Chapter 40

8:02 AM

Élisabeth had been strapped into a seat in the back of a truck with the other two magical girls. They rode with a single guard in the back and an escort of police cars on all sides.

“This is your fault,” one of the girls had accused Élisabeth, causing the guard to pistol-whip her. They had all been warned not to speak when they were placed in the truck. Even though her handcuffs were restricting her magic, Élisabeth managed to cast a spell to blunt the force of his blow, and, luckily, the magical girl was smart enough to act as though she were hurt. In a situation like this, Élisabeth knew she would have to cast spells to save people, sin or not, and so she resolved not to hesitate.

They had continued riding in silence, stopping every few minutes to take on more captive magical girls until the truck was over capacity. Finally, they arrived at the city’s prison for magical criminals, where they were pulled out of the truck by armed guards.

The prison itself was noisy. Every cell they walked past was crowded with magical girls and boys sitting on the floor. Eventually they arrived at a cell which was only half-full, and the police pushed them in.

“I’m not mahou!” one of the women in the cell called out to the officers. “You have to let me out.” Élisabeth could tell at a glance that the woman was telling the truth, but the officers ignored her and walked away, locking the cell behind them. “Naze doesn’t anyone believe me?” the woman vented, falling back against the wall.

“I believe you,” Élisabeth told the woman, instinctively seeking to reassure her, as she had always reassured the members of her church. “Do not despair. I’m sure they will realize their error.”

“Did they grab you by mistake too?” The woman asked, forcing a smile. “Those machines they used to detect mahou, there must be something wrong with them.”

Iie, actually, I am mahou,” Élisabeth admitted, “though I didn’t realize it until recently.” The smile faded from the woman’s face, and she pressed herself against the wall behind her, visibly afraid.

“I believe you,” a voice from the other side of the cell said mockingly. “That’s what you get for trying to help anyone around here.” Élisabeth turned to face the speaker. In the corner, four magical girls sat. They were not wearing the handcuffs that everyone else was, but they were dressed in prison jumpsuits. Élisabeth had recognized this as a penitentiary for magical criminals, but she didn’t realize they were locking up innocents in the same cells as convicts.

“You like?” one of the convicts asked, gesturing to her jumpsuit. “Don’t be jealous, they’ll give you one soon.” Élisabeth was about to rebuke the girl when her attention was drawn to the sound of the cell door opening. Three officers entered and looked around. One of them walked up to an older woman with a young child on her lap. Both had the auras of magical girls.

“You’re next,” the officer said, grabbing the child and lifting her. The woman stood up to follow, but the officer pushed her down. “One at a time. Wait your turn,” he ordered.

“Iie, mamma,” the little girl cried. She wailed as the officer began to walk to the door, but Élisabeth stepped in front of him.

“That onnanoko is scared,” she informed the officer. “Surely we can handle this in a more compassionate way.”

“Stay out of this,” the officer grunted, striking Élisabeth’s left cheek with the back of his free hand. It stung, but Élisabeth had suffered worse in the course of battle. She straightened up and smiled at the officer, and then she turned the right side of her face to him.

“Would you like to hit this side, too?” She offered. Transferring the child to his left arm, he raised his right hand and gave Élisabeth another smack, harder this time. She could feel her cheek well up, but she cast a healing spell on herself. “You can hit me as many times as you want,” she said with a smile.

“We’ve got a troublemaker,” the officer told his comrades. He dropped the child, who landed on her feet and quickly ran back to her mother. One of the officers behind Élisabeth grabbed her, and the three of them pushed and jostled her out of the cell. They lead her back past the full cells, to a separate area of the building, down a long hallway full of closed doors. They rounded a corner and found themselves face-to-face with an older officer. His uniform looked different than theirs, and he wasn’t wearing the same kind of armor that they were.

“I’ll take that one,” the older officer informed the trio that were escorting Élisabeth.

“She’s a troublemaker, let us handle her,” one of the officers replied.

