There was nothing Élisabeth could do to prevent the magic scanner in the guard’s hand from sounding its alarm. If she tried to tamper with it, she would be discovered when the guard performed a check of the device. If she attempted to teleport the scanner away, replacing it with a clean model, before the guard could check it, she would trip the courthouse’s teleportation alarm and send the entire building into lockdown. She could, however, simply alter the guard’s perceptions so that he could neither hear the alarm nor see the flashing lights on the device. If she tried this at the public security checkpoint, she would be caught by the security cameras and the newer scanners that kept detailed logs. It was only through the employee screening room that Élisabeth could infiltrate the courthouse.
“You’re clear, Mi-san” the guard informed her. “Better hurry. It looks busy today.”
“Arigatou,” Élisabeth thanked him, hurrying past.
By projecting an illusion around herself, Élisabeth appeared to everyone as Mi Smith, a clerk at the district court. There was a real Mi Smith, who was a real court clerk, and who was currently suspended in a magical dimension of Élisabeth’s creation. Élisabeth broadcast all of her senses to Mi, who perceived them as if they were her own. She then read Mi’s responses and used them to inform her own actions, allowing her to act exactly as Mi would. She had originally affected this disguise months ago in an attempt to free one of her followers from custody. Magical defendants were usually under heavy guard, but if she could get close enough to her follower without raising suspicions, she could teleport them both out before anyone knew what had happened.
She never executed that plan, however. As she was waiting for her follower to be led into the courtroom, she witnessed, in rapid succession, the arraignments of some three dozen people, all from French-descended families, for trivial offenses. Most were charged with disorderly conduct, though a few were charged with loitering, trespassing, or jaywalking. Only one pled not guilty, and Élisabeth could not help but notice how the judge shook his head as he scheduled a trial date for the defendant. The rest pled guilty, and were all ordered to pay fines ranging from 20,000 to 50,000 yen. A couple of repeat offenders were ordered to perform community service in addition to their fines.
When a young man with an American-sounding last name came up for arraignment, however, the pattern changed. After he pled guilty to jaywalking and disorderly conduct, instead of immediately sentencing him, the judge asked what he had been doing in “that part of town.” At first, Élisabeth thought the judge was asking about the arresting officer’s report, which speculated that he had been headed towards a red-light district, but as the conversation unfolded, it dawned on her that the judge was asking why he had been in a French neighborhood. After he explained that he had taken a wrong turn and was hurrying to leave the area when he was arrested, the judge decided to let him off with a warning.
By this point, Élisabeth had caught on to what was happening. All of the charges against the defendants were minor, and it was up to the police officers’ discretions whether to arrest the defendants or to issue citations. In many cases, the infractions were so trivial that the officers could have chosen to ignore them. Especially with the charge of disorderly conduct, this was by design. Officers could use this charge to arrest individuals they believed to be engaging in potentially harmful behavior, but who were otherwise breaking no laws. When used appropriately, it could prevent violence. However, because of the vagueness of that statute, officers were able to apply it to many everyday situations. One of the defendants had been charged with disorderly conduct for “walking in a threatening and intimidating manner.” The cops had the freedom to target anyone with these ludicrous charges, but they were choosing to only target residents of French neighborhoods. No officer would be punished for not arresting someone for walking funny, making it possible to selectively arrest whoever they wanted.
This point was further driven home after the arraignments were finished. Following a short break, the judge heard cases involving defendants who had pled not guilty on previous days. Because the charges were not considered severe enough, none of the defendants were allowed jury trials, leaving them at the mercy of the judge. All but one lost their cases, and their sentences were harsher than those who had pled guilty. Élisabeth was sure that most of them were innocent, but they had been punished for pursuing the truth, not only by the sentences imposed by the judge, but by attorney fees and extra time spent in the court, costs not paid by those smart enough to plead guilty. The only defendant to be acquitted was able to prove that he had been arrested for trespassing within his own apartment. He didn’t escape unscathed, however, as the judge found his exasperated demeanor to be in contempt of court, and fined him for it.
As angry as the proceedings had made Élisabeth, she had to acknowledge the effectiveness of this tactic. The arrests strengthened the oppression of the French populace in a number of ways. They served as a constant reminder to them that the police were in charge and keeping an eye on them. Those suspected of being revolutionaries could be arrested multiple times, which qualified them for prison time. While incarcerated, they were unable to plan revolutionary activities, and once they got out, the social stigma associated with being a minor criminal made it more difficult to recruit allies and find employment. Combined with the repeated fines levied on them by the court, this made it difficult for revolutionaries to raise capital to acquire weapons or other material goods in support of revolution. Élisabeth had witnessed the proceedings of only one courtroom within the district court, and during that time, it had reaped over half a million yen in fines. It was enough to cover the costs of the proceedings, and the salaries of the cops who made the arrests, with a little left over. Through this maneuver, the government was forcing some of the poorest residents of the city to fund their own oppression.
