Lily was taken back to that day three years ago, back in the <<Labyrinth of Azoria>>. She recalled the terrifying sheen of the dragon’s scales, the way they glinted in the dungeon’s artificial light. She recalled their brilliant shine, their peerless lustre. To her, that shine was a signpost of death, a cause of suffering, a cause of pain. And here, before her, was that same shine. On the armor of this person, Vessel.
Her body shook. Her fists trembled. Her eyes narrowed as every muscle in her body tensed up, preparing to jump down and strike down this entity. Just as she was about to leap off the roof, however, she was stopped by the sensation of something warm pressing against her back and something soft touching her left temple. Iris had her arms around Lily’s torso, and was hugging her tightly, restraining and calming her. If Lily desired, she could have broken out of Iris’ hold with her superior strength, but Tate’s finger on Lily’s temple had done something. Her anger and fear did not disappear, but they were tinted with a mental lens of logic, and she recognised that she stood to gain nothing from attacking Vessel at this point in time. Her heart rate slowly stabilised, along with her breathing. She closed her eyes and took deep breaths, calming her nerves. Her anger burned brightly, but she did not feel the same impulsive urge to indulge it. She reached down and stroked Iris’ arms, which had already slackened their grip. Iris moved to release her, but Lily grabbed one arm and pressed it close to her abdomen, keeping Iris there. Behind her, she felt the warmth on her back increase ever so slightly. She then turned to Tate, who had since removed her finger.
“What did you do?”
The girl puffed out her chest proudly.
“I can block more than physical attacks! I can shield you from immaterial things, too! Like your own irrationality and impulsiveness, for example! Anything that could hurt you!”
Lily blinked. That was unexpected. She was re-evaluating the girl’s value with each passing moment. Every time she thought she had a handle on Tate’s capabilities, the half-Intelligent Weapon surprised her with something new. She finally allowed herself to smile.
“Thanks. I needed that.”
Tate’s face immediately flushed red, causing her to shuffle her feet around.
“I-I’m just doing my job, that’s all. If I don’t protect you from danger, it’ll hurt, so…!”
Lily nodded patronisingly, causing Tate to pout. She also tightened her grip on Iris’ arm, signalling that the statement was aimed at her, as well.
She looked back down to the crowd, where she saw Vessel’s head fixated in her direction. She stared into the mask’s eye design, but Vessel promptly turned back to face the crowd. Then the masked figure began to speak.
“Greetings, fellow journeyers. This Vessel extends her gratitude for your faith and confidence. This Vessel extends her gratitude for the pains you have taken to gather and witness. This Vessel prays for all of you, she prays that the great Lord <<Kuldevic>> may extend His blessings over all of you.
This Vessel sincerely wishes that she could simply end here, and grant her blessings. However, she cannot. For the great Lord Kuldevic has revealed unto this Vessel two visions. The first, a vision of the future. A terrifying, unsettling future. A dark, bleak destiny.
This Vessel was shown the shadow of a city. Which city, she could not tell. This city was burning. Flames engulfed it, buildings collapsed, crumbling to ash and rubble. People screamed. Children cried. Blood flooded the streets. Families barricaded themselves within their homes, but their doors were thrown open, their walls broken down. Throughout the streets, countless dark figures rampaged. Shadowy, indistinct figures of all shapes and sizes. The great Lord revealed to this vessel the cause of this tragedy: Demons.”
Here she paused, allowing the sudden wave of murmuring and fearful chattering in the audience to build. As she remained silent, the chatter slowly wore itself out and quieted as the crowd waited for her to continue.
“The great Lord revealed to this Vessel the nature of the attack. The destruction, the pillage, was wrought by demons. The enemies of the world that appeared three years ago. The enemies that drove the faithful out of the once-proud Jin-Asalys, turning it into the Demon Continent. In her vision, this Vessel saw the demons strike, unimpeded, burning down all, reaping life without hesitation. Leading them, directing their savagery, was a single dark figure. The figure radiated power, and the demons obeyed its command. The great Lord revealed to this Vessel another truth: This was the ultimate enemy of humanity and of the Gods. This was the leader of the demons, their lord and their hero: the <<Demon King>>.”