“I have more experience with troublemakers,” the older officer countered. The three officers exchanged looks and then handed over Élisabeth and turned away without another word. The older officer ushered Élisabeth through a large door at the end of the hallway. Inside, there was a large office full of file cabinets, a desk, and a few chairs. “If I remove the cuffs, will you promise not to cast any spells?” he asked her.

“I will,” Élisabeth agreed. The officer removed her cuffs and placed them on the desk. He then offered a chair to Élisabeth, and sat opposite from her.

“Yona Martin-san, correct?” he addressed her using her legal name.

“Hai,” she answered.

“Naze did they remove you from the cell?” he asked. Élisabeth recounted the story of the woman and her child, and the officer sighed heavily upon hearing it.

“Despite what you just experienced, I want to assure you this is not what it looks like,” the officer told her. He paused, expecting a rebuttal, but was met only with a confused look on Élisabeth’s face. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“It looks like you’re arresting all the mahou shoujo you can find,” Élisabeth replied, “or anyone you think might be mahou. There was a woman in that cell who wasn’t.”

“Not a student of history?” the officer probed.

“Not much a student of anything. I can read and write, but my time is much better spent helping hito than studying. Demo, I don’t need to be smart to see we’re being treated like criminals. We’re being locked in cells with them.”

“That wasn’t supposed to happen,” the officer sighed again. “I’ll see to that once we’re done here. Look, we’re not arresting you, but as per the Mahou Shoujo control act, all mahou shoujo need to be registered and fitted with devices that record their location and magic usage. Unfortunately, in their infinite wisdom, the Diet didn’t provide any plan for achieving this goal. Although we have the technology required, we haven’t ever needed to manufacture the tracking devices at this scale, and one of our suppliers suffered an accident at their factory the other day. We’re manufacturing them as quickly as we can, but in the meantime, we need somewhere to hold the mahou shoujo we bring in, and this is the only facility in the machi equipped for that purpose.”

“That’s understandable,” Élisabeth said calmly. “Demo, surely there’s no need to detain us all here. Most mahou shoujo would submit for processing voluntarily. Police action should be reserved for those who resist.”

“I agree,” the officer said. “Once things settle down, I suspect that’s how it will be done. For now, the Diet has left it to the bureaucracy to establish the process for registering mahou shoujo, and a number of groups are vying for control. Dai-ichi Mahou Chutai has set up a system like you described, but the keisatsu have taken a more oppressive approach, which has hindered the chutai’s efforts. Not only is their message getting buried, but the keisatsu are detaining the mahou shoujo before they can make it to the chutai’s base.”

“I thought the Diet put Dai-ichi Mahou Chutai in charge,” Élisabeth said.

“That’s just for PR,” the officer explained. “They don’t care dare’s in charge, as long as the job gets done. Demo, I suspect the keisatsu will tire of this in a couple weeks and go back to their real jobs.”

“Naze are the keisatsu doing this if they don’t have to?” Élisabeth asked, confused.

“This has been a long time coming,” The officer said. “Mahou crime has been on the rise for years, and the keisatsu have been mostly powerless to stop it. They’ve been asking the government for the equipment and funding to curtail mahou criminals, but mahou shoujo aren’t baka. They’ve avoided targeting the goshujin, or anyone in their social circles, so the goshujin can’t see the problem, and thus they’ve never approved the expenditures. Now they’ve handed the keisatsu a blank check, and the keisatsu are getting their fukushu.”

“Demo, they’re taking it out on innocent hito.”

“They’re having fun playing with their new toys,” the officer said dismissively, “and getting their frustration out.”

“That sounds like a moral failing,” Élisabeth observed, “and a lack of discipline within the keisatsu.”

“A moral failing, sure,” the officer shrugged, “but it’s coming from the top. Discipline doesn’t come into play. They’re following the meirei of their precinct captains.”

“So then, am I to take it that you’re the one disobeying meirei?”

