Lily sipped the tea, feeling the liquid spread throughout her mouth, allowing it to linger upon her tongue before gulping it down. The beverage tasted as it had always tasted, a mild bitterness overlaid with a slight sweetness, with a hint of a minty finish. But while she could still identify and enjoy this taste, it was accompanied by a wealth of other information which would once have been completely hidden from Lily’s perception. As the liquid entered her mouth, she found herself subconsciously analysing it, identifying its composition, its origin, its nutritional value, its medicinal properties, its age, degree of dilution, even identifying how long it had remained in the teapot. Even without any conscious effort to do so, this information and these calculations emerged in her consciousness, such that she seemed to instinctively know all of this information, though she knew if she traced the information flow that this was all the result of observation, analysis, and calculation. She marvelled at the depth of detail. Was this how Iris always ate? If so, she could understand why her lover used to avoid meals when possible. There was too much information to process, most of it functionally useless. While she could filter the information into a muted sort of fundamental knowledge, the constant input and the constant calculation caused slight discomfort. Furthermore, it seemed to be entirely involuntary – she could not stop performing this constant observation and analysis.
Lily briefly wondered whether Iris had experienced a similarly complex set of inputs when they had slept in each others’ arms, and was quietly tempted to search through her inherited memories to experience those sessions from Iris’ perspective. However, she stopped herself. There would be a time for that. Now was not that time. She set down the cup in the saucer and looked at Tate, sitting across the table from her, watching her with guarded fascination. Lily endured Tate’s silent gaze for several seconds, then took a lock of hair in hand, allowing the strands to slip through her fingers, lingering on the white tips.
“Looks a bit strange, doesn’t it. White tips on green hair. I’m moderately curious as to what it would have looked like when the rest of my hair started to whiten, but since I don’t age anymore, I suppose that’s a mute point.”
The sudden comment caused Tate to jolt, shaking her out of her reverie. Lily elaborated on her sentence to give Tate the time to collect her thoughts, and thus enabled Tate to provide a coherent reply once she had finished speaking.
“Not at all. I like it, really. The colour fades rather naturally, and I can hardly suggest that white-tipped hair looks odd when my own hair ends in white tips.” Tate smiled and shook her head. “Sorry about zoning out. I was just… fascinated. Combining your core with Iris’? I thought it was impossible. You said it was impossible. And now you’ve gone ahead and done it. Is there even a limit to your ta-”
Tate realised what she was about to say and forced the rest of the sentence down. A period of silence passed before Tate spoke again.
“…Sorry. That was insensitive.”
Lily tried to smile reassuringly, but found that she could not. She knew what Tate was going to say, and it hurt. Of course there was a limit to her talent. After all, if she were truly that gifted, Iris would have been standing here next to her, rather than inside her. Tate cast about for a change of topic and quickly settled on discussing Lily’s new abilities.
“So, you can basically use an infinite amount of mana now? Are there any limits?”
Lily gave an appreciative glance in response to Tate’s attempt at changing the subject, then spoke.
“Theoretically yes. I can take in mana from the surroundings and convert it to my own now. So if there’s a limit, it would be the precondition that there is mana in the world around me. Of course, as you are very well aware, there is mana everywhere in the world, an almost unlimited amount of it. So the likelihood of me ever being in a situation where there was absolutely no mana to be found anywhere around me is unreasonably low. The other limit, I suppose, would be that it takes time for me to absorb mana. Not a lot of time, fortunately, but if I were to use an excessively large amount of mana for anything, I might take several minutes, or maybe even hours, to absorb and process enough mana to make it work.
In terms of input, my core now functions like yours. Both of us can draw mana from our surroundings. But unlike your core, mine is a lot more versatile in output. While I won’t be making shields or barriers nearly as powerful as yours without substantial amounts of preparation, I’m not nearly as limited in what I can do with the mana.”
Tate nodded in understanding and bit her lip. Lily, aided by her new analytical and observational capabilities, was able to identify that Tate was feeling annoyance at her relative lack of combat capabilities. Lily laughed and patted her on the head. It was often hard to remember that she was the older of the two, given that Tate was extremely mature. Often more mature and grounded than Lily herself was.
“Don’t make that kind of face, Tate. You’re the best at what you do. It’s because of your barrier that we were able to protect this city. There’s no need for you to fight in the conventional sense; your ability to protect is far more valuable. You are valuable. We all know how much you’ve done, how hard you work – and we all appreciate it more than words can express.”
Tate closed her eyes and nodded, collecting herself. Then a knock resounded on the door. Lily could tell that there were two adult-sized figures beyond the door, one with a great pair of wings. Prei and Victoria. Lily called out to them without moving from her spot.
The door opened, revealing – as expected – Prei and Victoria. Lily glanced at Prei.
“That took longer than expected.”
Prei smiled sheepishly.
“Yeah. After you told me to fetch Victoria, I got mobbed by people who wanted to buy me drinks. I refused them all, but they were a little insistent. Then the same thing happened for both myself and Victoria on the way back.”
Lily laughed. It was to be expected. After all, Prei and Victoria had each singlehandedly taken out innumerable opponents in that battle. Their status as war heroes were virtually set in stone – as was her own, undoubtedly.
While this exchange occurred, Victoria could only stare at Lily, taking in her new appearance, mouth agape. When she had finally gotten over the shock, she blinked and shook her head while mumbling.
“Prei did tell me that you had changed, but… this is… something else.”
The demon’s attention turned to the face on Lily’s pauldron.
“Is that a woman’s face? Whose face is…”
Victoria’s voice trailed off as she realised the implications of the armor. Again, it was only natural that she should be shocked. Using the face of a girl was hardly common practice when it came to armor ornamentation. Still, Lily felt a twinge of pain as she was forced to recall the moments which had led to her present appearance. Victoria coughed lightly, then spoke again.
“Can I ask what happened?”
Lily shook her head.
“I’d rather not talk about it right now. Maybe in the future, when it doesn’t hurt this much. But right now, we have other things to discuss.”
Victoria’s gaze hardened. As much as she felt for Lily’s loss, she knew that the Lily in front of here had called her here to discuss matters not of the heart, and thus it was only right to address her in turn.
“What sort of things?”
“Before the battle, you mentioned a desire to go to the aid of the capital. However, you pushed that desire aside, in favor of fulfilling your duty as warden of this city. I found your dedication admirable, but now I must ask: do you still wish to go to the aid of the capital?”
“Without a doubt. The blood of the knight in me is screaming to fly to the side of my liege.”
“Excellent. I will lend you my aid.”
Victoria narrowed her eyes.
“Why? I had thought you had no intention of assisting the Capital. You have no interests there. Why offer your aid now?”
Lily swirled the tea in her cup and stared into its depths, Iris’ last moments still fresh in her mind. She lifted her eyes and stared straight into Victoria’s own, her mismatched eyes staring at Victoria with a feverish intensity.
“Circumstances have changed. That’s all I’ll say on the matter.”
Lily took a sip and set the cup back down.
“I’m going to the capital to attack the humans, whether or not you decide to come along. I simply felt that it would be a good opportunity to allow you to satisfy your sense of duty. We will leave in three hours. Use this time to make your preparations, if you intend to come along.”
With that, Lily began to contemplate her tea again. Victoria looked like she was on the verge of saying something, but held it back and nodded instead.
“I’ll see you in three hours at the North gate, then.”
She turned and hurried off to make her preparations. Lily, seemingly oblivious to the worried glances of Tate and Prei, touched her fingers to her pauldron, tracing the contours of Iris’ face.
I’ll keep our promise, Iris. Just watch me.