Lily hiccoughed as she slowly forced herself back into a standing position. She quickly wiped away the traces of her tears with the back of her palms, doing the best to force her strong guilt aside. What she had done in the past, what she had set in motion, the tragedies she had caused, were things of the past. No matter how she might regret them, no matter how much she wished to turn back time and stop herself, these acts had been committed and could not be undone. What else was there to do, then, but to move on? She had made that decision after seeing Azoria. She would live for the sake of the girls who stood with her, and for nothing else. If she was a sinner for what she did, she simply had to atone for it by making sure that those girls by her side could live happily. That resolve was unchanged.

She shook her head to clear it of the murkiness of self-admonishment and looked Victoria in the eye. Victoria, Tate and Roan were all looking at her with concern, but seeing the strength of her gaze return, Victoria and Roan smiled and relaxed. Tate alone continued to display a troubled face. Without saying a word, the younger girl walked up next to Lily and took her hand. Lily squeezed it thankfully as she forced herself to recover her composure, then spoke to Victoria.

“I’m okay now. Please continue.”

“Are you certain?”

“Yes. Please, carry on.”

“Alright then. A few days after the seal was broken, we sent out a scouting party to see how the world beyond the seal had changed. Unfortunately, while attempting to exit the dungeon, they ran into a group of adventurers.”

Victoria paused here and looked at Roan, who continued the story.

“Our side attacked first. The adventurers thought they were just new monsters, and acted accordingly. Naturally, the demons fought back. Both sides took losses, and retreated. On our end, the adventurers reported the demons as a new breed of monster: one more intelligent and more organised.”

“As for us, the scouts reported that the humans had taken hostile action on sight.”

“Hence, the Senate of Azoria ruled to quarantine the dungeon while they attempted to discern the nature of this new threat.”

“At the same time, our Demon King ordered us to occupy the Dungeon and evacuated guild building, as a defensive measure.”

Victoria and Roan took turns to explain the tale, each describing the events that occurred on their side of the conflict. Lily stayed silent and listened, knowing it was her responsibility to learn the outcome of her actions. Victoria was the next to speak.

“While we occupied the dungeon, the humans set up a defensive barricade outside the entrance to the guild. We still held hopes for peace, so we made no attempts to break through. Instead we sent a pair of messengers to propose an armistice to the Senate; we did not desire war. We merely desired free rein to walk among the humans and trade with them. We did not even desire land. We were content to live within the dungeon that had been our prison for millennia. But we wished to once again be allowed to walk the surface of the world.”

Here, Roan’s expression took on an angry tint, his fists clenching tightly as he spoke the next portion.

“So the Senate received the messengers from the demons. An offering of peace, without having to surrender our own assets, from an enemy with unknown capabilities that was not making aggressive moves. And what did the paranoid old idiots in that farce of a government do? Decided it was a trap. Killed both the messengers, burned the bodies in front of the dungeon as a reply.”

Victoria again took over, her voice calm and even, even as Roan began to seethe.

“Naturally, we did not take kindly to that reply. We considered it a declaration of war, and acted as that required. We began to push the barricade back, slowly at first, with many losses, but we kept gaining momentum.”

“The moment it became clear that the barricade would not hold for long, the Senate issued an order to evacuate the city. Of course, they were the first to leave. The rest of us were evacuated in waves to various towns, as well as to ports from which we would be taken to other continents. My group was ordered to wait in this town for the next wave of ships to flee the continent. The next wave of ships never came. We were abandoned.”

Roan spat on the ground, a thoroughly vulgar action that any academic not named Roan would have never dared to commit due to their pride. Lily did not dwell on the dignity of an academic for long, and instead asked an obvious question.

“So if the people had already been evacuated, why did the demons burn Azoria down?”

Victoria’s nostrils flared as her face took on an angered look, as though Lily had just insulted her pride – and perhaps she had.

“We did not burn your city down. Indeed, attempting to put the fires out was our highest priority. Unfortunately, magical flames are not so easily extinguished.”

Lily’s eyes narrowed. Magical flames? But based on Victoria’s actions at the gate, the demons had no magic. In that case, either Lily was being deceived, or…

“It was our Senate. They gave orders to raze the city down to the ground, with the demons still inside, after all the people were evacuated. ‘Depriving the invaders a foothold’ was the reason they gave.”

Roan delivered the explanation while kneading his forehead with one hand. Victoria nodded sadly. Lily felt irrational anger at the Senate’s actions rising within her. Such a foolish move served no purpose other than to protect the pride of the Senate. And they dared called themselves the leaders of a city of learning? What a farce. She looked at Roan, whose face had clouded with anger and frustration at the recollection of the Senate. The brief thought that Roan was perhaps aiding Victoria in deceiving her flashed across her mind, but she quickly dismissed the notion. As strange as Roan’s tendencies were, he was nothing if not honest. On top of that, the earlier stroll through the town had allowed her to see many humans speaking amiably with demons. She did not consider humans such noble creatures that they could so easily laugh with beings that had stolen their homes.

Lily cleared her head of her irrational anger. The Senate was far away by now, there was nothing she could do to them. Instead, she decided to focus on hearing the full story.

“So, you were evacuated to this city. So how did you come to end up living alongside demons? And what of my parents? Were they evacuated offshore?”

Victoria and Roan exchanged glances and smiled, though there was a hint of sadness amidst their smile.

