Minato Sahashi sat cross-legged, bathed in the bluish lights cast by Matsu’s dozens of computer screens. Part of him thought he should be deliriously happy. He was surrounded by several stunningly beautiful Sekireis — his Sekireis, he tried to tell himself, still unable to accept it. Another part of him thought he should run screaming in terror. He struggled to absorb the latest twist in the Sekirei Plan from Hiroto Minaka, the CEO of MBI.
“Well, in your case, Mina-tan, Musubi-tan’s already caused two other Sekireis to cease functioning. I don’t think you’d have anything to do with this matter directly, but…”
Matsu’s words seemed to hang in his mind. It was hard to see her eyes because of the way the computer displays reflected in her glasses. Yet he could tell she was trying to comfort him. According to Minaka-sama’s latest twist, any Ashikabi whose Sekireis hadn’t, well, put another Sekirei out of commission would forfeit their Sekireis. They’d be separated forever. Minato felt like doubling over.
Musubi, the first Sekirei to join him, was aghast at the news, and she said, “To say that just because some Ashikabi-sama and Sekirei haven’t won anything, they’re being forcibly separated? Musubi can’t accept this!”
Her words were another weight on his heart. Ksuano’s enthusiastic nodding in agreement made the pain even more intense. How could Minaka-sama do this to people? Minato remembered how he’d almost lost Musubi only days before. As they had helped another Ashikabi and Sekirei escape the city and this insanity, the Discipline Squad has swept in. He pushed the image of Musubi’s still body from his mind. He suddenly found it hard to breath.
“I can’t take this much longer,” he thought.
Tsukiumi’s words, as harsh as they were, at least turned his attention outward. She said, “That is why I call ye too soft. Sekirei exist to do battle. Sekirei that won’t fight are not needed in the Sekirei Plan!”
When he heard Matsu begin to logically defend Tsukiumi, the water Sekirei, Minato felt that he was past his breaking point.
“I’m sorry,” he said, rising so quickly that Musubi and Kusano looked at him in surprise. The concern on their faces felt like a cracked rib piercing his heart.
Musubi said, “Minato, if something’s bothering you, you should tell us!”
“It’s not that…”
“You can trust us, you know,” she said, smiling.
“I forgot I have to fix one of the eaves. You know how the landlady is. If I don’t work, I don’t eat!”
“I commend thy work ethic,” he heard Tsukiumi say, “but isn’t it too dark?” He was glad she had no idea what he was feeling. But the others were a little more perceptive. Knowing that Musubi, Kusano, and probably even Matsu were worried about him made the agony even worse.
Night in the Yard
Minato half ran and half stumbled down the stairs to the double sliding doors to the back yard. It was dark, with the stars shining in the moon-less sky. He closed the doors behind him and slide until he was sitting on the wood deck. In an attempt to clear his mind, he tried to focus on how smooth it felt, worn down with so many footsteps over the years. He could even feel the last lingering warmth from the day.
But his attempt to calm himself didn’t work. Leaning his head back against the door, he tried again to divert his attention by thinking about his sister. That didn’t help. It just reinforced how he couldn’t tell her anything about Sekireis or the Plan. He had a hard enough time dealing with her teasing over his relationship with Musubi — and his sister didn’t even know the truth about that!
He looked at the tree to his left in the back corner of the yard. His eyes were adjusting to the darkness, and he thought he could dimly see some of the branches that he and Musubi had broken when they had fallen from the sky. He could still feel the pressure of her hips on his chest when they had landed. She had been so very, very warm…
“I can’t do this,” he whispered. He had to think of something. Tsukiumi seemed excited at the idea of battling all the rest of the Sekirei until only she was left — though how she could so lightly set aside the bonds he’d been trying to build between all of them, he couldn’t imagine.
But his water Sekirei wasn’t the only one with that goal. He knew about Musubi’s resolve. He recently learned that even Matsu had been on the original Discipline Squad, and he sensed in her a will equal even to Tsukiumi’s. But his desire to not to fight was so strong that he felt shame.