Rescuing her follower would require blowing her cover, and the ability to infiltrate the court had become more valuable than the freedom of any one of her soldiers. By playing the part of court clerk, Élisabeth could subtly change the outcome of some of these trials. She couldn’t save everyone without getting caught, but she could cause the judge to spare some defendants without anyone perceiving it as odd, she could influence the judge to reduce fines in other cases, and she could occasionally hypnotize bailiffs and other clerks, causing them to pay the defendants’ fines out of their own pockets. She could save people and undermine this corrupt system. Even if she couldn’t do this every day, even if she couldn’t save everyone, she could do undeniable good. To Élisabeth, who, above all else, yearned to be a good person, this was a respite from the morally-ambiguous decisions she had to make in her campaign for justice.
Exiting the employee screening room, Élisabeth walked quickly down the hallway towards the courtroom. Turning a corner, she slowed as a familiar figure came into view. At the other end of the hallway, passersby were giving wide berth to a meido with a pale blonde bob cut. Élisabeth immediately noticed that there was something different about Aina. Her aura, which was usually turbulent and shadowy, was calm and just a bit radiant. As Élisabeth slowly approached her, Aina finished her conversation with a man Élisabeth recognized as a homicide detective and turned to face her, and Élisabeth noticed something else different about Aina. Her eyes were red and puffy. She had obviously been crying.
“Are you daijobu?” Élisabeth found herself asking. It had been Mi who had asked the question, and Élisabeth, accustomed to doing whatever Mi did when they were linked, had automatically blurted it out without thinking. Mi wanted to offer Aina a packet of promotional tissues she had been handed on her way to work, but the packet was with her in Élisabeth’s pocket dimension, and Élisabeth couldn’t teleport it into the courthouse undetected. She was surprised at Mi’s kindness. In her years as a court clerk, Mi had developed a professional detachment that allowed her to close her heart to the defendants whose stories she heard on a daily basis. More than that, Mi was afraid of meido, and of Aina in particular.
It was not the first time Élisabeth had run into Aina in the courthouse. It wasn’t the most common of occurrences, but Aina was sometimes called in to testify when she helped arrest one of Élisabeth’s cohorts. Those trials took place in other courtrooms, but Aina had once poked her head into the courtroom where Élisabeth was working. Élisabeth had been in the middle of swearing in a witness when she first spotted Aina. From the look on her face, Aina had appeared confused, and Élisabeth realized that Aina had seen through her disguise without realizing it, and was wondering why everyone was acting like it was normal for Élisabeth to be in the courtroom. It wasn’t long before Aina realized what was really going on, but to Élisabeth’s surprise, Aina just sat back and watched the proceedings. She didn’t take her eyes off of Élisabeth for nearly an hour, and Élisabeth, assuming this was her last chance to influence any trials, hypnotized the judge to acquit all the remaining defendants. Seeing this, Aina had nodded very slightly at Élisabeth and left. Apparently, she approved of what Élisabeth was doing. Ever since then, it had remained a secret between the two of them. Not even Élisabeth’s allies knew what she did when she went missing.
“I’m dai—Well, it’s good that I ran into you,” Aina said distantly. “We need to talk.”
The rest of the customers were crowded at the front of the cafe, and Aina was seated far in the back. It almost looked like she was seated at the epicenter of an explosion which had flung everyone else to the other side of the room, but in reality, no one wanted to be anywhere near her. Even if they didn’t have anything to fear from Aina, they didn’t want to get caught in the crossfire should a magical girl decide to attack her.
“Gomen for being late,” Élisabeth apologized as she slid into the seat across from Aina. A nervous waitress followed behind her, placing the two cups of café au lait that Aina had taken the liberty of ordering on the table and scurrying off.
“Arigatou for coming.” Aina said without feeling. “Ryoko-san wa shin da. I killed her.”
“Sou ka,” Élisabeth responded. She had raised her cup halfway to her lips when Aina had blurted out that news, and she now placed it back upon the table. “That’s regrettable. I wasn’t very fond of Ryoko-san, but I didn’t want to see her killed. Nani happened?”
“She tried to assassinate my goshujin-sama and his kazoku. She was most likely hired by his otouto but his oji-san and cousin are also suspects. I need you to tell me dare it was, or my goshujin is going to execute all of them.”
