Lily and the party continued cutting away at the large construct. Iris in particular was untiring in her work, quietly cutting and pulling, carrying around numerous pieces of material far larger than she was. As they pried apart the Warden, Lily found herself wondering how it functioned. Although there was ample metal within the Warden’s construction, Lily had not found any gears or levers, or anything else which could move an artificial construct. In that case, how exactly did the thing move?
She turned to her mechanical friend, her most reliable source of information about the ancient civilisation which had been buried in the sands of time. She had intended to ask Iris for information about it, but as she gazed upon Iris, another thought came to mind about this metal girl that she knew very little about. She mentally revised her query.
“Hey Iris. I have a question.”
Iris continued methodically cutting away chunks of the Warden’s body as she answered.
“How did this Warden move? And, for that matter, how do you move? Do you have gears or something? Like, can you tell me specifics? It seems a bit like Extension, but where does the Extension come from? What’s controlling it?”
Iris’ hands froze for a moment, but then they resumed work, a small smile gracing her lips.
“Well, that’s a sudden question to ask. All of a sudden, too. Some might even call it rude. My heart wasn’t ready for that.”
Iris cracked a joke, noticeably anxious. Lily tilted her head apologetically, but said nothing, knowing Iris would continue speaking nonetheless. After a few moments of silence, Iris gave her reply, while her hands continued to cut away at the Warden.
“Good observation. The system that operates me, this Warden, and most of the magical machines of the old civilisation – such as that earlier Serpent – is rather similar to your ability of <<Extension>>. Actually, you could call it a refined version of <<Extension>>.”
Tate turned her head in their direction, curiosity piqued. Prei, who had been listlessly drawing circles in the floor after having pulled away all the metal plates, tilted her head up, hoping to listen in on the conversation. Iris sighed and stepped away from the Warden, indicating she would be stopping to explain.
Iris swiftly removed her shirt, folding it neatly and passing it to Lily, who took it in her left hand. As the other girls gazed upon her nude form, a panel of light traced itself across her chest, centered around her left breast, where her heart would be if she was human. As the party watched, the panel opened up, revealing a small hollow, within which sat a brightly glowing amber crystal. It seemed to pulse with life, and if they looked closely, they could see thin, translucent threads of amber light spreading outwards from it.
“This is my magical core. You can think of it as my heart. In fact, for humans, it’s a part of their heart. My magical core possesses three primary functions. Firstly, it serves as my power source. In other words, it lets me keep moving by supplying me with mana. The second function is to serve as my emotional centre. A part of this gem is responsible for my personality and emotions, my <<self>> if you will. Without this I would likely be as mindless as that Serpent which attacked us.”
She pointed at one of the intangible threads of light, tracing its path beyond the hollow in her chest, drawing a line up to her eye.
“The third function is to serve as my command core. These lines of light you see are basically the same as Lily’s <<Extension>> lines, and the core serves as the operator. The core serves as my <<mind>>, so it processes my intent into various commands and sends it through these lines, allowing my body to carry out my will. You could say that this core contains <<Iris>>, and the rest of me is just a container.”
She closed her chest back up and retrieved her shirt from Lily. Next to them, Tate had her eyes closed, visibly attempting to wrap her mind around what Iris was saying. Prei simply tilted her head. Lily thought she saw a large question mark appear next to it, but that was impossible. Lily herself was able to follow Iris’ explanation rather well, being a user of <<Extension>>. Still, this explanation did bring to mind another question that had bugged her for quite some time.
“Hm. I assume your amber lines and my <<Extension>> tendrils function the same way? In that case, how do they work? I’ve never been able to figure it out.”
Indeed, the intricacies of <<Extension>> were a largely undocumented domain due to the relative scarcity of people who actually employed that branch of magic. All magic users were able to expel their mana into another object, regardless of affinity. Yet only <<Extension>> allowed the user to actively manipulate the item into which they had sent their mana. Therefore, there had to be more to the ability than simply sending mana outwards. What made it different? These were the considerations on Lily’s mind as she asked her question. Iris frowned a bit, crossing her arms and tapping her finger against her chin in thought.