“Iie,” the officer said, not sounding the least bit taken aback. “I’m the warden of this facility. I’m doing my best to prevent it from all falling apart.” He grabbed the handcuffs off the desk and inserted them into a stand next to a computer monitor. He paused to read the monitor, then said, “It says here you cast a protection spell and a healing spell, even with these on. Not many mahou shoujo can do that.”

“If you’re the warden, naze aren’t you doing anything about your subordinates?” Élisabeth asked, trying not to sound angry.

“They’re not mine,” the warden informed her. “I’m a sworn officer, but most of the staff here are private contractors. The keisatsu forced out everyone without a badge, so it’s just me and my chuii. This is a mondai because my staff knew how to interact with mahou shoujo better than anyone on the force. Ima, would you be so kind as to explain the details behind the ni spells you cast?”

“They were responses to keisatsu violence. The first was to protect a mahou shoujo who was struck with an officer’s gun. The second was to heal myself after getting hit.”

“Gomen,” the warden apologized again. “That shouldn’t have happened.” He tapped a few buttons on his keyboard before speaking again. A light on the handcuffs changed from red to green. “It says here you haven’t cast any spells since being taken into custody. That means you’re eligible for processing. Demo, I would like you to consider staying here for a few days. The situation is getting more and more out of control as time goes on. I need collaborators among the mahou shoujo who can help maintain order without violence. I can’t be everywhere at once, so I need hito who can report the changing conditions of the cells to me. You’re powerful, and you’ve shown a genuine desire to help the others, so you should be able to gain their trust. You’ve shown you have good instincts by defusing a bad situation, and it appears you respect law and order, so both sides can trust you.”

“That is a tempting offer,” Élisabeth said. “It would allow me to help the powerless in their time of need. Demo, I have commitments that I must keep, and if the precinct captains have ordered this folly, then I shall appeal to their superiors to put an end to it.”

“Don’t waste your time,” The warden advised. “I’ve already tried that, and my pleas fell on deaf ears.”

“I have political connections,” Élisabeth told him. “I may have more success. If I fail, I will return to you.”

“In that case, I’ll escort you to processing, after which I’ll see about getting the convicts separated from everyone else,” the warden said, standing up and walking towards the door. “You’ll be free to go after processing, but take care not to teleport within a three-block radius of this facility, or you’ll set off alarms. Koharu-shousa is waiting to escort you wherever you need to go. She arrived, demanding your release, before you even got here.”

Arigatou gozaimasu.”

He opened the door for her as they left the office. They walked down the hallways, and as they walked past a door, they heard a loud thumping noise followed by laughter.

“Stay here,” the warden ordered. He cracked open the door to peek inside. “What the—” Élisabeth heard him say, and then a voice from within the room told him to mind his own business. “This is my prison,” the warden shot back, “and that makes it my business. I don’t want you putting holes in the wall. Let her down.” He pushed on the door, trying to force his way in.

“Allow me,” Élisabeth offered, summoning golden chains inside the room, which wrapped around the officers, pulling them away from the door. The warden stumbled through, hurriedly trying to close the door behind him, but he was too slow to prevent Élisabeth from seeing inside. Including the warden, there were six officers in the room.

“Don’t be so stiff,” one of the officers told the warden. “She can fix any damage we do with mahou.”

There was also a magical girl in the room. It was one of the two who had tried to shake Danielle down this morning. Her face was red and swollen from repeated beatings. Her handcuffs were locked around her ankles, not her wrists. The officers had brought her into this room to beat her, and had found a nail gun lying in the corner.

They had nailed her hands to the wall.

Nani are you doing?!” Élisabeth shouted, pushing her way past the warden.

“Stay out of this,” one of the officers shouted back. “One of her little mahou tricks sent three of us to the byouin last week.”

“Is that true?” Élisabeth asked the girl.

“Does it matter?” the girl asked in return. “Does that justify this? Get me out of here!” The three free officers moved to grab Élisabeth, but more golden chains appeared from the walls and restrained them.

