The knock at her door startled Fumiko. “Please go away,” she called out. Like all doors in the Zen monastery, the door to Fumiko’s room didn’t have a lock. Since it opened outwards, she had no way to barricade it. This had always bothered her, but after what happened with Aina, Fumiko really didn’t want to see anyone.
“Fu-chan, it’s me,” came the voice of Iori, Fumiko’s closest friend, from the other side of the door.
Wearily, Fumiko walked over to her door and cracked it open. “Gomen,” she said, poking her head out of the room, “I know I—” She stopped when she saw that it was Sena, not Iori, standing outside her room. “Nani did you do with Iori?” she asked, shocked.
“Gomen, I tricked you,” Sena said, imitating Iori’s voice.
Fumiko tried to slam the door, but Sena grabbed it and pulled it open. Surprised by Sena’s strength, Fumiko stumbled backwards. Sena walked into the room, closing the door behind her.
“H-How did you know about Iori?” Fumiko stammered. Sena regarded the girl carefully. Her eyes were red and splotchy, her hair disheveled. In many ways, she looked exactly like Aina had that morning.
“All communications into and out of the mansion are monitored,” Sena explained. “I can imitate any voice after listening to only a few sentences. The short call you made yesterday was more than enough.”
“That’s creepy,” Fumiko said.
“I will take your word for that,” Sena said, looking around the room. A large backpack and a suitcase were lying open on the ground, with clothing and personal items inside.
“Are you taking a trip?” Sena asked. “Doko to?”
“I’m going home. The only reason I came to this monastery in the first place was because my chichiue wanted to separate me from Aina. That’s not necessary anymore.”
“Does the abbot know you are leaving?”
“Not yet. I wanted to be all packed before I told him. I can’t take another one of his lectures right now.”
“I will help.” Sena said, kneeling down to fold some of the clothes Fumiko had laid out.
“I doubt you came here to help me pack,” Fumiko said, suspiciously.
“Officially, I am here to deliver a reward from goshujin-sama,” Sena said, producing an envelope from her inner breast pocket. It contained twenty 1,000 yen bills. Ginjiro had insisted on using the 1,000 bills to make the envelope look more substantial. It wasn’t a large sum for a goshujin, but Ginjiro had only recently managed to get his finances under control. “He regrets that you left before he could thank you in person.”
“Soshite, unofficially?” Fumiko asked, taking the envelope. “Are you going to kill me for hurting Aina? I know how you feel about her, and about me.”
“I am not going to kill anyone, and I do not feel anything.”
“You know what I mean,” Fumiko chided.
“I do not know what you believe about how I think about you and Aina-chan.”
“Sena-san,” Jin sighed. “Yesterday, I couldn’t tell the difference between you and the other gynoids. Today I can. When Aina and I…”
“When you had sex,” Sena prompted as Fumiko hesitated.
“I would prefer to say we made ai, but I don’t really know what we did. I saw her memories. I saw everything. I don’t mean I saw all of her memories. I saw everything in the universe. That doesn’t normally happen when ni people are together, does it?”
“I have never heard of anything like that happening. Did you see Chikako-sama? Is she still alive?”
“Doko is she?” Sena pressed.
“I… shirimasen. It didn’t seem important at the time, and now that we’re separated, there’s so much I’ve forgotten. I could only retain the most important parts, and to Aina, you’re ichi of the most important hito in the sekai.”
“Demo, not the most important, it sounds like.”
“I don’t… Maybe you are now. It was close.”
“It does not bother me if I am not.”
“Because you believe that you and Aina will live much longer than I will,” Fumiko inferred. “Centuries from now, it won’t matter that I was more important for go-jyuu years.”
“I did tell Aina-chan something like that,” Sena confirmed. “Demo, that is not all I think about you. I believe you are having a positive impact on Aina-chan’s life, and that makes you important to me as well.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” Fumiko mumbled. “I hurt her badly, Sena-san.”
“She hurt you as well,” Sena observed.
“Demo, it’s my fault. I started this. I told her I wanted to be with her. Iie, I did want to be with her, but when I found out what she really was, I got scared. Who she is—what she was born as—that’s not her fault.”
“It is not your fault either, and you had no way of knowing. Even so, I would ask you not to condemn her as a bakemono. Whatever else she may be, or may have been, Aina-chan is first and foremost a ningen. Every day she ganbarus to recognize in herself the humanity that she so easily finds in others, but she struggles with it. Her parents called her a bakemono, Naomi-sama called her a bakemono, and if you call her that, she might never be able to see herself as anything but.”
“She is a bakemono though,” Fumiko said quietly, but with conviction. “You wouldn’t say that if you knew what she really was.”
