Chapter 25

Lt. General Kaito Williams was entertaining guests at his penthouse when his emergency pager buzzed.

“Excuse me a moment,” he said, walking quickly out of the living room. His guests made jokes about the war starting back up as he left. When he could no longer hear their voices, he dialed the on-duty captain.

Chuujou,” the captain greeted him, picking up on the first ring, “the entire keisatsu force is mobilizing, and they’re leaving their honbu nearly unguarded. This could be the chance we’re waiting for.”

“Or it could be a trap,” Kaito cautioned. “If we mobilize, the keisatsu could reverse course and surround us. They still outnumber us many times over.”

“They’re going to sensou with the free meido,” the captain explained. “They can’t fight on ni fronts. If we wait until they attack the meido, the meido won’t let them retreat easily.”

“Put the entire Dai-hachi Shidan on standby,” Kaito ordered. “I’ll be in shortly.”

Aina glanced away as Emi transformed. When the light from the transformation faded, Aina turned back, and what she saw shocked her. Emi’s wings looked like Aina’s, except they were a bright, shiny green. Later, Aina would look them up and find they were the wings of a Gouldian finch, but at that time, it appeared to Aina that the two of them were birds of a feather.

The rest of her transformation, though, was quite the contrast with her beautiful wings. When magical girls transformed, their uniforms were a reflection of their self-identities. For example, when Élisabeth had still believed in a higher power, her armor had been a physical manifestation of her faith. Before the 01st Magical Company had been disbanded, most of its members would retain their military fatigues when transforming, so Aina was half-expecting Emi to be wearing a frilly police uniform. Instead, she was clad head to toe in riot gear. From this, Aina could infer that Emi recognized that her duty as a police officer was not to protect and serve, but to suppress and control.

Without another word between them, they both ran back towards the border checkpoint. Because this was the station where Emi often worked, they had been able to exit the city with very little hassle. Coming back, however, the guards were positioned to intercept them.

“Follow me,” Aina said, veering off to the right. She opened a hole in the side of the GINZUISHOU, leaving the border guards dumbstruck as she and Emi reentered the city.

10:02 PM

The fighting began before they could reach Akihabara. The police officers who were first on the scene had begun the raid prematurely, before the area was completely encircled. This had given the free meido a chance to slip out of the area before the police controlled it. If only they had taken that chance.

The streets were full of police and meido. At first, the meido had been able to keep the police at bay. There were just over 2,000 meido living in Akihabara, compared to only a few hundred officers, and they had gathered in the streets to take advantage of their superior numbers. Their swords and spears also had a longer reach than the officers’ nightsticks, and if the officers shot at the meido, they risked getting the beams deflected back at them.

But even as they defended themselves, the meido had not struck out at the police officers. After the arrest of the two meido that Aina had helped free, a consensus developed among the free meido that, even if they didn’t see eye-to-eye, it was better not to make enemies with the police. They believed that if Koharu’s magical girl unit supported peaceful coexistence, there must be other police units that felt the same, but if they attacked first or grievously injured any officers, they risked losing the support they had.

When Aina later learned of the free meido’s organized, disciplined defense, she was impressed. Until a few years ago, the free meido all belonged to hundreds of different households. They were enemies, and, undoubtedly, some of them had killed each others’ comrades. And yet, they were able to overcome their differences and trust each other with their lives. Even more impressive, they had planned ahead and practiced for this exact scenario. They had even donned gas masks to protect themselves.

However, by the time Emi and Aina arrived, this disciplined defense had crumbled. The free meido had overestimated their support within the police ranks. As more and more police officers poured into the area, they had overwhelmed the meido by sheer numbers. The meido were fighting back, doing their best to avoid serious injuries on both sides, but they were slowly being pulled out of the crowd and violently subdued.

“I need you to form kekkai around the meido and lift them into the air, out of range of the keisatsu,” Aina told Emi. “Prioritize the injured.”

“All of them?” Emi gulped. “I don’t know if I can. There’s thousands of them!”

“You can,” Aina told her. “You’re stronger than you realize.”

“Maybe so, but I don’t know how to do what you’re asking of me,” Emi replied, panic creeping into her voice.

Daijobu,” Aina reassured her. “I can teach you. We’ll start out slowly. See that meido on the ground there?” She pointed to a cuffed meido who was currently being ignored by the police. “Just wrap a barrier around her and then levitate it.”

