Chapter 12

Sept. 15th, U.C. 0053 2:40 AM, Moscow Time

Élisabeth put her hand on the door handle and pushed. Like most hospital doors, it was unlocked, but even if it had been locked, the unlocking spell Élisabeth kept cast on her hand at all times would have automatically unlocked it. Trifling with doors had always bothered Élisabeth. After all, she could teleport, so why couldn’t she just walk through the walls? But that just wasn’t how magic interacted with the rest of the physical world. She could teleport between rooms, but it took longer to cast the spells required to do so safely than to walk.

With a practiced motion, she opened the door, entered the room, and picked the chart up from the foot of the closest bed. Even though it was late, she made no effort to be quiet. Thanks to the multitude of spells she had cast on herself and everyone in the building, no one would notice her or be bothered by her presence. She quickly glanced over the chart before moving on to the next bed. There were four patients in the room, and all of them had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Élisabeth wasn’t surprised. Hospitals tended to group patients with similar ailments together, and lung cancer was by far the most common disease caused by the smog that blanketed much of the Soviet Expedition. She began casting spells to heal them, but she knew she would only be treating their symptoms. If they continued to breathe the polluted air, they would likely relapse within a few years, but she couldn’t prevent that, just like she couldn’t save everyone. She could only fix what was in front of her.

When she was finished healing the occupants of this room, she stepped back into the hall, intending to do the same in the next room, but she found herself face-to-face with a group of soldiers wearing anti-magical armor. Reflective visors covered their faces, except for the group’s leader, who was protected only by a magic-resistant vest and a small helmet. He was an older man with a white moustache.

“Élisabeth Berger,” he said, offering his hand, “the Soviet Expedition wishes to thank you for healing our sick comrades.”

“You must be a talented spellbreaker to see me,” Élisabeth complimented him, her voice lifeless. Ever since the battle against the god warrior, she had spent every waking moment traveling the globe, trying to do as much good as she could. She returned to her safe house only to sleep, and only when exhaustion overcame her. She knew she was burning herself out, and that she should rest more often, but that’s where Risa was. Things had been awkward between them ever since they had returned to the real world, and Élisabeth didn’t know how to deal with the situation. It was easier to just avoid Risa, even though Élisabeth knew that wouldn’t solve the problem.

“The Soviet Expedition leads the world in countermagic research,” the man bragged.

“Good for you,” Élisabeth said. “I appreciate the sentiment, but I’m not doing this for recognition. You don’t have to thank me.”

“Of course,” the man said, still holding his hand out. “I didn’t mean to imply you had impure motives. We’re here to offer our help.”

Élisabeth wasn’t the smartest magical girl, and being exhausted, her mental faculties were diminished, but she knew there was something wrong with this situation. You didn’t help a healer by sending soldiers into a hospital. “Again, I appreciate the sentiment,” she said, “but I don’t need any help.”

“Forgive me for saying so, but you’re exhausted. You can’t do everything yourself,” the man insisted, “but your actions have inspired us. We can help you triage, direct you to the patients in most immediate need, and provide magical apprentices.”

The mention of magical persons outside of Neo Crystal Tokyo only deepened Élisabeth’s suspicions. Without exception, the Soviet Expedition’s magical girls had been kidnapped from Neo Crystal Tokyo and brainwashed. The Expedition had hoped to use them as superweapons in their fight against the ‘Muricans, but their results had been underwhelming. They each might be able to kill hundreds of soldiers, but in battles involving millions, that meant very little. However, if they were used to heal soldiers—something Élisabeth had avoided—they could provide a real advantage against the ‘Muricans.

Even if Élisabeth could provide them no benefits, it was worth it to the Soviets to control her. Countermeasures were undoubtedly being developed for the magic she had displayed on the battlefield, but she was still largely an unknown to the armies of the world, and it was still possible her magic could tip the war in one side’s favor. It was vitally important to the Soviets that she not side with the ‘Muricans. That’s why they had sent soldiers. At close range and while she was exhausted, the Soviets hoped that soldiers in magic resistant armor might be able to do what an entire army could not.

