The day after the party left the demon-populated village behind, Tate brought up the topic at dinner.
“…So, that village was filled with demons, huh.”
Lily was reminded of her flash of impetuous anger and her subsequent deflation.
Silence passed for a while. Then Tate spoke again.
“They were a lot less… monstrous than I thought.”
Lily closed her eyes and thought back to the description of demons Tate had given her. Monster-like, but intelligent and organised. Rising out of the depths of the Dungeon, they had quickly overwhelmed the non-demons, forcing them to flee the city. Within a short time, the continent had been overrun by demons, forcing the survivors to seek refuge in other lands. The tale painted them as efficient, terrifying enemies who could not be stopped. It was certainly different from what they had seen in the village. Though they had not gotten close enough to be certain, the demons in the village seemed entirely peaceable. As the silence began to settle over the campsite again, Tate hurriedly broke it with an appended observation.
“It was just like a human village, wasn’t it?”
Certainly, from a distance, Lily had mistaken it for a human village. She wondered briefly if she would have felt the same rage had she not made that initial wrongful assumption. Perhaps if it had been only anger, rather than a combination of anger and despair, she might not have felt such an intense urge to slaughter the village’s residents.
Tate, realising that her attempts to create conversation were falling flat, quieted and pulled a big bite out of a chunk of the single deer they had been able to catch with Prei’s magical spears. Being a large animal, the deer would likely be able to sustain the party for about two days before going bad, meaning that they could rest assured about their food situation for the next two days, at least. Possibly more if they could find a way to preserve the game. Tate chewed down her portion of deer meat, face flushing red at embarrassment over her failed attempts to initiate small talk. Feeling bad for the girl, Lily decided to respond in a satisfactory fashion.
“…It makes you wonder what kinds of lives they lead, right?”
Tate immediately jerked her head up, eyes sparkling with grateful tears, overjoyed that Lily had noticed her embarrassment and taken steps to give her a chance to regain her dignity.
“Yeah! Like what kind of food they eat, or what kind of games they play, or what their houses look like! Maybe they only eat human meat! Well, that’s not really possible since there have been no humans on this continent for two years… Maybe they only eat vegetables? And what do the kids play? Maybe their games are, like, all super bloody and vicious! And their hobbies, do you think they have the same kind of hobbies we do? What about their language? Do they speak Gam, or maybe they speak a special language that only they know? There’s so many things we don’t know, and we’re just being told they’re evil, and we’re being told that they’re our enemies. It all seems like, I don’t know, a waste, I guess.”
Lily’s response had caused Tate to begin chattering, spilling out everything on her mind. As she spoke, Lily nodded in agreement and gave sounds of encouraging assent at the opportune moments, but she was largely only listening to about half of what Tate was saying. The area where her mind wandered, however, was the topic of their discussion: details about the lives of the demons.
Truthfully, after her initial rage and grief had dissipated, Lily found herself highly curious about the demons, pondering the very same questions that Tate was asking. Despite her life having been turned inside out, despite learning to fight, Lily was still very much an academic and craftswoman at heart. She was naturally curious, with a strong desire to learn. A thirst for knowledge burned deep within her soul. It was this thirst that fueled her wish to learn more about the demons.
The existence of demons could be taken as the introduction of another race to the world, alongside humans, elves and nekoi. There was so much to learn about them: their habits, their culture, their language, their histories. It would be a different matter if they were simply a more intelligent form of monster, as Tate’s initial explanation – fed to her by the Church – had led her to believe. But she had seen for herself that the demons had culture, had family, had society. They were not merely intelligent monsters, they were a sentient existence on the same level as humans. As Tate had remarked, simply labelling them as enemies without taking the time to learn about them and their culture seemed incredibly wasteful. But the Church only declared the demons as monsters, and spread fear and misinformation about the demons’ true nature.
This train of reasoning led Lily to a simple conclusion. The Church wished the demons eradicated. They could not afford to allow the demons to live, and their conviction in this matter was strong enough to justify to themselves the act of deceiving their followers. This naturally led to a simple question: Why did the Church desire to completely eliminate the demons in this manner? This question had a number of answers, but Lily narrowed the plausible options down to two: the first, that the Church detested the demons on an ideological level. Still, given that the demons had only surfaced in the last three years, the likelihood that the Church’s religious dogma pit them against the demons was low. There was the possibility that Vessel’s presence might have had a hand in it, but then the question turned to what her objective was. This was a question which Lily could not answer, so she focused on the next most likely answer: that the Church feared the demons. Perhaps, in some way, the demons’ existence posed some sort of threat to the Church. But why, then, were they a threat?
As Lily pondered these questions, she noticed that Tate had seemingly exhausted her questions and had returned to eating her deer meat in silence. Lily chuckled and quickly finished off her own meal. Academic curiosity aside, the matters of how demon society functioned and why the Church wished to eliminate them could be left for later. With her meal complete, she lay down and stared at the sky, watching the stars. She held a hand above her face, observing its darkened silhouette against the brightly lit moon. She drove the distracting thoughts from her mind as she clenched her open palm tightly into a fist. She had a far more immediate goal, one she had been working toward ever since she returned to this world. She would focus on that, for now. Any further questions or inquiry could follow after that.
First she had to make her way home.