“I can’t let them keep fighting,” he said, holding his face in his hands. But what could he do? He was a NEET in making if he couldn’t pass his entrance exams, and here he was trying to find a way to get out of a plan whose participants included beings who could only be described as heroes or demi-gods. Not only that, but they were led by an insane genius with the assets of a global conglomerate at his disposal — assets that included hyper-advanced technology.
He could not imagine feeling more helpless.
“I wish I could ask Matsu,” he thought. “I’ll be she’s even more intelligent that Minaka-sama. Except she’s not insane…
“Not insane,” his thought continued, but she was prone to panic. Like when faced with the idea of leaving her room. Or…
He stood up. His breath caught in his throat. He remembered she had panicked before, when she was describing the Sekirei plan to him, Kusano, Musubi, and Tsukiumi. Was it like the panic attacks that sometimes afflicted Tsukiumi? She seemed to suffer flashbacks considering her adjuster, whereas Musubi and Matsu…
Two ideas occurred to him simultaneously, and he didn’t know which of them scared him more. But he knew how to find out.
Serenade by Computer Light
“You’re here late, Mina-tan!”
As he ducked under the fabric to enter, he wondered if Matsu ever slept. He couldn’t recall her ever looking like she’d just awakened.
“I knew you weren’t going to work on the house in the middle of the night,” she said, folding her hands in her lap and smiling at him. Instead of comforting him, her smile seemed to taunt his weakness, his inability to do anything at all to protect her. Or protect himself.
She asked, “Have you finally decided to let me perform my experiments?”
“Matsu-san, what happens to a Sekirei if their Ashikabi is killed?”
He pushed aside feelings of guilt when her smile vanished.
“What… Why would you ask that?”
“I need to understanding everything. Remember? I asked you to tell me everything. That includes what happens… Please, Matsu.”
She shifted, and he suspected he could see her trying to weigh how much she should share with him. Telling himself that if either of his plans were to work, he had to be brave — so he might as well start practicing it now — he knelt before her. She seemed almost shocked when he put his hands on her shoulders.
“Please. I need you to tell me.”
“They’re… removed from the game…”
He interrupted her to ask, “They’re not killed? They’re not deactivated?”
“Do they have to re-emerge with another Ashikabi?”
He’d never seen her look disgusted before, and for some reason, it was almost reassuring. At the same time, he felt his shame deepen. Why, he didn’t know, but he listened closely to her next words.
“That’s not the way it works. I don’t know what you’re thinking, but we’re bound to you forever. If you die, we’d be devastated. So if you’re thinking of…”
“Did you see how much Miya-sama beat up Tsukiumi earlier today? How Musubi can’t keep up with her?”
“Japan is full of master…”
“Miya-sama was Number One, wasn’t she?”
Her gasp was so sharp it almost hurt his ears. Her eyes darted somewhere behind him, and for an instant, he thought Miya Asama, ostensibly their landlady, had entered. But he hadn’t heard anything, and he didn’t want to look away from Matsu. Even in this state, her beauty captivated his attention. Her long dress, her bosom, her neck, her twin tails, and even her glasses all made him want to do anything to protect her. Absolutely anything. Just by being herself, she steeled his will.
“Oh,” he said. “I understand. She’s listening, isn’t she? And she didn’t want me to know who she really is, did she?”
Matsu could barely shake her head. She watched as he stood and pivoted on his heel.
“You’re not thinking of making her kill you?” she said, her voice sounding only a little less sharp than her gasp a moment ago.
“No. I’m going to try to convince her to keep us alive.”
Danger in the Kitchen
Minato ticked off the traits that had tipped him off. The overwhelming power Miya-sama had show over even Tsukiumi, a single-digit Sekirei. The moments when she allowed a glimpse of her power when she had kept him from behaving lewdly with his Sekirei — as if he’d ever have the confidence to do anything like that! Even her calm self-possession. It all fit. Miya Asama was Sekirei number 1, capable of cutting battleships in half at a distance of kilometers.
And he was about to confront her. He had no idea what to do. What he had was more of a hope and less of a plan.
