Until a week ago, there had only been a few times in Tamie’s life in which she had felt proud of herself.
All of them happened before she received her class.
The most important one was when mistress Royin first praised her for taking care of the younger children. That one had ended up influencing a good part of her life.
The other moments were similar, in that they revolved around things she had done because it made those around her happy. Things she had done so that she could feel like she belonged. So that she could feel like she really was home, despite the fact that she was different from everybody else in two key ways.
Her infirmity and her racial trait.
Both were cards she had been dealt at birth by Life and they had ruined her hand for the rest of the game.
When she was younger, she believed that being unable to stand was the reason she had been abandoned on the temple’s doorstep. It seemed like such an obvious fatal flaw in a world revolving around combat, after all.
However, the mistress eventually told her that, back when she had been found, the temple had been able to locate her biological mother. She was a notorious warrior who hadn’t even realized that the baby would grow to be unable to walk. What mattered to her was that her hidden lover was a human, and she didn’t think herself able to handle the shame of raising one.
With how small the number of people with such backward mentality was in this day and age, this was just another proof of Tamie’s bad luck.
Needless to say, she had declined to learn anything else about the woman who had brought her to this world.
She had been sad, but not for too long. She wouldn’t allow herself to wallow in self-pity, simply because she knew it was what others expected from her. Instead, she did her best to learn as much as possible about technopaths and fell in love with machines along the way.
Machines resembled people but were better than them.
They resembled them in how simple and complex they were at the same time.
They were better because as long as you took care of them, they would never abandon you.
She would sometimes dream of being noticed by a powerful mana gifted, but really had resigned herself to a monotonous life in the temple. She had no mana, after all. All she had was an incredibly frustrating class.
But now, things were different.
Now she had Hope.
Someone knocked, breaking her focus and causing all of the machine parts floating around her room to fall. She groaned as she thought of the potential damage they had received.
“Yes?” she hissed at the door. “I already spoke with the mistress!”
“It’s me, Edward. Can I come in?”
“Oh, sure!” she said as her scowl was replaced by a smile. “I missed Kirby! There’s so much I need to…”
Her smile froze and panic seized her heart as she realized the current state of her room and choked on her words.
The floor was a mess of neglected bolts and screws, machines of all size were laying on top of each other with their insides uncovered.
Her bed and desk were just other places on which the dissected content of her meticulously organized shelves had been savagely discarded.
It was chaos. Utter chaos. But that wasn’t the worst part.
I… I can’t remember the last time I showered, she thought with horror, causing her anxiety to reach new highs.
She was about to tell Edward to wait outside, but it was too late. He had already entered the room and, worst of all, was scanning it with his curious gaze.
It’s… It’s okay, she told herself. No, it’s bad, but since I’m older he won’t mention i-
“…The hell happened here?” he said. “Did you do this?”
“Please, stop looking around!” she almost screamed as she raised her hands to cover his eyes.
“Alright,” he said in an amused tone. “I’ll be gone soon anyway. I just came see what you’ve been doing with my mana. Also, did you get ether like Sarn did?”
The way he had voiced it brought her back to reality. His mana.
It was true, after all. All the joy she had experienced these past days were thanks to his investment.
All the excitement born from discovering what she could do. All the pride she had felt after each discovery. Maybe being a human wasn’t so bad after all!
But she was just a parasite feeding off this mysterious boy’s divine gifts.
“I did,” she said in a more measured tone. “Thank you, it helped me a lot.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said as he freed the chair of a pile of clothes. “What about our project? Did you do it?”
“Did I… Did I do it?” she said with disbelief.
If she told him she was far from being done, would he be disappointed and look for help somewhere else? Would he stop giving her mana?
“I, hum… I’ve progressed a lot but- here let me show you,” Tamie managed to say without paying attention to her rising fear.
She pushed her chair’s wheel and moved herself to the desk. She then proceeded to frantically move the pieces of junk away to reveal the sketch underneath. Edward helped with the heavier stuff.
Can I go back? she asked herself. Can I go back to how I was before?
She knew the answer was an absolute “no”, without even having to think about it. Her life had been devoid of meaning. A magic-less desert in the middle of a sea of gifted beings. It was fine before, but reverting to that after getting a glimpse of her potential…
It would kill me.
“I… have done a lot these past days,” she calmly said. “As you can see, I’ve dismantled all the machines I had in the room and retrieved their functions. For the most part, it was just different variations of functions governing the inner workings of a machine, so not much is immediately usable… But they will form the framework behind the weapon I planned to make for you.”
“Is this it?” he said with a nod toward the sketch.
“Yes, the first version of it.”
“What’s the scale?”
Panic. She had just gone with the flow and followed her inspiration. She hadn’t calculated the exact dimensions of the thing. But she could give an approximation.
