Fight or Flight
Lily took a moment to process what Prei was saying before her eyes narrowed, her mind throwing off any hint of sleepiness as she assumed a proper mindset for crisis management. First off, assess the threat. She began probing Prei for more information.
“Humans? Friendly or hostile? Are they here to fight or to treat?”
The mention of the sheer numbers made the latter unlikely. One did not bring along an army to a negotiation. Doing so implied either a threat, a rejection of negotiation, or both. Prei responded quickly and concisely, the way she knew Lily wanted her to.
“Hostile, unfortunately. They’ve already begun attacking several of the smaller cities nearer to the coastline. We found out about the incursion from messengers dispatched from the falling cities. They’re not as fast as I am, so it’s possible that the army has pushed further inland since then.”
Lily turned to Tate, who nodded and procured a rough map of the continent. She spread it out on the bed, then looked to Prei.
The map was a perfect circle, similar to the shape of the continent itself. In the center were the ruins of Azoria – what had become the demon capital. Surrounding it were several larger towns, such as Riasode. Further out, becoming more scattered but more numerous as they branched outward, were a number of smaller towns and villages. The edges of the continent were surrounded by vast forests and high mountain ranges, leaving only two places where ships could conceivably make land: a small gap between mountains on the Southern end, and a larger bay in the Northern end, serviced by a port city. The area Lily’s family had made land was the Southern end, but the area Prei now pointed to was the Northern bay. It was likely that the sheer size of the landing force made it necessary to use the Northern landing point.
“They took out the Port City Lumiere, then marched inland, taking out several smaller villages here, here, and here. The messenger that came to us was from Viraet, over here. He said he left while the city was being attacked, so it’s likely it’s already fallen.”
Prei pointed to each location as she spoke, tracing a clear inland path that was headed toward the capital. The last city she pointed to was one which was about an eighth of the way to the capital. They would take a while, but them reaching the capital was an inevitability. Lily had no particular love for the capital, so that issue was of little concern for her. The issue, however, was what lay on the warpath. She narrowed her eyes, scrutinising the map. As a defensive measure, the capital was surrounded by a ring of larger cities, three to the North and four to the South. Riasode happened to be one of the Northern three cities. Given the trajectory of the humans’ inland movement, they would undoubtedly pass through Riasode. She raised a question to Prei.
“You said they ‘took out’ several cities. What do you mean by that?”
Prei’s voice had remained neutral and calm throughout her explanation thus far, but now she allowed an edge of fury to creep into it.
“Razed to the ground. Citizens massacred. No survivors.”
Lily blinked in surprise. That was a level of cruelty she had not expected. Furthermore… She looked at the map again, and pointed out some of the cities that Prei had mentioned.
“From what Victoria has told me, these cities all have a considerably high concentration of human residents. Were they spared?”
Prei’s face darkened as she repeated herself.
Lily bit her lip. So the attackers were not showing mercy even to their own kind. What kind of drivel had Vessel fed them, to create such extremism? She looked at the map again, her mind rapidly running calculations. Given the average travelling speed of one of the demons’ winged messengers and the distance from Viraet… she quickly crunched some numbers about the average travelling speed of an army, factoring in the size and the possibility that they were leaving their injured behind. Using this estimate of the army’s current position and the time they would take to reach Riasode, assuming they razed every settlement along the way, she formulated an estimate of how much time they had. The army would reach Riasode in a little over a week and a half, at the earliest. Perhaps faster if they marched through the night. She recalled the zealous fervor that the crowd in Saphiz had displayed, and concluded that night marches were definitely a possibility. She adjusted her estimate to a week. The human army would beset them at a week, at the latest. While she ran the numbers, Tate asked Prei another question.
“Will you be informing the citizens?”
“Victoria is sending out heralds to gather everyone at the town square. We haven’t told them the reason yet; we’re going to try and contain any panic that spreads.”
“What of the guards? Have you spoken to them?”
“Yes, Victoria already told them of the situation. They’re all ready to defend this place to the death.”
“Even the humans?”
“Especially the humans, actually. It seems that humans who joined the guard are especially attached to this town and everyone in it. They said it was their home, with their families, and that they would value their home over their species. It was a rather heartwarming moment.”
Tate smiled slightly. She had guessed something along those lines. This city, to her, was a perfect example of how people from completely different species could learn to coexist. The people in this city lived their lives in happiness and contentment, disregarding race boundaries to forge a strong community and a welcoming society. In Riasode, it mattered not whether one was human or demon. They worked together, lived together, laughed together and mourned together. It was a place that was a home to many, and Tate counted herself among the many.
Prei crossed her arms, watching Lily. Prei had long ago come to regard Riasode as her home. This was where she trained, fought and relaxed with her friends – and, as of a year ago, with the woman she loved. Just like the human soldiers, she was ready to defend this city to her death. However, unlike them, she had not voiced her willingness to fight. She wanted to hear what Lily intended to do. Yes, this place was her home, but so was their little mansion back in the woods. Moreover, Lily was her family, her dear mother, the only family she had left in the world after her biological parents’ deaths. Her loyalty lay with Lily above all else. Though she ached to take up arms and do battle, she wanted to hear Lily’s thoughts on the matter. If her mother decided to fight, Prei would be eternally grateful. Prei suspected that Lily would encourage her to follow her heart and fight even if Lily herself wished to remain uninvolved, but if that eventuality occurred, Prei would not take up arms. She would not fight a battle her mother did not approve of. That was her guiding principle, to repay the woman who had given her everything. As such, she silently waited for Lily’s decision.
Lily felt the eyes of two members of her family resting on her as she finished her calculations. Clearly, they were waiting for her to make the call of whether they should enter the fight. She sighed and furrowed her brow. On the one hand, this was a fight she did not need to involve herself in. It would be so easy to pull out and retreat to their mansion, where they simply had to defend themselves against any possible incursions. Furthermore, they could later work to develop new commercial relations to replace those that would be lost. From a practical standpoint, it made more sense to pull out and stay out of this fight. After all, had she not worked over the years to keep enough of a distance from the city so that she could cut it off at a moment’s notice?
On the other hand, this city was the place that Prei and Tate called home. Back when she had witnessed the ruined Azoria, she had vowed that she would live for the sake of her family, for the sake of Prei, Tate and Iris. And now the happiness of two members of her family was being threatened. She could hardly allow herself to stand by and watch that happen, especially when it seemed certain that they would follow whatever course of action she decided on. If she were to pull out now, Prei and Tate would force themselves to watch the destruction of their happiness, not allowing themselves to lift a finger to prevent it. Lily could not bear the thought of letting them experience such despair.
Furthermore, the humans’ presence presented a threat to Lily and Iris as well. She recalled the words that Vessel had spoken to her. If these humans were being led by Vessel, as Prei’s report stated, then it was entirely possible that once they had won, they would try to hunt Iris down. Vessel had, after all, prophesied that Iris’ continued existence would create calamity. The possibility of the invaders posing a threat to Iris was not zero. Taking that into account, it was the logical decision to strike down the humans as soon as they could.
She straightened up and rolled up the map, tucking it under her arm. She began walking over to the door, resolve evident in her face.
“Let’s go. I need to speak to Victoria. We need to prepare.”
Prei and Tate, as if expecting this answer, smiled gratefully and quickly followed behind.