Lily continued to stare at the black katana on display, not saying a word. She took it in, running her gaze along the edge of the blade, confirming that it was, indeed, the sword she remembered. Its curve, its shine, its colour, were all known to Lily, were all familiar. She knew this sword. She knew this sword’s owner. The sword was here, in this shop. So where was its wielder?
Her vision blurred. She stood stock-still as a tear crawled along her eyelid, carving a path down her cheek. On her right, Tate reached up and wiped the tear away. On her left, Iris grabbed her hand and squeezed it gently. The shopkeeper, seeing this reaction, allowed her inscrutably welcoming expression to slacken somewhat, a gentle concern invading her eyes. She stepped out from behind the counter and walked up to Lily, speaking softly.
“…You know this sword.”
Lily, without taking her eyes off the display, briefly remained immobile. Then she nodded, ever so slightly. A trembling voice escaped her lips.
“…How… Why… is this here…?”
“A refugee from the Demon Continent brought it here two years ago, an ex-adventurer.”
A slight sadness crept into the shopkeeper’s voice.
“No, an Elven man.”
A hiccough sounded from Lily’s throat. Her vision blurred again, and tears threatened to fall. But she held them back. She would not cry. Not yet.
“Did- did he say where he got it?”
“He said he found it abandoned in the Labyrinth of Azoria, and asked for a valuation. It was a blade of fine make, so we gave him a good price.”
Abandoned, she said. Hina… Hina had loved her katana. It was an heirloom, passed down through her family, and she loved it more than anything in the world. The only time Lily had touched it without permission, Hina had beaten her up and had refused to talk to her for a month. Disbelieving words burst forth from Lily’s mouth.
“That’s not possible! Hina would never abandon her katana! She’d sooner die than give it up. She’d…sooner…die…She…Hina…”
Lily was still resolved. She remained steadfast, and forced herself, mentally yelled at herself not to cry.
But the urgings of the mind were no match for the pain of the heart.
Her metal legs – influenced by her emotional state – gave way, and Lily collapsed to the ground with a loud thump of metal against stone. Her arms hung limply at her sides. Throwing her head back, arching her body, she let loose a pained howl of sheer anguish as her face contorted into a mask of grief, tears flowing uncontrollably.
Next to her, Iris knelt down, and hugged Lily from behind as she cried. Tate looked around in a frantic panic, trying to find something to do for Lily, then settled on sitting down and taking Lily’s cold hand in her own. The shopkeeper, her face having lost all traces of its professional indifference, walked over to the door and put up a sign saying “CLOSED”.
When her tears had dried up, when Lily could cry no longer, she slowly stood up, assisted by Tate and Iris, one pulling each hand. She walked over to the glass case and touched it again, this time with a gaze of longing, rather than a gaze of despair.
She glanced down to check the price on the sword. 800,000 Pars. She frowned. It was already cheaper than the other swords in the shop – probably due to it being second-hand – but it was still outside her price range. She had 460,000 Pars available to spend, and she was not willing to give up her ticket home for the sake of buying what was now essentially nothing more than a memento of a lost friend.
She turned away from the display, a pained expression painted on her face, and made for the door.
“…You can have it for half.”
Lily paused and turned to the shopkeeper, whose face now bore the mark of a strong internal struggle.
“I said, you can have it for half. 400,000. That’s the price we got it for, so not much loss to us. Nobody’s bought this sword because nobody knows how to use it, and it’s not beautiful enough to serve as a decoration. The steel is strong, but that’s pointless when nobody knows how to swing it right. And if nobody’s going to ever buy it, I’d rather it go to someone who will cherish it. I am a smith, after all.”
This last line, the shopkeeper spoke with a wry smile.
Lily nodded. It made sense; the katana was a weapon unique to Hina’s family; it was very unlikely that an outsider would know how best to use one. She wordlessly reached for her coin purse and placed it on the table. The shopkeeper took the purse, counted out the 400,000 Pars, and returned it to Lily. Then she walked over to the display and, removing the glass case, took the blade and its sheath off their stands and sheathed the katana, handing it to Lily.
Receiving the weapon gingerly, Lily hugged the katana to her chest like a long-lost lover. A brief image of flowing black hair flashed through her mind. However, no tears came. She had no more tears to shed. She closed her eyes and savoured the sensation of the cold sheath against her skin – a coldness that felt almost warm. Then she snapped her eyes open and clipped the green rope to a hook on the side of her belt. Then she began striding to the door of the shop, the sheathed weapon proudly swaying at her side.
As she left the shop, the first thing she noticed was Vessel, standing on the other side of the road, in all her angelic glory. The second thing she noticed was that nobody else seemed to see the winged preacher. In a scene that was a stark contrast to the image of adoring masses climbing over each other to touch her, the passers-by simply walked past her, oblivious to her existence.
Lily stood unmoving, watching Vessel carefully, trying to avoid looking at the armor which was so uncomfortably reminiscent of that Dragon. Vessel’s head tilted slightly in the direction of the katana sheathed at Lily’s hip. Lily’s left hand moved to grip the sheath, as if to protect it from the armored woman’s stare. Then Vessel turned back to Lily’s face. In a quiet voice, drowned out by the crowd around her, Vessel spoke. And even though she was too far away, and the utterance far too soft, for Lily to possibly have heard her, Lily somehow knew exactly what she had said, her words seeming to echo around in her mind, resonating even after Vessel had turned and disappeared in a flurry of feathers.
She was pulled out of her reverie by Iris’ hand brushing against hers. She jolted and stared at Iris with a troubled expression, causing Iris to tilt her head quizzically. Tate, on her other side, was also looking at her with confusion. It appeared that neither of them had seen Vessel.
Then, without warning, Lily grabbed Iris and hugged her tightly, pressing the metal girl to her chest. Iris, surprised by the sudden embrace, blushed a deep red, her eye colours wildly changing, but she stood still and let herself be hugged. Tate pouted and folded her arms, tapping her foot on the ground while waiting for them to finish their display of affection.
Lily stayed like that, with Iris in her arms, for several minutes. All the while, she kept her face buried in Iris’ hair, hiding her troubled countenance.