“OK,” Emi said, she held her hand out and a barrier formed around the meido. She lifted her hand upwards, and the barrier rose into the air, but it had no floor. Emi dispelled it, “That’s the only kekkai I know how to cast,” Emi told Aina.

Donmai, I’ll show you how,” Aina said. “Just release raw mahou energy around her. I’ll shape your spell.”

“I’ll try,” Emi said, breathing out deeply.

“Can you feel your energy?” Aina asked. “Can you feel how I’m shaping it?” Emi nodded, and Aina carefully manipulated her spiritual energy to poke microscopic holes in Emi’s magical energy, forming lattices that gave the spell shape. Another barrier formed around the meido, this time, with a floor. “Did you get that?”

“I think so,” Emi said, a bit more confident than she had been a moment ago. She once again dispelled her barrier so she could try it herself. It took a few attempts, but by the end, the meido was floating in midair, protected by the barrier.

Ii,” Aina praised her. “The hard part now is going to be picking the meido out of the crowd. Do you know any spells that can help you with that?”

“No spells,” Emi said, “but my mahou energy is very sensitive. If I flood the area, I can’t guarantee perfect results, but I should only miss a few.”

“That’ll have to do,” Aina said, “but you’ll need to be quick, or the meido will start trying to evade. Some of them are competent spellbreakers. I taught them myself.”

“Oi, nani are you doing?” an officer shouted. He had turned to check on the captured meido and found her floating in midair.

“Ending this,” Aina shouted back, stepping forward towards the man. She kept her energy under control, allowing Emi to continue casting her spells. “We’re capturing the meido efficiently, without further injury.”

“Hmph,” the officer grunted. “Mahou sure is convenient. Won’t need the rest of us soon enough.”

“That’s not true,” Aina said, her voice calm and even. “Dai-ichi Mahou Chutai never obviated the rest of the guntai.” This didn’t convince the officer, but he turned away. He had already been reprimanded twice for starting squabbles with magical officers, and he had more immediate concerns. If they could get this over with faster, he wasn’t going to get in their way. Had he recognized Aina, he might have felt differently, but he hadn’t paid her much attention. As more captured meido flew in their direction, however, more police officers turned their attention toward Emi and Aina. A few magical girls flew over to them, and they were the first to recognize Aina.

“I need medics,” Aina called out to them. “Anyone who can’t cast healing spells, help with triage. I don’t care about sides in this conflict. Heal the most serious injuries first.”

“You’re not in our chain of command,” One of the magical girls hovering around Aina blurted out.

“She’s worked with the keibu longer than anyone,” another magical girl countered, “and the keibu trusts her.”

“We can’t just disobey meirei,” the first magical girl argued back.

“These meirei suck,” the other magical girl said. “The keibu would never have ordered us to attack the meido.”

“The keibu isn’t here, and meirei are meirei,” the first magical girl insisted. “It’s not just our shigoto that are on the line. We’re talking fines, imprisonment, maybe even the disbanding of our entire unit.”

“True,” the other magical girl admitted, “but is that really any worse than what Aina Dufort might do to you?”

The first magical girl opened her mouth to answer, but couldn’t come up with a convincing argument. A visible chill reverberated up her spine as she thought of what Aina might do to her, of what she had already risked by back-talking, and she turned towards Aina and saluted in midair. The assembled magical girls then flew away to carry out Aina’s orders.

Turning towards the captured meido, Aina found that Emi had erected a larger barrier around them, like a circular pen, and allowed them out of their individual barriers. Many of them were hurt, and almost all of the rest of them were attempting to patch their wounds.

“Healers are coming,” Aina yelled to them. “Cooperate with them.”

“That’s the last of them,” Emi informed Aina as she lowered a few meido into the pen.

Arigatou, Emi-san,” Aina thanked her, “for siding with me. To be honest, I was surprised you told me what was going on. You were such a stickler for the law when we first met, I just assumed…”

“That hasn’t changed.” Emi said. “I’m aware of no enforceable law that would authorize this raid, and I know Koharu-keibu would have refused these meirei on the same grounds. I should be thanking you for your assistance.”

Sou ka,” Aina said. “I guess I’m still getting used to how things work now, but this presents a mondai.” She turned back to the meido and shouted, “I need to speak with your lead—with the oldest amongst you.”

