As the house came into view, Tate noted that Lily and Iris were already waiting on the porch, waving. Odd. Usually, Lily would not exit the house until they were a bit closer than this. She again noted her strange conviction that there was something special about this day.
As they neared the ground, Tate jumped off Prei’s back as Prei began shifting back into her human form mid-descent, allowing them to touch the ground at the same time. She stretched her back, feeling her stiff muscles loosen up. As fast as travel on Prei’s back was, bending her body to keep it close to Prei’s back for so long was not a particularly comfortable position. She expected Lily to walk up to Prei and hug her, as usual – despite living apart for so long, Lily still doted on her adoptive daughter. However, contrary to her expectations, Lily strode past Prei and walked right up to Tate, giving Tate a light kiss on the cheek and ruffling her hair.
“Happy Birthday, Tate.”
Tate blinked in confusion. Today? Her birthday? Was it? She thought briefly about the date and realised that it was indeed the anniversary of her birthday.
“…I completely forgot.”
“It’s alright, I forgot too.”
A moment of awkward silence passed between Tate and Lily, before Tate broke the stalemate with a query.
“A-Anyway, it’s not that important. More importantly, why are you wearing armor?”
Tate laid her hand on the armor that she had made for Lily. It was the first full set of armor Tate had forged. She had added to it and modified it over the years, leading her to consider it the best set of armor she had ever made. A powerful claim, given the extent to which her reputation as a prodigious smith had spread throughout the continent. It was light but sturdy, with special functions such as the removable arm and leg guards and the slits for wires that ran along the bracers showing that it was made with a specific person in mind. She was extremely proud of this work, and she was also extremely proud that it was being worn by the person that was, to her, the most important person in the world.
…Well, maybe the second most important. She cast her gaze briefly at Prei, but said nothing. Prei’s armor was not yet complete. But it would be completed soon. Soon she would finish a work to rival this magnificent armor.
Lily placed her palm to her breastplate, over her heart.
“Naturally, I’m wearing it to welcome you to your birthday party. Iris wanted me to wear a dress, but I figured you’d probably like it more if I wore your work. And from your reaction and the way you’re caressing my shoulderguard, I’d venture to say that I guessed correctly. Besides, I’m not particularly fond of dresses. They tend to make my arms and legs stand out even more than usual.”
Tate giggled as Lily explained her attire. As much as Lily disliked dresses, Tate had seen her wear one on multiple occasions. Roan’s wedding, Victoria’s 26th birthday, when she met with nobles interested in Tate’s work. She was right about dresses accentuating her metal arms and legs, but rather than making her look odd, the look lent her a mysterious exoticism. She seemed almost inhuman, with the sleeveless dresses showing exactly where the fair white skin ended and the smooth dark metal began. On one occasion, a masquerade ball, Lily had for some reason decided to don a full-face mask that was modeled after the expressionless face of a doll. The effect was… unsettling, to say the least. Unsettling, surreal, but very beautiful.
Tate allotted but a moment to this reminiscence. She was more interested in the earlier half of Lily’s statement.
“A birthday party? Why? We’ve never had those. At least, not to the degree that would require you to wear dresses.”
Birthday parties in their little mansion were usually small, quiet affairs. A larger meal than usual, lively conversation, that was about it. Not much difference from a regular meal. No party, no gifts, and certainly no seductive black dresses like what Iris was currently wearing.
“Several reasons. The first, courtesy of Iris, is that since you two live apart from us now, we should try to at least put in more effort for celebrations like this, events which keep us together as a family even when we’re apart. The second reason is that Iris really wanted to show off some of the dishes she’d learned how to make from- I’m joking, I’m joking, stop aiming at me!”
Lily’s attempt to tease Iris was met with a number of red dots intersecting over her shoulder, indicating where Iris’ Varia were aiming. They both knew there was no way she would shoot, so it was really just Iris playing along with Lily’s teasing more than anything else. Iris made a show of pouting in dissatisfaction, before breaking into giggles. Lily continued speaking as Tate felt herself smile involuntarily.
“Anyway, the third reason: You’re 21 now, Tate!”
Tate had not been keeping track of her age. Between their circumstances and her work, age had seemed to be an insignificant detail. She could hardly believe she was 21. She had only been 13 when she left her home to follow Lily. She was aware that 7 and a half years had passed since then, but she had not connected that observation to her age. 21 was the age of maturity back in Saphiz. Once a person passed that age, they were considered a full adult, subject to the same laws and regulations that bound their parents, but were also granted access to those many things which had been forbidden to them, such as the right to drink, to gamble, and to wed. The 21st birthday for a person in Saphiz was a very important day, and Lily having paid attention to this made a warm and pleasant feeling arise within Tate.
“…Actually, Mother, how did you know about 21 years old being an important age for Tate? I’ve spoken to some of the Riasode citizens who came from Azoria, and they said that 21 wasn’t an age of particular significance for you?”
