The facility that greeted them was unlike anything Lily had ever seen. Metal lay everywhere, with colourful, rubbery, snake-like tubes running along the ground. All around them, blocks of metal with glass panels embedded into them stood, sometimes clustered together, sometimes scattered around haphazardly. Several rectangular boxes of metal protruded from the wall, large glass panels set into the wall behind them. A thick layer of dust coated every surface, dulling the reflective sheen of the metal. Dotted about, mingling with the metal blocks, were cylinders made of glass, their height starting from the floor and reaching up to meld into the ceiling. They were about large enough to comfortably fit an average-sized human being – and Lily shuddered as she considered the possibility of that being the cylinder’s purpose.
The cylinders were all, thankfully, empty and dry, the layer of dust that lay along their exterior causing the light that passed through the glass to be distorted, granting the appearance of the cylinders a dull, milky quality. Lines that resembled the patterns on the entrance, along with the patterns on Iris’ body, ran along the floor and walls, engraved into the metallic surfaces, which looked to be constructed of the same metal as her prosthetics and Iris’ body.
However, despite all this strange technology that surrounded them, Lily did not feel her academic thirst flaring up as it usually did. In fact, she barely paid attention to the room as a whole. Her gaze, as with the gazes of Iris and Prei, was drawn instead to the single figure on the far end of the room, directly across from the entrance.
There, superimposed against the silver of the wall, was a solid mass of black. A closer look would reveal that it seemed to be the silhouette of a small-sized person, with the build of a child. They were encased in a metallic, black material, completely obscuring their features, completely covering their skin. The figure had no arms. It had no legs. The figure was just a distinctively humanoid torso, suspended by chains from the ceiling and the wall – the bottom part of the torso was chained to the wall, the top was chained to the ceiling, causing the figure to be suspended in a forward-leaning position. This setup was likely intended to accommodate the two large, tawny, pitch-black wings which spread outward from the figure’s back, wings that were in turn bound to the wall by more chains. The figure’s head – obscured by the formless black material such that it looked like a mannequin’s – hung limply forward.
Prei took a step back, revulsion apparent on her face. Iris placed her hand over her mouth, her eyes widening. Lily simply stood facing the figure, clenching her fists tightly. She averted her eyes, surveying the rest of the room, but found that all the technology around her suddenly felt far more sinister than it first appeared. She turned her gaze back towards the chained figure and let her thoughts escape her mouth.
“What in the world…”
She started walking forward, toward the figure. As she strode, Iris walked beside her, taking her hand. Prei, struggling to avoid throwing up, took a step back and stayed at the entrance. The two girls approached the figure cautiously – it was still alive. Lily could still feel the void in her probing net from the creature’s direction.
As they approached, the figure slowly raised its head, seeming to look at them. It was impossible to tell, for its face was obscured by that same black metal. Across the portion that encased its face, Lily could see the same pattern as that on Iris’ arm, the pattern that kept appearing. As they approached, she noted that similar patterns ran all along the figure’s metal prison. Finally, they reached the area just in front of the figure. The figure let its head drop, limply hanging forward again. Lily nodded to Iris, who used one of the small mana blades in her fingertips to make an incision in the back of the metal that encased the figure’s head. Lily placed her fingers in the created gap and jerked them apart, ripping the headpiece open. As she did so, long, silver hair spilled out from its prison in the headpiece and draped along the dusty floor. The figure coughed several times, and in a mocking, tired voice, spoke without looking up.
“Figures. Just when I wake up, you people come to do more experiments. Again. Funny way of opening the mask, though.”
Lily took a step back, shocked. She glanced at Iris, who returned her look, sharing her confusion. The figure’s voice held the weight of many more years of experience, and was tinted with the tired cynicism of one who has suffered at the hands of the world, but it was unmistakably Iris’ voice. The figure had just spoken in a voice that sounded like Iris’. Not paying heed to their surprise, the figure continued speaking.
“Well? What’ll it be today? My heart again? My other eye? My tongue? Maybe my brain. I’m sure you bastards would love to see the inside of an angel’s brain. Maybe you’re finally going to cut off my wings. Not like that would do you much good. But hey, you cut off my arms and legs, why not my wings, right? So? Which is it? What primitive, uninspired experiments are you going to subject me to this time? Huh? You people are being awfully mild today. Where’s the usual spiel about the future of the world?”
Faced by a sudden verbal tirade in Iris’ voice, Lily and Iris were unable to answer. Releasing an exasperated sigh, the woman raised her head and glared at the pair.
“Seriously, can we just get this over with? I’d like to go back to-”
The woman cut herself off midsentence, widening her single eye. Lily and Iris widened their eyes in shock as well, while Prei, at the entranceway, let out a gasp. Just as the woman’s voice was Iris’, her face, too, was Iris’ face. There was a hollow socket where her left eye should have been, and strange, glowing, red tattoos lined her forehead, but aside from those aspects, her face was identical to Iris’. With her singular eye – pitch-black with a red iris – she looked over Iris, astonishment replacing the irritation on her features.
“You’re… No way…”
Trailing off, the woman gazed at Iris’ face for a while, then her single eye turned to Lily, taking in Lily’s appearance. As she did, her face took on an expression that lay somewhere between pain and longing.
Throughout her examination, Lily and Iris remained silent. They were too surprised by the fact that this woman, in this strange room, looked so much like Iris. Even if they had the sense of mind to speak, they knew not the words to say. After a few more moments of quiet staring, the woman turned to Iris again.
“Your name. What is it?”
Iris hesitated, then answered.
That same complicated expression crossed the woman’s face as she turned to Lily.
“And I presume you gave her that name?”
Lily nodded. She did not know how much this woman knew about Iris, but clearly they had some connection. The woman closed her eyes, lips turning up in a bitter smile.
“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe you’re here. After all this time. After so long.”
As she spoke, the woman closed her singular eye, and a clear liquid began to flow down her cheek as she wept.