Chapter 34

December 26th, 8:54 AM

There was no mass scheduled for the day, and Father Millot wouldn’t hear confessions until the afternoon, but he nonetheless decided that he should open the church early. Yesterday had been trying, and if past experience was any indication, many of the flock would wander in throughout the day, seeking reassurance. That was why he was only mildly surprised to find a young woman slumped in the confessional. He knew who it was right away: the only member of his flock who could enter the church without unlocking the door. It wasn’t the first time she had slept in the confessional, waiting for him to arrive. He walked up to draw the curtain over her and noticed that she wasn’t asleep—a first for this kind of situation—but her eyes were puffy and red.

“Good morning, Élisabeth,” he greeted her once he was situated on the other side of the screen. In the privacy of the church, they called each other by their Christian names rather than their state-mandated Japanese names. “Did you sleep well? Did you sleep at all? Would you like breakfast first?”

“Forgive me father, for I have sinned,” she replied, ignoring his questions and making the sign of the cross as quickly as she could. “It has been yon days since my last confession. Yesterday, I…” Despite waiting eagerly to give her confession for more than half a day, Élisabeth was suddenly at a loss for words. “I am unworthy of the gifts God has given me.”

“In what way? State your sins plainly.”

“Yesterday, when the Soviets attacked, I went to drive them from the Crystal Palace, but I was unable to do anything. The Soviets sent mahou shoujo, and I was unable to defeat them. Then I was captured within a kekkai by the meido Naomi and was unable to break out. I was the weakest soldier on the battlefield, friend and foe included. It made me angry, and in my anger, I cowardly blamed God for my own weakness. I doubted His power, and imagined that the other senshi were stronger than Him. When I calmed down, I realized that the fault lied in myself. I came here to confess my cowardice, but I had not finished sinning. I was using my prior doubt as a shield to protect myself from the truth. I had convinced myself that I was weak because my faith was weak, but as I sat here, I reflected on my actions, as you taught me to do. The longer I thought about it, the more certain I became: I have been practicing witchcraft for my entire life.”

He wasn’t shocked by this confession. He had been expecting Élisabeth to realize she was a magical girl for years. She was an intelligent young woman, but she had a blind spot when it came to matters of faith. Even when faced with overwhelming evidence contradicting her religious beliefs, she would rarely question them. Sometimes, it was as if she couldn’t even realize that it was possible to think any other way. Yesterday’s stressful situation, it seemed, had managed to break through that mental barrier. Thankfully for him, she hadn’t thought to seek him out for a confession outside the church. He had been with a woman last night, and that would have been difficult to explain to Élisabeth if she had used her magic to track him to the woman’s bedroom.

Father Millot was not religious at all, which was a strange position for a priest to be in. He actually considered himself to be more of a politician than a priest. Born to a Catholic family, he was only four years old when the Weebs had invaded, but he had been an observant child. Over the next few years, he realized that the things adults told him about Heaven, Hell, and God didn’t make sense, and that the Weebs ridiculed and abused Catholics for their beliefs. He hated seeing his family and friends suffer under the occupation, even if he considered them stupid for believing an old book, and resolved to do what he could to protect them.

By the time he was a teenager, he had largely achieved that goal. In those early years, the Weebs had been unprepared to deal with the French populace, which they had not originally planned to rule over. They desired obedience, but had trouble obtaining it. By pretending to flatter and obey the Weebs, he had been able to earn their trust. He would feed them information, teach them how to interact with others, and subtlely disseminate their propaganda. In return, he made deals to protect the Catholic community. He even co-wrote the legislation that added Catholicism to the list of permissible religions.

During this time, just as the Weebs were clueless when it came to communicating with the French, Church leadership was clueless when it came to communicating with the Weebs, and many of their actions threatened to undo the progress he made. Luckily, the Weebs asked him to assist in negotiations with the Holy See, which resulted in the first foreign policy wins for the fledgling federation and introduced the future Father Millot to a few influential bishops. Realizing the Church would not last long in Neo Crystal Tokyo without his guidance, he petitioned those bishops to help him enter the seminary at a young age, without a college degree, and to waive the age requirement for ordination. They also began slowly reassigning priests from Neo Crystal Tokyo to dioceses within the Futarchy.

As a result, at age 19, Father Millot became the only priest at one of Neo Crystal Tokyo’s three remaining churches. He used this position to protect his flock and came to enjoy the feeling of power he got in doing so. He wasn’t ambitious; he was content to directly lead a small group of people, meddling in Federation and Vatican politics from time to time.

