May 3rd, U.C. 0053 4:01 PM
“Do you have to go to your arubaito today?” Nanami asked, trying to sound disinterested in the answer. She and Aina were walking towards the school gate. A line of limos were parked outside, but theirs was not among them. Theirs was currently traveling towards the school and would pick them up a few blocks away at a location Aina had specified that morning. It was taking a randomized route, timed to meet them just as they arrived at the rendezvous point. At least two meido were riding in the car to keep it secure. Ginjiro had insisted on these security measures, but Aina had thought them overkill, and had quipped that it would be quicker and safer for her to run from the school to the mansion, carrying Nanami on her back. She quickly backpedaled when Ginjiro told her that the only dignified way to carry an ojou-sama was the princess carry.
“Not today,” Aina replied. “Things should be quiet for a while.” While she spoke, she scanned the area for threats.
“After what you went through, they should have given you time off to recuperate,” Nanami commiserated.
“Says the ojou-sama who dragged me to gakkou the day after I saved her life,” Aina teased.
“That’s not my fault,” Nanami said. “Chichiue insisted. Mattaku, he’s too protective. It’s been a year already, and I haven’t noticed any threats to my life, have you?”
“I haven’t,” Aina admitted, “but perhaps minna is just too smart to try anything while I’m around.”
“Don’t you get all paranoid on me too,” Nanami chided.
“Being paranoid is part of my job,” Aina informed her.
“Your job is killing you,” Nanami pointed out. “You need to relax. Since you’re free today, you can join me for karaoke.”
“Dare else is coming?” asked Aina.
“Just us. We can make dareever’s in the car play security guard.”
“That sounds suspiciously like a date, and you know my policy on dates.”
“I could just order you to come with me,” Nanami threatened.
“Only goshujin-sama can give me meirei, and he ordered me to escort you directly home after gakkou.”
“He’s only goshujin because the house staff supports him,” Nanami murmured, “and they only support him because you support him.”
“Meaning nani?” Aina probed.
“Meaning you shouldn’t have to obey his meirei. You hold all the chikara in the relationship.”
“That’s not true at all,” Aina said. “I need him as much as he needs me. A meido without a goshujin, or one who disobeys her goshujin, is a threat to shakai. By agreeing to become my goshujin, he spared me from having to choose between seppuku and a hopeless tatakai against my tomodachi and fellow meido.”
“Demo, he didn’t do anything to earn it,” Nanami complained. “He was just there.”
“Slave owners have never needed to earn their slaves,” Aina pointed out. “In fact, that doesn’t even make sense. There are no acts so meritorious that performing them earn one hito dominion over another.”
“Semantics,” Nanami dismissed. “My great-ojii-san seized chikara and subjugated Naomi with his own hands. Chichiue has never done anything worthy of that kind of respect.”
“He took the title for Nanami-sama no tame ni,” Aina said, “and you’ll inherit it one day because of that. Will you not respect yourself when that day comes?”
“Atarimae,” Nanami scoffed. “I’m no hypocrite. Don’t worry, I still plan on inheriting the title, but I will take it with my own te.”
“Well, putting aside your traitorous declaration, we still couldn’t go straight to karaoke even if I did want to disobey goshujin-sama. According to gakkou regulations, we’re to go straight home after classes and change out of our uniforms.”
“Ah, that regulation is for our protection,” Nanami explained. “Because so many kodomo of goshujin go here, we have the highest percentage of unpopped cherries of any koukou in the Federation. Our uniform has become something of a fetish object, and the administration is worried we might be targeted by some sickos. Demo, with meido guards, we have nothing to worry about.”
“Are you serious?” Aina asked.
“I’m surprised you didn’t shitteiru that. A lot of AVs and doujins have featured our uniform recently. You must not be viewing the right kind of porn. I can lend you some if you want, but I guess you don’t need it anymore. There’s a rumor going around that you slept with that miko.”
“That’s the first I’ve heard of this rumor,” Aina said, raising her eyebrows. “Dare did you hear it from?”
“Lots of people. It’s a favorite topic of conversation amongst the house staff lately. Luckily for you, it hasn’t reached gakkou yet.”
