Lily stood by a mirror in an inn, appraising herself. Serena had left herself and Iris a change of clothes and instructions to come down to the guild the next day for their payment. Lily was now dressed in a plain brown long-sleeved top which hid her arms up to her wrists, and a pair of black skintight pants, accented by a white belt. She had tossed her flat shoes in favor of a pair of sturdy green boots. Her hands were left uncovered, but she could pass them off as being enclosed in gauntlets, so it was not really an issue. Iris, on the other hand, wore a grey long-sleeved top with flared sleeves and a rectangular neckline, with the bottom of it flaring outwards. This was accompanied by a light blue short skirt that covered about half her thigh, leaving a patch of white skin exposed between the hem of her skirt and the top of her black kneehigh stockings. On her head sat a large dark green beret, adorned by a pair of white and blue feathers. All in all, Lily’s gear looked more like what an adventurer would wear, while Iris’ gear was far more like what the young daughter of some rich family might wear in the comfort of their private garden. Lily felt a bit confused by this inconsistency, but chalked it up to Serena’s whims.
Iris stood in front of her and twirled around, causing the skirt to flare up and outwards. If not for Lily’s own understanding of Iris’ capabilities, and the earlier sight of her covered in blood, Lily would have mistakenly thought of her as any ordinary fourteen-year-old heiress, especially with the look of expectant joy which Iris bore on her face as she spun.
“I like it. Fits you perfectly. Or at least, it fits the you who’s not going around killing everyone in a five meter radius.”
Iris’ smile faded a little and was replaced by a thoughtful expression. She walked slowly over and sat down on the bed next to Lily. The room the guildmaster had secured for them was a double room with a single large bed, presumably to save costs. Not that Lily particularly minded; it was safer for the two of them to be together if they needed to move quickly. As such, it was this large double bed upon which the two girls now sat, Lily glancing sideways at Iris with questioning eyes.
“Well… Lily… Are you okay?”
Lily raised an eyebrow.
“Hm? Uh, I suppose. I don’t feel injured anywhere, at least.”
“No, I mean about at the fortress.”
“Uh… huh? What about it?”
Iris shifted uncomfortably on the bed, rustling the sheets and putting her hands together in front of her face, bending forward to make herself smaller.
“Well… I wasn’t programmed with things like remorse or guilt, so it took me a while to think about this, but… you just killed a fortress full of other humans, right? I’d perfectly understand if you felt guilty or terrible… you don’t have to hide it, you know. You can tell me anything.”
Lily bit her lip, trying to search deep within herself for feelings of guilt or remorse, like Iris seemed to think she was hiding. It was odd. Intellectually, she knew that she should have felt terrible for what she did. But in reality, she felt nothing, except the acceptance of cold necessity. No matter how much she thought of the people she killed, of that pleading man, she felt no remorse for what she did; she could only see it as an unavoidable necessity. Granted she felt a little twinge of sadness at the loss of life, but it was overall a very detached sensation.
Put into words, her feelings about the issue were something along the lines of a bystander seeing the scene of a massacre and casually commenting “Oh my, how sad.” without really feeling anything for the deceased.
It seemed that her mind had already accepted what she did as a necessity, and therefore did not attach emotional significance to her actions. Try as she might, she could not feel guilty for what she did. Does one feel guilty for eating meat to survive?
Lily wondered at what point she had become the kind of person who could kill so easily.
…Perhaps her time away from humans had stripped her of some of her humanity.
Shrugging, she reached over and hugged Iris’ head against her side. The surprised android suppressed a yelp, but stayed there, listening to the steady beating of Lily’s heart.
“I’m not hiding anything. Not from you. I just don’t feel anything about the killing. No matter how I try, I can’t feel anything. Not guilt, not anguish, nothing. It was just something I did, that’s all to it. Perfectly normal.”
“No matter how you put it, that’s not normal, is it!?”
“Shut up. I don’t want to hear that from you, you adorable little mass murderer.”
Iris giggled more as Lily ruffled her hair.
“Anyway, I think I’ll get some sleep. Think you can keep watch?”
“Of course. I don’t need sleep anyway.”
Like that, Lily drifted away to a calm sleep, watched over by Iris, sitting perched on the bed by her side. With the two of them, side by side, the night passed.
At some point in the night, their hands had locked with each other.
Lily and Iris sat in that same uncomfortably comfortable sofa in Serena’s office, Serena once again seated across from them. On the table, the same tea set was there, but next to it was a bag of coins, as well as the two girls’ Adventurer ID. In Serena’s hand was another two identical cards, but golden in color instead of cobalt blue.
“Alright, I’ve got your cards ready to be inscribed, but now that you’re Gold-ranked, I’ll need to inscribe your affinities as well.”
Even as she asked this, Lily began to frantically come up with an affinity for Iris. Being an inorganic, her core was unable to freely manipulate magic. As such, she effectively had no affinities. However, Serena had seen Iris use her magic cannon, so they would have to invent something to explain it.