“Your goshujin would be doing me a favor.” Élisabeth pointed out. “If they all kill each other, they save me the trouble of dealing with them.”
“I’m not going to pretend my goshujin is a great hito, but he’s as much on your side as any MP, and his kazoku has always been important to him. The thought of killing some of them to save the rest is really tearing him up. I can’t say anything good about the otouto or the oji-san, but the cousin tried to do what she thought was a favor for me once.”
“If you’re trying to argue that they’re decent hito trying to do the right thing, but they’re blinded by their privilege, I’m not buying it. Demo, I wouldn’t wish that situation on anyone. I can’t help you though. I don’t know dare it was.”
“Some of your hito have worked with Ryoko-san on jobs in the past. Would you ask around for me?”
“I’m not in the habit of doing favors for my adversaries, but you’re a good hito and this is a crappy situation. Soshite, you’ve kept my naisho, so I suppose I can do you a favor this one time. Is that all?” Élisabeth asked, taking a sip of coffee.
“Iie, there’s mou ichido thing. Ryoko-san had an imouto. She’s Ryoko-san’s last living relative, and as far as the oyabun are concerned, she inherited Ryoko-san’s debts. She’s not mahou, and she’s a CK. She has no way to pay off the debts, let alone her own living expenses.”
“That’s a shame. I suppose one of the oyabun will claim her.” Élisabeth didn’t approve of many of the magical yakuza’s activities, but she had learned to live with them. She knew that it was foolish to fight more than one battle at a time. Once she had freed magical girls from oppression—and punished their oppressors—she could turn her attention to the yakuza. Perhaps then she, Koharu, and Aina could fight on the same side once again. In the meantime, the oyabun would use Ryoko’s sister as an errand girl. If she showed promise, they might try to sell her to a goshujin to become a meido. Otherwise, they would use her as a scapegoat to keep one of their soldiers out of prison. It wouldn’t be a happy life, but they wouldn’t force her into a brothel like the non-magical yakuza might.
“Unless you claim her,” Aina pointed out. “You may not be old enough to legally adopt her, but the oyabun don’t care about legalities. If you make it clear you’re taking her under your protection, they’ll respect it.”
“They have more of a claim to the girl than I do. Ryoko-san owed me no debts.”
“Demo, you owe Ryoko-san. It was because you cut off her means of financial support that she was forced to accept the job targeting my goshujin.”
“If I used that excuse, that would transfer Ryoko-san’s debts to me. I already owe them a lot for the support they’ve given me. Gomen, you’re asking too much.”
“If I made it clear to the oyabun that you were doing this as a favor to me, they would fight each other for the privilege of being the girl’s godmother. A favor from me is worth more to them than okane they’ll never see anyway. That way, even if something happens to you, the girl will be safe.”
“Alright, I’ll take her, assuming she agrees to it. You drive a hard bargain.”
“Only because you’re easy to manipulate. I just need to appeal to your sense of morality, and you will always try to do what you feel is right.”
“That’s only because you’re trying to do what you feel is right, and I just happen to agree with you this time.” Élisabeth bristled. “So many hito only think about what’s best for themselves. I respect you because you try to do the right thing, even if we disagree on what that is. Otherwise, I never would have agreed to meet with you today.”
“Chigau,” Aina stated. “I don’t try to do what’s moral, I try to do what must be done. Sometimes they’re the same thing, but sometimes they’re the opposite.”
“I’m not sure I see the difference between the ni. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the last year, moral calculations are complex. The goshujin may deserve to die for what they’ve done, but killing them would create a power vacuum inside the machi, which could kill more hito than the goshujin have in go-jyuu years. To do the moral thing on the macroscale—to do the right thing—you have to give up morality on the microscale.”
“Let me see if I can explain it like this. To you, the sekai is made up of people who are trying to do good, and everyone else. Demo, to me, the sekai is made up of people who must be killed, and everyone else.”
“I think I can understand it when you put it that way.”
“I imagine so. After all, you always seem to put the dangerous criminals in your organization in my path when they become too much for you to control, because you know I’ll kill them for you.”
“That’s not true. I can take care of my own problems.”
“Except when it comes to killing,” Aina observed.
“It’s not like I’m incapable. I’m not boasting, but I did kill those guards.”
“Soshite, you regretted it, just like I regret it every time I kill. The difference between you and I is that it doesn’t stop watashi the next time.”
“Shitteru,” Élisabeth sighed. “You’re right, I haven’t been able to kill since then. Demo, I don’t think that makes you unconcerned with morality. Otherwise, you wouldn’t apologize to the kazoku of those you kill.”