A stout meido pushed her way through the crowd. “That would be me, Aina-sama,” the woman announced. Aina recognized her as a former student, now in her fifties. Although she had never been the best student, she had survived to an age most meido only saw through a combination of talent and luck.

Naze did you face the keisatsu head on?” Aina snapped. She was angry not at the meido, but at what she was going to have to do to her.

“I know what you’re going to say, Aina-sama,” the meido said, doing her best to appear unshaken at Aina’s words. “We should have fled into the night, abandoning our homes but saving our lives. Perhaps you think we should have fought, picking them off from the darkness and slowly reclaiming what is ours. It’s not that simple, Aina-sama. There are things, and hito, koko we want to mamoru. A new generation of meido have come to join us. Youngsters who want to improve themselves and create a better sekai. They couldn’t run fast enough to escape.”

“You don’t train them?” Aina inquired.

“Even if we wanted to, I believe most of them would refuse. Old meidou belongs to a sekai at sensou. Things have changed now. They’re creating an atarashii meidou, a meidou that benefits shakai. That’s worth risking our lives for.”

“A beautiful speech,” a voice from behind Aina complimented the meido, “but that doesn’t excuse you for resisting arrest.”

Masaru-choukan,” Aina greeted the owner of the voice, turning to face him, “ohisashiburi.”

“Not really,” Masaru said dismissively. “I must say, I’m surprised to see you here. I thought you were going to stay neutral.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Aina feigned. “I can’t imagine how this raid could be related to your struggle for political supremacy.”

“Don’t give me that,” Masaru said with an exasperated sigh. “This is obviously a trap set by the Naichou.”

“You’re aware that it’s a trap, but you fell into it anyway?” Aina asked. “I can’t say I ever thought of you as an intelligent man, but I didn’t think you were baka.”

“I took the bait because it gave me an excuse to take care of the free meido before they became a bigger mondai,” Masaru explained, ignoring the insult. “The Naichou believes this will work towards our disadvantage, but I think it serves our interests nicely.”

“For once, we agree,” Aina smiled. “The keishichou will be much better off without you at its head.”

“Nani do you mean?” Masaru demanded, his calm facade falling away.

“The Treaty on World Peace,” Aina said, using the treaty’s official name, “prohibits all actions that could lead to increased militarism. You know the free meido are not responsible for the attack on Koharu-san. Mobilizing the entire force against them can only be interpreted as an attempt to use the keisatsu as a military force to suppress political opponents.”

“It was nothing of the sort,” Masaru protested. “It was a legitimate raid against a dangerous group. This is a domestic issue. It doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the treaty.”

“The free meido are potentially dangerous,” Aina admitted,” but they are law abiding and espouse heiwa. There are many similar groups all over the sekai, but the treaty was only possible because they agreed to live and let live. They agreed to trust each other, and your actions here are a threat to that trust. Furthermore, the fact that this is a domestic matter is irrelevant. All signatories to the treaty, the Federation included, have agreed that sekai heiwa would be impossible if it were subordinate to national sovereignty.”

“Nani about them?” Masaru countered. “They resisted in an organized, violent manner. “It was the very definition of militant.”

“You’re right,” Aina sighed. “They’ll face punishment as well.”

“Oh? And Dare will administer that punishment if not us?” Masaru pressed. “Wouldn’t any attempt deteriorate into military action?”

“This is why the keishichou will be better off without you,” Aina said. “You don’t even pay attention to what’s going on in your own department. The treaty authorizes individuals who have the blessing of ni major countries to eliminate militants. Some of your officers are certified. It’s supposed to be done covertly, but that’s not an option here.”

“Even overtly, you can’t eliminate a nation’s entire police force in the name of sekai heiwa,” Masaru pointed out. “It’s not practical.”

“I probably could,” Aina said, retrieving documents from her purse and handing them to Masaru, “but I agree that it would not be ideal.”

“The Expedition and ‘Murica?” Masaru scoffed. “You weren’t endorsed by your own country. This is nothing but international interference in a domestic matter.”

“So here’s what we’re going to do,” Aina said, ignoring him. “The leaders of each group are going to take responsibility. Their subordinates are going to swear that they were following orders under duress, and that they abhor militarism. Under normal circumstances, just following orders would not be a valid excuse, but sekai heiwa no tame ni, I think it can be overlooked this time.”

