Sparks flew as metal struck metal with a reverberating clang. The residual sound rang throughout the enclosed space of the forge. Just as the ringing was starting to fade away into a low hum, it was replaced by another sharp clang. The sounds repeated in this way, over and over, in a rhythm of familiarity that carried within it years of practice. Again and again Tate struck the metal. With each strike, the metal yielded to her will. Now and then, she placed the blade into the special forge that Lily had created for her, heating the blade and allowing it to cool slightly before continuing to hammer at it. Over innumerable cycles of this process, the metal began to change shape: from a misshapen lump of alloy, to a longer, thinner form, slowly losing its initial guise of raw ore and taking on the appearance of a blade. Or rather, it was an appearance similar to that of a blade. Unlike a regular blade, the tang of Tate’s work was not a straight strip of metal meant for mounting in a hilt, but rather, it was a circular slab of metal, with a small circle in the exact center of it. It was certainly unfit for storing in a handle.
When she was satisfied with the shape, Tate wrapped the blade in an insulating cloth, clipping the item to a line on the wall to air-cool, where it hung beside another identical blade. There was a rapping on her door. Wiping the sweat off her brow, Tate lifted her protective work goggles, allowing them to rest on her forehead, and wiped her hands on her apron as she called out.
“Mmm, come in!”
The wooden door of the forge tentatively opened, revealing Prei standing in the doorway, clad in armor, her wings folded protectively over her ears. She peered in cautiously, bracing herself, but relaxed upon seeing that Tate was not currently doing any metalwork. Her wings unfurled and folded back in close to her back. The sounds of forging were loud and jarring enough to make most people uncomfortable, but Prei’s hearing was better than most, and thus it was a lot more uncomfortable for her than for the average person. Prei gave Tate’s appearance a scrutinising glance and frowned disapprovingly.
“Don’t tell me you’re planning to go home looking like that?”
Tate shook her head.
“Of course not. I was going to bathe and change first.”
“Good. We should get going.”
Tate untied her apron and folded it up, turning down the lights in her forge. The magical lamps were the same as the ones they used in the mansion, so they could be lit and dimmed at will. As she checked to make sure that all the fires in the forge were extinguished, she asked a cursory question.
“So, how did you find the-”
“How did I find the spear? Good as always. I’ll tell you more on the trip home, but we need to hurry up. You might have to skip that bath.”
Prei interrupted Tate by finishing her sentence with a hint of impatience. Tate frowned. It was unusual for Prei to be this snappy. Did something happen?
As Tate stepped out of her forge and was pelted by the mid-afternoon sun, she blinked in surprise. She had started work in the early evening the previous day. Had she really spent that long in the forge? She suddenly felt like she needed the aforementioned bath far more urgently.
Tate locked the door to the forge and ascended the stairwell next to it, climbing up to the entrance of their house, situated above her forge. Throwing open the door, she hurried to the bathroom, stripping as she went, Prei following closely behind. As she reached the bathtub, stark naked, Prei snapped her fingers and caused warm water to materialise within the bathtub. The bathtub was equipped with a device Lily had made, one that used an artificial magical core to generate water, but it was much slower than Prei’s magic, and they likely did not have the luxury of time: By Tate’s calculations, they were already going to be an hour late.
Tate stepped into the bathtub and began to scrub herself down, but she stopped as she felt Prei’s warm hands on her back. She allowed herself to relax as Prei began to wash her back. Beneath each of Prei’s palms was a torrent of warm water, constantly moving and swirling, cleaning off the dirt and grime far more effectively than any brush. As Prei’s hands moved gently over Tate’s body, Tate caught herself yearning for Prei to touch her more intimately. The thought brought a bright red flush to her cheeks. Despite all her teasing of Lily and Iris, it seemed that Tate was equally susceptible to the charms of another woman.
Tate was fully aware that she was in love with Prei. She had been in love with Prei for some time. She wasn’t sure when her sisterly affection for the dragon had transformed into sexual desire, but it had surely happened. She first realised it that night when Prei left them, when she felt an immense grief at the thought of no longer living under the same roof as the girl. The night when Tate told Lily she was leaving was the night when Tate confirmed her own feelings. When Prei had come up to her and said nothing, only hugging her, Tate had felt a sense of unbelievable joy. That was when she knew beyond doubt that she was madly in love with her friend.