A whisper of confusion spread over the crowd as they absorbed the unfamiliar title.
“The <<Demon King>>. Lord of the demons. The strongest, most vicious, and cruel of them all. At its command, the demons armies move. At its direction, the demon armies pillage. By its leadership, the terrible vision will come to pass.
Yet! Fellow journeyers, not all hope is lost. For the Lord revealed unto this Vessel a second vision: A vision of hope, of triumph, of victory. For in this second vision, the Demon King upon its throne was confronted by a bright figure. At the gates of its castle, human, Nekoi, Elven armies moved, pressing the demons, steadfastly pushing on, unfaltering. And then, after a great duel, this Vessel saw the shadowy Demon King fall to its knees, pierced through by its opponent’s sword. As it lay dying, it let out a despairing cry. A cry, no doubt, lamenting the end of its dark intentions. And then a bright light broke through the darkness, and the land was filled once again with warmth.
This is the second vision which this Vessel was shown. This Vessel was then told of this: Both these visions may yet be fulfilled. If the races of the earth are able to band together, they shall achieve victory. The second vision will come to fruition. If, however, the world remains divided, and does not stand against this threat, the first vision will be fulfilled. The civilised races will be pushed back. They will burn.
Now, fellow journeyers. This is a dire moment in the history of this world. The three races must stand as one. No distinctions. No divisions. All races, all classes, all genders, all beliefs. All must band together as a united front, as a single body.
Those of you who possess wealth. Share it with those who starve. Those of you who possess knowledge. Share it with those who seek. Those of you who possess power. Lend it to those without. Those who have, share with those who do not. Those who do not have, take heart and be grateful always to those who share what they do. Do this, and the blessings of the Lord Kuldevic will certainly shine upon your life. Band together, fight together, stand together, and the demon threat will be defeated.
This Vessel humbly requests your aid. This Vessel humbly requests your faith. This Vessel has been tasked by the great Lord with a divine mission: She is to lead an army of the faithful to the demon continent, and lead a campaign to reclaim this territory in the name of the great Lord Kuldevic. The campaign will last a long while, and will be perilous, but this Vessel has faith that the strength of the world will succeed, will triumph.
Once again, this Vessel asks all of you who are willing: Join her, join her campaign, join her in carrying out the work of the great Lord Kuldevic. May His divine light shine down upon this world!”
A great roar erupted from the crowd as Vessel descended slowly, laying her hands on each member of the crowd. Human, Nekoi and Elf. Members from all races shouted their conviction and held hands, affirming their unity. Rich merchant joined hands with disheveled beggar. Elven woman affirmed her faith alongside Nekoi man. People all reached out to touch Vessel, not clambering over each other like during the procession, but all quietly reaching out, some of the taller people lifting up the shorter ones and the children so they could reach. In the doorway to the church, clergy members stood by, stacks of paper in hand, presumably to allow the faithful to join the campaign.
Lily looked on the scene, her face betraying no emotion. Without a word, she turned around and dropped off the rear of the inn, entering the inn by its back door. On the roof, Tate was about to follow her down, but Iris placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder, stopping her.
“Sorry, but I think Lily’s in kind of a weird place now. Are you alright with going home for now? I’ll accompany you there, and we’ll come meet you again tomorrow, once Lily’s had some time to sort herself out. OK?”
“Oh! Uh, sure. I don’t really need you to bring me home though. Shouldn’t you be with her? You two have that kind of relationship, right?”
Iris blushed and giggled.
“Well, not really. But it’s best to leave her alone for now, I think. Besides, she’d be worried out of her mind if I let you go home unescorted.”
Tate tilted her head quizically, but nodded and started running along the rooftops, in the direction of her home. Iris tilted her head back and gazed at where Lily had jumped off.
“…She’s that sort of kind-hearted girl, after all.”
Then she turned and ran to catch up with Tate.