“Iie,” Masaru insisted. “If we refuse to play your game, nani are you going to do about it?” He turned back towards the officers behind him and shouted, “Meirei da! Do not cooperate with Aina Dufort. If we stick together, there’s nothing she can do to us.”

“Don’t be foolish,” Aina bellowed, her voice carrying farther than Masaru’s. “Only your ineffective leader need take the blame for this. You’re free to obey his meirei, but if you do, sekai heiwa no tame ni, haijyo suru. Any of you who wish to join him, raise your te.”

None of the assembled police officers stepped forward to join their commander. As a political appointee, he wasn’t especially popular among the ranks.

Doushitano, choukan?” The senior meido taunted from the other side of the barrier. “I’m willing to take responsibility and mamoru my nakama. Naze aren’t you?”

“Let me borrow your service buki,” Aina asked Emi solemnly. “I don’t want to make this messier than I have to.”

Matte,” Emi said. “You don’t have to kill them. According to the treaty, you could arrest them and hand them over to an international court.”

“If I’m going to be put to death anyway,” the meido on the other side of the barrier said, “I’d rather get it over with. It would save minna time, and spare me from the stress of a trial.”

“Given the circumstances, there’s a good chance you’ll both be spared,” Emi pleaded. “You were manipulated by a third party, and neither of you intended to break the treaty. You’ll do some hard jikan, but it’s unlikely you’ll be killed.”

“Dare’s going to hold him in the meantime?” the meido countered, “the keisatsu?”

“Of course not,” Emi said. “That would be an obvious conflict of interest. We’ll do a hostage exchange. You’ll surrender yourself to us, and the free meido can hold on to Masaru-sama. It will give both sides a chance to show that they can care for their teki, that they reject militarism.”

“In that case, I agree.” The meido said. She shouted over her shoulder to the meido behind her, “Minna, ki wo tsukete. With any luck, we’ll meet again.” A few meido were choking back tears. There were murmurs of dissent among the crowd, but no one tried to stop her.

“Arigatou,” Aina whispered to the meido. Although Aina was happy at the conclusion, she was embarrassed that she hadn’t thought of arresting the leaders. To her, killing them had been the only obvious answer. “Emi-san, can you teleport to Ikebukuro? I’ll take care of the clean-up here.”

“It’s too late,” Emi told her. “The meido in Ikebukuro have already been arrested.”

Zannen,” Aina said. “We’ll have to deal with the consequences of that later. For now, could you tell me where Koharu-san is?”

12:31 PM

As soon as Koharu was pronounced stable, Aina forced her way into the hospital room. “Nani happened?” she demanded of Koharu.

“I’m glad you’re alright too,” Koharu replied sarcastically.

Gomen,” Aina apologized, “but if something can put you in the byouin, it’s a threat to us all. I need to act as quickly—”

“It was your old tomo, Jin-san,” Koharu interrupted. “She used a poison that was highly resistant to mahou. Every time I tried to purge it from myself, I could feel it change to elude my spells. It was probably mahou-based itself. I’m told it took a team of healers and doctors hours to eliminate it.”

“Jin-chan… Naze did she attack you?” Aina asked.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Koharu said. “Perhaps she was just trying to remove one of your allies, but I doubt she would have acted without the prime minister’s approval. I just wonder what he gets out of all this.”

10:06 PM

Gen. Kaito strode into the commissioner general’s office at the Neo Crystal Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department headquarters, only to find it, like the rest of the office, empty.

“Not a single hostage?” he asked one of the soldiers who had stormed the building.

“Iie, sir. The building was completely empty.”

Kaito was at a momentary loss as to what to do. If they continued to occupy the building, the police would no doubt launch a counterattack, but it left a bad taste in his mouth to leave empty handed. He was just about to order a retreat when a phone on the desk rang.

“Kaito-kun,” a voice said as soon as he picked up the receiver.

“Prime minister,” Kaito answered, trying to sound as calm as possible.

“I was worried you were too smart to fall for something like this,” the prime minister said. “You had so many options. I suppose I should thank you for taking the one that gave me the clearest justification.”

“Justification for na–” Kaito started to ask, only to be cut off when Jin stabbed him from behind.