When Prei moved in with Tate, Tate had been so happy. She saw it as a reciprocation of her love. She was eighty- no, ninety per cent sure that Prei loved her as well. She read this affection in every blush, every kind gesture, every glance that Prei snuck her way. Similarly, Prei was almost definitely aware of Tate’s feelings. The girl was too observant to have missed it. However, though there was a tacit understanding between them that they were in love, neither made any move to solidify their relationship. They always kept a certain distance from each other, being intimate but never too intimate. Prei would wash Tate’s body, but she would never touch Tate’s body inappropriately, leaving Tate to wash her own erogenous zones. Tate would hug Prei and kiss her on the cheek as a greeting, but would never kiss her on the brow, nor on the lips.
Tate wondered why they kept this status quo, despite both of them having shared their numerous frustrations over the years about Lily and Iris avoiding the topic of love. Perhaps they were afraid to shatter the illusion of love, perhaps they were afraid to accept a proper relationship and the responsibilities that came with it. Unlike Lily and Iris, who loved each other more than anything in the world, both Prei and Tate had their own little passions, passions which they still considered of equal importance as the matter of their love. Tate had her work. Prei had her training. Neither was willing to consider taking time away from their work to develop a relationship. Perhaps that was the reason why they never made that final leap. Whatever the reason, the fact remained that Tate and Prei were knowingly in love with each other, yet refused to broach the topic of a relationship.
When Prei had finished washing Tate, she let her hands linger for a moment, as if reluctant to allow them to part from Tate’s skin. However, she soon withdrew and handed Tate a towel. Tate, hiding her mild disappointment, dried herself off while walking into the bedroom, picking up the clothes that Prei had laid on her bed. As she put on the beige trousers and white blouse, she was forced to listen to Prei’s complaints.
“You know, I really wish you had cuter clothes to pick from. I tried to pick out something nice and stylish, but everything you have is either work clothes or merchant clothes. Even though the town girl look would fit you perfectly. It’s such a waste.”
Tate chuckled as she wore a brown jacket over her blouse.
“Sorry Prei, but you know me. Was never one for social functions.”
Tate grinned as Prei grumbled. This was a side of Prei that she chose not to show Lily. As she lived in Riasode, she had apparently met several girls her age, some in the military, some working in the shops, who had taught her how to dress fashionably. Since Prei only ever wore her armor when she went home, Lily was completely unaware of this habit. However, living in the same home, Tate was fully aware of the size of Prei’s wardrobe, and it was impressive indeed.
Tate combed her shoulder-length hair back, tying it into a neat ponytail, and turned to leave the room. However, she was stopped by Prei, who held out a clean pair of her work goggles. Tate looked at her questioningly.
“Why do I need these? I’m not going to be doing any work for the next two days.”
“Just hang them around your neck or something. The outfit looks odd without them.”
Tate sighed and took the goggles from Prei, fastening them around her neck. Practical tools of her trade, reduced to fashion accessories. What a travesty.
Within the hour, Prei was flying through the air, making the familiar journey home, with Tate on her back. As they flew, Prei gave her review of Tate’s latest attempt at a weapon: a spear which could convert into a trident or a halberd. The balance was fine, apparently, but the conversion mechanism was slightly unreliable. Tate bit her lip. Perhaps she could have Lily help her out with this project. Complex machinery was Lily’s field, after all.
As they flew, Tate felt a nagging feeling in the back of her mind, like she was forgetting something. It was a feeling that she had been vaguely experiencing since she left the forge, but she had been too distracted by the feeling of Prei’s hands on her skin to pay attention to it. Something about the date. Today was special somehow. How?
“…Oh well. I guess it doesn’t really matter.”
Tate dismissed her concerns and pressed herself close into Prei’s back. Knowing that Prei wouldn’t be able to feel it through the thickness of her scales, Tate planted a soft kiss on the back of Prei’s neck.