“Neither, of course,” Aina replied. “You’re not scaring me, Jin-chan. If you had wanted to kill me, you only needed to side with Chikako; if you were going to inject me, you would have by now; and if I were going to kill you, I wouldn’t have knocked first.” That last argument wasn’t as solid as the first two, but Aina hoped that by grouping it together with the others, it would sound convincing.
“Mattaku,” Jin sighed. “I was hoping to learn something new about you.”
“How you respond to fear, for starters. Also, whether you would rather die than live as a slave.”
“I’m a meido, aren’t I? That should answer your shitsumon.”
“A meido who killed her goshujin-sama,” Jin whispered. “Some slave you are.”
“If you’re still trying to scare me, you need to tone it down. Your act wasn’t convincing at all. It was too unlike you.”
“How would you know?” Jin scoffed.
“It’s true that I don’t have your powers, but—”
“You never even tried to get to know me,” Jin interrupted. “You saw I was meek and decided I was an ‘ii onna.’ Soshite you were right. I was meek, and because of that, I couldn’t go against your expectations. Demo, after Tsukasa died, it all seemed so meaningless. I was hurt and frightened, and I didn’t want to be that way any longer.”
“You’re right, I didn’t get to know the real you,” Aina said. The longer they talked, the better Aina felt. If she could stall for a little more, she should be able to move on her own. “We all have things we’d rather others not know about us, and I didn’t want to pry. Demo I always felt I could trust you, and when Naomi-sama trusted you too, it confirmed my suspicions.”
“Diaho-sama’s coming this way,” Jin realized out loud. Aina cursed inwardly. A few more minutes and she would have regained mobility, but Diaho might cause Jin to do something rash. “If I release you, do you promise not to kill me?”
“I’m not going to kill you, Jin-chan. I just came here to make sure we got our stories straight.”
“I can’t tell,” Jin laughed nervously. “I can’t tell if you’re lying. I’m taking a risk here, Aina-senpai. I’m trusting you, even though Naomi-sama told me that’s the worst thing I could ever do. Please be telling the truth.” She put away the syringes and pressed her thumb on a spot just below Aina’s shoulder blade.
Relief flooded Aina’s body as her spiritual energy untangled itself, and she finally realized what Jin had done. Using her own spiritual energy, she had diverted the flow of Aina’s spiritual energy so that it wrapped around itself and knotted up, pulling on her body. It was only possible because the seals placed on her caused her spiritual energy to split and flow in unnatural ways. If Jin tried this again, Aina could save herself by breaking one of her seals. Is that why Naomi had taught Jin that technique, to encourage Aina to break her seals? No, the syringes she gave Jin suggested that it was more likely she expected Jin to kill Aina, but only after extracting the secrets she had left with Aina. Jin truly was Naomi’s successor.
“You’re deviating from Naomi-sama’s keikaku,” Aina observed as she sat up.
“Un,” Jin responded, her voice now soft. Now that she was no longer in control, she had reverted to the meek personality Aina knew very well. She slowly leaned over and wrapped Aina in a tight hug, burying her head in Aina’s shoulder. “Don’t get the wrong idea,” she whispered. “This is how Diaho-sama expects to find us.”
“You’re an ii… tomodachi,” Aina whispered back.
“Don’t make me regret this,” Jin murmured.
Dec. 31st, U.C. 0051, 6:30 AM
Élisabeth walked down the sidewalks automatically, her feet taking her along her usual patrol route while her head remained lost in thought. She was still puzzled by why Father Millot had taken her to those hearings, but since it was part of her penance, she knew she had a duty to reflect on it. Truly, it had been a humbling experience to witness other magical girls make moral arguments, even though they were non-believers. Did not morality come from God? Was the influence of Christianity on culture strong enough to instill moral values in the general populace? Regardless, Father Millot had been right that she had been too judgmental towards other magical girls. They were trying to be moral, they were just mistaken in how they were going about it.
And yet, the very next day, the Diet seemingly ignored everything they said and passed the Mahou Shoujo Control Act. It was a draconian measure designed to strip magical girls of their rights and investigate ways to control their powers. What was worse, it tasked the 01st Magical Company with enforcing these new regulations. Problems caused by magical girls, they reasoned, should be dealt with by magical girls. Élisabeth had to admit there were problems with magical girls—they were one of the reasons she was on patrol—but it was obvious that they were being scapegoated for the military and government failures that had allowed the Soviets to come so close to sacking the city. They were completely ignoring the role magical girls played in driving the Soviets out.
If there were any consolation, it was that the vote had been close. Had it not been for the untimely death of Akira Wright, who had considerable influence and as good a record as anyone could expect on human rights issues, it might have gone the other way. If it had, Élisabeth wondered, would she have thought the Diet a just and moral body, even though nearly the same number of representatives would have voted to oppress magical girls?