“Maybe it would be better if it did,” Aina mused. “It would put to rest all the talk about me being chuuni. If I had been thinking straight, I would have worn a cast over these ofuda.”
“De, is it true?” Nanami asked.
“Of course not,” Aina lied. “I’m still a pure and innocent shoujo.”
“I didn’t think so,” Nanami covered. “You won’t give me the time of day, and I’m much hotter than she is. Still, if it was true, that’s exactly the kind of answer a meido is supposed to give. I’m not naive like my parents or Akira-oji-san. I know a lot of meido have naisho no koi lives.”
“I won’t deny that, but it’s not a universal rule, and I’m too busy for romance right now.”
“Jya, you won’t mind if I make a pass at that miko then?”
“Good luck. She’s engaged to be married.”
“Heeee? How do you know that?”
“Fumiko-san and I have been tomodachi for years, but we’re just tomodachi.”
“OK, I’ll believe you,” Nanami chuckled, “if you answer a shitsumon truthfully.”
“Only if you answer one of mine,” countered Aina.
“Deal,” Nanami said without hesitation. “Even if you are a ‘pure and innocent shoujo’ as you put it, don’t you ever get horny?”
“That’s what you’re wasting your question on?” Aina scoffed. “Of course I do. Your turn. Do you like otoko or onna? I keep getting mixed signals from you.”
“Both,” Nanami answered. “Or maybe it’s better to say I’m not picky. I just wanna do it with someone. I should be spending my seishun making pleasant memories. This is the only thing I envy about the lower castes. They get to fuck to their hearts’ content in koukou, and sometimes even earlier than that.”
“I believe the average age of virginity loss is jyuu-kyuu-sai, even amongst the lower castes,” Aina observed.
“It’s jyuu years later than that amongst my caste,” Nanami claimed. “Relations between the goshujin families are so fraught, and marriage is so important in concentrating political chikara. You never know when a prospective groom is going to insist on a virgin bride, or an overprotective parent is going to insist on a shotgun wedding, and a family feud amongst us could avalanche into another civil sensou. We managed to take one of the most beautiful aspects of the ningen experience and turn it into one of the most dangerous.”
“I’m not buying it,” Aina said. “If you aren’t picky, naze am I the only one you sexually harass? Not that I’m asking you to start bothering the others, mind you. I’m very grateful I don’t have to keep as watchful an eye on you as I feared when we first met.”
“You’re the closest to me in age,” Nanami said with a shrug, “and you’re right in my strike zone. It’s not like I don’t have any standards.”
“Jin-chan’s not much younger, and there are a few others who are in their early ni-jyuus,” Aina pointed out.
“I’m not really into any of them. I could maybe go for Jin, but she’s already got that shy newtype kareshi. I don’t want to get in the way of her romance.”
Jin having a boyfriend was news to Aina, but she didn’t want Nanami to know that. “Darn, I should have told you Fumiko-san and I were an item,” Aina teased. “Maybe then you’d stop bothering me.”
“Too late, the deal was I’d believe you were a pure shoujo if you answered my shitsumon.”
“In all seriousness, you should stop, Nanami-sama. You and I are not equals. We can’t even be tomodachi, let alone koibito.”
“Don’t say that. You and I are bound together by unmei. You have to love me, it’s in your namae.”
“That’s why you’ve been harassing me?!” Aina raged as they turned the final corner on their route. “Of all the baka things I’ve heard you say, this has got—”
“Aina-san yo!” a shout from above interrupted their conversation. A magical girl fell out of the air, directly in front of them. She was wearing the uniform of the 01st Magical Company, and Aina recognized her as a soldier who had enlisted some months ago. She had racked up many victories on the battlefield and quickly rose through the ranks. Despite that, Aina hadn’t been impressed with the girl’s power, and hadn’t bothered to remember her name. “Shoubu da,” the girl said.
“Isn’t she on your side?” Nanami asked, confused.
“She is,” Aina confirmed. “The mahou shoujo who came after you was the strongest in the machi, and I killed her,” Aina stated. “It was only a matter of time before some aho came after the ichiban headband. I’m only surprised it took so long.” “I don’t like being called an aho, Aina-san,” the magical girl growled.