“Half of this city, comprising of mostly the wealthy and the powerful, was evacuated with the first wave of ships. The rest of us were to wait for the next wave, which never came. The demons came to the gates, offering peace. Those of us from Azoria who had been privy to the Senate’s foolishness explained the misunderstandings and falsehoods to the others. In true Azorian fashion, we took a vote to decide whether we should accept the offer of peace. The vote came out just barely in favor of peace. And then the gates opened. That’s all there is to it. As for your parents, well, they were part of my evacuation group. They came here with me.”

Lily’s eyes widened. She stared at Roan, mouth agape in surprise. Victoria smiled and nodded.

“Indeed, this town owes a great deal to Nathan and Juria Voirgaire.”

Lily closed her mouth and nodded frantically, waiting for Victoria to continue.

“Soon after Azoria had been razed to the ground, the Demon King decided to send our forces out throughout the land, constructing friendships and mending ties. We were to stop at each town and village and extend the offer of peace. We were to leave those that refused alone, while establishing trade networks among those towns which agreed. Soon after this town opened its doors to us, groups of our kin began moving in to the town, which was now half-empty. We brought with us goods, knowledge, precious metals, ready to share them with our human neighbours.”

“Unfortunately, not all of us were willing to be good neighbours. If you’ll recall, the vote was extremely close. forty-nine to fifty-one, in fact. A good number of us weren’t all too willing to get along with these strange creatures. Several times, violence almost broke out. The first few months were pretty turbulent. And throughout those months, the names of Nathan and Juria Voirgaire became known to all.”

“Indeed. Each time tensions came to a head and either side seemed ready to take up arms, Nathan and Juria would appear and speak to the aggressors, reasoning with them. And to hear them speak was to understand so many things. They fought with words, not arms, and their words touched many.”

Lily found herself smiling in fond remembrance. Her parents, doctors by trade, had always been excellent elocutors. Both had been offered positions on the Senate on several counts, but they had always refused out of a general dislike for politics. Roan noticed the smile on Lily’s face and paused for a while before continuing, enough for her to indulge in the memory.

“Several times, Nathan and Juria came close to physical danger, at risk of losing their lives, but they never threw so much as a punch in return. Even with blades at their throats, they continued to speak, in favor of peace, friendship and new beginnings. I once asked Juria why they were trying so hard, why they were allowing themselves to face such danger. This was her reply: ‘Lily died in pursuit of her dream to make the world a better place. How could we face her in death if we did not campaign for a better future with at least this much fervor?'”

Roan looked sadly at Lily, who could feel a deep shame arising within herself.

You were wrong, mother. I’m not so noble. My reasons were far more selfish than that.

Lily swallowed her shame and prompted Roan to continue.

“And? What was the result of their efforts?”

“Over time, more and more humans came to accept the idea of living harmoniously amongst the demons. Within three months, the number of people who were still opposed to it had dwindled to less than three per cent of the population. Putting their ideals into practice, Nathan and Juria spent a good deal of time learning from the demon doctors, and the demons likewise spent a good deal of time learning from them. They set up a joint clinic with the demon doctors, where they treated any patients who came to see them, accepting as payment only as much as their patients could afford to pay. They saved many lives, human, elvish, nekoi and demon. They were well-loved and respected by all.”

Lily closed her eyes, imagining the scene. Her parents, tirelessly working to treat their patients, always wearing that gentle smile on their faces. She clenched her fists and asked the question she already knew the answer to.

“…Where are they now?”

Roan averted his gaze. Lily turned to Victoria, who did the same. Lily clenched her fists and fought back the grief that threatened to envelop her.

“Show me.”

Wordlessly, Roan got off his chair and led the way out of the workshop, with Lily and Tate following behind. Victoria took up the rear. The silent procession made its way through the streets and shops, to the fountain in the centre of the town square which stood exactly in the centre of the town. Standing proudly atop the fountain, carved from marble, were two statues in the likeness of Nathan and Juria Voirgaire. The ground surrounding the fountain was littered with fresh flower bouquets, and at the base of the fountain there was a single plaque, inlaid into the stone that formed the side of the fixture. As Lily knelt to read the inscription there, Roan explained.

“About six months ago. There was a plague. Nathan and Juria refused to shy away from its treatment, so naturally they caught the disease as well. Juria passed first, while holding a patient’s hand. She managed to hold out until the patient fell asleep. Nathan passed shortly after. His last act was to write down a guide to creating the antibody. He passed away on his desk, quill still in hand. They saved all of us.”

Lily barely registered Roan’s words. Her attention was focused on the plaque. The inscription was simple and plain, just how her parents would have wanted it.

In Remembrance of the gentle Nathan and Juria Voirgaire, and their daughter Lily, who gave their lives to make the world a better place.

For the second time in the brief span of an hour, Lily found tears spilling down her cheeks. This time, however, she did not scream, or sob, or cry out. Knees still on the ground, she turned her face upwards to gaze upon the statues, allowing the tears to silently stream down her face, looking like a supplicant looking up to their deity. Her heart was seized by a deep grief, a strange combination of sadness and pride. Tate stepped up to Lily and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. Yet it was not enough. Although she appreciated the gesture, Tate’s touch alone was not enough to ease this pain she felt. A face flashed across her mind, and as she knelt there with a great sadness holding her heart in a vice, she found herself wishing that it had been Iris by her side.