Chapter 16

Sept. 20th, U.C. 0053, 4:10 PM

“So you’ll come home?” Élisabeth’s mother asked, tears forming in the corners of her eyes.

Élisabeth didn’t answer immediately. She didn’t know the answer. Moving back in with her parents seemed like the natural thing to do after reconciling with them, but she wasn’t sure she could handle it. This entire discussion had been bizarre. For the first time, she was seeing her parents, who she loved and respected, as normal humans. Even after becoming disillusioned with Father Millot and his religion, she had still revered her parents in her mind. But they were so feeble, so simple. She could easily erase them from existence, or hypnotize them to give her unconditional love. Either option would be so much easier than reconnecting with them on a personal level, but neither felt right.

“You have to wakaru,” Élisabeth said, “I’m no longer the daughter you knew.”

“We know,” her dad said, swallowing hard, “but the important thing is you regret your actions, and you want to become a better hito. We forgive you, and want to lead you back to redemption.”

“Even if I’ve killed?” Élisabeth pressed.

“Did you?” her father asked, his shoulders sagging.

“Now, now,” Father Millot interjected, “save it for the confessional. No need to burden them with everything.”

“They have a right to know who I really am,” Élisabeth said, “before they decide whether to accept me back into their lives.”

“Let’s just focus on ichi thing at a time,” Father Millot insisted. “There are other issues to resolve before we can consider you moving back in with your kazoku.”

“Other issues like?” Élisabeth’s mother asked.

“I adopted a musume,” Élisabeth said, “to mamoru her from the oyabun.”

“That’s not a mondai,” her mother assured her. “If she’s your kazoku, she’s our kazoku.”

“She might not see it that way,” Élisabeth said. “She doesn’t know you, and I have not been as strict in her upbringing as you were in mine. I can’t force her to move in with people she doesn’t know, much less subject her to your rules.”

“Then, perhaps, you should start by introducing her to us,” her mom suggested. “We’d love to have futari tomo over for dinner.”

Sept. 23rd, U.C. 0053, 7:14 PM

Élisabeth hadn’t expected Risa to accept the dinner invitation. After all, Risa tended to avoid Élisabeth as much as possible, but she had accepted without any hesitation.

“I’d like to meet your parents,” Risa had said. However, as they were sitting down to dinner, it was obvious that whatever Risa had expected, she hadn’t been prepared for devout Catholics.

“Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts,” Élisabeth’s father intoned, “which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

“Amen,” Élisabeth’s mother concurred as the two of them crossed themselves. Neither Élisabeth nor Risa joined the ritual, prompting grave expressions from Élisabeth’s parents. Her father looked like he wanted to say something about it, but her mother spoke up first.

“So, Risa-san, which school are you attending?” she asked. She was curious about Risa’s age, but asking directly would be rude.

“Kaishin Daiichi,” Risa answered before taking her first bite of dinner.

“Oh my,” Élisabeth’s mother said, “You must be busy studying for your entrance exams.”

“Not yet. I’m still a second year,” Risa explained. “Demo, I was thinking I might not take the exams. I could do good work in the guntai.”

“The SDF doesn’t take high school students,” Élisabeth’s dad pointed out.

Dai-ichi Mahou Chutai does,” Élisabeth said, her eyes widening in surprise. She was unaware of Risa’s desire to join the military.

“Oh,” Élisabeth’s mother choked. “Are you a ma—do you have those gifts?”

“I don’t,” Risa said, “but I’ve studied mahou for years. I probably know more about it than anyone without the gift. I can support them, developing new spells and equipment.”

“They have career researchers supporting them,” Élisabeth told her. “You’re smart, but don’t get ahead of yourself. They won’t take you until you turn jyuu-hachi-sai, so you might as well attend high school in the meantime.”

“Iie,” Risa insisted, “I want to go to Dai-ichi.”

“If you’re serious about a career researching that stuff,” Élisabeth’s father cut in, “you’ll need to attend college and get a license.”

“As if I could get into college,” Risa scoffed, “let alone afford it.”