“Was that the first time you thought you might be a witch?” he asked Élisabeth.

“Hai,” she replied, choking back tears.

“And what were your intentions as you cast your spells?”

“Only to carry out the Lord’s will, to show the world His glory, to protect His faithful, and to crush His enemies.”

“Now that you know what you really are, do you think you can abstain from witchcraft?”

“Now that I know… Father, did you know? You told me, ever since I was little—”

“You are the one confessing their sins right now, not I,” he said forcefully. She recoiled at the outburst, but his next words were calm. “You know your powers better than I ever could. If you say you are a witch, you may be right. Still, since you were born with your powers, I firmly believe they were a gift from God. We are all sinners, Élisabeth, and the Lord knows this. Imperfect vessel that you are, your sins may be the only way for you to carry out His will. Even mortal sins can be forgiven through His son, Jesus Christ, and the sacrament of reconciliation.”

“Mortal sins! Demo, I did not know. One of the requirements for—”

“But now you do know, which is why I asked if you can abstain from ever using magic again.”

“I will do my best, but it will be hard. It has become second nature to me to use mahou.”

“It may be harder than you suspect. You have become a pillar of hope to the flock, protecting them from those who would prey upon them and healing their wounds. They look up to you, and you may find it difficult to disappoint them.”

“Oh Lord, I’m going to have to tell them—Iie, this is your fault, Father. You lied to me—you lied to them—so you should be the one to tell the truth.”

“After all these years, and all you have done for them, they wouldn’t believe the truth. Even if they did, I doubt anything would change. Magic has become a part of our daily lives, sin or not. When we go to the hospital with serious ailments, it is magic that heals us. Magical girls come by their powers naturally. We do not know how to create them. Surely, then, their powers are gifted to them by God, like yours are, so that His faithful can survive in an increasingly desolate world.”

“That’s just a justification. We may be sinners, but we have a duty to reject sin. ‘If we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins.’ Oh, Lord, we will burn in the lake of fire with the other mahou shoujo, and I will have helped you lead the faithful there.”

“That is an incorrect interpretation of Hebrews 10, as Matthew 12 tells us: ‘…every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not.’ The ‘deliberate sin’ in Hebrews refers to the sin of rejecting Jesus Christ after ‘receiving knowledge of the truth’ that he died for our sins. Of course, we should not seek to sin, but as humans, we cannot live our lives without sinning, and our intentions matter. If I have lied to you about your powers, it was to protect you. As a child, you could not help but to use them, and you were disobedient. If I had forbade you from using your powers, it would have been difficult to lead you to the right path. Furthermore, I hoped to shield you from the knowledge, and thus from mortal sin.”

Gomen father, I did not know, and I said those mean things just now. I am judgemental, in addition to my other sins. I am sorry for these and all the sins of my past life.”

“And you were vengeful,” Father Millot pointed out, “but your heart was in the right place. For these two sins, and for doubting God, you must pray the rosary. Your other sins are more complicated, and so your penance will be longer. First you must sleep, you must eat, and you must take care of your body. You must learn to forgive yourself as you forgive others. Once you have done that, you must be mindful when you use your gifts. Use them only when you have no other options, reflect on your motivations for using them, and always use them in service to the Lord. Note them, so you may confess to each and every use. Do you understand?”

Hai,” Élisabeth sobbed.

“Good. There is one more thing. The cabinet has convoked an extraordinary session of the Diet. In three days, there will be a committee hearing on the impact magic had on the Soviet invasion. This hearing will be closed to the public, but I can secure an invitation for you to attend. You must go and listen. I believe it will be a good experience for you, and that it will help you to become less judgmental, especially towards other magical girls. I shall go with you, so you will not be alone.”

“Arigatou, Father. Domo arigatou gozaimasu!”

From there, the confession continued as if on autopilot, he invited her to make an Act of Contrition, and after that was done, absolved her of her sins. As soon as they finished making the sign of the cross together, she pulled the curtain open and stumbled from the confessional. Father Millot heard a thud as she fell to her knees and began to recite the rosary. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son—” Father Millot then heard another thud and opened his own curtain to find her lying on the ground, asleep. She was clutching a rosary which he was sure she hadn’t had earlier. She must have magically summoned it without realizing it.

Bending down, he picked her up to carry her to a room where she could sleep undisturbed. Although he had never been athletic, he had no trouble lifting her from the ground. He marveled at how her light and frail body could carry the heavy armor she summoned when she transformed. Such was the power of her magic, and until today, it had been very useful to him. From here on, it would be more difficult to manage her, but he would do what needed to be done. He always had.