“Ah, it’s because Gold-ranked and higher adventurers have a much higher chance of recieving special or Guild-requested jobs. Having your affinities on record helps the Guild to filter out which adventurers are the best suited to which jobs.”
Fire? No. Light? No. Lily expended no small effort in keeping her thoughts from showing on her face. None of these affinities could explain what Iris did.
“In that case, I’m an <<Extension>> Paragon.”
Serena blinked and a bemused expression crossed her face. She magically engraved the word into Lily’s card with a special pen, muttering as she did.
“A Paragon? Now I see… though, Extension… hmmm… interesting. And Miss Iris?”
Lily stifled a curse. She had yet to think of an affinity for Iris. She was about to give up and just invent one, but Iris saved her.
“I’m a Paragon too. <<Bombardment>>.”
Serena’s eyebrows shot up, her hands freezing.
“…Bombardment, you say? Now that’s not something you hear everyday…”
Lily understood Serena’s shock perfectly. <<Bombardment>> was an affinity which allowed one to fire concentrated blasts of mana as an attack. It perfectly described Iris’ style of fighting, utilising long-ranged mana cannons. <<Bombardment>> was one of the most straightforward yet effective offensive affinities.
Yet this affinity had not been considered by Lily.
This was because <<Bombardment>> was an ancient affinity. It was one of the first recorded, and was immortalised in a number of great tales. The heroes of legend always had some ally with a <<Bombardment>> affinity.
But it was also an extinct affinity. From what Lily could remember of the few times she had glanced at the records in the Academy, there had been no records of anyone registered with a <<Bombardment>> affinity for as far back as the record went. The ability had faded into the stuff of legend.
And here was this supposed sixteen year-old girl saying she possessed it. And claiming to be a Paragon, at that. Lily knew that Iris was simply picking one from those she knew – and she was only familiar with the original, first affinities – but this might lead to some issues. Lily sighed inwardly.
Serena glanced at Iris appraisingly, then shivered. It seemed she was recalling the sight of Iris razing the cottage to the ground. She shook her head vigorously and put the pen to the card, inscribing the words. As she worked, she glanced at Lily with a twinkle in her eyes.
“You know, it’s said that those who became heroes always had someone with a Bombardment affinity by their side.”
“Please, Miss Serena. I am but a simple machinist, trying to make her way through the world.”
“Right. You two are anything but simple.”
This last line was said with a wry smile while passing the IDs to Lily. Lily smiled back and pocketed them.
“So. The two of you. The bag on the table contains 150,000 Pars, as promised, in the form of 150 golden Par coins. Before you take it, though, I’d like to know what you plan to do after this. Are you going to stay here and take on Guild requests, or are you moving on to another town?”
Lily’s eyes narrowed, a gesture which Serena did not miss. She simply replied with an inpenetrable smile.
“I simply wish to see if there’s any further assistance I can lend you. You have done me a great favor, after all.”
Lily sighed and scratched her head. Dealing with this woman was tiring. It might be dangerous to tell Serena her plans, but at this point, she suspected that Serena would be too cautious of Iris’ ridiculous firepower to risk earning their ire. And if helping was, in fact, her intention, that would be welcome as well.
“…We need to head to the nearest port city.”
“Port city? That would be… Saphiz. But if you’re going to Saphiz, I assume you’re going to another continent?”
Lily considered. This might be a good chance to get some information about actually getting home.
“Ah, yes. I’m heading back to my home, on the continent of Jin-Asalys.”
Serena’s expression instantly darkened. She bit her lip, began to pace. All of this perturbed Lily. Clearly, something was wrong. Why had the mention of Jin-Asalys caused such a drastic change of behaviour?
“Hmm… I see… Well… In any case, you’ll first want to go to Saphiz. To get through customs there you’ll need a few documents; I can get those for you. I’ll also write you a letter of introduction to the Guildmaster of the Saphiz branch.”
“…Why the letter? I don’t intend to stay long in Saphiz, I’m just passing through to get on a boat.”
Serena had, by this point, recovered and regained her composed air.
“Think of it as insurance, in case you ever find yourself in need of more funds or resources. As for the documents you’ll need to get into Saphiz and out of the continent, I’ll need about two days to arrange everything. Meet me at the West Gate in the morning, three days from now.”
With that, Serena waved them out of the office, giving them the cue to grab the money on the table and head to the door. As they approached the doorway, Lily turned around and asked Serena,
“Miss Serena… What happened with Jin-Asalys…?”
However, the Nekoi woman was silent, staring at the tea set on the table. No reply seemed forthcoming. Sighing, Lily turned and left the room, with Iris in tow. As she left the building and entered into the streets, she shivered a little, despite the relatively warm temperature. A strong sense of foreboding permeated her body, then quickly passed as she realised she could do nothing about it. She would have to go to Jin-Asalys and assess the situation firsthand. She sighed with a mixture of resignation and annoyance. She suddenly felt a tiny, warm grip around her hand, giving her a reassuring squeeze. Iris.
The corners of her lips turning up, she squeezed back and led Iris into the crowded bustle of the marketplace.