“If you want to go, I’ll get you in,” Élisabeth said, skewering a slice of braised carrot with her fork and raising it to her mouth. “Don’t worry about the okane.”

Having said what she wanted to say, Élisabeth bit down on the carrot. Her face lit up as the taste spread across her tongue. It had been weeks since she had eaten anything. During a particularly busy period, she had switched to sustaining herself on magic alone, and never got back in the habit of eating. The carrot’s taste was nostalgic, not just because she had abstained from eating for so long, but because it was her father’s cooking.

Risa, in contrast, looked like she had just been sentenced to death. “I couldn’t possibly ask you to do that,” she murmured. “I’m already indebted to you too much as it is.”

“Nonsense,” Élisabeth dismissed her, shoving more food into her mouth. “I’m the one who’s indebted to you. Besides, it’s no big deal.”

“No big deal?” Risa almost yelled. “Do you have any idea how hard onee-san worked to try to save enough money for me to attend high school, and you’re just dangling college out there like it’s nothing?”

“She wanted you to go to college,” Élisabeth said, upset that Risa was ruining her good mood. “I’m just fulfilling her wishes.”

“I don’t want—” Risa shouted, but Élisabeth was ready for it. She slid her finger across the air, and Risa’s voice was silenced. She was still yelling at Élisabeth, but she was completely inaudible.

“Gomen for the noise,” Élisabeth apologized to her parents. “She’ll calm down soon.” She took another bite of food, and the smile returned to her face.

“Élisabeth,” her mother gasped, “is this how you treat her all the time?”

“Only when she gets upset like this,” Élisabeth answered. “Otherwise, she’s free to do as she pleases until curfew.”

“You’re not even trying to understand her,” Élisabeth’s mom stated. “If you want to be a kazoku, you have to listen to her.”

Élisabeth wanted to protest that she had too many other important things to do, but that was no longer true. Instead, she turned to look at Risa. Her adopted daughter had stopped yelling, but was glaring at Élisabeth with murderous intent. With a small gesture, Élisabeth released Risa from her magic and asked, “Please help me to understand, would you prefer not to go to college?”

“I’ll go anywhere if it gets me away from you,” Risa spat. “Naze do you think I’m so fixated on Dai-ichi?”

“Because if there’s anyone who can hide you from me, it’s Koharu-san,” Élisabeth surmised. “Would it help if I promised not to use mahou on you any more?”

“Sure,” Risa rolled her eyes, “until you find your next obsession and forget your yakusoku.”

“I—” Élisabeth croaked, “I don’t want you to give up on your dreams just to hide from me.”

A heavy silence fell over the table, and Élisabeth’s mother took it upon herself to dispel it. “Risa-san,” she said, “you know, Élisabeth never went to high school. I think what she means is that she doesn’t want you to make the same mistake.”

“It wasn’t a mistake,” Élisabeth stated.

“Grades weren’t good enough?” Risa jabbed.

“My grades were decent,” Élisabeth said, “but I felt I had a more important calling. I do regret some of the things I spent my time on, but I got lucky, and my experiences made me who I am today.”

“I think I wakaru,” Risa said. “If I’m lucky, I can turn out crazy and obsessive, like you.”

Élisabeth wanted to retort with, “Don’t forget powerful,” along with a demonstration of her magic, but she knew her parents wouldn’t approve. Forced to think about her response, she ultimately decided to go with, “Iie, I’ve always been crazy and obsessive. I’m lucky because I’m still alive. If you join the guntai, you’ll be putting your life at risk.”

“Speaking of saving lives,” Élisabeth’s father awkwardly tried to steer the discussion back towards palatable topics, “I was thinking, maybe I could reserve us some time at the workshop, and we could polish up your armor, Élisabeth. Like old times.”

“The armor was destroyed,” Élisabeth stated. Her parents frowned. The symbolism of the armor hadn’t been lost on them. At that exact moment, Élisabeth’s stomach, unused to eating, began to reject the mountain of food she had dumped on it. As it surged up her throat, she swallowed hard to keep it down long enough to teleport it into one of her pocket dimensions, and her parents mistook the sudden action as a display of emotion.