Prei interrupted Tate’s thoughts with such a question. Tate was still rather new to the city, and thus had not gotten as friendly with the locals as Prei had. At least, she had not gotten friendly enough with anyone to engage in small talk of this sort. Thus, it came as a surprise to her that Azoria did not attribute significance to 21 as the age of adulthood. However, in that case, she had to wonder as Prei did: how did Lily know? Lily looked at Prei with a look of mild disapproval.
“Prei, my daughter, you seem to think that the books I keep in my study are used as paperweights instead of reading material. I have a hardcover copy of “Geographical, Political and Cultural Boundaries of Gemaris”. In fact, it’s the same book you asked me to lend you half a year ago. There’s an entire chapter about the significance of the age of adulthood. It should have been easy to conclude that I found out from there. The fact that you had to ask this question implies that you either didn’t read the book you borrowed, or you’re not sharp enough to make the connection. And I know for a fact that the latter isn’t the case. Which therefore leads me to conclude that you haven’t read it. You’re slacking, Prei.”
Prei turned red and averted her gaze. Tate had to giggle. She’d seen the book in their house. Prei used it as a legrest. However, she decided not to mention that little fact to Lily. It might turn her feigned annoyance into actual rage. Lily loved her books.
Lily turned her attention back to Tate.
“Well then, a feast awaits. Shall we? I’m personally rather excited to try some of Iris’ new dishes.”
Tate grinned and nodded, prompting the four girls to enter the house as a group, where indeed a feast awaited them. Venison, in roasted and steak forms, was the central dish, complemented by a variety of potato dishes and home-baked bread which had risen nicely. To complement the food, Lily opened several bottles of wine, one of them a premium old vintage that had been bottled and fermented by the demons during their imprisonment. A gift from Victoria, back when they had first finished building the home. The wine had sat in storage for quite some time, since there was never an occasion which warranted such a luxury. Not until this party, at least.
As they ate and talked, Tate reflected back on her life and her choices. Tate thought about her parents, who were leagues away, across the ocean, back in Saphiz. How were they doing? She hoped she had not caused them excessive worry. She would have sent a message, if she had any reliable way of doing so. Unfortunately, the current Demon King was still enforcing a strict restriction on leaving the continent, for good reason. The reports and gossip about the humans’ movements were getting more intense, while the reports from the demons’ scouts had abruptly ceased. It caused Victoria no small amount of concern, and Prei had mentioned it on several occasions as well. It seemed that the embers of war were rising.
If the humans were to go to war with the demons, which side would have her support? It was a question that bore some weight, and one all of them had to think about.
“Tate? You okay?”
Lily had broken off mid-sentence with a frown, seeing Tate staring blankly into space. Tate frantically shook her head.
“N-No, it’s nothing. Was just thinking about some stuff. Like how I’m suddenly 21.”
Lily broke into a smile.
“Aye, 21. You’re an adult now, Tate. Congratulations on making it. Now you’ll be arrested the next time you commit a felony!”
“You say that like I have a habit of committing crimes.”
“Aye, you do. You’re so reliable, it’s criminal.”
“If you say that, Iris’ll get jealous.”
“She’ll be fine, she’s perfectly okay with me loving more than one per- that was a joke, Iris, please stow that rifle. Please.”
Their teasing back-and-forth was interrupted by Iris pulling out a long, complicated weapon. It looked vaguely like her shooters, but it was larger and radiated an aura of danger. As she kept it back in her back compartment with a chuckle and Lily leaned over to kiss her as a form of appeasement, Tate leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes.
She wondered if her parents could hear her somehow. Clearly, that was physically impossible, but they were her parents, after all. And her mother was something more than human, too. Maybe they would be able to hear her thoughts if she projected them with her mother in mind? Unlikely. Still, she felt like she had to say it, as much for her own sake as for her parents’.
Mother? Father? It’s not likely, but in the improbable instance that you can hear this, I want you to know that I’m 21 now. I’m an adult. I’m a famous smith, people love my work. I’m surrounded by people who care about me. I share a room with a close friend.
I occasionally think about whether I did the right thing, leaving home seven years ago. I always come to the same conclusion: Yes, I did. Maybe it’s a bit selfish, but it’s because I left home that I was able to meet all these wonderful people, that I was able to spread my work and my name. If you could see my shields, I think you’d be pretty proud of me. They might even be better than yours now.
You’ll always be my parents, and my family. But now I have a second family as well, a family that cares for me, and celebrates my birthday. I love them, just as much as I love you, and they’re very important to me. You should come visit some day. They’re a place I must protect. I’m sure you’ll understand, mother, even if father doesn’t.
I’ve heard war might break out soon. I hope the rumors are wrong, and I’d rather not think about it, but I’ve decided. I’ll fight for the side that my family fights for. I’ll go with my owner’s decision. I’ll support whatever Lily chooses to do.
Again, I doubt you’re hearing this, but if you somehow can hear me, I’d like you to know that I’m happy, and that I’ve found a family and friends whom I love, and who love me in return. I miss you, and I love you both.