As Lily walked through the open doors, accompanied by Tate, with Victoria following closely behind, she stopped almost immediately, shocked by the scene before her.
The road was made of stone, with the buildings lining each side averaging about two stories high. The buildings followed the brick-and-mortar construction of the buildings back in Azoria, and the overall impression the street gave was one of neatness. People milled about the streets, going about their daily business. Further down the straight path, she could see the bustle of a market. Along the sides of the street were storefronts, selling a variety of goods and services. Above the roads, clotheslines were strung across open windows, providing a linen canopy for the street. Occasionally, a group of children would run across the street, laughing and shouting. Shopkeepers, sitting outside their stores, made small talk as they waited for customers. It was the very picture of a peaceful, bustling town.
What captured her attention, however, were the people. From what Lily could observe, there were two types of demons living in this town. One type had horns protruding from their foreheads, and was the type to which their escort Victoria belonged. The other type was hornless, but instead had a pair of reptilian wings sprouting from their backs. As she watched, one such winged demon, a woman, flew out of a second floor window and hovered in the air, retrieving laundry from one clothesline. Almost every person Lily could see had either horns or wings.
Almost every person.
The winged demon woman took down every piece of laundry from the clothesline, then flew over to the window across the street from the one she had exited. She rapped on the window and hovered for several seconds, before it opened. Leaning out from the open window, a human woman received half the pile from the demon with a grateful smile and invited the demon into her home, an offer the demon accepted.
A human woman.
The surprising presences were not limited to humans – amidst the people in Lily’s field of vision, mingling with the crowds of demons, were elves and nekoi. A group of children ran across the street, playing tag. The chaser was a nekoi boy. The ones running were a mix of human, elvish, and horned demon children. An elvish girl tripped and fell, and was promptly helped up by demon boy with a small, barely visible horn on his head.
Lily and Tate were as statues of ice, unmoving. As the disbelief thawed, Lily shook her head in amazement. She felt a hand on her shoulder. Startled, she turned to face Victoria, who bore a look of concern as she spoke.
“…Miss Voirgaire, is something the matter?”
If Lily had been in a more settled state of mind, she would have been careful to choose her words in response. But shocked as she was by this development, she immediately said the words that came to her mind.
“…This is wrong.”
Victoria’s eyes narrowed and her tone grew sharp.
Lily, in her state of confusion, explained her train of thought. She was not in the right frame of mind for wordplay and hidden meanings.
“…You demons drove us from our homes. You burned Azoria to the ground. You killed our people, forced us to flee abroad. How, then, is this scene, this… peace, not wrong? You’re supposed to have killed all the survivors! We’re supposed to resent you! So… So why are you living peacefully with us, with humans? It’s wrong!”
Toward the end of her outburst, Lily raised her voice, increasing in volume until she ended with a shout. Several heads turned in her direction, but they returned to their business as Victoria bowed apologetically. When she raised her head again, there was a dark expression on her face.
“Miss Voirgaire, may I remind you that you are not to make trouble throughout the duration of this visit. What you spoke is hate-mongering, and shall not be tolerated. I will overlook this instance, but if you do something like that again, I will draw my sword.”
Lily glared at Victoria angrily, then averted her gaze and nodded, ashamed at her lack of control. Victoria’s expression relaxed, and took on a tinge of sadness.
“Still, if that is what they told you… I suppose they have no intention of making peace. ‘Tis a shame indeed.”
Lily’s eyes narrowed. Victoria’s words suggested that there was more to the story than what Tate had heard. Ever since finding out that the demons were civilised, Lily had held doubts, but there was no doubt that Azoria had been razed. Lily found her curiosity about the true sequence of events three years ago growing ever stronger. Victoria certainly noticed Lily’s unspoken queries, but she shook her head.
“‘Twould be better for you to hear from one of your own than from me.”
Lily held Victoria’s gaze for a while, then sighed and turned to Tate. Tate’s confusion and curiosity were evident on her face. She, too, wished to know the truth of what had transpired. Lily turned to Victoria.
“Very well. It seems we shall need to take a detour. We had intended to head for the metalworkers’ immediately, but now I think Tate and I are both of the same mind in first discerning the truth of the invasion from a human.”
Victoria smiled playfully.
“Oh, there’s no need. The town’s leading metalworker is a human.”
“Oh? Very well then. Could I trouble you to lead us to him?”
Lily and Tate were led through the many streets of the town, crossing numerous junctions. As they passed, they were subjected to a number of curious looks, but the number of those were insignificant compared to the number of friendly waves and greetings directed at Victoria. It seemed the demon woman was well-liked in this town, among its demon and non-demon residents alike. After several moments of walking, having crossed into the Northern quarter of the town, they came to an open workshop with no signage. The workshop took the space of three storefronts and was filled with anvils, furnaces, cauldrons, and a number of other tools used for metallurgy. Scattered around the space was a number of young, muscular men, their numbers a mix of human, nekoi and demon. Each seemed to have an allocated area, and was working on some project or other.
Lily smiled and snuck a glance at Tate. As expected, the girl’s eyes were aglitter, and a small line of drool was beginning to form at the corner of her mouth. Lily held her hand over her mouth to disguise her muted laughter as Victoria stepped into the workshop. In the middle of the workshop, in the largest space, stood an older man, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to display his well-toned muscles. His bald head glistened with sweat. He was intently working on hammering out a lump of molten ore, but immediately looked up when Victoria stepped into his shop. This revealed that his right eye was milky and clouded, which confirmed Lily’s suspicions. He seemed to not have noticed Lily and Tate, and was instead focused on and speaking to Victoria.
“Ah, Victoria. Always a pleasure. How’s that new sword holding up?”
Victoria smiled as she patted the sheath of the sword on her hip.
“It’s an excellent weapon. The swordsmith you recommended was uncommonly skilled.”
The man laughed heartily.
“Well, that’s good to hear. I’ll be sure to pass that on to him. So, what brings you here today? Oh, I don’t suppose you want a shield to go with that sword?”
“Oh, no. I’m not used to fighting with a shield. That’s not my purpose. I’m actually here today to introduce new clients. The two ladies standing over there.”
At Victoria’s direction, the man raised his gaze and regarded Lily and Tate. Tate quickly gave a bow, flustered. The man erupted into laughter again.
“Ladies, you say? I’d say that one’s a bit too young to be called a lady. So, what can I do for you-”
The man stopped mid-sentence, eyes wide in shock. The look on his face was as though he had seen the dead returned to life. Lily said nothing, watching the man. His single good eye shifted up and down as it took in her appearance, lingering on her green hair and her eyes.
Seeing this, Victoria smiled sadly and spoke to the man.
“It seems these two would like to melt down their coins into pure gold. The younger one’s name is Tate, and the taller lady’s name is-”
The man finished Victoria’s sentence for her, whispering Lily’s name as though it were the name of something fragile and precious. Lily allowed the corner of her lip to turn upward into a smile as she finally spoke.
“It’s been a long time, Professor Roan.”