’s hands found the zipper on the back of Aina’s dress and pulled it downward. Aina returned the favor by loosening Fumiko’s obi, opening her haori, and, with her good hand, reaching behind Fumiko to unhook her bra.
They broke their kiss to hurriedly finish undressing, and when they embraced again, they could feel their energies begin to merge once more. Fumiko squealed in pleasure and surprise as she felt Aina’s hand on her inner thigh, and awe washed over Aina. She was so used to dealing out pain and death that the experience of giving pleasure was completely new to her. It was exhilarating, far more than the physical pleasure she was receiving from Fumiko, and Aina wondered if this was why Karen had been so willing to make love to women she didn’t know very well. For a meido, giving pleasure to others could be addicting. But even as she was contemplating this, Aina slowly became aware that she could actually feel her touch from Fumiko’s perspective, as if she inhabited both their bodies. Fumiko’s eyes opened wide, telling Aina that Fumiko was feeling the same thing.
This accelerated their lovemaking into a frenzy as they focused on providing more and more pleasure to each other. They lost themselves in the ecstasy, and before they realized it, their energies had completely melded together. Unable to tell whose energy was whose, they lost all sense of individuality, and their consciousnesses merged in the soup of their combined energies, which flowed outwards from their bodies endlessly. Their feelings resonated through the energy leaving the combined Fumiko-Aina consciousness in a state of constant bliss.
They were aware they now existed as a single entity, separate from their bodies, but they could not bring themselves to care about anything but their love for one another. Consumed by that love, their energy continued to expand, and with it, their consciousness. They perceived the existence of every living thing in the mansion, then every building in the city, and finally, every atom of the Earth. Their perception continued to spread across the solar system, and beyond. They became aware of the very fabric of reality, and their place in it. They, and their love for one another, existed absolutely, everywhere at once, and to them, nothing else mattered.
May 2nd, U.C. 0053, 4:27 AM
“Wao,” was all Aina could say, as she felt her consciousness returning to her body. Their energies had already begun to separate. “Wao.”
Fumiko stirred sleepily, blinking a few times while getting used to being back in her own body, before asking, “Naze are we back?”
“We couldn’t stay like that forever,” Aina sighed.
“We can’t stay like this!” Fumiko exclaimed. She could feel their energies continuing to retreat from each other, and she tried to will them back together, but to no avail. “Naze did you decide to separate?”
“We both decided to,” Aina pointed out. “We both have things anchoring us to this sekai.”
“It’s that robot’s fault,” Fumiko blurted out, “you couldn’t leave her behind.” She instantly felt shame at being jealous of Sena.
“Iie, it’s not her fault,” Aina said. “No more than it’s your… Naze didn’t you tell me you had a fiancée?”
“Because I don’t love him. It was an arranged marriage, and I was planning on running away with you. Demo, I didn’t realize they’d hunt us down, and—”
“It’s daijobu,” Aina reassured her. “We can still be together, in naisho.”
“Iie,” Fumiko shook her head. “I can’t. You’re—You’re a bakemono. Nani if you fall out of love with me? Will you murder me like you did Mari-san? Destroy my life like Chikako-san?”
“Never, I swear. I would never hurt you. I could never hurt you. I’ve done some things I regret, but I’m trying to get better, to learn to solve my problems in other ways.”
“You were hoping my koi would save you,” Fumiko realized. Many of Aina’s intimate thoughts and memories still existed in Fumiko’s mind, and they were slowly bubbling to the surface. “It won’t. It can’t. You’re irredeemable.”
“I don’t care about that, as long as I can be with you. Aishiteru.”
“Then join with me again,” Fumiko insisted. “When we were together, these things were so unimportant.”
“They’re unimportant now.”
“Iie, they’re not. If we’re going to live as ningen, they’re vitally important. Please, Aina.”
“I’d love nothing more than to do it again—every night if we could—but not permanently. Not forever,” Aina whispered. Fumiko wasn’t satisfied with this answer and started gathering her clothes. “Soshite, I don’t think you really want that. You wanted to come back because you have a duty to inherit the shrine. You love your otou-san and don’t want to disappoint him.”
“Maybe so,” Fumiko muttered as she dressed. “Demo, he’s going to force me to marry that otoko.”
“You don’t have to.”
“You’re not going to kill him, are you?” Fumiko asked, clearly worried.
“Iie! I’m just saying you can make your own decision. You have the right.”
“Iie, I don’t. Gomen, Aina. I don’t think this relationship is going to work out. You’re right, I do want to take over the shrine, and I can’t do that if I’m with you. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life sneaking in and out of this mansion to be with you, one night at a time. I need a partner. Someone who can support me, and who I can support in turn. Soshite, I don’t want to live worrying that you’ll kill someone just because I said something negative about them.”
“I was prepared to accept a killer, but only someone who kills for her goshujin, not someone who kills just because she can,” Fumiko gulped.
“That’s not—Iie, it is fair. Demo, do you know how many hito died just because you kissed me? Karen-sama, Tsukasa-san…”
“And the bar owner and her girlfriend,” Fumiko finished for her. “Hai, shitteru. That’s a low blow, Aina. I never wanted any of that to happen, and you’re just proving my point by trying to manipulate me in a monstrous way.”
“How’s this for a low blow?” Aina asked rhetorically. Spite and desperation dripped from her voice. She knew she was being terrible, but she wanted to keep Fumiko no matter what. “Despite all my faults, you still love me. You don’t really want to break up.”
“You’re right,” Fumiko said, sobbing. “Aishiteru. Demo, I cannot be in a relationship with you. Sayonara, Aina. Don’t follow me.”
Turning her back on Aina, Fumiko ran from the room, tears still falling down her cheeks. Aina wanted nothing more than to chase after, but it was as if Fumiko’s words had shackled her to the bed, and were grinding away her heart. Nothing mattered anymore. If she couldn’t be with Fumiko, what was the point of anything? In a strange way, she felt like she had when they were joined together. Nothing in the universe besides Fumiko meant anything. But what had once been a blissful thought was now abject despair.