“You know a lot about me,” Élisabeth said, looking down at the man’s outstretched hand, “but I don’t even know your namae.”

“Ah, of course,” the man stalled. I’m—”

“Don’t you dare lie to me,” Élisabeth interrupted him. “I can tell.” It was a bluff, one Élisabeth hoped would allow her to control the situation.

“Can you really?” the man gasped. “That’s amazing.” Élisabeth waited for him to continue, but the man said nothing more.

“Jeanne Dufort,” Élisabeth said, breaking the uncomfortable silence. The man’s eyes widened momentarily in recognition. “She went missing after attacking the Expedition. If you turn her, or her remains, over to me, I will consider your request.” Of course, Élisabeth had no intention of joining with any country. This was a delaying tactic, and with any luck, she might be able to ingratiate herself with Aina.

“If you don’t mind my asking, what business do you have with her?” the man queried.

“Many of the spells I use for healing came from her work,” Élisabeth explained. “If she’s alive, I want her to continue that research. If not, I want to inter her remains with her husband’s, to thank her for what she’s given me.”

“I see,” the negotiator said. “I can certainly communicate your request to… our comrades, but I can’t guarantee anything.”

“You have no intention of turning her over to me,” Élisabeth accused. “I warned you not to lie to me.” The soldiers behind the man shifted uncomfortably, but he held up a hand to stop them.

“Forgive me,” he said. “She was cremated, and her ashes spread. I can’t deliver her to you.” This was a plausible explanation, but Élisabeth was aware that he might be testing her claim that she could detect falsehoods, and she wasn’t going to fall into that trap.

“I won’t cooperate with any country,” she declared, “but I don’t mind continuing to heal your civilians. However, if you say one more word, I will not visit Soviet hospitals anymore. Leave now.”

The soldiers leveled their weapons at Élisabeth, but once again the man signaled them to stop. “The other countries will notice you, like we did,” he warned, “but they’ll—”

With a sad look on her face, Élisabeth teleported away as the man spoke.

1:15 AM, Central European Time

The adrenaline was finally beginning to fade from Élisabeth’s body as she wandered the thinly-wooded trail. She often came here when she needed to think. It was located firmly within Futarchy territory, so the landscape was largely untouched by the war, and the sound of the nearby ocean was very calming. Despite these traits, the trail was not very popular, and Élisabeth could walk for hours in near-solitude.

The encounter with the Soviet soldiers had scared her more than she wanted to admit. Her threat to no longer heal those in Soviet hospitals hadn’t phased the soldiers at all. If they didn’t care about patients in civilian hospitals, how far would the military go next time? Would they pump the next hospital full of poisonous gas, or incinerate it with explosives? Had they detected her in their courts yet? If they hadn’t, it would only be a matter of time. The same went for the other countries. If the Soviets could find her, so could the ‘Muricans. She couldn’t risk going back to either the hospitals or the courts.

Élisabeth had always known she’d have to stop some day. As good as it felt to help people directly, she knew she wasn’t solving their problems. Most of those she healed would be exposed to the same environments that caused their illnesses to begin with, and those she freed from police custody were likely to be arrested again. Élisabeth yearned to be a part of something bigger, but after her complete failure in her quest for justice, she didn’t trust herself to make the right decisions. She needed an advisor, someone who was smarter than she was.

A flash of light illuminated the trail in front of Élisabeth, and she managed to catch Risa in her arms as she fell to the ground. She was fast asleep, wearing panda-patterned pajamas.

Nani?” Risa grumbled as Élisabeth placed her on her feet.

“Gomen,” Élisabeth apologized. “I must have summoned you by accident. I was thinking that I wanted to see you, and you appeared.”

Nee-san did that a few times,” Risa said sleepily. She rubbed her eyes with the back of her arm, and then jumped back when she realized who she was talking to. “Send me back,” she demanded. “I have cram school tomorrow, and I need to sleep.”

