“Yep, that’s right. You’re getting the hang of it.”
In the dim lighting of Tate’s forge in Riasode, the blinds across the windows fully drawn, Lily watched as Tate manipulated the dials on the side of the book-like device, causing the lighted holes to change, shifting the patch of illumination. With each click of the first dial, the leftmost column of the patch dimmed, and the rightmost column lighted up. With each click of the second dial, the topmost row dimmed, and the bottom row lighted up. After a bit more adjustment, the patch of light was squarely in the center of the book’s page.
“Very good. Now focus on the shape you want.”
Tate closed her eyes and concentrated, placing her fingers atop the lighted area. As she did, the lighted dots rearranged themselves, forming new shapes. First a buckler, then a tower shield, then a kite shield, then a crescent shield, then a shape that looked vaguely flower-shaped, but was obviously a flower-shaped shield.
“…Uh, you’re doing pretty well, but… Why not try to make something else?”
“…I’ve been trying to visualise swords.”
The despairing expression which crossed Tate’s face caused Lily to crack a bemused smirk. She recalled Iris’ explanation of Tate’s existence. As a half-shield, half-human, she could only use her magic in ways which tied in with her defensive purpose. Taking that into account, it was likely that the reason she was only able to produce shield-like shapes was due to her magic automatically adjusting to fit her existence.
Eventually, Tate gave up and slumped into her chair. Lily laughed and put a hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t worry too much about it, Tate. This is a prototype. Next version I’ll try to come up with a way to capture existing images and use that as a base for reproduction. Then you’ll be able to do the engraving by hand, then transfer the completed pattern in. It’s one of the planned features I’ve been looking into, but there are still a few issues with the theory that I intend to iron out before I try to put it into practice.”
Tate sighed and nodded.
“Thanks, Lily. It’s just a shame that I can’t make full use of your present.”
“Like I said, don’t worry about it. Anyway, for the time being, if you show me what you’re working on, I can try to develop a disc template for whatever you need. You did say that you were having trouble with some sort of mechanism, right?”
Tate nodded and led Lily to another side of the forge, where she depressed a switch, illuminating the wall with magical light. Mounted on a stand adjacent to the wall was a suit of plate armor, resplendant in the light. Its pauldrons were jagged and resembled a dragon’s maw; its trim was bright red and gold, standing out against the silver landscape of the plate. The accompanying helmet was also shaped like a dragon’s maw. A closer inspection of the joints revealed Tate’s metalworking genius: Though the suit was completely covered in plate and had no chainmail whatsoever, it was clear that the wearer’s movements would be unrestricted. This was achieved by each segment of the armor being specifically forged to protect the largest surface area possible without compromising mobility, overlaid with additional plate on the vulnerable areas, such as the joints. Ordinarily, such a complex armor would be impractical due to the difficulty of putting it on in an emergency. However, this particular set employed an improved version of the magical assembly method that Tate and Lily had developed for Prei’s armor, allowing the suit to be donned immediately and without hassle.
Naturally, this particular set of armor was clearly intended for Prei to wear. Even disregarding the clearly draconic theme of the piece, the back of the armor revealed two conspicuous slits, intended for Prei’s wings. However, what caught Lily’s interest was what Tate had added to the arms and legs of the armor. In particular, the vambraces of the armor were of unusual thickness, with large metal protrusions beginning at the wrist and curving outwards, covering the rest of the arms. Similarly, the calf sections of the armor had large outward protrusions. The armorwork was done in such a way that the protrusions resembled miniature wings of a sort, one on each limb, two on each side.
Lily glanced at Tate curiously. Tate averted her gaze, slightly embarrassed.
“I came up with the idea when I was thinking about Iris’ compartments. She stores weapons in her arms and legs, so I figured, why not do the same?”
Tate reached out and touched one of the vambraces, infusing it with her magic. As she did, the vambrace sprung open, splitting in half to reveal a series of blades without handles, fanning out between the now-separated halves of the piece.
“The way I envisioned it, the storage can work in two ways: First, to hold backups;”
Tate picked up a nearby sword. It seemed like an ordinary hand-and-a-half sword, though its hilt was graced with a mana crystal. Without a word, she snapped the blade in half against her knee. As Lily watched, the mana crystal glowed a bright blue, and the blade separated from the sword’s handle. Tate then brought the still-glowing hilt next to one of the blades that were stored in the vambrace, and Lily had to applaud as she watched the blade move of its own accord and secure itself to the handle. She had taught Tate some of the basics of magic engineering, but she never expected the girl to have thought to incorporate it into her work as a smith. It gave Lily a strange feeling of pressure, as if she was now obligated to work even harder so that Tate would not surpass her. Tate blushed at the applause, then frowned.