He’d expected to feel scared, and he fully met his expectations. As he neared the kitchen, he had to consciously force himself to keep moving. When a little doubt about his actions crept into his mind, he remembered Matsu’s eyes and the feel of Musubi sleeping beside him. Her quiet breathing; her warmth spreading across the tatami mat as she snuggled against him.
He strode into the kitchen.
Miya sat facing him, her purple hair arranged with almost perfect symmetry over both shoulders. The only light in the kitchen burned behind her, and shadows hid her face. He felt the force of her personality as a palpable thing, a pressure trying to cast him from the room.
He bowed, and he stayed in that position for a moment. He half expected to feel himself decapitated. Not that he expected her to be cruel, but…
“Please sit, Minato Sahashi,” she said in a voice like distant thunder. “I am not quite so cruel.”
As he sat cross-legged across the low table from her, he thought, “Can she really read my thoughts? Or does she just understand me that well?”
Aloud, he said, “Please accept my apologies. After everything you’ve done for Musubi and all — after all you’ve done for all of my Sekireis — I could never think that of you.”
He took the slight tilt of her head as an invitation to continue, and he said, “Matsu seemed convinced that telling me of… your old status was dangerous. I don’t understand your affairs, but I have a sense of your character. If you kill me, I will trust your judgement that I need to be killed.”
There was a suspended second of complete silence before she laughed quietly. It was so unexpected that he could only stare. She knelt.
“Well,” she said, “I guess that explains a lot. I’ll have to have a conversation with Matsu in the morning, but I’m not going to kill you just yet. Tell me: What makes you so bold all of sudden?”
He discarded several different approaches before settling on the only one that didn’t completely disgust him. Feeling suddenly exhausted, barely able to keep his back straight, he said, “Miya-sama, I can’t take my Sekirei being in danger any more. I can’t stand the memory of Musubi lying dead in front of me. I can’t stand the feeling of hanging from the bridge, less than helpless, as she fought. I just hung there! And I nearly failed at that.
“I can’t stand the thought of his terrible game. Sekirei fighting Sekirei until only one stands? Meaning that Matsu and Tsukiumi and Ku and Kazehana and Kagari and even Musubi — fighting over me? So we can win some prize? No! I don’t want that. I can’t do it! I won’t.”
“It does explain a lot,” she said, and he wasn’t sure she’d meant it for him to hear. “But you still have so much to learn…”
“Miya-sama, I want to change the game. I don’t want Sekirei to have to fight. But I don’t know what to do! I’m surrounded by some of the most amazing Sekirei in the world. Their lives can’t be about fighting! They’re… they’re so much more than that! What do I do? If we attack MBI head on, we might be able to get through the Discipline Squad, but… but…”
“But Karasuba would extract a terrible price,” she finished when he faltered. He nodded. He tried and failed to suppress the urge to wipe away some errant tears.
“I am curious. What do you think I should do?”
“I don’t know. No, no. I do know. I want you to lead us. I offer the strength of my Sekirei to help you. If anyone can break this game, it’s you.”
“Fu-fu-fu,” she laughed, shaking her head, as Matsu rushed into the room.
“Please, Miya-sama, don’t hurt Minato! It’s my fault…”
“And we will discuss a reasonable punishment in the morning,” Miya said, silencing Matsu. “Minato, I don’t know what you think I can do, but I’m not going to get involved in the Sekirei Game.”
“But…” Minato began as Matsu said, “Maybe if I explain more to him, he’ll…”
“You will not,” Miya said in a quiet voice that nevertheless made Matsu backup a step. Despite his disappointment, Minato still wondered at Miya’s power. Matsu was Sekirei number 2, and even she showed absolute deference to Miya.
He felt Matsu’s gaze on him, and his conscience stung at the terror in her eyes — terror for his safety.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Miya-sama, I was ready to accept your decision to kill me because I have faith in you. If you say you won’t get involved, I trust it’s for the right reasons.”
He rose, bowed, and left, pausing only an instant beside Matsu to smile at her.
