Lily’s eyes snapped open. She sat up on the wooden floor, rubbing the soreness out of her back muscles. The strain of the previous afternoon’s battle against the <<Serpent>>, coupled with the fact that she had been sleeping in relative comfort for a large duration of the voyage, left her aching after sleeping on the floor. She glanced over at the bed, exhaling a sigh that lay somewhere between impatience and relief as she saw the white-haired girl sleeping quietly, her small chest moving up and down. She was currently dressed in one of Tate’s spare clothing sets, a simple white nightgown, which matched her stark-white hair perfectly.
Lily took a clump of the girl’s shoulder-length hair and ran her fingers through it. It was soft and smooth, and had a texture that reminded her of silk. Its whiteness was inhuman; whiter than Iris’ own silvery-white hair, whiter than Vessel’s hair. The girl’s hair almost seemed to glow in the dim light of the cabin. As Lily was examining her hair, the girl suddenly moved, tossing around uncomfortably, her face contorted in grief.
Alarmed, Lily immediately let go of the girl’s hair and took hold of her hand. While Lily herself did not quite understand the logical process behind it, Iris had assured her that holding an unconscious patient’s hand was proven to have positive effects when they eventually awoke. Grasping the girl’s hand tightly, Lily watched as the girl’s turning slowed down, then stopped, leaving her in a state of peaceful sleep again. Lily wondered briefly about the girl. She had been within the core of the <<Serpent>>, so clearly there was something more to her than she seemed. Lily had earlier requested Iris to try and identify what type of existence the girl was, but Iris had requested time to reference her archives. In fact, Lily suspected Iris would be done rather soon…
Lily smiled as a series of knocks resounded against the door. Iris had volunteered to stay on watch outside the cabin door while also checking her records, since she did not require sleep. Lily walked over to the door and eased it open quietly, allowing Iris to peer in.
“She’s still not awake?”
“Nope. Where’s Tate?”
“She’s sleeping in the quarters below deck.”
Lily felt a sudden anxiety.
“You mean, the same quarters with the sailors? Alone?”
“Yes, but don’t worry. It’s Tate, after all.”
Lily held on to her anxiety for a moment, then relaxed, releasing a breath. Iris was right. After all, Tate was the girl that had shield bashed a dragon. Some drunken sailor would be no problem.
“I’m sorry, I get to sleep in this comfortable bed, and you and Tate had to put up with-”
Lily was interrupted by Iris placing a slender finger on her lips.
“Not another word. I don’t need sleep, and Tate is perfectly okay with sleeping in the quarters. In fact, she wanted to sleep on the wall in the armory with the other shields, but I forced her not to.”
Lily’s troubled expression turned into an amused one. It was certainly something she could see that shield lover doing. Then she again donned a serious look.
“Well? Did you find anything about our extra passenger?”
Iris shook her head.
“Nothing. I went through all the files in my archive, but I couldn’t find anything like her.”
“So she’s not like you or Tate?”
“No, unless she was a model made after I was put into standby. But seeing as her biological makeup is human – with an organic mana core – that’s unlikely. As it is, all we know is that she’s a human with an abnormally high level of innate mana.”
Lily frowned at the vagueness of the description.
“You said that earlier, too. How high, exactly, is ‘abnormally high’ “?
Iris placed a finger to her lips as she thought.
“If I had to give a number… the sum of about eight hundred average humans? About four times yours.”
Lily raised an eyebrow at the number.
“Well, that’s a lot of- wait. Wait, I have two hundred humans’ worth of mana? Seriously?”
“Well, you’re a <<Paragon>>, so it’s not that surprising. Though it’s still on the high side. Captain Ragneil, for example, only has about a hundred and twenty humans’ worth.”
Lily blinked in amazement for several moments, before shaking her head quickly to clear it. This new information, while surprising, was just ultimately trivia; it would not affect the way she fought or acted. She turned her gaze back to the sleeping girl, who was calmly slumbering. Just what was she?
“Also, Lily, you doing okay?”
Lily was jolted out of her thoughts by Iris’ concern. She puzzled for a moment what Iris meant, then went red as she understood the cause of concern: shortly after landing, she had run to the side of the ship and thrown up.
“Ah, yeah. The nausea’s still there, but I don’t really feel a need to throw up.”
Iris sighed in relief.
“Good, good. Don’t push yourself too hard, okay?”
Lily looked across the deck, where there was a stack of metal next to the hole in the side of the ship, waiting for Lily’s attention. She had initially wanted to start on the repairs immediately, but had been refused by the combined efforts of Iris, Ragneil and Tate, who had insisted she rest instead. Lily had grumbled, her artisan’s instinct firing up, but she had eventually given in to their demands. She looked at the hole, then back to the sleeping girl.
“Still… if she’s not an inorganic like you, why do you think she was in the core of that machine?”
Iris had explained that in the case of the Warden, Iris was being used as the power source and artificial intelligence for the machine, but that did not seem the case here. Especially if the girl was not inorganic, Lily could not see any reason why she would have been placed inside the <<Serpent>>.
“Hmm… If I had to take a guess… I told you that the <<Serpent>>’s base self-preservation subroutines included searching out sources of energy, yes?”
“I asked the Captain, and he told me that reports of a sea monster only started surfacing about a year ago. Considering this <<Serpent>> is another relic of the Ancient Civilisation, I can only conclude that it was in hibernation or standby all along, awakening one year ago.”
“And, assuming that’s correct, what would have caused it to awaken?”
“<<Serpent>> models in standby mode are designed to awake from hibernation if they detect sufficiently large mana signatures. Probably, what happened is that it detected this girl’s signature and awoke, claiming her as a power source.”
“Ehhhh? But, for it to be able to detect her…”
“Yes, that means that at some point, for some reason, this girl was in the middle of the ocean.”
Lily turned to look at the silently sleeping girl again. If Iris was right – and Lily had no reason to suspect otherwise – this girl had been captured by the <<Serpent>> when she was in the middle of the ocean. Why she was there, how she arrived there, were all questions that only she could answer.
As Lily was staring at the girl, the girl jerked. Alarmed, Lily dashed over next to her, casting eyes upon her pained expression and watching tears leak through her closed lids. The girl’s arms thrust upwards, at the air, as she soundlessly mouthed something in between sobs. Lily, on instinct, took one of the flailing hands in her own and held it close to her chest. The small hand squeezed her own tightly. The convulsing slowed down, and eventually, after several minutes, with one last spasm, the girl stopped shaking. The visible tension in her body dissipated as she relaxed. The grip on Lily’s hand, however, did not relax. The girl’s eyelids slowly parted, revealing a pair of startlingly blue eyes. Said eyes darted restlessly in every direction, before resting on her hand, tightly grasping Lily’s. They ventured upward, eventually locking with Lily’s red eyes. She blinked several times. Then, in a raspy voice, in a voice that sounded like it was starved for use, the girl spoke.
Lily froze, surprised. Then, without warning, the girl broke into a smile and sat up straight on the bed, before embracing Lily tightly.
Thoroughly confused, Lily could only go with the flow and pat the girl’s back soothingly, letting the girl nuzzle happily into her bosom. She glanced at Iris, who wore a complicated expression: somewhere between pained, confused and relieved. Sighing in resignation, Lily gently stroked the back of the girl that was calling her “Mama”.