“Iris? Iris, are you here? Where are you?”
Lily called out – or at least she thought she did. Sound did not really exist in this space, so there was no way to be sure. She was surrounded by suffocating nothingness, feeling everything around her and nothing around her at the same time. A voice – or something resembling a voice – came into existence.
“You can’t really say that I’m ‘here’, as I’m sure you’ve figured out. ‘Where’ is also a query which I can’t quite answer… let’s make this a bit more comfortable.”
The nothingness abruptly vanished and was filled with amber. Concepts of space, time, distance and being began to form. A white circular tea table came into existence, flanked by two quaint little white chairs, set against the amber backdrop. Lily could now identify the table as being ‘in front’ of her. Behind the table sat Iris, not in her human form, but in her metallic appearance, her skin smooth and bare as the day Lily had chanced upon her, so many years ago. Iris gently smiled at her and gestured to the empty seat. Lily, overcome with emotion, sat down in the chair, trembling. Iris calmly poured out a cup of tea – from a white teapot into a white teacup – and set it in front of Lily. The beverage had a distinctive amber sheen to it. Lily did not drink of it. Her hands were shaking so much, she was liable to spill it. Lily glanced into Iris’ deep, multicoloured eyes and felt herself wither as she recalled the sight of the light fading from those same eyes. Then hope sprang forth from the bed of ashes that was her grief.
“Iris… it worked… I did it… you’re-”
Iris cut Lily off mid-sentence. Not giving time for Lily to collect herself, Iris continued.
“I’m dead, and there’s no helping that. This is what’s barely remaining of my consciousness, that last bit of fading amber I told you about. I’m currently drawing on your innate mana supply to maintain this sliver of existence, but it won’t last forever. These lines of code cannot be reforged. All I’m doing is delaying the inevitable, using your mana to keep me aware long enough to say a proper goodbye. It’s a selfish thing, but please grant me this much, at least.”
Lily buried her face in her hands and moaned, her voice flavoured with grief. Even after all this, it wasn’t enough? Tears leaked from her eyes and fell into her tea, making light splashes and distrubing the serenity of the liquid in the cup with the products of her agony. Iris’ chair swerved around the table, ending next to Lily. She wrapped her arms around Lily’s head and pulled her close.
“I’m sorry for going ahead without you. There’s nothing I want more than to stay here, by your side, sharing your warmth, but that’s beyond my power. That’s beyond your power, too. You have to let me go. You have to accept that… I won’t be here for you anymore. I don’t… want you to stop moving forward because of me, Lily.
I love your determination, even when it’s caused me to have to drag you from your workshop numerous times. I love your tenacity, even though it pained me to watch you face setback after setback in your work while I wasn’t able to help. I love your stubbornness, even though that’s what caused that one and only fight we’ve had.
And above all… I love that you love me, even though that’s why everything I’m saying right now must be incredibly cruel. I’m asking you to move on, knowing how much it pains you to hear it. But I must say it. You can’t stop here, Lily. You must live on.”
At those last four words, Lily lost her composure and turned, burying her face into Iris’ chest, sobbing uncontrollably while screaming into the cold metal of her lover’s torso. Iris soothingly patted her head, holding her close.
When Lily had calmed down sufficiently, she held Iris at eye level, making sure to burn every aspect of her appearance and her bearing into her memory. She would not forget. She would not permit herself to forget. When she was sure she had taken note of every little part of Iris’ appearance, she slowly nodded, biting back her tears. Iris smiled gratefully.
“Thank you for understanding, Lily.”
She reached out her hand, and her teacup moved across the table, coming to rest neatly in her hand. She took a sip and leaned her head on Lily’s shoulder.
“I still have a little time, so let’s chat for a bit. I’m sure you have questions to ask me.”
Lily nodded. Truthfully speaking, she was content simply to enjoy the feeling of Iris’ head on her shoulder, for one last time. But she knew that she had to show Iris she was willing to move on. She forced her characteristic curiosity into action, casting about for questions to ask.
“Where are we?”
“We’re inside me. Or more accurately, we’re inside you.”
