Back when Lily had been a student in the University of Azoria, she had taken a module in metallurgy, to satisfy the module prerequisites for other higher-level material-based Machinery modules. After all, one could hardly work with metals unless they had a basic understanding of how alloys were made and what properties they possessed. The head of metallurgy at the University had been one Professor Roan.
Professor Roan was a genius, discovering several revolutionary methods of refining ore and creating numerous new, useful alloys. However, as academics went, calling him an eccentric one was an understatement. He loathed sitting behind a comfortable desk, claiming that the best research and learning was done through hands-on trial and error, a claim that was hard to dismiss given that he was blind in one eye due to one too many miniscule shards of molten metal finding a home within his eye socket. This hands-on philosophy was fully incorporated into his teaching methods. He had a workshop on-campus, and students who took his classes would be required to gain practical experience working with metals. It was during that singular module that Lily had learned the basics of how to refine ores and forge objects from metal. Although she had not carried on with Roan’s classes after that single module, Roan had taken a liking to her, and often supplied her with refined metals or untested alloys for use in her personal projects.
Lily had presumed Roan dead along with her parents and most of her friends, given what she heard had become of Azoria. Therefore, to see him here, at ease, working away in a workshop as he always had, was a surprise that struck her with a wave of nostalgia. She stepped into the workshop, saying nothing, until she was directly in front of Roan. Tate followed her, keeping five steps behind Lily, and likewise stayed silent. Finally, Roan broke the silence.
“It’s you, isn’t it. The young miss Voirgaire. I thought you were dead. We all thought you were dead. You’ve… grown. You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you? Those arms must bear quite the tale.”
Lily continued to say nothing, but her face clearly displayed her happiness at encountering a familiar figure. Roan pulled up a stool and sat on it, wonder and shock keeping him from speaking. They stayed in silence for several seconds, before Lily finally spoke.
“Professor Roan. Tell me what happened in Azoria. What happened after I went to the Labyrinth. I’ve heard what the refugees who fled this land have said, but it seems I’ve been deceived. Exactly what transpired?”
Roan wiped the sweat from his brow and closed his eyes, as if reminiscing. A pained expression came across his face. Then he looked Lily straight in the eyes and spoke.
“After you went into the dungeon, we never heard from you again. Three days passed, then a week. You went in, and never came out. Nathan and Juria were worried out of their minds.”
Lily felt a strong pang of guilt at the mention of her parents’ names. She had left them with such a perfunctory goodbye, and never got to see them again. How much pain must they have felt, waiting for their daughter, who would never return? She had presumed them dead or lost to her when she had heard about Azoria – even if they had fled with the refugees, she had no way to find them. To prevent herself from mourning, she had convinced herself that they were alive somewhere, living as refugees, safe from danger. However, since Roan was here, it was entirely possible that her assumption was true. For if he had survived, surely her parents had, as well. Lily resisted the urge to ask after their whereabouts, and instead let Roan continue.
“After nine days, as was the common practice, a search party was organised to look for you. When they reached the lowest floor, they couldn’t find you, or anyone else. All they found were bodies of the party of adventurers known as <<Battleforged>>, dried blood as far as the eye could see, and a pair of severed legs.”
Roan paused his tale to look at her legs, then her clearly visible metal arms, before returning to the narrative.
“Under those circumstances, the Guild had no choice but to declare you as dead, possibly eaten by a monster. Your parents were devastated. They wouldn’t leave the home or talk to anyone unless strictly necessary. It was like they had lost any reason to live.”
As Lily heard of her parents’ pain, tears came to her eyes. Her relationship with her parents was not bad by any measure, but neither was it very good. She loved them, certainly, and knew they loved her, but took it as a matter of fact. Hearing how they reacted to her apparent death, it caused her no small amount of guilt at the fact that she doubted she would grieve as strongly if their situations were reversed.
“There wasn’t a lot of time to grieve. Just a few weeks after the search party returned, the first reports of the demons arrived.” Roan looked to Victoria, signalling for her to continue. She sighed and carried on the explanation.
“We demons have been sealed within the Dungeons for centuries. Every dungeon has one clan of demons sealed within it. The Labyrinth of Azoria sealed away my clan, the Horned clan of demons.”
“Wait, sealed away? In the dungeons? Why?”
Lily interrupted the story to ask a crucial question. If the Dungeons were meant to seal away demons, that would explain why they existed. But the question was, if the demons had been sealed away long ago, what was the reason for sealing them away? Victoria bit her lip in frustration as she replied.
“…I don’t know. None of us know. All the legends speak of are a ‘Great Transgression’ committed by our ancestors millenia ago. Any records of what this ‘Transgression’ was have been lost. For ages, we were imprisoned for a crime we knew not the details of.”
Lily narrowed her eyes, but motioned for Victoria to continue. The demon’s frustration seemed genuine, and in any case, it was not crucial information for Lily to know.
“In any case, three years ago, our seal was broken. We don’t know who did it or how, but it woke up the beasts that had been placed to guard us, great creatures known as Dragons, and… Miss Voirgaire, are you quite alright?”
Lily’s face had paled considerably in an instant, the air seeming to turn cold around her. She fought back an urge to cry out in despair. She cursed her foolishness. She scorned her ambition. The truth was a chisel, and Lily’s own intellect was the hammer which drove it repeatedly into her heart, a heart that had frozen in terror, becoming fragile as ice. The large workshop they stood in had no walls, yet she felt a feeling not unlike being trapped in a small space. Her mind contained but a single realisation, echoing over and over and over and over.
It was my fault.
Her mind thought back to the day when her world had changed forever. She vividly remembered breaking through something using her Extension, back in the dungeon. It had caused her immense pain, and the Dragon had attacked soon after. Coupled with what Victoria had just mentioned about the seal being broken around the same time, there was only one logical conclusion: Lily had broken the seal.
It was my fault.
It was her recklessness that had caused her to break the seal. It was her foolish naivety that had caused her to throw caution to the wind. She had broken the seal, she had awoken the dragon, she had released the demons. It was Lily’s fault the humans had to flee the continent. It was Lily’s fault that Azoria had been burnt to the ground. It was Lily’s fault that Hina was dead.
A tear gathered at the side of Lily’s eye and fell. Then it was joined by another. Then another. Then by sobs. Then by choking. Lily crouched down, head in her arms, face ruined by tears, mouth contorted in a muffled scream of anguish.
Everything was my fault.