Lily lay in bed, staring at the wooden ceiling. It had been several weeks since they had begun sailing, and four days since what had apparently been a pirate attack which she had slept through. She was getting used to the rocky motion of the waves, enough to be able to go about the ship without feeling the need to throw up, but prolonged movement still disoriented her, so she spent most of her days confined to her bed, with Iris and Tate bringing her meals.
She had heard from the other two girls about the Captain’s identity, and was surprised to find out that the old man who had charged her an exorbitant fee to take her to Jin-Asalys was the man once known as a hero. Back in Azoria, she had read of his exploits. Everyone had read of his exploits. He was rather famous, known for his strength. All of a sudden, he had fallen out of the spotlight, even before the incident three years ago. Back in Azoria, Lily had found his sudden silence strange, and had spent many afternoons with her schoolmates debating the possible reasons for his retirement. With Tate’s supplementary information, however, Lily finally knew the reason.
Lily frowned a bit when Tate began to explain about his dead family. Given that the ship’s name was “Atonement”, it was evident that he felt responsible for his family’s death, though he had clearly done nothing wrong. Lily could see no reason for him to blame himself; certainly, there was no way he could have known that after so long without incident, his family would be suddenly attacked and killed. She thought back to the lost party of <<Battleforged>>. Certainly, she was far more responsible for their demise than Ragneil was for his family’s. After all, she was the person who had sent out the request.
Lily lazily placed one hand over her chest, expecting to feel pain and guilt over the deaths of that close-knit party – but she felt only a distant sadness, as if she had seen it happen, but had no connection to those involved. No matter how she tried, she could not manage to feel responsible for their death. Even if, intellectually, she knew she was a major cause of their untimely demise, something was preventing her from comprehending this emotionally. The very fact that she was aware of this struck her as odd. She knew she ought to feel guilt, but simply could not generate that emotion.
She lifted her hand into the air and looked at it against the backdrop of the ceiling. The cold metal glinted in the lamplight that filled the cabin. Even after so long, with the limb being put through such an extensive degree of use, the metal that coated it had not yet rusted, nor even shown any sign of wear. The metal she had salvaged from the Warden was truly an amazing material. While her innate craftsman admired the durability of the metal, Lily slowly turned the hand about in the air, catching the lamplight from various different angles, glinting in a different way. As she did, her thoughts wandered, as they often had while on this voyage. Spending the better part of the day in bed gave her plenty of time to think. And what she thought on, was the issue of her humanity.
Where she should have felt guilt, she felt none. Even back at the Slaver’s Den, she had felt nothing when massacring the slavers. The person closest to her was a girl made of metal. Her own body was roughly half metal. All things considered, could she truly call herself a human? She knew something in her had changed in that wasteland. Perhaps she had lost a bit of her humanity along with her limbs? The thought should have frightened her, but again she could not seem to feel this fear. And that in itself was fearful.
Lily let her hand fall to the bed. Dwelling on concepts like <<Humanity>> was very unlike her. She had enough to handle just trying to survive and make her way home. In the first place, the only reason she was thinking along these lines was because she possessed the luxury of leisure to think and contemplate, as peaceful as this shipborne voyage was. What did the notion of <<Humanity>> matter? It would not feed her. It would not protect her. It would not protect the girls that followed her. It was a pointless line of inquiry.
She slowly sat up, intending to walk around the ship for at least a while. She detested lying in bed, doing nothing. It made her feel helpless, and that was not a feeling she savoured. As she sat up and placed her legs on the floor, the door opened. Iris and Tate walked into the room, Iris holding a tray with biscuits, salted meats and some kind of fish-related stew. The meals at sea lacked variety, for the most part, but they were filling enough. Biscuits and preserved meat or vegetables were the norm, but every morning, for several hours, the crew would put out fishing nets, and if the catch was good, the entire ship would be served fish. The apron which Tate wore indicated that she had been helping out in the kitchen, a role she had volunteered for early in the voyage. Iris, on the other hand, helped with the morning fishing, using some kind of sound technology which she refered to as a “Sonar” to locate large schools of fish. Of their party, only Lily was confined to the bed, not helping out with the operation of the ship in any way. It was a situation which admittedly made her a little bitter, and strengthened her resolve to overcome this seasickness. However, her body refused to agree with this resolve, and while she could now walk around on the deck, she would still suffer dizzy spells.