“Then stop acting like one,” a plain clothed woman said, stepping out from a nearby alley and in front of the magical girl, “and get in line. My claim on her is older. Mme Aina, I challenge you for the title of Naomi’s successor.” As she made her declaration, the car sent to pick up Nanami and Aina pulled up, and two meido hopped out, drawing their weapons.
“I don’t know who you think you are,” Nanami huffed, “but this is no time for official challenges. Can’t you see Aina is injured?” She grabbed Aina’s left arm and lifted it into the air as if to show them. Aina winced in pain as Nanami waved her arm in the air, but didn’t pull away.
“Yoko-san,” Aina addressed the woman who had just challenged her, “how did you know to find me here?” Yoko’s ambush had been well-executed. Aina had to worry about four potential hostages. As much as she might not care for the magical girl, Koharu would be angry if she got killed in a dispute between meido.
“Yoko-san is it these days?” Yoko sneered. “I’ve been tailing you ever since you left school, and you didn’t have a clue.”
“Stop ignoring me,” the magical girl interrupted. “You’re underestimating me.”
The magical girl knew that Aina was a spell breaker, but she was completely unprepared for her magical energy to be completely nullified as Aina pushed her out of Yoko’s reach. She hadn’t even seen Aina move from where she had been standing, but she felt the tremendous force of Yoko’s backhand as it barely missed them both. The two meido from the car leapt forward to strike at Yoko, and Aina jumped backwards, twisting in midair and kicking them away to safety. As Aina turned back towards Yoko, she saw the older meido crouch slightly, preparing to advance on Nanami, and Aina propelled herself between them using her spiritual energy.
“You’ve gotten stronger,” Yoko complimented.
“I’ll accept your shoubu,” Aina told her, “but this is between you and watashi. No bystanders.”
“Agreed,” Yoko said with a smile. “I’m glad you’re being so reasonable. As a show of respect, I’ll even give you some time to recover from your injury. I wouldn’t want it to be said I beat you illegitimately.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a piece of paper and a pen, wrote a note on the paper, and handed it to Aina. “Here are the coordinates. If you’re not there at the designated date and time, I’ll come looking for you, and I won’t be so understanding.”
Aina glanced at the date on the paper. Yoko was giving her just under two weeks to prepare.
“Fall in,” Aina roared as she stomped into the doujou. The meido milling around scrambled to take their positions. More meido followed Aina into the doujou, complicating the process. They formed rows, sitting in seiza, with higher-ranked meido sitting in front of their inferiors. “Isoige,” Aina encouraged them as she stood at the front of the doujou, facing them. Shiro sat behind Aina, to her right, facing the same direction.
“That’s minna,” Shiro confirmed as the last meido took her seat. Aina had called for all non-essential personnel to assemble in the doujou. Even those on their sleep shift were roused to attend. The only meido absent were the nine gynoids, the on-duty parlor meido, and the three meido who remained on watch.
“I’ll make this quick,” Aina announced. “As of now, we are under threat from an attack by the ronin meido, Yoko-sama. She is even more dangerous than Chikako-sama. If you encounter her, you will not survive. Do not hesitate to sacrifice yourself to secure an escape for the kazoku. To prevent the worst, I want everyone on high alert. I’m going to be enforcing discipline more strictly than you’re used to. Socializing is to be kept to a minimum. It’s come to my attention that Nanami-sama has become privy to some of the gossip that’s always going around. I don’t mind the gossip, as long as it’s kept amongst ourselves, but when it reaches our goshujin—or worse, our teki—it becomes dangerous. I expect you to be more circumspect from now on.”
It was clear from their reaction that everyone knew what gossip Aina was referring to. As Aina scanned the room, looking at each other meido in turn, they all averted their gaze from her. Only Jin, who was seated in the first row, didn’t look away. She locked her eyes with Aina’s and then quickly flicked them in Shiro’s direction. Aina felt her stomach sink.
“I’ll have new schedules for you within an hour,” Shiro took over for Aina. “Minna is going to take some extra watch shifts, no exceptions. Dismissed.”
As soon as Shiro clapped her hands, the assembled meido rushed out of the doujou. No one wanted to be around Aina right now, including Jin.