“I can’t do that,” Élisabeth said. Lifting her hand. She cast a spell on the nails binding the girl. They glowed with an amber aura and slid out of the girl’s hands. “I can heal you, but I’m not powerful enough to teleport anyone except myself.”

“Let’s fight our way out, then,” the girl suggested. “You can beat these aho.”

“I can’t do that. I—” Élisabeth was cut off by the sound of a pistol discharging. A beam hit the wall next to them, traveling into the next room. Élisabeth whipped around to find that one of the chained officers had been able to reach his pistol and was aiming it in her direction.

“Hold your fire,” the warden urged. Élisabeth tightened the chains around the officer, throwing his aim off, but the next shot grazed her arm. The warden wrestled the gun from him as Élisabeth healed herself. “Yona-san, let’s go,” he ordered.

“If you can’t get me out of here, go get someone who can,” the magical girl pleaded. “I’ve got a record. This is just the beginning of what they’re going to do to me.”

“Can you mamoru her?” Élisabeth asked the warden, only to be met with a pained look on his face. “Iie, gomen for asking. You’re already doing the best you can. Demo, I’m afraid I can’t spare the time to go through the proper procedure. I have to put an end to this madness.”

Matte,” the warden pleaded, but it was too late. Élisabeth had already teleported away.

Élisabeth did not know where her teleport would take her, but she knew that if she focused hard enough on Father Millot, she would arrive close to him. That’s how she found herself in a strange house, in a dimly-lit living room. She didn’t have much time to get her bearings, however, as she heard a familiar voice groan from an adjacent room.

“Father!” Élisabeth yelled, throwing open the door. “Are you daijobu?”

“Élisabeth,” Father Millot said, surprised. “Nani are you doing here?”

“Perhaps I should be asking you that question,” Élisabeth replied. Father Millot had pulled the bedsheets over him, but not quickly enough to hide the woman from Élisabeth’s view. Not that he could have kept her hidden for long. She sat up, keeping herself modest with the sheets, and glared at Élisabeth.

“Dare are you?” the woman scowled. “Get out of my house.”

“Be quiet, whore,” Élisabeth snapped. The venom coming from her mouth surprised even her. She was angry at Father Millot’s actions, much more angry than she had been at the police officers for beating the magical girl.

“Élisabeth,” Father Millot reprimanded, “don’t be so judgmental.”

“You’re in no position to lecture me,” Élisabeth said defiantly. “While I was tending to the meek and bearing witness to the evil of violence—violence you have done nothing to stop, though it may be in your power—you were here, sinning with this… jezebel.” She stopped and took a deep breath. “Demo, I will forgive you, Father. I will help you back to the Lord. I will hear your confession.”

“You’re not qualified for that,” Father Millot pointed out. “Truly, I have sinned, and you would be performing a great mercy by escorting me to the church, so that I may give my confession to a priest.”

“Iie,” Élisabeth insisted. “You have lied to me twice now, Father, and I will have you tell me why.” She had never cast a hypnotism spell before, but it came naturally to her, and the two occupants of the bed fell victim to it. She didn’t even feel bad for doing it. Father Millot had always been a figure of absolute authority in her life, but now that he had shown himself to be an unworthy leader, she was all too eager to turn the tables on him. “Confess your sins.”

“I have no sins to confess,” the hypnotized Father Millot said. “I reject the very concept.”

In her wildest dreams, Élisabeth would never have expected such a response from Father Millot. “God will punish you for such blasphemy,” she told him.

“He will not,” Father Millot answered.

“Naze?” Élisabeth pressed.

“Because God does not exist,” the priest stated plainly.

“How can you say that?” accused Élisabeth, but Father Millot took it as an honest question. He began to lay out the arguments against the existence of God. At first, Élisabeth was so shocked that she didn’t try to stop him. By the time she recovered, she realized he was making sense. Uneducated though she may be, she was intelligent. She knew how to think critically, and she could understand the logic behind his arguments. They were not all new to her, but in the past, she had only needed Father Millot’s reassurance that they were wrong. But now that Father Millot had been revealed to be a fraud, she had no choice but to think for herself. She posed challenging questions to the hypnotized priest, but he always had convincing answers.