A Chance Encounter
Minato became aware that he’d been walking until morning. It took a passerby stopping him from walking right in front of a speeding truck to bring him back to the present. Mumbling “Thank you” to the woman and her two children, he took stock of his surroundings. If he continued in the same direction, he’d end up in the sake warehouse where Kazehana had emerged. Thinking of how hard she’d fought to protect him, and how angry Tsukiumi had been at another addition to his Sekirei family, he struggled to shake off the gloom that had deepened after Miya had rejected his plan.
He only had one other idea. He didn’t like it. It meant he’d never see them again, but he was certain they’d be safe. Was he brave enough to do it? Unbidden, the sight of Musubi’s still form came to his mind, and he decided. He was more afraid to see her hurt than he was of his plan.
And yet… Miya-sama had called him young. Was he missing something? Some vital piece of information? Some perspective? There weren’t going to be a do-overs for this plan. Was he certain this was the right thing to do?
He chose a direction at random and kept walking. The sound of cars and trucks whizzing by mingled with muted conversations of the increasingly thick throng of professionals and students. For a while, he didn’t mind the anonymity of the crowd, until he noticed he was heading downtown. He saw the MBI building in the distance, and he headed towards it.
The crowds began to thin as he pushed into alleys. He decided; this plan was his best option. If he could pull it off, he might not only save his Sekirei, but he might be able to make things better — even if only a little — for the Sekirei that would still be trapped in the game.
“I hate the morning shift.”
The voice was terrifyingly familiar, and it took Minato a split second to recognize it. It was Haihane, one of the Discipline Squad. He hurled himself into a recessed doorway before the Blue Sekirei came around the corner. She was completely the wrong one for his plan to work. She wasn’t angry enough! He had to meet a Sekirei who had a terrible temper and who was easily offended. It would also help if she wasn’t terribly bright, but who…
He almost smiled when he heard who answered Haihane.
Benitsubasa said, “Quit complaining. You can watch your shows when you get back. You set them to record, right? In HD?”
If they walked past him, Minato thought that he might have a chance. But only if they weren’t paying attention. He couldn’t imagine any of his Sekirei walking right past someone hiding in plain sight. He was absolutely certain Karasuba, the Black Sekirei, would either see him right away, or pretend not to — and then slash him without a backwards glance. She might obey the convention of not harming an Ashikabi, and she might not. He suspected it would depend on her mood.
But Benitsubasa and Haihane sauntered past. The time for him to act was now, but he almost froze. “Musubi…” he thought and he was able to speak.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just hang out with your Ashikabi without all this fighting? Forever?” he called after them.
Haihane just looked over her shoulder, but the pink-haired Red Sekirei spun, looked frantically all around, then looked disappointed.
“It’s just the ape,” she said. “Why are you out without your Sekirei? You know it’s dangerous…”
Hoping to trigger her temper, he interrupted her to say, “I’m serious. Wouldn’t you rather be home curled up with your Ashikabi — Ichinomi-san, wasn’t it? Wouldn’t that be a lot more fun than what you’re doing now?”
Her mouth froze in the shape of the word “dangerous” that she hadn’t quite finished saying. Then she slowly closed it and said, “Well, you certainly…”
“I mean, you’re going to need all the time you can get, aren’t you? He really hasn’t shown much interest in you, has he?”
“Sad to say…” Haihane said before starting to whistle a tune when the Red Sekirei turned an acid gaze on her.
“Listen, you little ape…”
Minato braced himself. He’d planted the seeds of the idea that he hoped would eventually help the Sekirei who stayed in the game. Now, he thought it was time to play his final card. It was time to free his Sekirei of this ordeal. He almost felt proud of himself at his lack of hesitation.
“I’m not sure what he’s thinking. I mean, yeah, his interests might not be entirely in your favor, but you’re not really a washboard. Plus, I remember that your right nipple was the cutest pink. I’m sure…”
He’d seen her fight on the bridge, and he knew she was fast. Still, he barely had time to lean way from her attack. Her heel shattered the bricks centimeters from where his head had been.
She was close enough that he could easily slap her butt.
“I just touched your bottom,” he said, pushing away from the wall and jumping onto the sidewalk. “Bet that’s more than your Ashikabi’s ever done!”
He squeezed his eyes shut and braced himself for her killing strike.
He waited. He waited another second.