“I have something important to ask you first,” said Élisabeth. With a wave of her hand, she summoned a copy of the Duforts’ research on magical geoengineering and handed it to Risa.

Naze would you show me this?” Risa asked.

“You know more about mahou than anyone I know,” Élisabeth said, “and I trust you.”

“I don’t get you,” Risa said. “First, you kidnap me to another dimension and completely remove my free will, then you return it, but trap me in your house and refuse to talk to me, then you summon me to the middle of nowhere while I’m sleeping and show me this kuso.”

“I didn’t trap you in my house,” Élisabeth protested.

“Oh sure, I can go out,” Risa said, “but if I stay out one second past my curfew, zap, I’m teleported back. Do you have any idea how many times I’ve tried to run away?”

“It’s for your own safety,” Élisabeth said. “You have nowhere else to go. Besides, there’s nowhere you can run where I can’t find you.”

“That’s creepy,” Risa shuddered. “You don’t see me as a ningen. I’m just a bag of flesh that you feel compelled to protect. I’m just another of your unhealthy obsessions.”

“That’s not true,” Élisabeth asserted. “If you want more jiyuu, we can discuss that later, but right now, I need to know if I can use this research to save Chikyuu.”

Iie, you can’t use this!” Risa shouted. “Do you have any idea what the Duforts did to obtain this information? Nee-san was hired to eliminate their former test subjects, and it was the only time I ever saw her cry.”

“I can’t change the past,” Élisabeth said, “and the need is great. If we don’t do anything, all life will be extinct within ni-hyaku years.”

“I can’t…” Risa mumbled. “This is too much for me. I’m just a middle schooler.”

“Gomen, you’re right,” Élisabeth sighed. “I’m trying to push my responsibility off on you. I’ll send you back now. Oyasumi.”

“Iie,” Risa shrieked, jumping away from Élisabeth. “Get away from me. Don’t cast any spells on me. I’ll find my own way back.”

“Don’t be silly,” Élisabeth said. “We’re in the middle of the Futarchy.”

“The Futarchy? Is that the umi?” Risa asked. “I’ve never seen it in person.” Before Élisabeth could answer, Risa took off down the path to the beach. Élisabeth followed behind at a distance. She didn’t want to scare Risa more than she already had, but she wanted to be able to protect her if something happened. Risa slowed when she got to the beach, unused to running on sand, but she pressed on. When she felt water flowing over her feet, she knelt in the wet sand.

“Risa, that’s abunai,” Élisabeth called out. “You don’t know what’s in the mizu.”

“Ryujin-sama,” Risa bellowed, ignoring the warning, “if you have any fondness left for my nee-san, please mamoru me from this crazy akuma.”

From a kilometer off the coast, a large sea serpent emerged from the ocean and spiraled into the air. It spotted Risa kneeling in the water and flew towards her.

Dare disturbs my—” it began to demand, but as it spoke, Élisabeth took to the air, and with one swing of her sword, decapitated the kami. Head and body both began to fall, only to be levitated by Élisabeth’s magic. Risa could only watch in horror as the dragon’s corpse was enveloped in a bright blue flame.

Dame yo, Risa,” Élisabeth said, turning back to her adopted daughter. “There’s no such thing as a real god. Placing your trust in them is… Ah, wakatta. I wakatta now! When I still believed, I did good works, and I trusted God to take care of the bigger picture. Even now, I carried on doing good works, believing it wasn’t my job to fix the structural mondai in shakai. Minna is doing the same. The ‘Muricans, with their belief in God, and the Soviets, with their belief in the State. I need to show them that their belief in a higher power is misplaced. Only then will they be moved to solve mondai on their own. Arigatou, Risa. You pointed me on the right path after all.”

“Iie,” Risa whispered. “You’re insane. Both your mind and your chikara are insane. You must be stopped.”

Élisabeth paid her no mind. She had already gotten what she wanted from the girl: a new fixation. No longer concerned with Risa’s feelings, she raised one hand, teleporting the younger girl back home.