As the remaining pirate ship turned and fled, Ragneil shouted to his crew, prodding the corpse on the floor with a boot.
“Oi! Someone get this thing off my ship and into the ocean!”
Two of the muscled crew members walked over the the dead body of the pirate’s leader, picked it up, then tossed it into the ocean without ceremony, before returning to their posts around the deck. Ragneil turned to Iris and bowed deeply.
“My apologies that your voyage had to be tainted by something so unpleasant. Are you okay, lass?”
“Good. Now, perhaps I should re-introduce myself, now that you’ve heard it anyway. Name’s Ragneil Magnus, <<Spellsword>> Paragon.”
He extended his hand forward for a handshake, but just as Iris was abut to take it, Tate’s mental voice rang out loudly in her head.
Without warning, Iris found herself being jerked around helplessly by the shield attached to her arm. It pulled her towards the door of the cabin, which Iris pushed open to prevent collision. Once the arm with the shield was out of Ragneil’s sight, the shield glowed brightly and rematerialised as Tate, who then burst out of the door, jumping into the midst of Ragneil and Iris, both wearing looks of confusion. Without any explanation, Tate started bouncing on the spot while shouting.
“D-Did you say you were Ragneil?! Ragneil Magnus!? As in THAT Ragneil Magnus?!”
Iris quietly closed the door, making sure not to disturb Lily, then turned back to the captain, who was regarding her with suspicion. To be precise, he was staring at her now-exposed arm, which had just moments before held a shield. Narrowing his lids, he turned to the excitable 13 year old standing in between the two.
“I am indeed Ragneil Magnus, but I’m afraid I can’t confirm anything else unless you specify what ‘THAT’ refers to.”
Ragneil’s face showed hints of resignation, but he kept up the conversation anyway. Iris simply tilted her head in confusion.
“Y,know, Ragneil! The Great Hero Ragneil! The Dragonslayer, the Unparalleled Adventurer, the Spectral Blade!”
Ragneil sighed and nodded. This was met by an excitable squeal from Tate.
“Wow! I can’t believe it! You’re like, a legend! And I’m talking to you!!! Did you really take out an entire ten thousand-strong army by yourself?! And how about the Dragons, is it true you fought and killed three Brown Plated Dragons at the same time?! And-“
Tate’s excitement was cut by a single word from Ragneil. Realising how she had acted, Tate’s face grew red in embarrassment.
“Yes… All that did happen. But I do not desire to talk about those times.”
“Eh… why? It’s all so cool! I bet you looked really amazing standing over the three dragons!”
“Those deeds were not deeds to take pride in.”
“The army of ten thousand was not made of ten thousand faceless things. It was made of ten thousand people. Ten thousand men, ten thousand fathers. I killed ten thousand people. The dragon fight? The only reason I survived was because my friends acted as bait and kept them away from me. They died that I might live. And from that I got glory. I’m no hero. I’m a murderer and a coward.”
“Huh… I still think it’s cool, though.”
Tate gave a noncommittal utterance, followed by a reaffirmation of her admiration, evidently unconvinced. Ragneil’s eyes flamed with rage.
“Do you not understand? I killed ten thousand men. I killed them!”
“…So? I mean, if they’re you’re enemies, it’s only natural to kill them, right? Otherwise you’d die.”
Ragneil and Iris both stared at Tate in astonishment. Iris herself had no qualms about killing, but she had expected Tate – who was half-human – to be more affected by the thought. However, Tate was answering as a weapon made for war would, and that affirmed Iris’ theory: Jeremiah’s DNA had altered Tate’s capabilities, but not her core programming. Ragneil, visibly shaken by this little girl’s flippant attitude to murder, shook his head.
“You’re still too young. You don’t understand.”
Tate frowned a bit, then decided not to pursue the subject, changing her line of inquiry.
“Well? The stories about you suddenly stopped appearing several years ago, did you stop being an adventurer or something?”
Ragneil pulled the brim of his cap down, shading his eyes.
“…Yes. The murders, the cowardice, I shoved them to the back of my mind for the longest time. I was content to ignore them. It was easy to ignore them: I had fame, money, influence. The country loved me, the adventurers told stories of me. With these bloodied hands, I had the means to support my wife and child, and that was all that mattered. We had a small house, in the countryside, away from the major cities. We were happy. I would go around the country to find work in the various Dungeons and from the Crown, and I would return to a warm dinner and a loving family. Each day the weight of my sins grew, but I was able to ignore them.”
Ragneil’s face contorted. To Iris, it looked like he wished to cry, yet possessed no tears.
“Perhaps it was divine punishment. I returned from a subjugation raid in a neighbouring country, to find my home in shambles. The windows were broken, the door was lying on the ground, clearly forced open. I rushed inside, and there I found the worm-eaten bodies of my wife and son. My wife’s corpse was naked, bound to the table. There was dried blood everywhere. Anything of value in the house had been taken.”
Ragneil clenched his fists tightly, shaking. Then the shaking stopped, and his arms hung limply by his side.
“Everything came down upon me at that time. Without the thought of my family to keep them at bay, the guilt of what I had done over the years struck me in full force. I wept. I don’t know how long, but I wept until tears refused to come. When I finally found it upon myself to get up, I swore two things: the first, that I would find and avenge my family. The second: that I would no longer allow praises to be sung of my name. In the first, I have been unsuccessful. The second, slightly less so. I grew up in a fishing village, so I decided to become a nameless fisherman, to go back to my roots. More importantly, by offering ferrying services, I might be able to find clues about the people who killed my family. And that leads us to where we are today.”
Ragneil ended his story with a sigh, then gave a wry smile.
“I wonder why I’m telling the both of you this. Perhaps it’s because I don’t want you girls to face the same weight.”
He turned to stare at Tate.
“Remember, lass. Murder is never right. There is no such thing as a life without value. Remember this.”
Tate answered with a subdued nod, to which Ragneil responded by tilting his cap in her direction. With that, Ragneil turned and strode up the stairs, returning to the poop deck.
Tate slowly moved over next to the entrance to their cabin and sat on the ground, hugging her knees. Iris moved over and sat next to her. For a while, silence reigned. Then, Tate spoke.
“Hey, Iris. What do you think. Is killing people okay?”
Iris put her finger to her lips, thinking. She was not human, so without the usual human set of values, it did not seem inherently wrong to her. That said, that might not be what Tate needed to hear.
“Hmmm… What do you think, Tate?”
“Mmm… I… feel like Lily dying would be a very bad thing. But when I try to think of other people dying, I don’t really feel anything. But Mister Ragneil said that it’s always bad to make people die, so… I don’t know… If I had to kill people to protect Lily, I think I would do it, but… is it wrong after all?”
Iris furrowed her brow. Evidently, Tate was experiencing conflict between her existing programming and the new ideas being introduced. This was conflict that Tate would have to resolve on her own, but… Iris searched herself, and found a very fundamental conviction.
“Tate. What is the single most important thing to you, right now?”
“Lily.” An immediate answer. Iris pressed on.
“In that case, what does right or wrong matter? So long as you do what you think is necessary to protect the one most important to you, I think that’s enough. It’s not a question of right or wrong, it’s just a question of what has to be done.”
A moment of silence, followed by a nod filled with conviction.
“…Nn. You’re right.”
Iris smiled and patted Tate’s head. Tate leaned happily into Iris’ side, her young face displaying a contented grin.
“Actually, that was a lie. I have another person important to me, almost as important as Lily.”
Tate giggled and grabbed Iris in a tight hug.
“Thank you, Iris.”