“Eh? Azoria? Wasn’t that place destroyed three years ago?”
Tate’s proclamation seemed to echo throughout their private room, repeating itself, over and over. Azoria. Destroyed. Lily did not move. Her hands froze. Her body locked up. Destroyed? Her home, destroyed? Why? How?
Catching a glance of her expression, Tate gasped and clamped a hand to her mouth.
“Wait… don’t tell me… you didn’t know? I thought everyone knew. They were all talking about it when it happened… oh!” Understanding leaked into Tate’s eyes. “Of course. You were away for three years, and nobody wants to bring it up… I’m sorry.”
Lily found the strength to shake her head ever so slightly. Iris clasped Lily’s hand and squeezed it tightly. Azoria… Destroyed… Her goal, since she forced herself to get up and live, had been to return to Azoria and fulfill her dream of being a machinist. Yet, now, she found that Azoria had been destroyed. She scorned the fragility of her hopes. What was she to do now? What was she to live for? That dream, the one that had kept her alive, was now forever unattainable. Refusing to accept this, she grit her teeth, and questioned Tate in a voice filled with tension.
“…How? How was it destroyed? Who?”
Tate, sensing the bitterness and desperation nested in Lily’s voice, instinctively shrank back. Nonetheless, she complied and began speaking in a soft voice.
“…Three years ago, some kind of commotion happened at the <<Labyrinth of Azoria>>. From what I heard, some high-level monster appeared on a new floor. Actually… now that I think about it… It was probably the <<Plated White Dragon>> that you fought. Given the timing.”
As she spoke, she slowly shifted back to a more comfortable position. Lily, however, remained still, listening intently, straining to catch any inconsistency which might suggest that Tate’s information was wrong.
“Anyway, after this high-level monster appeared, Vessel appeared after a few weeks. She started going to the high-ranking members of all the church, warning that the monster was just the first of a chain of terrible events that was to unfold. At first, these leaders dismissed her words as groundless. They were set in their ways, and could not agree with Vessel’s call for a unified front.
And then the demons started emerging from the depths of the <<Labyrinth>>.”
Lily blinked. Demons? That was a new phrase. Seeing her confusion, Tate offered an explanation.
“Demons are… a new existence. People like to compare them to Monsters, but really the only similarity is that there are many different types of them. Demons are a lot smarter, a lot more numerous, and by extension, far more dangerous. Their average level of intelligence appears to be equivalent to a human’s. Think of them as Monsters, but sentient, organised, smart, and more ruthless.
Three years ago, just a few weeks after the incident in the Labyrinth, Adventurers started seeing Demons in the lower levels of the Labyrinth. The first adventurers that encountered them believed them to be new species of monsters, and were all killed. Then they began to advance. Ranks upon ranks, full armies, organised armies, marched up the Labyrinth and steadily advanced, claiming ground, until the entirety of the labyrinth was under their control. This happened in just three weeks.
The leaders of Azoria created a blockade around the entrance to the labyrinth, but when the demons finally started attacking the city itself, Azoria’s forces were unable to stand against the larger Demon army, and was pushed back rapidly. They barely managed to evacuate all the citizens in time before the barricade fell.
The demons didn’t chase anyone who left the city, but they burned Azoria to the ground. The people who used to be citizens of Azoria fled to neighbouring countries, but the Demons began to expand throughout the continent.”
Lily shut her eyes. She knew how this was going to end. Jin-Asalys was a peaceful continent that had not known conflict for decades; no way they could be prepared for a sudden invasion. Even their adventurers were relatively low-ranked; being platinum rank in Jin-Asalys would have placed a person as one of the best in the land.
“All the other countries quickly fell. They tried to request aid from the adventurers of other continents, but the Demons moved faster than the help could arrive. By the time the other continents’ heroes had arrived, they were too late to do anything except aid evacuation efforts. The Demons had overrun the continent.”
“And what of Vessel? Did she not stand against the demons?”
Iris, intruding into the conversation, asked a question. Tate, surprised at her sudden question after such stoic silence, blinked rapidly to recover her composure, then responded.
“A-ah. At the time, Vessel was being incarcerated in a prison in a far-off continent for the crime of causing religious trouble. Naturally, after the news of the demon outbreak reached the ears of her captors, they released her at the request of a number of religious heads, but by then it was too late for her to do anything, as well.
The refugees who fled Jin-Asalys went to all the other continents, where various countries, listening to Vessel and the numerous Churches, offered safety as a show of sel- sil- soli-?”
“Yeah, that. Solidarity.”
Tate, whose retelling was being interrupted by her underdeveloped 13-year-old vocabulary, floundered, but was promptly assisted by Iris. Lily, however, was simply listening, eyes closed, troubled to the point where she could not even find it in herself to enjoy the endearing display of Tate’s child-like tendencies.
“So then all the people ran away from Jin-Asalys, and Jin-Asalys became known as the Demon Continent. Most people don’t really call the place by its name any more. Dad said it’s because they don’t want to remind the immigrants of their lost homes. So yeah, now it’s the Demon Continent, completely run by Demons. This all happened about two and a half years ago, but the Demons haven’t made any attempts to move beyond their continent, I guess. Still, the Churches rapidly united into a single Church shortly after that, led by Vessel. And they’ve been slowly recruiting more volunteer fighters, too, in case the demons eventually attack.”
Lily clenched her fists and grit her teeth in frustration. Tate’s story was uncomfortably believable. And the girl had no reason to lie to her.
…unless Tate did not wish to accompany her to Jin-Asalys. Lily regarded Tate with a gaze of suspicion. Perhaps it was all a lie to keep her from travelling so far. Perhaps Tate was just trying to convince Lily to stay in Saphiz. Tate met Lily’s glare with an uncertain look. Lily tensed up. Perhaps Tate was trying to obstruct her in some way. Perhaps Tate was an-!
A tight, firm squeeze of Lily’s hand calmed her down immediately. She glanced over to Iris in silent thanks, who returned a sad smile. Lily took a few deep breaths. There was no reason to suspect Tate. Tate’s explanation bore no hint of deception or malice. She massaged her forehead, trying to order her thoughts, when she felt a sudden spike in the vibration levels beyond their door. She let go of Iris’ hand and stood up abruptly, striding over to the door. Throwing it open, she bore witness to a large commotion, with patrons scrambling over each other to get to the door. She turned to the waiter, still standing alertly outside the door.
“What’s going on?”
“Ah, apologies for the disturbance, miss. It seems that Vessel is visiting Saphiz, and is about to walk past this restaurant.”
Lily tilted her head back, making eye contact with Iris and Tate, and beckoning them to follow. Then she turned to the main door. It was finally time for her to see this “Vessel” in person.