The restaurant Tate had brought them to was a rather classy, pricey-looking one. It was located just along the main road which passed by the Church building, and had a lavish facade painted in a deep maroon. A large pair of jewel-encrusted stone doors served as the entrance to the restaurant, flanked by tall golden windowframes, which had velvet curtains drawn across them from the inside, seperated from the outside by a glass pane. The shop’s name, written in black ink across a conspicuously simple wooden sign placed above the entrance, was “Cordelia’s Chateau”.
The interior of the restaurant was no less impressive that its facade. Its carpeted floor was dotted with numerous ornately carved wooden tables and comfortable-looking ebony chairs. Along the sides, lining the walls, were a number of booths which had cushioned seats that could comfortably fit four. Along the wall facing the doorway was a pair of doors – presumably to another section of seating – on either side of a large rectangular room, from which waiters and waitresses were exiting, holding trays loaded with food. One such waiter approached the group as they entered.
“Yes, table for three?”
“Ah, yes. Is it possible to get a private booth…?”
Restaurants of this caliber usually had private seating of some sort, for the clients that wished to have meals uninterrupted. Lily intended to tell Tate about where they were headed, so some privacy would be appreciated, considering that there seemed to be a general taboo about even mentioning the continent of Jin-Asalys.
“Ah, yes, certainly. In the back. But we will have to charge an additional 2000 pars, will that be fine?”
Lily winced. With her freshly lined coffers, 2000 Pars was a relatively small sum. That said, it was still a sizable amount for simply a different seating location.
“That will be fine.”
Nodding, the waiter led the three girls through the left of the pair of doors facing the entrance, leading to a private room, with a round table large enough to hold ten people with space left over. The waiter nodded and pulled out three chairs, then placed three menus and a bell on the table, before taking his leave. Once he closed the door behind him, Tate veritably exploded with excitement.
“Oh, wow! I’ve never been in one of these rooms before! It’s so big! But it’s expensive, though. Are you sure you’re okay with the price? I can help pay for some of it from my share of the reward…”
“No, no, it’s fine. More importantly, what would you recommend?”
Lily waved away Tate’s complaint absentmindedly as she perused the menu.
“Fish! That’s our city’s specialty, after all.”
Lily nodded in understanding. It was, after all, a port city. It came as no surprise that the city’s local specialty was seafood.
“Then…I think I’ll have this.”
Lily indicated the cheapest item on the list, a grilled dish featuring some form of fish whose name she could neither recognise nor pronounce.
“Ah, that’s <<Jihiuranyr>>. It’s pretty common in our waters, but it’s known for tasting sweet. A bit of a strange one, I think. And you, Iris?”
“Thanks, but I’m not eating. I’m just here for the company.”
“Hah……” Tate reached over and rang the bell, causing the same waiter to open the door almost immediately. In fact, the reaction was a little too quick. Lily had a sneaking suspicion that he had been waiting outside. He walked in and took their orders, but Lily stopped him before he left.
“Excuse me, but I believe we asked for a private room. If you can hear this bell from outside the door, it can hardly be considered very private, can it?”
“Ah, Do not worry, miss. The doors to this room are inscribed with magic that prevents sound from escaping. The bell itself releases a frequency that causes the outside of the door to light up, thus allowing us to respond.”
Doubtful, Lily kept her gaze on the waiter as she extended a detailed <<Probe>>. Indeed, the door was flowing with magic. What kind, Lily could not ascertain. Similarly, she examined the structure of the bell, and was surprised to discover it vaguely resembled the <<Music Box>> she had developed a lifetime ago. She suppressed a chuckle. Somehow, sometime, somebody had beaten her to the release of her work.
She nodded briefly to the waiter, indicating that he was dismissed. He quickly left the room, and again closed the door behind him.
Once he left, Lily tried to manoeuvre herself into a position where she could tell Tate about their destination, but Tate dominated the conversation, chattering about the food, and the dungeon, and her parents’ shop, and whatever else came to her young, hyperactive mind. Still, Lily did not interrupt, and instead did her utmost to listen and respond; such openness meant Tate was feeling far more comfortable around her than she had felt when they first met.
