“Mother…? Is that…?”

Prei took a tentative step forward, her eyes fixed on Lily’s left pauldron. Lily followed her gaze and touched the pauldron, tracing the closed lids on the face of the girl whose faced was displayed there. Lily moved her gaze down, taking in the rest of her body. She had been given no chance for input on the appearance of her body, all of that having been decided by the last remnants of Iris’ will. The face of her lover on her shoulder struck her as vaguely distasteful, but she could also appreciate Iris’ intention to make sure Lily would always remember her. The rest of her body was unlike any kind of conventional armor she had seen – not that it was armor in the first place. It was not simply fused to her skin – it had replaced her skin. This was a set of armor she would never be able to remove. Searching through the memories she had inherited from Iris, Lily understood that Iris had intentionally chosen this form – this way, she would always be with Lily, she would always be able to protect Lily, even though she herself was gone.

Lily held off on responding to Prei’s question – she was preoccupied with trying to organise and sort the wealth of information she was now presented with. Looking around her, she could see the strands of ManaScript that permeated the world. She had previously been able to perceive these strands by Extending into the flow of magic around her, but she had never been able to see them so clearly; she had never been able to physically grasp them. She reached out and touched one of the many orbs of magic that surrounded her, made of hyper-dense mana, layer upon layer of script. She grasped it in her hand, and as she did, she felt it being absorbed into her. As she learned to recognise the feeling of taking in magic, she quickly realised that she was unconsciously drawing a constant stream of mana into herself from her surroundings – no doubt, the work of Iris’ core. Her own core. Turning her attention back to the orbs, she touched another one, and was surprised to find that it was her own mana. More specifically, it was the mana that her current, composite core produced. It must have been dispersed when her transformation completed. Glancing around, she noted that a great many of these orbs were floating around – she had dispersed a lot of magic into her surroundings. She briefly contemplated absorbing the numerous orbs, but paused when she saw the ethereal beauty it lent the ruins of her home. That home might have been destroyed, but perhaps this surreal beauty, this magical illumination, could serve as the perfect funeral dirge for their lost happiness. Having thus grown accustomed to the wealth of new inputs, Lily then turned to Prei.

“Yes. This is Iris.”

“Is she…?”

Lily shook her head.

“She’s gone. All that’s left of her is her power… and her will.”

“Her… will?”

“This form is the manifestation of her will. In her last moments, she wanted nothing more than to protect me.” This she knew from her access to Iris’ memories. “Now she will protect me for the rest of eternity.”

Eternity, because Lily knew that she was no longer human. Her body was…different. She could feel the flow of magic within her body, and she knew that she no longer had organs. Much like Iris’ own body, her body was currently filled with pure magic. The only organic component of her body she could find was her heart. Even that had changed. Instead of pumping blood, it pumped magic throughout the entirety of her body. She was changed, without and within. Thanks to her threefold nature as organic, inorganic, and angelic, she could no longer age. This she knew instinctively. All the better to accomplish the task Iris had left her.

Prei finally overcame the shock of Lily’s new appearance and asked the next question on her mind.

“So… it was successful? Your… experiment.”

Lily nodded.

“I have Iris’ memories, knowledge, and core. All that’s missing is… Iris herself.”

Another wave of grief threatened to overwhelm Lily, but she kept it at bay. Searching for a means to distract herself, she decided to try her new weapons. She felt slots in her back open up, the Varia that Iris was so proud of spilling out of them and moving around excitedly. Previously, while she had been able to control the Varia by Extending into them, she now felt them as extensions of her will. She did not have to directly control their movements, but they instead obeyed her general intentions, allowing her to direct them without conscious thought. She focused on her leg, and opened a compartment in it, revealing one of Iris’ guns. She grasped it and levelled it at a section of the forest that had not been burned in the battle between Iris and Vessel.

She decided on one faraway tree as a target and noticed her mind subconsciously running the calculations. The scenery before her suddenly blurred and she was assailed with a headache as she was struck by an extreme case of double vision. She shut her left eye – her organic eye – and was rewarded with the disorientation disappearing immediately. With her right eye, she could see everything in a higher degree of clarity. She saw the faraway tree as clearly as if it were right in front of her. A small white circle appeared in her vision, centered on the tree, and lines of numbers and manascript scrolled across the side of her vision, recording the calculations her mind was doing. She found her arm correcting her aim based on these calculations, making subtle movements that she would have found impossible to consciously perform. She squeezed the trigger, and felt a slight drain on her mana reserves as a massive blast of mana erupted from the weapon, completely vaporising a wide swath of greenery. Yet, just as quickly as she felt her mana drain out, she felt it being replenished from the mana present in the world around her.

Prei understood her mother’s demonstration of power to be an attempt to distract herself from her loss, and thus she decided not to press the matter, instead focusing on the power Lily had attained – and what power it was. Iris and Lily were each powerful in their own right, but now Lily had all of Iris’ power, in addition to her own aptitude and her unnatural genius. Prei found herself pitying any opponent who would choose to battle her mother. Her gaze fell on Lily’s wings, unnaturally still.

“Where did the wings come from, though? Iris certainly never had any wings.”

That was the first question Lily had pondered upon emerging from her amber chrysalis. Having searched through both Iris’ and Sarah’s memories, however, she had found the answer.

“They’re Sarah’s. The remnants of Sarah’s power. When Iris absorbed Sarah’s power, she should have gained these wings, but as an inorganic, they lay outside of her intended functions, and thus were incompatible with her core. That’s why she never grew these wings. My core, however, is still partly organic. So I don’t have that problem.”

“Do they even work? They seem rather… inflexible.”

To demonstrate that they did in fact work, Lily jumped into the air. At the height of her jump, her wings flared to life, a magical amber membrane forming between the spokes of the skeletal frame, ending in a spray-like dispersion of mana at the edge of each pane. The wings propelled her upwards, then spread outwards, allowing her to hover in one spot. Surprised, Prei jumped up and quickly joined Lily at her higher altitude. Insatiably curious, Prei found herself poring over the wings, trying to find their secret.

“Dare I ask how they work?”

Lily, ever the scholar, quickly answered.

“It’s rather complex, but basically… Your wings generate lift by flapping, yes? These wings replace flapping with the forceful dispersion of mana. Mana is constantly ejected at high frequency with high density, creating the lift necessary for me to stay in the air. So I can fly indefinitely, and adjust my speed with a thought.”

“…I must admit, I’m a bit jealous. I can’t fly indefinitely, as you very well know.”

Lily laughed and ruffled Prei’s hair. If Prei had closed her eyes, she could have almost imagined that nothing had changed, that Iris was still alive and well. But Prei could see an edge of sadness in her mirth. It wasn’t as bright, as warm as it used to be. Prei felt a pang of pain as she realised that her mother might never be truly happy again. But she said nothing, and allowed her head to be accosted. After a while, Lily stopped laughing, a serious expression spreading across her features. In a low voice, she spoke.

“Well then. Shall we go?”

“Go where?”

“Toward Riasode. Toward vengeance. Toward the future.”

With that, Lily took off in the direction of Riasode, flying at a constant speed that she had calculated would be comfortable for Prei. Prei turned her gaze downward, casting one last gaze at the ruined remains of their home, marvelling at the ethereal illumination of the orbs of magic, like so many wisps of light. She briefly wondered what an outsider would think. If some wanderer, hopelessly lost in the forest, chanced upon this scene, what would they think of it? Would it be as beautiful, as surreal, as it was in this moment? Then she turned away from the remnants of their peaceful distraction and followed Lily’s lead.