“So I’ve managed to get that bit working, but the second function is giving me some trouble. The idea was for the storage to be able to serve as a weapon in an emergency.”
She touched the vambrace again, and it closed up. Then a slit opened in the side of the vambrace, and a blade sprung outward, causing Lily to jump in surprise. However, rather than completing the journey toward the front of the vambrace, as the slit’s trajectory seemed to imply, the blade abruptly stopped in the middle of the armor piece, sticking out at an awkward ninety degree angle.
“…But that’s what happens. No matter what I do, I can’t seem to make it go all the way to the front of the vambrace.”
Lily stepped up to the armor and touched it, much like Tate had, except that she sent out her probing threads of Extension, attempting to understand the problem. She immediately pinpointed the issue.
“Ah, it’s because of your conversion of magic energy. Your algorithm has a bit of an error, it’s causing the operation to break midway. Let me just…”
While she talked, Lily used her Extension to adjust bits of Tate’s magical program, then stepped back after a while. The blade, reacting to the loss of magical energy, sprang back into its original place, and the slit closed up. Lily gestured to Tate.
“Try it now.”
Tate did as she was told. This time, the blade swung smoothly all the way to the front of the vambrace, creating a dangerous weapon that could be activated in an emergency. Tate looked at Lily with a hint of dissatisfaction.
“Sometimes, I find it really unfair that you can directly manipulate ManaScript.”
Lily chuckled. The error she had found was likely due to an oversight in the creation process, but without the ability to interface directly with mana, it was an error which would have been nigh impossible to find.
The two women continued their tweaks on the armor, and by the time they had finished up and left the forge, the sun had long since set, giving way to night. Tate turned to her.
“You’re staying over tonight, right?”
Lily nodded. She had rightfully suspected that it would take most of the day to help Tate learn to use the book device, and thus had expected to stay the night even before they had left the mansion. She had already told Iris not to wait for her, and now she could only hope that Iris wouldn’t get too lonely without her. Trying to take her mind off the feeling of longing that was threatening to overwhelm her, she turned to trivialities.
“Do you have a spare bed, Tate? If not, I can sleep on the floor.”
“Hm? No, it’s fine. You can have my bed.”
“Eh? It’s your home, Tate. I can’t have you sleeping on the floor.”
“No, no. I’m not sleeping on the floor, I’m sleeping on the wall.”
Tate did not respond, but rather silently showed Lily into the house, where the two women made a beeline for the bath.
When they arrived in the bedroom after cleaning themselves up, Prei was already fast asleep on her bed, lying on her side to accommodate her wings. Lily turned to Tate questioningly.
“She’s probably tired from the trip. She’s usually like this the day after we get home. She has to wake up early tomorrow, so just let her sleep.”
Lily went up to her and brushed Prei’s bangs away from her face, like she had done when Prei was still a child. Prei’s wings fluttered, and she began to stir, but Lily’s touch was fleeting enough to avoid waking her up completely. Lily turned to Tate.
“Isn’t it a little bad for her to be sleeping this heavily? What if she’s attacked?”
Tate responded with a deadpan voice and slight tinge of annoyance.
“It’s probably just because it’s you. Whenever I try to stand next to her she instantly wakes up. I suppose she just feels an instinctive sense of safety around you. Under all her armor and scales, she’s still your girl, after all.”
Lily felt a sense of warmth enveloping her heart as Tate’s words wrapped around it in a cocoon of affirmation. She then turned to the more pressing problem.
“Anyway, where are you going to sleep, Tate? What do you mean, on the wall?”
“In case you’ve forgotten, my real appearance looks like this.”
With that, she raised one hand to touch a nearby hook on the wall. As she did, a bright light enveloped her body, concealing it from view as it changed, finally dissipating to reveal an ornate buckler hanging from the hook. Lily blinked, wondering why she had not thought of this arrangement. Perhaps Tate was such a close friend to her, it was hard to see her as anything but human, even though she knew better. Whatever the case, this resolved the conundrum: Tate did not need a bed. Lily climbed into Tate’s bed while Tate’s voice resounded in her mind, carried by some flimsy thread of magic which bound the shield to her owner.
“Good night, Lily.”
Lily wordlessly searched for the thread of magic which had carried the message, then isolated it and followed it back to its source, using it to send a message of her own:
“Good night, Tate. Happy birthday.”