Lily and Tate were riding in the wagon, en route to Riasode for the second time. The supplies they had gotten from their first trip had since run out, being exhausted after completing about half the building’s skeletal structure and most of its foundations. Lily had managed to completely exhaust all their construction resources within the first two days, and had spent the next two days simply watching and waiting for Tate to finish crafting her first shield to be sold. Considering how quickly the materials they had purchased had become exhausted, the task of building their house from scratch was looking to be a long and arduous one.
As they journeyed, Tate meticulously polished the shield on her lap with a buffing cloth. Lily turned one eye to it while keeping the other focused on the road. Tate had declared it to be the first shield she had forged without her parents’ supervision, and the amount of effort she put into it was evident. It was a buckler, the shield type she was most familiar with, the form that she naturally assumed when she took on her shield mode. Its surface bore innumerable intricate carvings and patterns, the meticulously etched engravings tracing a blooming flower across the smooth surface of the shield. Ringing the flower, flowing along the rim of the shield, a pattern of intertwining lilies framed the central flower. In the centre of the shield, surrounded by the carved flower petals, was a single, round, light blue gem that sparkled as the sunlight passed through its unblemished exterior. The gem was about a palm wide in diameter. Its colour was a translucent, ever-shifting blue, swirling and changing as light entered the gem from different angles. If one were to touch it, they would find it cold and hard to the touch. at the tip of each of the flower petals was mounted an oval-shaped, smaller version of this gem. These gems were unique and could not be found anywhere else in the world, as far as Lily knew.
Lily allowed her mind to wander, recalling her surprise when she had seen Prei creating this little miracle. Her foster daughter’s control over magic had grown to the point where she was able to touch the essence of the elements and condense them into crystal form. It was a feat that far surpassed any a human was capable of, for humans’ limited mana pools were unable to reach the activation threshold that allowed for this transformative procedure. Lily had once again found herself wondering what manner of creature Prei was, but she did not pursue the matter. After all, if Prei herself did not know, there was little chance of Lily being able to solve this mystery.
Prei had shown off this little trick when they were all taking a break, a reveal that took the entire party by surprise. Lily had, however, quickly recovered and run estimates of how much they could fetch for such a product. Due to the relatively less tangible nature of the other elements, Prei had only been able to create crystals of earth and water. Still, Iris hypothesised that with enough practice, it would not be impossible for her to create crystals of fire and wind as well. Preliminary testing and analysis, with the aid of Iris, had proven that the crystals produced this way had magical properties. The water crystal had some healing capabilities, mending a small wound almost instantly when passed over the afflicted area. The earth crystal, formed from the soil, seemed to have defensive capabilities, exponentially increasing the physical toughness of whatever was in contact with the crystal. While that was what Iris could glean from her analysis of the crystal, they had been unable to test the hypothesis as doing so would have proven dangerous.
Nonetheless, with the beauty of the water crystal having caught her eye, Lily knew that there was money to be made in the sale of these crystals. As such, she had asked Tate to work with Prei to incorporate water crystals into the design of the shield, and the buckler now resting on Tate’s thighs was the result. It was difficult to call the craftsmanship anything less than exquisite, and with the addition of the crystals, it now had an otherworldly beauty to it which could not be denied. Lily smiled in anticipation of Roan’s face when he saw the product they wished to bring to him.
They passed through the checkpoint without incident; Victoria had left instructions to let them pass. Victoria herself seemed to be absent from the guard post, which Lily found to be a shame. She admired the woman’s diligence and professionalism, and she still seemed approachable and friendly, which would have been useful in helping Lily understand the power dynamics and political threads of Riasode.
Just like they had on the first visit, Lily and Tate made their way to Roan’s workshop, where the large man greeted both of them with a large grin.
“Oho! You’re back! Here to take me up on my offer of staying in this town?”
Lily shook her head while smiling.
“Hardly. With the materials you got for me the last time, I managed to finish the foundations of the house. It wouldn’t be good form for me to give up on that now.”
“Damn. Had I known, I’d have directed you to the supplier for the worst quality goods.”