After the vote, she had cursed the name of the meido who had killed Akira, and she felt an intense desire to bring her to justice. She had broken her self-imposed ban on using magic to try to track down the meido, but she had been unable to catch any trace of her. She thought the meido must be protected by someone with great magical power, or had managed to flee the city, and was beyond Élisabeth’s reach. Ether way, Élisabeth believed this was God’s way of telling her to not be so quick to judge.
“Élisabeth!” a familiar voice called out to her as she rounded a corner. Down the block, Élisabeth could just make out a middle-aged woman from her church. She was standing outside the entrance to her apartment building with two younger women. Élisabeth was surprised the woman could recognize her in the dark.
“Ohayou, Danielle,” Élisabeth greeted once she was within conversation distance. “How are you this morning?”
“Oi, don’t ignore us,” one of the young women standing nearby grunted. “Don’t think we’ll let you off the hook just because your tomodachi showed up.”
“Protection okane again?” Élisabeth asked Danielle, who nodded. Taking a better look at the two young woman, Élisabeth could tell they had magical powers, but were not particularly strong. “Look,” she addressed them, “the keisatsu are on the lookout for mahou shoujo right now. Have you seen the news? Committing crimes is a surefire way to draw attention to yourself. You should lay low for a while.”
“Naze do you think we need the okane?” The other magical girl spat. “We need to take the fight to them. Ima, empty your pockets.”
“Danielle, let’s pray,” Élisabeth suggested. The two of them knelt on the sidewalk.
“We warned you,” the first magical girl said coldly. She readied a spell. “It’s not our fault if we have to make an example out of you.”
“We are afflicted in every way,” Élisabeth intoned, “but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…” Had she prayed in Japanese, she could have turned the prayer into a spell, but in English, her prayers were powerless. What was important was that the other girls thought she was casting a spell. All the while, she was using her magical energy to disrupt and tear apart the magical energy of her opponents. She was inspired by the way Aina had used her spiritual energy to counter the Soviet’s spells, and though she was not well practiced in this technique, it was enough to overwhelm the much weaker magical girls. Critically, it allowed her to defeat them without casting any spells herself.
“Yo, you’re mahou,” one of the magical girls observed. “You should be on our side. We have to band together if we want to have any hope of taking over the machi. All the biggest groups are coming together—”
“No thanks,” Élisabeth cut her off. “I serve the Lord. I may disagree with what the government is doing, but I will not join a rebellion. Ima, leave. These hito are under my protection.”
The two magical girls backed away and, raising their fingers to their lips, let out shrill whistles. A bright flash followed, and when Élisabeth’s eyes recovered, she could see a young woman wearing a business suit standing in front of her.
“Doko’s the trouble?” the woman demanded. “I don’t see any soldiers or keisatsu. You were warned not to summon me except in emergencies.”
“It’s her,” one of the magical girls said, pointing to Élisabeth. “She’s tsuyoi.”
The woman focused her gaze on Élisabeth, as if seeing her for the first time. “You’re the religious fanatic who keeps forcing groups out of this neighborhood, aren’t you?” She asked.
“Get back, Danielle,” Élisabeth cautioned. She could feel the woman’s immense magical energy. Although she was loathe to use her magic, she knew she stood no chance against this woman otherwise, and so she began to transform, her body glowing as she prayed. “‘Stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.’” As she mentioned each accoutrement, it materialized on her body, or in her hands, as appropriate. When finished, she was clad head to toe in medieval armor, with her wings sticking out from the back.
“You use Ephesians 6 for your transformation?” The woman in the business suit asked, mildly surprised. “Doesn’t that passage justify slavery?”
“It does not,” Élisabeth contended. “It does remind us that slavery exists on Chikyuu, but that we are all equal before the Lord. Still, I am heartened that you are familiar with the Bible. Perhaps we can settle our differences peacefully.”
“I only know it because you know it, Élisabeth-san,” the woman explained, causing Élisabeth’s fear to deepen.
She’s in my head! Élisabeth realized. Iie, that can’t be. Mahou can’t be used to read minds. Am I volunteering information without realizing it? Élisabeth began casting spells to break hypnosis, but the woman in the suit did nothing to stop her.
“It’s not saimin-jutsu,” the woman smiled. “I really am that powerful. I can see all your insecurities. You helped to kill the Soviets that attacked, and you feel guilty for it. What an odd religion Christianity is.”
“You don’t have to be religious to feel guilty about taking a life,” Élisabeth asserted. “Even a teki’s.” It was not an argument she would have made a few days ago. Father Millot’s penance had more of an effect on her than she had realized.
“Perhaps, but you violated your religion’s fifth commandment,” the woman argued.
“Chigau again,” Élisabeth said. “The fifth commandment forbids killing, but there is an exception for just wars. I acted to defend my hito, and the Church recognizes that as a contribution to the establishment of heiwa.”