“Well then, perhaps we’ll see you at church on Sunday?” her father offered.

“Perhaps,” Élisabeth replied. “Father Millot and I are still negotiating my return with the archbishop.”

“You were excommunicated?” Élisabeth’s mother gasped.

“Not formally,” Élisabeth informed them, “but the Church has some reservations about whether an avowed mahou shoujo can receive Communion.”

As they continued to talk, Risa remained quiet. Élisabeth’s parents didn’t know what their daughter was really like, and Élisabeth was being careful not to show them too much. She had hoped to meet people who understood Élisabeth’s true nature, and who could help her escape. Instead, they were normal parents, looking to reconnect with their daughter.

September 26th, U.C. 0053, 4:30 PM

“Élisabeth-san?” Samuel’s eyes widened as he recognized Élisabeth. “Is it really you?”

“Ohisashiburi, Samuel-kun,” Élisabeth greeted the youth. “How have you been?”

“Okay, I guess,” Samuel said. “Things haven’t been the same around here since you l—since the keisatsu took you.”

“So I’ve heard,” Élisabeth said. “I understand you’ve developed some gifts of your own?”

“Nothing like yours,” Samuel hurried to explain. “I can heal minor wounds, and… I’ve set some things on fire by accident. I’m no help to anyone.”

“Perhaps you could be,” Élisabeth said, “if you learned to control your powers.”

“I’d do anything to be helpful to you,” Samuel said, “but I’m telling you, I’m not good enough.”

“I don’t mean useful to me,” Élisabeth clarified. “Useful to shakai. Tell me, have you taken any steps to gain control over your gift?”

“Father Millot has me memorizing some Japanese Bible passages, but it’s hard, and it doesn’t seem to help. The language used is archaic, and I keep stumbling over it.”

Élisabeth remembered having the same issues memorizing the passages. It had taken her years, but the effort had eventually paid off. Reciting the passages had taught her how to focus her thoughts on one task to the exclusion of others, which was helpful in spellcasting.

“Perhaps we should start with some easier training then,” Élisabeth said. “Give me your hand.”

Samuel placed his hand in Élisabeth’s outstretched palm, allowing Élisabeth to feel his magical energy. It was about average, but its flow was turbulent.

“When was the last time you cast a spell?” Élisabeth queried.

“A week ago,” Samuel answered. “Iie, more.”

“That’s a mondai,” Élisabeth told him. “If you don’t use your mahou regularly, it will build up and become harder to control.”

“Demo,” Samuel protested, “using it without a purpose is sinful.”

“That’s why I always had to be proactive in finding people to help,” Élisabeth said. “It’s a lot of work, but if you don’t do it, your power will become so uncontrollable that you’ll cast something on accident. You wouldn’t want to start another fire. Come, I’ll take you to the byouin, and you can volunteer to heal someone.”

“What if I mess up and hurt them?” Samuel asked. “I need to learn to control it first.”

“I’ll be with you,” Élisabeth assured him. “I won’t let anything bad happen.”

December 2nd, U.C. 0053, 3:34 PM

“Concentrate,” Élisabeth reminded Samuel as he cast his healing magic. He was tending to a third-degree burn, which was considerately more difficult than any healing he had done before, but despite that, he was occasionally stealing furtive glances at Élisabeth. He had started doing that a couple weeks ago, and it didn’t take Élisabeth long to realize that meant he had started puberty. At twelve years of age, Élisabeth thought he would be too young—she had heard boys started later in life than girls—but his behavioral changes were unmistakable.

This, more than anything else, presented a difficulty when instructing Samuel. It wasn’t just that it made them both feel awkward, but Élisabeth wasn’t sure how best to help him. She didn’t trust any of the men in Samuel’s life to give him good advice. His father and most of the priests were uncomfortable around him, and avoided him as much as possible. Besides, she remembered the Church-approved advice her own mother had given her: Don’t touch your genitals, and if you have impure thoughts, immediately pray for forgiveness and confess at the earliest opportunity. She didn’t want Samuel to be ashamed of his body, but she also didn’t want him getting lecherous advice from Father Millot.