Lily and Roan exchanged casual banter while grinning. Tate shuffled her feet and fidgeted, the shield in her arms, its intricate exterior pressed against her body, allowing Roan to see only the plain interior, which was simply plain, unadorned iron with several protruding rings for straps. Roan’s eyes glanced at Tate, causing her to shrink into herself a little, then he returned his gaze to Lily.
“And? I suppose you’re here to try and sell this girl’s work to me?”
“Well, not to you specifically, but if you’d be willing to pay a suitable price, we would certainly not be averse to handing it over.”
Roan laughed and extended one hand to Tate.
“Well then, let me see that, little miss.”
Tate meekly handed over the buckler. The moment the exterior became visible, Roan’s eyes widened considerably. He gingerly took the piece of work with both hands and held it up, carefully taking in every detail, lingering on the crystals. He prodded at one of the smaller crystals, the contact causing ripples to spread throughout the crystal. His eyes remained wide as he looked to Lily.
Lily nodded. Being an academic, Roan would have been privy to the theorised possibility of elemental crystals. Condensing elemental magic to form a denser version of the element was a basic principle, so it was not a far stretch to consider that if there existed an individual with enough magic power, it would be possible to condense elemental magic into a solid form. Of course, such an amount of mana would be impossible for any one person to generate, and mixing different individuals’ magic was dangerous and often ineffective, so this was all hypothetical. And yet, Lily had shown up in front of Roan with a shield that had not just one, but several of these supposedly impossible creations embedded in it.
“…Where…? How?” Roan shook his head. “Never mind. Does it have any magical properties, as the theory stated?”
“Aye. This water crystal has restorative properties. We’re not too sure why that’s the case, though.”
Roan cast his eyes around, settling on a sharp piece of scrap metal lying in his proximity. Passing the buckler to Lily, he swiftly cut his arm with the metal, drawing blood. With his good hand, he took the buckler from Lily again. The moment he laid his hand on the shield, the gems embedded in it began to glow. As they did, the cut along his bleeding arm rapidly began to close itself, erasing the wound without so much as a scar in a matter of seconds. Blinking, Roan let out a sigh of amazement.
“I would ask you where you managed to get this, but that would be a breach of etiquette. So instead, I’m going to tell you this: This shield is priceless. You can certainly sell it for an outrageous amount of money. But you’re not going able to sell it.”
Lily tilted her head, waiting for Roan to explain.
“Just the gems alone are unique and priceless. Any person who knows what they are would tell you that. But even ignoring those, the workmanship is exquisite, among the best I’ve seen. Even though it’s a fully metal piece of work, it’s almost as light as a wooden shield. How you managed to do that, little miss, I’d certainly like to know.”
Tate blushed and averted her gaze as she replied.
“…Sorry. Mom said I’m not allowed to tell anyone.”
Tate had refused to divulge the secret even to Lily, though Lily had several hypotheses about the nature of the craft, mostly revolving around Tate’s unique magic and her magical properties that she had inherited from the ancient civilisation. Roan roared in laughter.
“Such a good child. Anyway, this workmanship is amazing. This shield is of the same quality as those which are used as status symbols by knights and nobility. The common soldier would be unable to afford a shield of this quality.”
Lily frowned. She was beginning to see the problem. Roan caught the understanding and nodded.
“Aye. Only nobility would be able to afford this shield, but the nobility of this town has long since fled the continent. There is, perhaps, only one person in this town that could afford to pay close to the amount of money this shield deserves.”
“Oh? Who would that be?”
Lily’s query was answered by a familiar voice behind her.
“T’would be I, third daughter of the noble house of Fangheldt, and mayor of this town.”
Lily turned around to face the source of the voice and blinked for a few seconds, before her confused expression gave way to an amused countenance. The demon woman had traded her plate armor for a formal, subdued dress that looked extremely uncomfortable. The black hair that she had previously kept in a bun had been set free, flowing down her shoulders. Perhaps due to the mass of hair around them, her horns no longer seemed as prominent. The sum effect of these changes to her appearance were that Victoria looked far more feminine than she had in armor. Even her standing posture had become more feminine. If not for the distinctive look in her eyes that somehow seemed simultaneously gentle and harsh, she would have been completely unrecognisable.
“Hello again, Victoria.”
“Well met, Miss Voirgaire.”