Lily averted her gaze sheepishly as Iris walked into the cabin and placed the tray on the table meant for meals. Iris, noticing her embarrassment, sat down next to Lily and squeezed her hand.
“Come on, Lily. I know it’s frustrating, but you can’t do everything. It’s not your fault, no need to be so depressed.”
Lily said nothing and squeezed back. She appreciated Iris’ concern, but being treated like a sick person hurt her pride. She got off the bed and seated herself behind the tray, nibbling on the biscuits. As she did, the swaying of the boat intensified. They seemed to be entering choppy waters. She hesitated, thinking that eating under these conditions would only worsen the inevitable nausea, but decided that being bed-bound, she wouldn’t be moving around anyway. She finished off one biscuit and began to chew on the meat, but the ship jerked violently, almost throwing her out of the chair. Outside, the sounds of the sailors scurrrying across the deck could be heard. Had they entered a storm? How troublesome. Lily stopped eating for a while, and the ship rocked more, but eventually became calm again. Finishing off the meat and biscuits, she turned to the bowl of stew. She dipped the spoon in and took a sip, then blinked. She turned to Tate.
“It tastes a little different than usual. You didn’t make this, did you?”
Tate grinned widely and glanced over at a reddening Iris as she answered.
“No. Miss Iris did.”
Shocked, Lily turned to Iris.
“Wait, since when could you cook?”
Iris’ blush intensified as she looked away and began to fidget.
“I-It wasn’t in my functions at first, but you looked so happy when eating Tate’s food, so… I asked her to teach me.”
“Iris is amazing! She’s a real fast learner!” Tate chimed in to support Iris.
“D-Does it taste bad? I tested it, but I don’t have taste buds, so…”
Lily chuckled, then chortled, then burst out into full-fledged laughter. Testing it without taste buds? That was so uncharacteristically illogical of Iris that Lily could not help but laugh. Iris’ face reddened even further; slight trails of white steam began to escape from her ears.
“S-So it’s that bad huh…”
“No, no, no.” Lily rebuffed her while wiping away a tear. “It’s fine. It’s a little different from Tate’s, not as rich, but it tastes… good. Tate’s stew is relatively consistent, but occasionally has a different taste. Yours is perfectly the same as her average; it tastes like someone followed a recipe to the minutest detail. It’s definitely an Iris-like stew.”
“…I did make sure to measure the amount of ingredients I used to the closest microgram.”
Lily giggled again. Iris’ presence always gave her a sense of warmth. Seeing the girl, experiencing her warmth, all Lily’s worries and musings about her <<Humanity>> were pushed out of her mind. What did all that matter when this girl, this inorganic girl, could be so <<Human>>? Could make her feel so <<Human>>?
When her giggling subsided, she began to resume consuming the meal Iris has prepared for her. However, as she was about to spoon some of the stew into her mouth, the ship was violently rocked, throwing Lily out of her chair. A smashing sound echoed through the cabin. Rubbing her head, Lily pushed herself off the ground, catching sight of Tate, who had a horrified expression. Lily followed Tate’s gaze, seeing Iris, whose face was a mix of disbelief, anger and grief. Following Iris’ gaze, Lily’s eyes landed upon the shattered bowl on the floor, with the stew splattered on the floor. The stew Iris had made for Lily, on the floor. She looked back at Iris, and saw that the girl seemed on the verge of tears.
A dark feeling began to rise up within Lily. She narrowed her eyes and stood upright. She staggered a bit as the ship swayed, but she quickly recovered, nausea held at bay by the sheer depths of her anger. She strode forward and threw open the door to the cabin, striding onto the deck.
What she saw before her was Ragneil’s back, turned towards her, with countless swords made of mana floating behind him. He was staring down what seemed to be empty space. Along the side of the deck, one part of the railing had been damaged, leaving a hole about 4 metres wide in the side of the deck. As Lily was about to demand an explanation, a roar resounded, and a large silhouette emerged at blinding speeds from the ocean on the damaged side of the ship, drawing an arc over the ship and disappearing on the other side. It had been only a split second, but Lily had caught a glance of the creature.
It was a giant serpent-shaped creature of some sort. Furthermore, judging by the familiar sheen of its scales in the midday sunlight, it was made of metal.