“I have a fairly good idea. From the day I met her, I could tell she was a mahou shoujo. Her wings were angelic, but imposing, like those of a shinigami. Her mahou-spiritual energy was twisted by a complicated system of seals placed upon her by her parents. I speculate that her existence was preordained by the reality crack that created the GINZUISHOU. The anonymous hito who pulled the lever wanted to make the world more anime, and characters with the chikara to cause great destruction, perhaps enough to destroy the sekai, are unquestionably anime, both as heroes and as villains.”
“That’s what I figure as well, but she’s no hero. That capacity you claim she has to see humanity in others is completely absent when it comes to people she thinks are teki. She never saw Mari-san as anything but a teki until after she was dead.” Fumiko started to cry as she spoke, irritating her already sore eyes.
“Neither is she a villain, though I believe she was intended to be. Nihilistic villains with great power are common in anime. Fortunately, there is still a difference between anime and genjitsu, and the concepts of hero and villain are too simplistic for the real sekai. Aina-chan’s nature is to disregard ningen life, but she knows that kind of behavior is wrong, and she is trying to change. She was the one who convinced me that killing is counterproductive. That is why I think it is important for us to support her, and not reinforce the notion that she is a bakemono.”
“I… can’t. I won’t call her a bakemono, but I can’t support her. She thought—she was hoping—that my koi would make her a better person, that it would save her, but it didn’t. There’s nothing I can do to save her, so I can’t face her again.”
“Chigau. In a way, you saved her already. Aina-chan knows there are san possibilities for her in the long-term. She can overcome her nature and truly renounce killing, she could fall to it, and cause calamitous destruction, or she could sacrifice her own life to prevent it. If you really saw her memories, you should know she has almost taken that third route more than once.”
“Un, the most recent time was when she was fighting Ryoko-san, and it was for watashi no tame ni that she didn’t give up. Demo, that’s not the kind of saving I mean. I cannot make her a better person.”
“The most recent time was actually this morning, after you left. She told me that she couldn’t do it because you were a part of her now, and she couldn’t bring herself to kill a part of you.”
“That’s sweet, but isn’t she just raising a giant death flag for me? I die, there’s nothing left to hold her back, and in her grief, she runs rampant.”
“I believe in Aina-chan. I believe she can change for the better with the support of her loved ones.”
“That’s not a sure thing though. As much as I love Aina, maybe it would be better if… if…”
“You do not really think that.” Sena stated.
“You wakarimasen, Sena-san. I was created to take Aina out. Oh, if only it had worked, we could have abandoned our physical karada and melted into the fabric of genjitsu. We could have avoided all of this. Our spiritual energies, they fit together like interlocking puzzle pieces. It’s the most wonderful feeling in the sekai. That’s what attracted us to each other in the first place. I used to think it was because we were unmei no koibito, but now that I’ve seen her memories, and learned about the lever, I believe the GINZUISHOU molded my energy to fit hers perfectly. It saw the threat she posed, and devised a countermeasure—me—to seduce her into abandoning her karada.”
“That must have been shocking to learn, but let me ask you this: If being with her is the best feeling in the sekai, and nothing can change that now, does it really matter? You should be with her if you want to be. You should not let the GINZUISHOU drive you apart.”
“Iie, I am going to marry the otoko my chichiue has picked out for me, and I am going to inherit the shrine. There is no place for Aina in my mirai.”
“You will not love him,” Sena said plainly. “You cannot love him. How long do you think you can trap yourself in an unhappy marriage before you long to see Aina-chan again?”
“I’m not going to cheat on the otou-san of my kodomo,” Fumiko said with resolve.
“Because you see yourself as a ii hito, and ii hito don’t cheat on their spouses?”
“That is an immature perspective, and it will not hold. In a loveless marriage, he will probably cheat on you as well. You will not just be indifferent towards him, you will become resentful. The longer you remain unsatisfied, the more you will blame him for locking you into that situation. You will want to hurt him, and eventually, you will.”
“Jya, if you know everything, nani should I do?”
“Does your betrothed have any feelings for you?”
“Probably not. I met him once, a few years ago, and he seemed to be disappointed in me.”
“You and Aina-chan shared your first kiss at a matsuri celebrating tanibata, ne?”
“Hai, I think so.”
“Then it seems appropriate to me that you ni should be as Orihime and Hikoboshi. You have made it clear that you cannot live your daily life sneaking in and out of the mansion to be with Aina-chan, but the ni of you could make arrangements to be together on tanibata. You would not be life partners, but you could give yourself permission for your love to bloom on a single night. If you think you would feel guilty about it, you could make it a precondition for your marriage. If your husband-to-be is reasonable, he will see the wisdom in it, and if he has someone he fancies, he will probably ask for a similar consideration. Your otou-san will agree to it, even if he does not like it. He is a very practical hito. It is better than nothing, and it would give Aina-chan something to live for. It could even be more often than once a year if you think you could handle it.”
“Are you trying to make a joke?”
“I am serious. Nani is funny about it?”