Her opportunity to speak was, surprisingly, eventually provided by Tate. When the food arrived, she quickly set to devouring her assortment of fried seafood, but kept casting glances at Iris, who was the only one without food before her. After several mouthfuls, she gave in and asked,
“Iris, are you sure you don’t want to eat? Dieting’s not good for health, you know.”
“I appreciate your concern, but I don’t need to eat to survive. I’m only here to be with Lily.”
Lily blushed even as Tate pointed an accusing finger at Iris.
“That’s ridiculous! Everyone has to eat! And what’s the relationship between you two, anyway? You keep following Lily and doing what she says, it’s strange! And for that matter,” Her finger shifted in Lily’s direction. “What’s with you and your ridiculous strength and speed? And that metal arm of yours, for that matter. Who are you? What are you? What’s your plan? If I’m going to follow you around I’d like to know where we’re going, thank you very much.”
Lily blinked several times in astonishment as Tate rapidly asked a series of questions that happened to perfectly align with what she wanted to discuss with the girl. What joyful convenience! Lily mentally praised the beauty of a child’s wandering mind.
“Slow down. One at a time. First, my relationship with Iris, it’s…”
Lily shared a sidelong glance with Iris, then both giggled and responded in unison.
” “Friends.” ”
Tate’s only response to this was a skeptical glare, but she remained quiet, waiting for Lily to continue.
“As for the rest, I’m willing to tell you, but you cannot tell anyone else. Not even your parents. Promise me that.”
Tate’s face took on a serious expression. She kept silent for a few seconds, then solemnly nodded her agreement.
“Good. Now, the reason why Iris doesn’t need to eat… Iris, shut off your texture for several seconds.”
Iris complied, and the healthy, glowing pink of her skin shimmered and dissipated, leaving behind the girl of metal that Lily knew so well. The stark silver of her metal blended in with the grey of her blouse, resulting in an appearance that looked extremely uniform and unnatural, yet held a certain charm. Lily smiled at the sight of the metal. Tate, however, was not as composed. The moment Iris has started shimmering, Tate had jumped out of her seat, and was now hiding behind her chair.
“What was that? What is she? What are you people!?”
“You might want to take a seat. It’s a long story.”
Tate, still glaring at the two with suspicion, sat herself in the chair and folded her arms, waiting.
Then Lily began to tell her tale, beginning from how she was a budding machinist who was overeager to find new materials. She told of <<Battleforged>>, of her childhood friend Hina. She spoke of the <<White Plated Dragon>>. When she told of how the dragon killed the entire party and took her legs, Tate’s eyes watered up, but the young girl bit her lip and did not cry. Lily described the other world. She spoke of creating new legs for herself, of training. Lily detailed the battle with the Warden, she recounted the discovery of Iris’ egg. Lily spoke of how they masqueraded as slaves to get into a city. She omitted the section where she and Iris had brutally massacred a fortress of slavers; at this point, the young girl did not need to know her new companions had at one point committed an act of mass murder.
The tale told, Lily exhaled and slouched back in her chair. Tate was sitting silently, trying to digest everything she had learned. Silence reigned over the table. After several uncomfortable minutes, Tate finally spoke.
“…And? What’s our destination after this?”
Lily’s eyes widened. She felt no suspicion, no disbelief, no skepticism in the girl’s voice. Furthermore, her asking that question meant that she fully intended to continue travelling with them.
“…You believed all that?”
“Well, I already saw Iris in all her metallic glory. Once I’ve seen that, everything else you told me is easy to believe.”
Lily was dumbfounded. Was this easy trust the power of a child’s imagination!?!? Nonetheless, this made things easier, so she let it pass. Instead, she looked Tate in the eyes, and spoke their destination.
“We’re going back to my home on Jin-Asalys, the <<Academic City Azoria>>.”
Lily expected Tate to shrink away or something equally discouraging, but all Tate did was give a confused expression, complete with rapid blinking. She tilted her head to the side, then casually blurted out a question.
“Eh? Azoria? Wasn’t that place destroyed three years ago?”