“It’s going to be… big?” she tentatively said.
He raised a brow. “Big? How big? And is there a reason why you can’t make it already?”
Why did she feel so small when talking to him? There was no denying that an anomaly like him stood out from the crowd more than she did, but unlike her, he seemed to consider that difference… normal. Maybe that was what intimidated her.
“I cannot say for sure,” she said. “The size itself depends on the mechanism used and my proficiencies… And for why I haven’t made it yet… It’s because I can’t. First, because my level is too low. My class is great in theory but, it has many limitations… You know that it allows me to combine magic fueled machines, right? The result becomes an item I have to bring to existence with my “Create” command, and the number of created items that can coexist is limited to three. Unless those three items are used, I don’t earn much ether. Now, I guess we could fix that by having you use them, but that wouldn’t fix the main issue.”
“It’s… well, as you know, aura can only be pierced by aura itself or magic. Making an item able to do the same usually requires some metal with magical properties. And we do not have any.”
He cocked his head in confusion. “But you can create metal, right?”
“I can create metal I have trained with for years. And how well I can do it depends on my proficiencies… Which means that even if we got our hands on some magic metal, I doubt there would be enough…
She studied his features and saw him thinking over her words.
He’s going to say it. He’s going to say that this is all over.
“Look, I’m sorry,” she said with a shaking voice. “I have a few ideas, so I don’t mean to say that it’s impossible… but it’s definitely not a short time project…”
He put a hand on her shoulder.
“It’s fine, don’t worry so much about it. What about the silver from the Undermine, though?” he simply said. “It doesn’t have any magical… propriety?”
“Well, yes it does, but it’s not the kind of property we want,” Tamie said with a defeated wave of her hand. “I meant something like Blazing steel or Thunderbolt iron. The mine’s silver is called Sage silver and is only known for being a good magic conductor. It would only be useful if we had a mage.”
That seemed to catch his attention. “What do you mean?”
Oh angel, give me strength, she thought with disbelief. He’s not thinking of hiring a spellcaster, is he?
“Because mages have spells. Functions themselves are broken pieces of spells that have been packaged to work in a machine. I’m pretty sure the communication link I gave Kirby the other day was originally part of a telepathic spell… But I digress. If we had a mage, I could use one of his spell to attempt to create a new function and save us a lot of time. Depending on the spell, it could even be better than… What?”
“I might have a spell we could use,” he said as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
She blinked, not willing to believe she had heard him correctly.
“You? You have spells?”
“I do. But I’m not sure whether those I currently have will be compatible with a rifle or not. I’ll have to use the ether I saved and see if anything interesting comes up. Hopefully, it does.
He then stood and sighed, making her notice the exhaustion on his face for the first time since he had entered the room.
“Keep… doing whatever you’re doing,” he said. “I’ll see you later.”
He seemed to hesitate before adding, “Please, stop laughing so loud. I really need to sleep. And come on, take a shower Tamie.”
Ignoring words that would have scarred her for life in a different situation, she grabbed his sleeve as he was about to leave.
“Edward,” she said with a weak voice. Her mouth was dry.
There were a thousand of questions she wanted to ask. How many classes did he have? Who was he? What were his goals?
However, the answer to those questions did not really matter at that particular moment.
“If I do this,” she said. “If I make you a weapon able to pierce aura… will you take me as your personal machinist?”
He seemed confused by the question, “Why?”
“I’m a human. I don’t know what you really are, but I’m just human. There’s so much I want to do with my life, but without mana I can’t do anything. Without it I will be back to being useless.”
There is no way he will stay here, she thought to herself. Not this kind of person. He will leave as soon as he can.
“If there’s something this place has reminded me,” she heard him say. “It’s that the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence no matter where you go.”
What was he talking about? They were at the edge of a desert. There was no green grass here. Only rocks.
“How can you say that you are useless with all the people depending on you?” he said. “Get out of this room, go talk to the kids. I’m sure they miss you.”
“Me being useful to them, or anyone else, doesn’t mean I’m doing anything I consider worthwhile.
He gently grabbed her hand and made her let go.
“That’s true, but if you stick with me it’s very likely that you won’t live long enough to accomplish anything. Think about it some more, alright?”
Tamie chuckled. Where had her years of seniority gone?
“You will need someone to take care of the rifle anyway,” she said. “And no one can do that better than its creator.”
“Future creator,” he stressed, as he left.
She smiled and waved him goodbye.
What is there to think about?
He was telling her to weight a life of certain misery against a potentially fulfilling one. What could be so bad about dying in a blaze of glory? Edward might not see it, but the difference was obvious to her.
The difference was him.
The difference was Hope.