After ten or so minutes had passed, Élisabeth stumbled out of the room. Father Millot was still talking, but no one was listening. The memories of what had happened at the prison had all but been forced out of Élisabeth’s mind as she left the house and wandered aimlessly down the sidewalk. Coming eventually to an empty alleyway, she knelt in the shadows and began to pray.

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son…” she managed before she stopped. She didn’t believe, not anymore, and no matter how much she wanted to, she never would again.

“I thought there was a kekkai around this entire facility preventing teleportation,” Koharu said. She and the warden were in his office. He had just finished explaining what had happened with Élisabeth.

“So did I,” the warden concurred. “Apparently it wasn’t strong enough to contain her.”

“If you’re trying to cover—” An alarm sounded, preventing Koharu from finishing her threat. The warden glanced at his monitor.

“Someone’s teleported directly into the cell block.” He informed Koharu. The two of them bolted for the door. As they ran down the hallway, the alarm silenced, and a voice began speaking over the PA system.

“Woe to those who turn justice into wormwood and cast righteousness to the ground. They abhor those who speak with integrity.” They both recognized Élisabeth’s voice and increased their pace down the hallways. “Therefore, because you tax the destitute and exact from them levies of grain, though you have built houses of hewn stone, you shall not live in them; Though you have planted choice vineyards, you shall not drink their wine. Yes, I know how many are your crimes, how grievous your sins. Hate evil and love good, and let justice prevail.” She was picking and choosing her passages, avoiding the overtly religious parts.

Koharu and the warden burst through the door to the cell block to find a grizzly scene. Dead police lay strewn in the hallway, many of them decapitated. The occupants of the cells had backed up as far as possible, but they had not all been able to avoid the splatters of blood. In the middle of it, alone, Élisabeth stood unstained. She was not wearing armor, but a flowing white robe. Her sword was different, smaller, but her wings were still the same angelic white they had always been, and she glowed with a brilliant golden aura.

“Let justice surge like waters, and righteousness like an unfailing stream,” she finished, lowering her sword. “Ohayou gozaimasu, Koharu-shousa, warden,” she greeted the newcomers. “Do not be afraid. I bear you no animosity. You are moral.”

“Yona-san, nani are you doing?” Koharu demanded.

“It’s Élisabeth,” Élisabeth corrected, “and I’m merely righting a wrong. I know you, somehow, think all this is for the best,” she said, gesturing to the cells around her, “but you know things can’t go on like this.”

“Of course,” Koharu agreed, “and we’re working to make things better, but actions like this will only create setbacks. Put down your sword and surrender.”

“It is against my religion to rebel against any government, no matter how unjust,” Élisabeth stated.

“Then we feel the same,” Koharu said. “Surrender.”

“Demo, I lost my religion this morning,” Élisabeth informed them, “and when I did, do you know what I found? I possess chikara I never knew I had. Iie, I knew I had them, but I was afraid to acknowledge them, for they would make me more powerful than God, and I believed that to be blasphemy. I only used a fraction of my strength, and pretended it was a divine blessing. Now that I have laid claim to my full chikara, I am tsuyoi, perhaps enough to overthrow this corrupt government that preys on the weak.”

“Nani do you hope to accomplish by doing that?” Koharu asked coldly.

Seigi!” Élisabeth bellowed, lifting her sword above her head. Her voice reverberated throughout the entire facility. In the near future, this would become her rallying cry, which thousands of disaffected magical girls would answer. Her body began to glow brighter, and the bodies of those trapped in the cells began to glow too. Koharu cast a barrier over the entire cell block, but it had no effect on Élisabeth’s spell. She teleported away, taking with her everyone in the cells, convict and innocent alike. Their handcuffs made a harsh cacophony as they fell onto the cold prison floor.