“Hmmm… I’m not too sure how to explain this without getting too technical…”
Lily shivered. Iris’ explanations when she started using technical terms were frightening. Lily could only understand about seventy per cent of her explanation when she slipped into using those terms. Iris caught sight of Lily’s trepidation and giggled.
“Alright, I’ll try to keep it simple. Basically, <<Extension>> isn’t the same as pushing mana outwards. Mana that has been processed through <<Extension>> forms into <<ManaScript>> chains.”
“Think of <<ManaScript>> as the language of magic. When someone invokes magic, their raw mana is processed through a series of <<compilers>> – in your case, your magical core – into lines of <<ManaScript>>. These lines of <<ManaScript>> then affect the natural world, overwriting reality and causing the occurrence of various phenomena. The reason why <<Affinities>> exist is due to each individual’s magical core being constructed differently, based on their genetic composition. Different cores compile different systems of <<ManaScript>> with higher efficiency. Most cores are unable to execute the more advanced functions of systems for which they are not optimised, as the data load is too high for efficient processing. <<Paragons>>, as you call them, are mutations where the core has developed in such a manner that it had become specialised in one particular method of <<ManaScript>>, causing it to compile that method with maximal efficiency, while removing its ability to compile other methods.”
Lily’s mind raced as she tried to digest the information which Iris had just revealed to them. The girl was essentially explaining to them how magic worked. Lily had never heard of this <<ManaScript>>, but it did provide an explanation for why some people were more able to use certain types of magic. She had no clue what <<compilers>> in this context referred to, but she managed to form a vague inference of their function based off her understanding of what Iris had told them. Lily should have been gratefully enraptured, absorbing the knowledge, perhaps even taking notes. But something bugged her. Stroking her chin thoughtfully, she posed a question to Iris.
“So our magical core takes our raw mana and uses it to create lines of <<ManaScript>> that affect the world. That is to say, a person with an affinity for <<Fire>> would have a core able to efficiently convert raw mana into lines of <<ManaScript>> that create fire. But what of my <<Extension>>? What kind of <<ManaScript>> does that create?”
“I was wondering when you’d realise. What you call <<Extension>> does not create <<ManaScript>> specific to any method. It creates pure, raw <<ManaScript>>. Let me give an example. Let’s say the process involved in creating a fireball requires three components: gathering the surrounding oxygen, igniting it, and shaping the fire into a spherical form. Someone with a <<Fire>> affinity would perhaps have the first two components stored as a single process, simplifying the entire act to two processes: Creating fire, and shaping the fireball. A <<Paragon>> would be able to simplify the entire sequence into a single process, making it a one-step action of ‘Shaping a Fireball’.
Your core has none of these shortcuts. If you wanted to create a fireball, you would have to manually Extend into the air particles around you, make them move faster to create a fire, then shape the resultant flame. Conversely, a <<Fire>> Paragon would simply need to envision themselves creating a fireball. Your core is a bit special: it does not have any shortcut processes to simplify processes. However, as a result of that, your core is fully versatile. Unlike other people, your core has no magic which it cannot perform.”
Lily blinked. She had followed Iris’ explanation rather well, but the implications of what she was saying were rather shocking.
“…so you’re saying, I can use other magic?”
Iris nodded happily.
“Mmhmm. In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call all magic a subset of <<Extension>>. All other magic branches are basically <<Extension>>, with various shortcuts and stored methods to increase the efficiency with which mana usage is processed. You could say that <<Extension>> is the purest form of magic. While most cores are pre-loaded with a number of methods for manipulating general magic across all magic systems, your core lacks these. Instead, you can construct new methods or add existing methods to do these same actions, though it would require more effort on your part. While other cores are incapable of changing their core functions, your core can evolve and develop unhindered. Rather than <<Extension>>, it would be more accurate to call your affinity an affinity for <<ManaScript>>.”