“So you claim,” the woman mused, “but in the back of your mind, you know that, ‘Whoever takes the life of any human being shall be put to death.’ Any human being.”
“You’re quoting that out of context,” Élisabeth protested, gripping the handle of her sword tightly.
“‘They claim to know God, but by their deeds they deny him,’” the woman quoted.
“Enough!” Élisabeth shouted. “You won’t win any arguments with that kind of intellectual dishonesty. Leave.”
“If I don’t, will you murder me too?” the woman sneered.
Élisabeth ran towards the woman, raising her sword above her head. Yes, she decided, she would kill an enemy this dangerous in order to protect the members of her church. The woman, however, opened a portal under Élisabeth, and she fell into a dark void. The portal closed behind her, and Élisabeth could not see anything, not even the fingers in front of her face, but she did not panic. Concentrating on her desire to protect Danielle, she teleported out of the void, back to where she had been. Before she could be caught in another portal, she pushed off the ground with her wings, hovering in midair. The woman in the suit, however, was now aiming her palms towards Danielle, and Élisabeth had to place herself between them to shield her.
“I underestimated you, Élisabeth,” the woman said, after Élisabeth shrugged off the attack unscathed. “I’m going to have to get serious. Step back, futari-tomo.”
“Danielle, nigete!” Élisabeth shouted, as she flew towards the woman, intending to bash her with her shield. The woman, however, cast a spell on the shield, causing it to heat up and begin to melt. Élisabeth was forced to drop the shield, but the spell moved to her armor. If she didn’t do something fast, she would be baked alive.
Another bright flash distracted the combatants as Koharu materialized next to them.
“Omae!” Koharu gasped, recognizing the woman in the business suit. Without hesitating, she sent blasts of magic towards the woman, who dodged the first two before erecting barriers to protect herself from the rest. Koharu, however, was relentless, pounding the barriers with magic, while simultaneously summoning troops and weapons to their location.
In all the commotion, Élisabeth’s armor continued to heat up, but the woman in the suit seemed to have forgotten all about Élisabeth. Taking advantage of this, she flew towards the suited woman and wrapped her arms around her. The woman let out a cry of pain as the hot metal singed her suit. She attempted to teleport out of Élisabeth’s grasp, but Koharu had formed a barrier around them, preventing her from escaping.
“Baka, we’re both going to be caught, thanks to you,” the woman yelled at Élisabeth. “Naze didn’t you escape while you could?”
“Escape?” Élisabeth asked, confused. “She’s on my side.”
“Haven’t you been paying attention?” the woman shot back. “She’s from Dai-ichi Mahou Chutai! They’re hunting us down. Naze am I wasting time with you? Henshin!”
The woman’s transformation emitted a light brighter than any transformation that either Koharu or Élisabeth had ever seen. When it was complete, she spread her giant wings, which tore through all the barriers around her. Her wings resembled a great albatross’s, and her wingspan measured more than twenty feet.
“Don’t let her escape,” Koharu ordered. “Henshin!”
“Gomen, futari-tomo,” the woman in the suit told the girls who had summoned her, “you’re not worth all this.” Beating her wings, she flew away, Koharu following after. Élisabeth stayed behind, unable to follow because her suit was still heating up.
“Dispel your transformation!” a policeman shouted at her.
Of course, naze didn’t I think of that? Élisabeth berated herself. As her armor disappeared, the heat went with it. The next thing she knew, she was tackled by three police officers, and her hands were cuffed behind her back. The cuffs were heavy, and they disrupted the flow of her magical energy. She was surrounded by police, and she couldn’t see what was happening around her, but she could hear the other two magical girls struggling against the same treatment.
“Get off me, buta!” one of them yelled. Élisabeth then heard her grunt in pain, followed by another grunt, and another. It wasn’t hard for Élisabeth to visualize the police kicking her while she laid on the street.
“You can let that one go,” Élisabeth heard a voice talking to the police. She twisted her head to spot Koharu’s subordinate, who had fought with her against the Soviets. “She’s on our side.”
“Nani’s your point?” The policeman asked.
“She helped us push back the Soviets,” the subordinate said. “She doesn’t deserve to be treated like this.”
“Is she a member of the chutai?” The officer asked.
“Well, iie, but—”
“Then I have to take her in for processing. Meirei da.”
“We’re in charge of this operation,” Koharu’s subordinate pointed out. “We’ll process her.”
“You’re only in charge because you’re helping to solve the mondai,” The police officer told her. “If you get in our way, you become the mondai, and we’ll be processing you next. We’re taking her, wakatta?”
“Ha,” Koharu’s subordinate said unenthusiastically, but nevertheless she stood at attention and saluted the officer.
“On your feet,” the officer ordered, yanking Élisabeth up. “You’re not going to be a troublemaker, are you?”