Although Samuel looked up to her, Élisabeth worried that he would dismiss any advice she gave him on the matter. She had never been a pubescent boy, so she couldn’t know everything he was going through. It had occurred to her that she could transform herself into a young man using magic, but there were many problems with that. Even if she became a man, would that automatically make her attracted to women, or would she retain her attraction to men? How would Risa feel sharing a home with a man? The idea of using magic to transform her own body also scared Élisabeth. It was something she had never done before, and if she went through with it, it was possible she would never feel like the same person again. Besides, the odds of pulling off the transformation successfully were slim. The private world she had created had collapsed because there were so many tiny facets of existence she didn’t know about. Her magic was limited by what she knew, and there were many things about the opposite sex that she didn’t know. Perhaps she could hypnotize Samuel and have him use her magical energy to perform the spell, but that was very risky.

She also found that she didn’t want to hypnotize the boy. It was strange. She had no compunctions about hypnotizing most people, but she hesitated when it came to a select few. Was it because she saw them as more human, more deserving of free will, than others? She had to admit that she had barely acknowledged Samuel’s existence before he developed magical powers, and it wasn’t until Risa had begged Élisabeth to respect her right to freedom that Élisabeth started seeing Risa as more than a thing to protect, though Risa still wasn’t as important in Élisabeth’s mind as her parents or Samuel.

“Whew,” Samuel let out a sigh of relief as he finished healing the burn. “How do you feel?” he asked the patient.

“Better,” the patient smiled. “Arigatou.”

“Because it was so serious, you should let the doctor examine it,” Samuel said. “I’ll go let them know I’m finished. Please wait here.”

“You did a good job,” Élisabeth praised him once they were alone in the hallway.

“I don’t think I can do any more today,” Samuel said. “That used up all of my mahou.”

“That’s alright. You’ve done enough for today,” Élisabeth said.

“I bet you could have healed that burn in an instant,” Samuel said, a twinge of jealousy in his voice, “and you wouldn’t be wiped out by it.”

“It’s not fair to compare yourself to me,” Élisabeth told him. “We were given different gifts. You should just focus on what you can do. If you keep working at it, you’ll be able to heal many wounds like that in a single day.”

“I guess,” Samuel murmured. Then, after hesitating, he asked, “Ne, Élisabeth-sensei, is… is God real?”

“That sounds like a matter of faith to me,” Élisabeth demurred. “If I answer that shitsumon for you, and you believe me, it’s like you’re putting your faith in me instead of God.”

“I’m not asking about faith,” Samuel shot back, “I’m asking about facts. I used to have faith, but the more I think about it, the less the Bible makes sense. Demo, I’m just a shounen. I don’t understand everything yet. I could be thinking about it wrong.”

“It sounds to me like you still have faith, but it’s wavering,” Élisabeth said. “These are things you need to decide on your own. No one, not me, not the priests, can answer that for you honestly.”

“Élisabeth-sama, I need to know,” Samuel insisted.

“In that case, follow me,” Élisabeth ordered, opening a portal for them both.

Doko are we?” Samuel asked, once he had regained enough of his senses to form conscious thought. He spoke without sound, his thoughts transmitted directly to Élisabeth.

“Nowhere,” said Élisabeth, “or everywhere, depending on how you look at it. Kore wa uchuu. Kore wa genjitsu.” It was the furthest Élisabeth had ever magically expanded her consciousness. The two of them were capable of observing the entire universe in three dimensions, but not of understanding it the way Aina and Fumiko did. They were not one with reality, but apart from it. “Take your time and study the universe. Ask yourself, is this the creation of an all-powerful, intelligent being?”

After what seemed like centuries, Samuel answered, “Iie, it’s too chaotic. No one could design a universe this way if they tried.”

“Maybe God rolled dice when He created the universe,” Élisabeth suggested.

“Iie,” Samuel said once again, after an even longer delay. “I can feel something permeating the universe, but it’s not God.”

