The lunch table was rather noisy that day. Requests for more food alternated with casual teasing of Iris and Lily. Though the lunch they had initially prepared was enough to fill four bellies, Prei had scoffed, proclaiming that it was “hardly suitable as a wedding feast”. Despite protests from both Lily and Iris, Prei and Tate had insisted on delaying lunch a full two hours to search for more food and increase the spread of dishes. Helpless before the willpower of the two excited girls, Lily and Iris could only accede to their request with a resigned smile.
By the time Prei had finished hunting and Tate had finished cooking, the dining table was lined with twice the number of dishes, including half a deer. The other half of the animal was on a large platter set in front of Prei – as a dragon, she had a larger appetite than Lily and Tate combined. It took a lot of food to fill her belly, and much more food to render her too full to eat any more. In the worst case, if the family was unable to finish the food laid out before them, Prei would be more than capable of finishing it on her own.
Recognising the symbolic function of this particular meal, Iris decided to partake in the meal as well. It was essentially food that would be wasted, but she decided that it would be a better decision than sitting out on this meal that was prepared to celebrate her union with Lily.
Overtaken by that same sickness of newlyweds sharing their meals for the first time, Lily and Iris behaved in an extremely embarrassing manner: occasionally, Iris would feed Lily a bit of venison off the end of her knife with mechanical precision. When Iris, unaccustomed to eating, got the edges of her mouth stained with gravy, Lily would lean over and casually lick off the offending sauce, making eye contact with Iris in the process, causing both of them to blush. These scenes were interspersed throughout the meal, accompanied by Prei and Tate either snickering or watching warmly, their reactions varying in accordance to how embarrassing each act was. Finally, after one particularly shameless instance where Iris fed Lily a cherry tomato with her mouth, Prei could not help but comment.
“My, how beautiful it is to be in love. Would that I had the opportunity to do the same!”
As she spoke, she directed an accusatory glare at Lily. Lily, flustered, quickly swallowed down the tomato and defended herself.
“I told you, that horned demon just wanted to use you to get to Tate’s work!”
“I’m so glad to know that my work is of such high quality that girls would woo dragons for it. I always knew my calling in life was to bring people together. I should quit being a smith and become a matchmaker.”
Tate interjected with a dry monotone, causing the whole table to laugh. Seeing Tate’s genuine, joy-filled laughing stirred Lily’s heart again, as she recalled the fact that such an expression was a rarity. However, her brooding was interrupted by Prei, who had finished giggling.
“Aye, I know. I saw her kissing a man a few weeks later. Can’t say that it didn’t hurt, but it’s in the past.” Prei sighed and looked dreamily into the distance. “Ahhh… when will I find my fated romance…?”
After a few moments of wistful staring, as Lily was trying to construct words of encouragement, Prei snapped back to the present and abruptly pointed a finger at Lily.
“Speaking of romance, what was with the timing of your proposal? Lunchtime? That’s so unromantic! Proposals are supposed to be made at night, under the watch of the stars, so that you can’t see her face, up until the point where she says yes and you see the tears of joy streaming down her cheeks! That’s what love is supposed to be like!”
“That was… oddly specific.” A sense of horror crept into her heart as a thought came to mind. “Prei, you haven’t been reading… those kinds of novels… right?”
Prei flushed red and pointed again, adopting a strategy of aggression.
“That’s not the point! Anyway, it was unromantic! What do you have to say for yourself!?”
Unfortunately, Prei’s diversionary tactics proved futile. Lily put down her knife and fork, placing her head in her hands as she groaned in despair.
“Oh, no… Where did I go wrong in raising this child… Perhaps I shouldn’t have let her go alone… But then, I promised not to cage her… Still, to think she would fall into… into this…”
Iris quickly wrapped her arms around Lily’s shoulders and patted her comfortingly.
“Lily, it’s not your fault. You couldn’t have known. How could you have known she would fall into this rabbit hole? It’s not your fault.”
As she spoke, Iris levelled a glare at Prei, who became visibly flustered and began casting her gaze around desperately, searching for a way to change the subject. Her eyes settled on one of the hands that was covering Lily’s face, and she quickly asked about it in a loud voice.
“Oh! Hey! Your hand is fixed! It was damaged on the way back, when did you get it fixed?”
Lily looked up, raising her head. She had nearly forgotten about the injury. When exactly had it been fixed? As she searched her memories, she found the answer and blushed, joining Iris, whose eye was flashing pink.
“Uh… Iris fixed it for me. At the lake.”
“Eh? She did? Where did she get the equipment?”