“Shiro-sama, may I have a word?” Aina requested before Shiro could get too far.
“Certainly,” Shiro smiled.
“Naze did you start that rumor about me?” Aina demanded as soon as they were alone.
“It’s only a rumor if it’s not true,” Shiro answered without missing a beat.
“It’s only a rumor if it’s not substantiated,” Aina corrected. When Shiro didn’t respond, Aina tried another approach. “I thought you were my tomodachi.” The hurt was evident in Aina’s voice, and she didn’t try to hide it.
Aina didn’t want to have any reason to hate Shiro. The two of them weren’t especially close, but Shiro was Momo and Mimi’s mother, and that was enough reason for Aina to be nice to her. Shiro had always returned that kindness. That relationship had started before they became coworkers, and in the year since then, they hadn’t had much time to interact. What if Shiro now considered Aina a threat to her position? Would that in turn cause Aina to see Shiro as a threat, just like with Chikako? Would her survival instinct compel her to kill Shiro? How could she face Momo and Mimi if she did that? With all her heart, Aina hoped that Shiro was not dangerous.
“You are tomodachi with my daughters,” Shiro clarified, “and I’ve always been nice to you for their sake. Demo, we are not tomodachi. To me, you’ll always be the gaki who broke Momo’s heart and got her sent off to live with that horrid onna.”
“I regret that,” admitted Aina, “but it wasn’t my fault. I was too young to return her feelings.”
“That doesn’t matter to me. It’s not fair, but as her okaa-san, I daikirai anyone who hurts my daughter. When I learned you were that way too, it only made me daikirai you more. Was watashi no Momo just not good enough for you? It’s not fair that she got sent away for liking you, but you get to stay here after shacking up with that homely charlatan.”
“Erika-sama isn’t any worse than Akira-sama was,” Aina said, ignoring Shiro’s attempts to provoke her by insulting Fumiko. “I wouldn’t have let her go otherwise.”
“I’ll have to take your word for that.”
“De, this is a personal vendetta?” Aina pressed.
“Nani else could it be?”
“Chikako-sama was paranoid that I was after her position,” Aina explained hesitantly. “That’s what lead to… you know.”
“I suppose it would be good insurance,” Shiro mused, “but I’m not so heartless as to put goshujin-sama in such a tough spot. You did save his life. If he knew, he’d be conflicted on whether to risk his life by sending you away or emasculate himself by overlooking it. Iie, I won’t tell him. Unlike some hito, I protect my goshujin. Ima, did you need anything else?”
“Iie, I—” Aina started, but Shiro walked away before she could say another word.
May 8th, U.C. 0053 5:37 PM
As Fumiko pulled the last ofuda off her arm, Aina finally gave in and grimaced from the pain. Her arm looked awful. Thanks to Fumiko’s healing, there wasn’t much swelling, but her arm was pitted and scarred, with splotches of red skin, and glowing green crystals embedded in it. Fumiko placed her hands over it and focused her energy on healing. A golden aura surrounded Aina’s arm, but when it faded, the arm was only marginally improved.
“You look terrible,” Nanami commented from a seat about six feet away from them. “You’re going to have to start wearing gloves to school.”
“I’m sure that violates the dress code,” Aina said.
“There are exceptions for covering injuries,” Nanami claimed, “and if you show up looking like that, you’ll never escape your reputation for being chuuni.”
“Thank you, Fumiko-san,” Aina said, ignoring Nanami.
Fumiko pulled her hands back and allowed Sena to inspect Aina’s arm.
“It does not appear to be infected,” Sena announced, “but we should keep an eye on it.”
“Arigatou, Sena-chan, Fumiko-san,” Aina thanked them. She looked at Fumiko as if she wanted to say more, to do more, but it was impossible with Nanami in the room.
“No problem,” Fumiko replied, acting nonchalant. She got up and made her way to the door. “I’ll see you later sometime.”
“Un, see you,” Aina said, waving with her good hand.
“That was awkward,” Nanami stated after Fumiko had left.
“I hope you’re satisfied,” Aina told her.
“Satisfied?” Nanami sighed, a sad smile on her face. “How could I be? You and her totally fucked.”