Back at the Inn, Lily threw herself on the bed, turning on her side to look at Iris, who was content to simply stand at the bedside.
“So. You thought of something just now. Let’s hear it.”
Lily patted the open space on the bed next to her head, inviting Iris to sit. Iris walked over and sat on the bed, facing away from the bed, feet barely touching the floor. Lily adjusted her position such that her head rested on Iris’ lap, then motioned with her hand to carry on.
“I believe Jeanne is like me.”
“Oh? You mean, made by an ancient civilisation?”
Lily raised an eyebrow, surprised. Jeanne certainly had not seemed to be made of metal. Or rather, her human appearance had no indication of it. Her actual body was most certainly made of metal.
“Yes. I believe her to be a rudimentary <<Artificial Intelligence>>, which was programmed with the ability to self-update.”
Lily pressed her lips together in thought. <<Artificial Intelligence>>. Iris had explained the term. From what Lily understood, an <<Artificial Intelligence>> was a sort of artificial mind created by the humans of the ancient civilisation. An artificial construct, capable of simulating human thought patterns and processes. It was technology far too advanced for Lily to fully comprehend, but what she did understand was that this <<Artificial Intelligence>> was what made Iris, Iris. It shaped her personality and thoughts. In a sense, Iris was the <<Artificial Intelligence>>, and her metal body was merely a disposable container.
“What do you mean by self-update?”
“I mean that she was made with the ability to maintain and modify her own programming. Just like I was. But she’s been awake far longer, so she’s probably evolved far more than I have. Though, she seems like an <<Intelligent Weapon>>, and those are pretty outdated compared to me, so we’re probably on about the same level of sentience.”
“Weapons made with self-updating Artificial Intelligences built into them. They were designed to evolve and change to address new threats. There were a number of them made, but most were decomissioned after they were declared obsolete, with only a few surviving as antiques, or lost on miscellaneous battlefields.”
“I see… So, how did she get a body? She was originally a shield, right?”
“I think that she probably grew sentient enough to recognise herself as a humanlike entity, and condensed mana from her surroundings into a physical form.”
“Huh… Wait. If she’s an Artificial Intelligence with a body made of pure mana, what does that make Tate?”
“I’m not actually sure. I have no archives that mention <<Intelligent Weapons>> – or any Artificial Intelligence, for that matter – procreating with humans. If I had to make a guess, I would hypothesise that Tate is a backup copy of Jeanne, corrupted by Jeremiah’s mana signature.”
“And that means…?”
“She’s made of pure mana, with an organic mana core. She isn’t able to take in mana from her surroundings, but she innately possesses an extraordinary amount of mana which no human can hope to match, or even come close to matching. However, she can only use it in ways related to her mother’s initial function as a shield.”
Lily closed her eyes in thought, enjoying the feeling of Iris’ soft synthetic lap under her head. The idea that humans and Artificial Intelligences could procreate… It took her mind in a strange direction. She lightly tapped her cheeks to clear her head, then remembered another thing she wanted to ask.
“Oh, and what about the soul and compatibility bit? Sounds a bit odd to me.”
“I do think Jeanne is confused as to the difference between mana signatures and the soul. Since she seems to have gained self-consciousness comparatively recently, it is likely that she did not understand the nature of mana signatures, instead using human terms to describe it, believing it to be her soul. I believe that Tate’s mana signature is on a similar wavelength to yours. Normally two people with compatible mana signatures will feel a slight attraction to each other. Since Tate’s entire body is made of mana, it seems the effect was far more pronounced. Add that to the base underlying directive of serving an owner, and the fact that <<Intelligent Weapons>> were made to match their users’ mana signatures, and that explains her behavior.”
“Huh… I guess that makes slightly more sense than compatible souls… I didn’t feel any attraction to her, though. Why’s that?”
“I don’t know. The archives I have regarding the effects of mana signature compatibility on the human psyche are mostly vague and incomplete. It seems like it was an uncertain field of study, even for the ancient civilisation. The only theories I have are that either your <<Extension>> ability is interfering with the link, or the signals from your mana signature to your soul are being cut off – There are recorded instances of people not feeling this attraction when they were already married to someone else.”
Lily’s cheeks flushed red and the skin under her head suddenly felt much softer for some reason. She jumped up, off the bed, and hurried to the door.
“Well then, let’s go to the guild now and pick a job, so we don’t have to waste time tomorrow.”
She exited the room, face still burning bright red, as Iris ran behind her to catch up.
“How about this one, Iris? <<Subdue 30 Lizardmen>>. 4 star mission on the 13th floor. This shouldn’t be too hard for her, right?”
“…No, but Lily… wasn’t the purpose of this to check if Tate could handle herself? What’s the point if you’re going to pick an easy quest?”
“Fine, fine… How about this? 9 Star mission <<Subdue Dullahan>>. Target is… 20th floor.”
“I guess that would work, but… it says here the Dullahan is an Intangible-type enemy. Might not be the best idea for you, Lily.”
Lily winced and rubbed her forehead at the memory of the <<Phantom Knight>>. They were at the mission counter in the Guild, scrolling through the list for any quest which they could use to test out Tate’s combat capabilities. Most of the options were either too easy, or required a larger party, or presented some other problem. Lily frowned. She turned to the receptionist.
“Are there any other missions available besides these? Anything at all?”
The receptionist, a bespectacled man with neatly combed hair in a suit, looked up from his terminal, peering over his glasses.
“Pass me your ID. Either of you.”
Lily quietly handed hers over. This receptionist seemed to be a very task-focused, serious one. He fluidly took the card from Lily’s hand, swiped it across a panel on his table, and returned it to Lily in a single motion. The tablet Lily held in her hand, which listed the available missions, returned to a smooth surface, before a single entry was etched into it.
[Guild Request. Please hunt and eliminate the <<|Enemy|>> which appeared through <<Random Spawn>> on the 27th floor. 15 Star difficulty. Minimum party size 3, recommended party size 20. Payment: 1,000,000 Pars. Points: 850. Deadline: ASAP. Additional Notes: Current death count: 23. Accept at your own risk.]
Lily’s eyes bulged at several points. First, the difficulty rating. Then, the enemy name. Then, the payment. With this, she would be able to test Tate, while also handily making more than enough money to get on the ship home. That the target’s name was obscured by a square block was also unusual. She looked to the receptionist, who responded by deliberately tapping his index finger on his desk. When she tapped the square, it expanded, replacing the display with a rectangular box containing information about the target. When she saw the name of the target, she burst into laughter, instantly accepting the mission before passing the tablet back to the receptionist. This quest was perfect. She would make a ton of money, she would get to see Tate in battle, and above all, she would get the chance to test herself against a strong opponent. As she walked out of the guild, in the direction of the inn, she spoke to nobody in particular, lips turning into a predatory smile.
“I hope you put up a good fight, my dear <<Black Plated Dragon>>.