“Orihime and Hikoboshi aren’t each other’s side dish, and—”
“They love each other like you and Aina-chan still do.” Sena interrupted, “They are separated by the milky way, and you are separated by shakai, which can be just as unassailable a kekkai. I believe it is a decent analogy.”
“Demo, they don’t have s—make ai.”
“They are adults, they love each other, and they are married. Tanibata is the only chance they have all year. Of course they have sex.”
“Doko do they do it?” Fumiko asked giggling. “Right on top of the magpies?”
“That’s crass,” Fumiko said, still giggling. “The magpies wouldn’t build them a hashi just so they could engage in carnal pleasures.”
‘That is exactly why the magpies build them a hashi. They know that Orihime wants to meet with Hikoboshi because she loves him, but as animals, their understanding of koi is limited to mating. They are building the hashi because they believe it is Orihime’s mating season, and they are helping her to get it on.”
“This is sacrilegious!” Fumiko burst out laughing. “I’m a miko, and you have no compunctions about implying that deities get so horny that they’ll have sex on the backs of magpies.”
“I have no compunctions because I know you do not really believe in those myths. I doubt there are any Shintou priests in the machi who actually believe them. You are all just worshipping the kami for the favors they bestow upon you?”
“There are a few true believers, but I am not one of them. Demo, I do know that deities are supposed to be pure, Sena-san. They don’t have sex.”
“Nani do you think they were doing when they were shirking their jobs together?” Sena asked rhetorically, causing Fumiko to laugh harder. “They were fucking so much that they didn’t have time for anything else. I really do not see how this is funny,” she added, as Fumiko doubled over laughing. “I had always assumed that this was the correct interpretation of the myth, that all adults realized this, but never said it explicitly to keep kodomo unaware.”
“Maybe some adults do think that.” Fumiko said, collecting herself, “but I don’t think most hito even consider what they do when they get together. They’re always just depicted holding hands and staring lovingly into each others’ eyes.”
“Regardless, nani do you think about that keikaku?”
“It still feels like I would be doing wrong, but maybe you’re right about its practicality. Let me think about it.”
“Please arrive at a decision quickly. I would like to give Aina-chan something to be happy about soon.”
Before Fumiko could respond, they were interrupted by a knock at her door. “Fumiko-san,” the abbot addressed her without opening the door, “are you daijobu?” I’ve been informed that hysterical laughter can be heard coming from your heya.”
“Gomen, shishou,” Fumiko called back. “I have a guest over, and she told a really funny joke. I will keep it down.”
Without asking for permission, the abbot opened the door and poked his head in. “I am glad you are feeling be—” He stopped as he took in the room. The first thing he noticed was Sena’s uniform, then he noticed that she was a gynoid, and finally, he saw that they were packing Fumiko’s luggage. “Nani is going on here?” He demanded.
Fumiko took a deep breath and then answered. “Shishou, I’m going back to Neo Crystal Chichibu Shrine. I have decided to acquiesce to my chichiue’s wishes. I will marry the otoko he has chosen for me.”
“Sou ka,” the abbot sighed. “I would wish you shiawase, but I know you will not be happy.”
“Arigatou for your confidence,” Fumiko said bitterly.
“May I offer you an alternative?” the abbot asked.
“Save it,” Fumiko told him. “I’m not converting to Buddhism.”
“The offer is always there,” The abbot responded. “Actually, that goes for you as well,” he said, addressing Sena. “I hear that gynoids consider themselves to be ningen. Buddhism is open to all.”
“Arigatou for the offer,” Sena thanked him, “but if I may, it is obvious to me that you ni do not like each other very much. Let us not waste time on fruitless discussions.”
“There is no way I could be happy as a Buddhist,” Fumiko said, ignoring Sena.
“Shiawase isn’t the point,” the abbot said.
“Nani is the point then,” Fumiko snapped, “of deluding yourself into believing unscientific myths?”
“It’s better than selling your soul to artificial kami in exchange for material chikara,” the abbot replied.
“At least I’m allowed to live a real life. I don’t need to deny myself a plethora of ningen experiences. I’m allowed to… You know what, Sena-san, you’re right. I don’t want to lock myself into a joyless life. I agree to your keikaku.”
“Arigatou, Fumiko-san,” Sena said, closing Fumiko’s suitcase. “Shall I escort you home?”
“Let’s go,” Fumiko agreed. “Shishou, arigatou for taking care of me. I’ll be going now.”
“Not until you tell me what you’re planning,” the abbot said, moving to block their exit.
Sena walked right up to the man and locked eyes with him. He was a little taller than she was, but she wore a meido uniform, and he knew how dangerous that made her. Without warning, Sena opened her mouth and let out a high-pitched squawk, imitating the cry of a magpie. The abbot jumped back in surprise, and Sena pushed him aside. Without another word, Sena and Fumiko walked past him and out of the monastery.