Lily paced back and forth across the foot of the bed, lips pressed tightly together, feet stepping one ahead of the other in a regular, incessant tapping of metal against the wooden floor. As she paced, her arms were crossed in front of her chest, palms firmly gripping the opposite forearm. She tilted her head back and breathed deeply as she walked, trying to clear her mind of the thoughts that plagued it. And these thought numbered many, indeed.
Azoria. Her home. Her goal. Destroyed.
Jin-Asalys. Her home continent. Her destination. Overrun.
Demons. What were they? Where did they come from? What was their goal?
The Church. Vessel. Were they allies? Were they enemies? Vessel was preaching unity and camaraderie, even between races. She advocated giving to the needy. If anything, her teachings were desirable ones. Yet, something about her made Lily feel uneasy. Lily could not bring herself to trust in that thing whose armor glinted like the scales of the creature that had taken her legs.
Above all, her mind kept wandering back to one particular thought:
Azoria. Her home. Her goal. Destroyed.
Her legs collapsed under her and she fell to the ground. She brought her knees close and hugged them tightly, burying her head in them, long hair shadowing her face.
She did not believe it. She did not want to believe it. She sat there, indulging in thoughts of possible alternatives. Perhaps the Church lied. Maybe they wanted to unite the people and just needed a convenient excuse. The refugees were perhaps just planted by the Church to make it confusing. But then why would the Church risk destroying its own lie by organising an expedition to the continent? Her theory began cracking.
The door to the room opened, and Lily’s Probe registered the familiar presence of Iris, but she was too lost in her own thoughts to pay heed.
Perhaps the Church wanted to invade Jin-Asalys, and was using demons as an excuse? Lily tried to patch the holes in her desperate theory. But then the people would realise the lie the moment they saw they were fighting non-demons. The patchwork failed, the cracks widened. She shrunk further into herself.
Iris sat down on the ground next to Lily and hugged her close, pressing her Lily’s head against her chest.
Lily gratefully accepted the gesture and pressed herself even closer. The heat of Iris’ synthetic flesh seemed to thaw the protective layer of ice in which Lily shrouded her thoughts. And like melting ice, Lily’s thoughts and insecurities began to flow out, starting as a trickle, growing into a surging flood.
“Iris, I… I don’t know what to believe. I don’t want to believe. I can’t let myself believe that… that my home is gone. That I have nowhere to return to. What should I do…? I’m… I’m afraid, Iris. I’m afraid…of what I’ll find when I reach Jin-Asalys. I’m afraid that… that I’ll reach Azoria… and all I’ll find is a burned ruin. I’m afraid that I’ll go there and find myself lost, with no goal, with no destination. It’s a terrifying thought. I’m… terrified.”
“Lily. Look at me.”
Lily slowly pulled away, lifted her head and gazed into Iris’ eyes.
“Lily. It’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to be terrified. If you choose not to continue, if you choose to stay here for the rest of your life, I’ll stay with you. But if you do choose to go. I’ll go with you. I’ll follow you. And, when we get there, if you find your home destroyed… I’ll hold you. Just like this. And you can cry all you want. And what comes after…We’ll figure that out when it comes to that.”
A single tear slowly carved a path down Lily’s fair cheek.
“Lily…You say you’re scared of having no destination. But you have one right now. Isn’t that enough?”
“I… I don’t know what I should do…Should I try to venture there? Just to greet despair? Or… should I just stay here, and keep Azoria as just a memory? I don’t know… Iris, what should I do?”
“Lily. What do you want to do?”
“I want to try and pick the option which will give me less pain.”
“I didn’t ask you what you think you should do. What do you want to do?”
Iris’ quick rebuttal cut cleanly through the miasma of confusion which shrouded Lily’s thoughts. The uncertainty slowly, surely, dissipated and gave way to clarity. She took deep breaths, her heart rate gradually falling to regular levels. In this clear state of mind, she searched herself, and found her answer.
To continue on her path and face pain, or to stop and eke out a living here. With her party’s ability as adventurers, it would be simple to make a name for themselves and settle here in Saphiz, living an adventure-filled life. It would be so easy to just drop everything and start anew. It would be so easy to just forget and focus on starting a new life with Iris. And Tate would not have to leave her parents, either. It would be so easy, so painless. They could be happy – if not happy, then at least content.
But like Iris said. That was not what Lily wanted. Lily closed her eyes, confirming that which she had found in the recesses of her soul. What Lily wanted…What she wanted was…
“…I want to know for certain. If Azoria is destroyed, I want to see it with my own eyes. I want to ascertain the truth for myself. And if the destruction of the city is indeed the truth, then I shall mourn.”
Lily pulled away from the embrace and looked straight into Iris’s eyes, her expression once again a look of blazing determination. A fire burned in her soul. Iris was right. It was more important that she had a destination right now. If she were to give up this journey on the basis of speculation and hearsay, she would certainly come to regret it. Seeing the flame of resolve rekindled in her friend, Iris smiled.
“And there’s the decisive Lily that I love.”
Lily blinked at Iris’ choice of words, and blushed slightly. Certainly, the mechanical girl meant it platonically… She was set to <<Friend>>, after all… But… Lily now noticed that their faces were extremely close to each other, with Lily holding Iris firmly. Driven by some strange, sudden impulse, Lily closed her eyes and brought her head forward, capturing Iris’ lips with her own. Iris jolted, stiffened, and then relaxed. Then she began to return the kiss, their two tongues intertwining, unlocking, and interlocking again.
After several moments, Lily broke away from the kiss, face flushed a bright red. Her breathing became heavier, and her heart rate began increasing exponentially. Iris was similarly red, and though she had no need to breathe, she began to find it difficult to organise her thought processes. Iris’ eyes flashed, alternating between pink and red. Lily held her at arm’s length for a while, then hugged her close, whispering into her ear.
“Iris… I… I think tonight…just for tonight… I don’t want to be alone. I want to feel your warmth. May I?”
“Lily. You’re never alone. I’ll make sure of it. I’ll make sure you never feel lonely, never again.”
Lily slowly stood up, left hand gently gripping Iris’ right. She walked Iris to the bed, then reached over to the bedside and put out the torches.