“When you Extended into me – that was incredibly reckless of you, by the way, but it honestly makes me a little happy – you assimilated my core into yours. You now have two cores within you – your organic core and my synthetic core. This is… well, you could call it a visualisation of our shared core. You aren’t you. Or at least, you’re not the you that you think you are… if that makes sense. This body of yours is a magical construct, an embodiment of your magic. Just as this form you see before you is the embodiment of my magic. Both of us, right now, are just little packets of script floating around in the middle of a big core – yours.”
Lily paused to consider what Iris had said.
“Wait… you said I have two cores…? So… it worked?”
Iris gave Lily a sad smile.
“It did, just not the way you intended. Like I said, ‘I’ am dead. There’s no bringing me back. What you bound to your own core was the remainder of mine, the bits that weren’t destroyed – my mana intake and processing. My memories. My records. My archives. But not my ‘self’.”
“I suppose it was too much to ask for…”
Iris giggled and shook her head.
“No, what you managed to do – it was a miracle. Even with the self destroyed, our cores should have been too different to be able to combine into one. But somehow, you managed it. I can’t explain how you did it, since theoretically it should be impossible. I’d like to think that… it’s because we were so close, that I already considered you a part of me, and you likewise considered me a part of you. It’s entirely unscientific, but it’s… a nice thought.”
Lily nodded her head in agreement. Iris continued to speak.
“I… I won’t be able to be by your side, as I have all this time… and that’s… painful, to be honest. But… I’ll… my power, at least – my core, the rest of me – that, at least, will be with you always. We’ve been bound together in a way that’s… far beyond anything that I expected, and that’s… I think it’s beautiful. I just wish… I could be here with you to see what comes of it.”
Iris leaned to the side, resting her head on Lily’s lap. A touch of trepidation entered her voice.
“Lily… I’m afraid. I’m afraid of what’s going to happen to me. And I know I just told you that you have to move on, that you have to go on without me, so this seems a bit hypocritical of me… but I can’t help it. A part of me wants to stay here, with you, forever.”
“Then I shall stay here. Forever. With you. That’s what I want too.”
“But I can’t. I can feel it. The threads are unravelling. My awareness is unravelling. My time is coming, and quickly. I wonder what will happen then? Is there an afterlife? And if there is, will I be denied access to it? I am, after all, not truly a living being. Do I have a soul? Will it find peace? I’m curious about what awaits me, but I’m also scared. I’m scared that I’ll fade away into oblivion. I’m scared that I’ll disappear. I don’t… want to disappear.”
Lily ran her hand across the cold metal face that lay beneath her.
“Iris. You won’t disappear. You’ll always live on, inside me – both in my heart and in my physical body. I won’t let you disappear. I will remember you, even if nobody else doesn’t. I don’t know if there’s an afterlife, but if there is, and you’re denied entry… Wait for me. I’ll go up there and get you in. I’ll break down the gates if I have to. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of peace than you.”
“That’s because you’re biased and completely in love with me… as I am with you. Thank you.”
Iris started to fade, flickering in and out of existence. But Lily did not scream, or panic, or cry this time. She felt… a sense of fulfilled grief. She had gotten the chance to speak to Iris once more at least, before the end. It was not enough for her – nothing would be enough, short of resurrection. But it would have to do. This time she would see Iris off with a smile.
“Ah, it seems my time is almost up. I’m glad you were hard-headed enough to try this. If you hadn’t, we might not have been able to talk like this.”
Iris shifted slightly, moving her fingers upward to touch Lily’s face.
“Lily. I have a request to make. A final request, if you will. It’s to make sure you keep moving on, even without me by your side.”
“Anything. Anything at all. Just name it.”
Iris tugged gently, guiding Lily’s ear to her lips. There she imparted her dying request to Lily, who listened attentively. At the end, she silently nodded. It was an absurd request, but she was determined to see it through, for the sake of honoring Iris’ wishes.
Iris’ voice was growing fainter, her body growing lighter. Lily bent her head forward to kiss Iris on the forehead. As she did, Iris used her slender fingers to manipulate Lily’s lips toward her own, and Lily obliged without resistance, committing to memory the feeling of the last kiss she would share with her lover. Then, Lily found herself bent over empty space, the void atop her lap mirroring the void in her heart. She closed her eyes and listened carefully. A brief wind blew through this windless place, carrying feelings that she somehow knew were love and gratitude. Then the wind was gone. Then the table and chairs were gone. Then the whiteness was gone. Then Lily found herself back in that mass of nothingness and amber.