“Iie, actually, it’s very selfish of me. The grieving kazoku want to believe that I’m a bakemono. Showing them that I’m a remorseful ningen makes it more difficult for them to find closure. I do it because it makes them less likely to seek vengeance, and because it makes watashi feel better.”
“Oh,” was all Élisabeth could say.
“I’m actually going to Ryoko-san’s apartment after this to apologize to her imouto. Would you like to come along?”
“Knowing your reasons for doing so, I don’t know if I could stomach the sight. If you give me her address, I’ll come to collect her in a couple hours.”
“Pen kudasai,” Aina asked, holding out a hand. Élisabeth summoned a pen and pad of paper for Aina. After handing it over, she took one last sip of coffee. That’s when she noticed.
“You didn’t touch your coffee,” Élisabeth said. After realizing what that might mean, she began casting spells to detect drugs and poison in the cup.
“You’re getting smarter,” Aina complemented her dryly. “The first time you didn’t even notice. The last few times you innocently asked if I didn’t like my coffee. Maybe you’ll think to check first next time.”
“Nani are you talking about? This is the first time we’ve met like this.”
“The first time you remember. This is actually the fifth time. The last yon ended up with you unconscious, restrained, and teleported to a secure location where you were interrogated before your memories were erased.”
“Uso. If that were true, I’d be in prison, or, more likely, dead.”
“We seriously considered both. Keeping you imprisoned isn’t worth the effort, and dead, you become a martyr for seigi. In the past, the assassination of charismatic freedom fighters has given birth to movements much larger—and more uncontrollable—than they could muster in life. Besides, you’re more useful to us alive.”
“Dare is ‘us?’”
“Koharu-shousa and I. Aside from the intelligence you’re providing us about the yakuza’s structure, your criminal activities are swelling the ranks of the mahou chutai with lawfully-minded mahou shoujo. Soon, the chutai will become so strong that your more moderate followers will defect to our side. You’ll be left with only the mahou shoujo too unscrupulous to be accepted by the guntai, at which point you’ll be subjected to a propaganda campaign portraying you as a group of dangerous criminals. Then, using the intelligence you provided us, and a few moles we’ve inserted in your organization, we’ll arrest them all at once, and you’ll be left without support.”
“You’re bluffing. You’re just trying to make me paranoid and purge my own ranks.”
“You’re welcome to believe that, but I think you know I’m telling the truth. Deep down, you know, no matter how powerful you are, you’re not smart or experienced enough to lead a movement that has managed to survive as long as it has against Koharu-shousa.”
“Naze are you telling me this, then?”
“Because it won’t change the outcome, and honestly, I don’t give a damn anymore.”
“I meant to ask, you looked terrible this asa. Did something happen?”
“My koibito broke up with me,” Aina said bluntly. “She meant everything to me, and when she left, I truly had nothing to live for. Demo, even then, I couldn’t bring myself to commit suicide. Ima, here I am. I’m still alive, and I still have things I need to do, so I’m doing them, even though they all feel meaningless.”
Élisabeth took a moment to collect her thoughts. The conversation had taken one too many turns she had not expected, and it had sparked some self-reflection. She had been taught from an early age that homosexuality was a sin, but she had also been taught that it was accepted by society at large, whereas homophobia wasn’t, so hiding her homophobia had become second nature. But this was the first occasion Élisabeth had to reexamine those biases since losing her faith, and she found herself woefully unequipped to do so. She didn’t really know anything about homosexuality—or sexuality in general—other than Church doctrine.
A year ago, she would have immediately discarded her prejudice, but she had since learned that while the Church was wrong about a lot of things, it wasn’t wrong about everything, and it was surprisingly hard to tell which things they were right about. Learning that Aina had a girlfriend, she wanted to believe that this was an area where the Church was wrong, but that was only because she thought Aina was a good person, and this conversation was causing her to rethink that. Ultimately, she decided that if Aina really didn’t care about anything, she wouldn’t be offended if she dropped the subject.
“Let me ask you one thing before you go,” Élisabeth said. “When you say there are hito who must be killed, how do you decide if someone is one of those hito?”
“If you’re looking for an ethical system to replace your lost faith, I’m afraid I don’t have a good answer for you. I use my own judgement.”
“Soshite, by your own admission, you’re not in a good state of mind right now.”
“Un,” Aina agreed unenthusiastically. “That really calls my judgement into question.”
“Perhaps I should go with you after all. It would be irresponsible of me to leave my new ward alone with you in that state.”