An Android and a Shield
Iris sat on the deck of the ship, tracing circles around the small reddish nub.
Methodically, slowly, Iris worked her fingers inwards, starting from the outermost rim. She took meticulous care to ensure that not a single spot was left dry. Completing a round, she started to gently massage the bright red globule.
[Mmmm~ Nnnnn~ Miss Iris, gentler, plea- nnnnnn~]
Iris ran her fingers along the knob systematically, first slowly, then with increased vigor. As she did so, Tate’s cries increased in intensity and need.
[Nnnnnnn~ nnn~ I-it’s! I-I-I’m…!]
“…ah. I need more water.”
[E-EHHHHHHHHHHH?! No way… I’m almost- Hng!]
The mental voice echoing in Iris’ head caught and moaned as the mechanical girl stood up, placing the shield on the wooden planks of the deck as she went to refill the bucket of water. As the buckler touched the ground, it seemed to quiver, as Tate’s mental voice made a sound like a scream through gritted teeth.
Filling the empty bucket from a tap which ran from the base of the ship, Iris sat back down and returned to her work of polishing Tate’s shield form. At some point, without anyone knowing, Tate’s buckler form had changed to include a small spherical red gem in the centre, on the inside rim of the shield. When Iris asked Tate, she had learned that it suddenly appeared after they had been in Tate’s room that night, and the girl herself had no idea when or how it had appeared. Iris, however, theorised that it was a manifestation of her magical core after having awoken as an Intelligent Weapon. Nonetheless, Iris had confirmed one fact: touching the gem caused Tate to make strange sounds. Still, the shield had requested Iris’ aid in polishing her, so Iris would simply carry on as requested.
Iris took a smooth cloth and dipped it into the bucket of water, using it to polish the outside of the buckler once more, before overturning the shield and returning to polishing the small red gem. As she did, Tate’s moaning continued to increase in intensity, until eventually, as Iris used the cloth to finish shining the jewel, Tate’s mental voice let out a loud cry.
A burst of magical energy surged forth from Tate, enveloping her shield form. After several moments, the energy dissipated, leaving behind the shield form of Tate, which now had an otherworldly sheen to it, glinting in the midday sun. Iris heard heavy breathing in Tate’s voice, which she found odd – the girl currently had no lungs. Still, it was likely an aspect of her humanity emulation subroutines.
[Miss Iris… That was… incredible…]
Tate’s voice seemed slightly distant and unfocused, but Iris paid it no mind. Indeed, she felt it would have been better for Lily to do the polishing – her archives told her that the polishing and maintenance process was a crucial part in strengthening the neural linkage between an Intelligent Weapon and its owner. That said, Lily was currently indisposed to do so. Iris cast a worried glance at the door to the cabin that was set against the wall of the poop deck. Within, Lily was lying in bed, probably sleeping. As the party had quickly discovered, Lily had a disinclination for the sea. Within the first day of the voyage, she had begun experiencing severe nausea and discomfort. Now, ten days in, Lily had grown slightly used to the swaying of the ship, but leaving the cabin and standing upright on the deck still made her feel sick. Nonetheless, she still valiantly tried her best to come on to the deck every day, but it invariably resulted in another episode of nausea. Lily’s current bed-bound state was her daily attempt at recuperating after one such episode.
Iris frowned a little as she turned away from the door to regard the sea. She loved Lily’s determination and resolve, but she constantly feared that it would put her friend in unnecessary danger. In truth, she wanted nothing more than to sit by Lily’s side and watch over her, but Lily had refused. Iris had no grounds for her hypothesis, but she somehow knew that Lily did not desire to be seen in such a powerless state. Sighing, Iris leaned against the wall of the poop deck, by the side of the door to the cabin that the three girls shared – usually the captain’s, but the grizzled elder human had proffered it to them after seeing Lily throw up on the first day.
Iris took the shield-form Tate and hugged her close, running her hands over the intricate engraving, eliciting mental sighs of contentment from the shield girl. The ship, with most of its functions magically automated, had a small crew of fifteen, of which only six were currently on deck, but it was prudence to avoid any suspicion that the crew were any more than just ordinary girls with an odd destination. Even though the burst of energy that Tate had released earlier was not visible to the naked eye, it was already a risk, as anyone with a strong attunement to external mana would have been able to feel the surge. That said, it was rare for organics to be attuned to external mana sources, but the risk was present. If anyone looked at Iris, all they would see would be a strange little girl talking to a polished shield. An unusual sight, but far more acceptable than seeing a shield turn into a thirteen year old human female.
As Iris sat regarding the calm, open seas, Tate, having finally recovered from her state of heightened sensitivity, posed her a question.
[Hey, Miss Iris, exactly what’s your relationship with Lily?]
Iris frowned a little. Tate had taken to calling her formally, but called Lily informally. Perhaps it was a natural result of the fact their shared battle experience; after all, Iris had only stood by and watched during that fight with the dragon.
“First off, call me Iris. Please. No ‘Miss’. “
Iris frowned as she considered the question. What was her relationship with Lily? It was strange, but she could not seem to access that section of her configuration files; they seemed to be locked and hidden. She suspected corrupted data, but a filecheck had come up clean. Still, she knew from memory that Lily had opted to set them as “Friends”, but… was that the case? She had run cross-references for definitions of “friend” in her lexical banks, but she felt like none of the results truly encapsulated the entirety of what she considered to be the relationship between Lily and herself. In fact, there was only one certainty that she could identify in regards to her feelings about Lily.
“Lily is… A very important person to me. The most important.”
There was no possible way a disembodied voice could tilt her head in confusion, but that motion was what Iris felt like Tate was performing as the girl responded with a questioning tone.
Iris stroked the metal rim of the shield with a gentle smile. She didn’t blame the shield girl for being confused. After all, Iris herself felt confused. She glanced back at the cabin door again. Just what was Lily to her? Her benefactor? Her friend? Her user? Or perhaps something more? A strange feeling of warmth caused her emotion subroutines to tingle. What was Lily to her?
Iris’ silent introspection and system diagnosis was rudely interrupted by the ringing of a bell. Iris whipped her head in the direction of the sound, the Crow’s Nest – a lookout post stationed on the mast. In her arms, the buckler quivered, as if it were tensing up. In the Crow’s Nest, a sailor, a muscled topless man, was ringing the bell with vigor.
“Ships, to the West! Two Leagues! Eight- no, Twel- no, Sixteen ships!”
The grizzled old man of a captain, eyes shaded by his cap, with a large dark coat around him, strode quickly to the edge of the poop deck, overlooking Iris, and called to the lookout.
“What colours do they fly?”
“Black and White! Skull and Crossbones!”
“Tch! How’d they get this close? Ah, Illusion Magic. ‘Course.”
The captain cursed and monologued as he began descending to the main deck. Iris caught his shoulder as he passed, causing him to glare at her from under the rim of his cap. Although she had a decent idea of what was happening thanks to referencing her archives, she asked for confirmation.
“Mr. Captain, what’s happening?”
The captain grimaced and looked Iris straight in the eyes.
“Pirates, lass. That’s what’s happening.”