“That’s probably the cosmic microwave background from the big bang,” Élisabeth said, but she checked to make sure. She had never really paid attention to the cosmic microwave background, and when she inspected it closely, she found something surprising, something familiar. It was Aina and Fumiko’s shared aura, the aura she had first observed around Aina in the courthouse, and it was everywhere, including her pocket dimensions. Had they really seen her folly? Had they laughed at it? At her?”

“Élisabeth-sensei,” Samuel’s voice reached her through her anger, “are you God?”

“I am not,” Élisabeth confirmed.

Jya, there is no God. Let’s go back.”

“What I showed you could have been an illusion,” Élisabeth told Samuel, once they were back in their own bodies. She wanted to give him one last chance to hold on to his faith.

“I don’t think so,” Samuel said, tears falling down his cheeks. “You already knew that, but you came back to the Church? Naze?”

“I want to mamoru my kazoku and my community,” Élisabeth said, “like I always have.”

“By lying to them?” Samuel shot back.

“It’s for the best,” Élisabeth stated. “You’ll wakaru someday.”

Emotionally exhausted, and unable to control himself any longer, Samuel ran from Élisabeth, sobbing. She let him go, trusting him not to do anything rash. It was a mistake she would regret for years.

7:02 PM

Tadaima,” Élisabeth called out as she stepped into the house she shared with Risa. She didn’t expect a reply. More often than not, Risa was still out at this hour. When no reply came, Élisabeth walked into the kitchen and began cooking dinner. It had taken weeks of careful work for her digestive system to recover, and she was determined not to damage it that way again. From now on, she was only going to eat food untouched by magic.

“Élisabeth-san,” Élisabeth heard Koharu’s voice in her head, “we need to talk. Is now a good time?”

“Go ahead,” Élisabeth answered out loud, hoping Koharu could hear her.

“Do you know a couple of kodomo named Risa and Samuel?” Koharu asked.

Panic seized Élisabeth’s body. “Are they daijobu?” she demanded.

“For now,” Koharu said.

Élisabeth activated the spell to teleport Risa back to the house. It should have worked no matter where in the world Risa was, but she didn’t appear before Élisabeth.

“Give them back,” Élisabeth demanded. “They’re mine.”

“I caught them sneaking onto the base,” Koharu said, “using a very imaginative, but ineffective, cloaking spell. Apparently, Risa-san has been trying to get my attention for weeks now, but she kept getting turned away by the guards.”

“Give them back,” Élisabeth insisted.

“Normally, I would,” Koharu said, “but they both begged me to protect them from you. I can’t just ignore their pleas.”

“I just want to keep them safe,” Élisabeth pleaded.

“I promise you, no harm will come to them,” Koharu said, “and I’ll make sure Samuel-kun continues his training. He has a lot of potential, but he needs a professional instructor. Hito like you and watashi, who have an instinctual understanding of mahou, make poor teachers.”

“Please, Koharu-dono, give them back,” Élisabeth cried. “I’m all alone without them.”

“That won’t change even if I send them back to you,” Koharu told her. “You’ve been alone for a long time, Élisabeth-san. You just haven’t realized it.”

The conversation ended there. Élisabeth could feel Koharu’s presence vanish, and Élisabeth fell into a dark state of mind. Despite wanting to protect Risa, she had failed to protect the girl from her biggest threat, Élisabeth herself. And despite wanting to mentor Samuel and boost his confidence, she had overwhelmed him with a display of power and destroyed his entire conception of the world. Koharu was right. She was alone. She had no idea how to relate to ordinary people any longer.

Perhaps, she thought, she had been going about it the wrong way. Maybe she wasn’t meant to befriend ordinary people. Hadn’t she always looked up to Koharu and Aina? Befriending them would be much better anyway, since Élisabeth knew they would live longer than most. The problem was that they didn’t seem too keen on her company, not after she had almost killed them both.

There was, however, another unordinary group with long lifespans. To be honest, the gynoids creeped Élisabeth out, and she didn’t know enough about them to judge whether their claims to humanity were legitimate, but Aina liked them, so they couldn’t be that bad. Perhaps if she got to know them. Élisabeth would end up liking them too. What could it hurt to try?