Lily stared, mouth agape. A question came to mind, and she posed this to Iris.
“Wait, so what about other people with <<Extension>> affinities? They possess other affinities as well, so what are their cores optimised for?”
“I’ve never had a chance to meet another person with the <<Extension>> affinity, but based on what you’ve told me, their ability is a much weaker form of <<Extension>>. In that case, I believe that they have the ability to directly manipulate <<ManaScript>>, as you do, but have significantly lower processing capabilities, meaning that the extent of what they can do is far more limited, and they would be better off using their native optimisations. You are probably the only person in the world that can directly manipulate raw <<ManaScript>> without a console.”
Watching her friend’s disbelieving expression, Iris giggled and continued.
“Of course, your processing of magic will be slower than someone with a specialised core. While they can call forth the method at the speed of thought, you would need to manually perform each step. That’s undeniably slower. You can, however, supplement this by using external <<compilers>>.”
“…and what are those?”
“They’re blocks of <<ManaScript>> stored in an external medium. They compile <<ManaScript>> to execute commands. You can think of them as supplemental additions to your own core. Let’s revisit the example of the fireball. As we’ve established, you’re unable to create one as efficiently as a Fire <<Paragon>>. However, if you were to write up the <<ManaScript>> for the three-step process of creating the fireball, after which you stored it in an external object, like a piece of metal, you could create a fireball simply by sending your mana into this piece of metal, allowing you to achieve the same speed as the <<Fire>> Paragon. My Shooters are examples of external <<compilers>>. Each of them holds <<ManaScript>> which details the process of gathering mana, converting it into heat energy, and channeling this energy. I’ve told you before that inorganic cores are limited in function to what the bearer is equipped to do. These limits are determined by the <<compilers>> built into the bearer.”
Lily did not fail to notice the implications hidden in Iris’ statement. Knowing Iris had no reason to lie to her, Lily shook away her mounting disbelief. What took its place were rapidly-forming ideas and inferences. This information might revolutionise magic.
“…You said it was possible to write and store <<ManaScript>> within objects? Any objects?”
“Well, they have to be inorganic. But other than that, there are no other restrictions. Ordinarily, you would need to use a mana terminal to write and store <<ManaScript>> in external media, but I don’t think those exist anymore. That said, since your core processes and outputs <<ManaScript>> in its raw form, I do believe it might be possible to use your own core as a terminal. We’d need to actually try it out, but the possibility exists.”
Lily collapsed on her rear. The possibilities this revelation opened were dizzying. Still… To think that Iris had held this information all this while… She shot Iris a slightly accusatory glare.
“…Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
Iris smiled, chagrined.
“You never asked. And… well… it’s a bit embarrassing talking about how I work.” She averted her gaze. “And… As long as you didn’t ask, I… didn’t want to unnecessarily remind you that I wasn’t a real girl. Not eating or drinking is one thing, but showing and explaining exactly how I work is… a lot more direct. I guess it’s a bit like baring my soul? …Sorry.”
Lily’s gaze softened. She pushed herself off the ground and grabbed Iris in a tight hug. Iris stood still for a while, before tentatively returning the embrace.
“You silly girl. I don’t care if you’re made of metal and magic. I don’t care if you’re not a real girl. You’re Iris, and that’s all that matters.”
Iris’ arms tightened slightly, her fingers grasping at the fabric of Lily’s shirt. Lily looked at Tate and Prei. Prei had gotten bored of trying to understand the conversation, and had returned to drawing circles on the ground. Tate had become unable to keep track of the explanation about halfway through, and was leaning against the Warden, arms crossed, waiting for Lily to finish. Lily smiled and whispered into Iris’ ear.
“Thanks for telling me all that. You’ve given me a lot of possible things to research. As an academic, few things could make me happier. Of course, first I’ll need a place where I can do my research.”
Iris giggled, nodding in agreement. Lily separated from her, met her eyes and matched her smile. Without a word, the three girls resumed their task of dismantling the Warden.
First, Lily needed to build her family a home. Anything else could come after that.