The blushes that adorned Lily’s face grew in intensity as she averted her gaze. Iris’ blush had spread beyond her eye and was beginning to turn her hair pink. Prei looked back and forth between the two of them with immense curiosity. Thankfully, the tension was broken by Tate, who sat at her spot on the table with a quiet smile.
“…Let’s move on.”
“Yes, please. Let’s.”
“I agree with Lily and Tate.”
“Eh? Ah, alright, I guess…”
Prei frowned, a little disappointment, then suddenly perked up – talking about the events in the facility had caused her to remember something. However, she deflated almost immediately. Lily raised an eyebrow inquisitively.
“What’s the matter?”
Prei showed clear hesitation, but she eventually spoke up softly.
“There’s something I want to ask, but I’m afraid that it might ruin the mood of this entire meal.”
Lily narrowed her eyes. If something was troubling her daughter, she wanted to know about it. That was more important than something silly like conserving the amicable mood that permeated the table. Iris, feeling the same, spoke up in Lily’s place.
“What’s the matter, Prei?”
Prei shifted her position, sitting up straight in her seat, her earlier playfulness replaced by a serious expression.
“I want to know about me. I know that my parents were placed as guards in a dungeon, to awaken when the seal we protected was breached. What I want to know is, who gave them that duty? I know I’m a dragon, but what is a dragon? Sarah spoke of humans, and demons, and angels, but not monsters. What are monsters? What am I? I wish to know. You have Sarah’s memories, right? Does it have any information about monsters?”
Lily stared at Prei, surprised by the sudden transition from Prei’s previous playful manner. The question was clearly one that had been on Prei’s mind for some time. She turned to Iris, who had closed her eyes. Iris spoke quietly.
“You’re right. Sarah does know about you.”
Prei leaned forward in anticipation.
“You’re a divine construct. The gods created you. They created all monsters as guards for the dungeons. The monster races are created to be wardens for the prisons of the demons. The dragons were created to be the kings of the monster races. Your species, in particular, was created to reign above all others. Your parents were granted the most power and the greatest intelligence among monsters. The monster races predate humanity by several centuries. You were created to be prison guards. That’s what you are. But that’s not who you are. You’re Prei and nothing else. You’re Lily’s daughter, and therefore you’re my daughter as well.”
Prei closed her eyes and nodded gratefully, before returning to her previous jovial manner and teasing Iris.
“Well, I suppose I’ll have to start calling you mother as well, huh?”
“Only if you want.”
Iris grinned and turned to Tate, who had been watching on quietly.
“How about you, Tate? Do you want to know about yourself, as well?”
Tate shook her head.
“No, it’s fine. I don’t really care about my origins. I know who my parents are, and I know what my purpose is, and that’s enough. Who or what made me is of no consequence; it does not change my purpose. I live to shield Lily from harm. It does not change my love for metalwork. As long as I have that purpose and my work as a smith, I need nothing more.”
Iris nodded in understanding. She, too, was a being who needed nothing to live aside from her love and her purpose. However, that same twinge of sadness and pity tugged at Lily’s heart, causing her smile to droop somewhat. Tate glanced at Lily sharply, but said nothing.
When they had finished eating, Lily and Iris moved to clear the table and wash the dishes, but Lily was stopped by a firm hand on her shoulder. Turning around, she found herself looking at Tate, whose face wore a deeply serious expression. Tate looked Lily in the eye.
“…Lily. I need to talk to you. Is that okay?”
Lily’s first reaction was surprise. In the many years she had known and lived with Tate, Tate had never approached her in this way. She glanced to Iris, who nodded and continued clearing the dishes. Tate noted the acknowledgement and walked out of the house, followed by Lily, walking wordlessly.
Despite having just finished lunch, the delayed meal and the time they had spent eating meant that the sun was already beginning to conclude its daily trek across the canvas of the sky. Lily followed Tate out to the lake, where Tate sat on a rock and stared out over the surface of the lake. Tate gestured at the place on the rock next to her, prompting Lily to sit down by her side. Lily waited for Tate to speak, but Tate merely continued watching the lake. Lily did not say anything, but rather sat next to Tate and watched the lake with her. Tate would not have called her here for no reason, and no amount of waiting would be able to repay the vast debt that Lily owed her friend.
As they sat side by side, neither speaking a word, the sun concluded its journey and began to sink beneath the horizon, painting the lake and its surroundings a solemn, warm orange. Illuminated by this light, the ripples in the surface of the lake became far more visible, disrupting the illusion of peaceful calm. When the orange was starting to fade, conceding to darkness, Tate finally spoke.
The darkness, advancing in a wave as the sun finally disappeared over the horizon, cloaked Tate’s face as she spoke.
“…I think I’m going to leave this house.”