Unable to believe what he was hearing, he slowly opened his eyes. Benitsubasa, the Red Sekirei, a member of the Discipline Squad, stood just a meter away from him. Here fists were clenched at her sides. And her eyes overflowed with tears.
“How dare you…” she said, and he could barely hear her. “He’s more of man than you’ll… ever…”
He stood, incredulous, as she broke down into sobs.
Haihane shrugged, saying, “Well, you were pretty mean to her. I’d apologize if I were you.”
“Benitsubasa-san… I didn’t mean… Please, I thought you would…”
“Would what? Happily agree with you? Listen to some kid ape talk about how I should be with my Ashikabi? You don’t know how terrible it is…”
When he saw that she couldn’t finish the sentence, he knew his plan was ruined. He’d only succeeded in hurting her feelings. He’d need to confront Karasuba, the Black Sekirei, next. Pushing that thought aside, he said, “Look, I didn’t mean to make you cry. I just want to find a way out of this game — for all of us. But for my Sekirei most of all.”
She glared at him with red and watery eyes, prompting him to say, “If we can figure out some way out of this game, then I’m all for it! I don’t care about the prize. I just want to stay with my Sekirei for the rest of my life. And I want that for you, too.”
He looked at the white-haired Blue Sekirei and said, “For you, too, Haihane-san.”
She just stared back, her head cocked at an angle, her eyes half closed.
Dragging her sleeve across her face, Benitsubasa said, “I hate you. You’re a stupid child who doesn’t understand anything.”
She spun and walked away. Haihane looked from one to the other, shrugged, and followed Benitsubasa.
Minato stood there quietly, not knowing what to say.
The Road Home
Minato looked at the bricks Benitsubasa had shattered and wondered if MBI would pay for the repairs — of if the owner would track him down and demand he pay. He couldn’t see a normal citizen demanding anything of the Discipline Squad!
He knew he was stalling. He had to somehow find the Black Sekirei if his plan had any chance of success. His window of opportunity was already closing. He had a feeling that as soon as Benitsubasa and Haihane reported in, the Black Sekirei would know his plans and would thwart them — if for no other reason to keep Musubi in the game. He didn’t understand why, but he remembered the scene from the bridge, when Musubi acted so differently and called herself the Sekirei of Fate. He still didn’t know what returned his Musubi to him. Nor did he know why Karasuba-sama had halted her attack.
“Hello, Minato,” Musubi said behind him.
And there she stood, just as if they were on a shopping trip. Her knowing smile told him that she knew exactly what he’d been up to. He felt his resolve slowly crumble.
“The eave’s still broken, you know,” she said walking up to him and standing with her hands folded. “I’ll help you fix it! I told the landlady you’d probably gone to the store to get building supplies, but everyone was worried when you missed breakfast.”
“Oh… I’m sorry,” he said, realizing what he should already have known: that Matsu had probably sent everyone out looking for him. He felt his spirits wilt at the thought of facing all of them and explaining what had happened.
“I think you forgot something,” she said, taking his hand to steady him. “Do you know what it is?”
He shook his head.
“You forgot that you can trust me.”
“You’re my special person, silly! I’ll do anything you ask of me! Remember? I broke the clouds and took you to the moon!”
Laughing at the unexpected memory, he said, “Well, until we fell into a tree! That was pretty dangerous, wasn’t it?”
“And yet, here we are.”
“Musubi,” he said, trying not to cry.
“Trust me,” she said pulling him nearly off his feet as she hugged him. He felt completed consumed by her strength, and in that moment, he knew. Miya-sama had been right. He was too young and inexperienced to understand the consequences of this decision. He might have been able to free his Sekirei of this game, but that’s not at all what they wanted. Every direction he considered was full of pain — his, their’s, everyone’s. Yet enveloped in Musubi’s embrace, he understood that at least one of those directions relied on the strength he felt in her arms and in the passion in her heart.
He didn’t know what road he would have to travel. But he knew with finality who he would travel with.
“Sorry to worry you,” he said, her breasts muffling his voice. “Do you suppose there’s any breakfast left? Maybe you can join me?”
They walked hand in hand towards Izumo Inn.