They found Victoria at the town square, standing by the statue of the late Voirgaires. Lily glanced at the statue, a small grin creeping unto her lips. Her parents had worked tirelessly to make sure that humans and demons were able to live peacefully in this town. They had risked their lives, and ultimately lost their lives, trying to help this town succeed and prosper. And now it was Lily’s turn to defend this lively city, the city that her daughter and friend called home. She would fight in the upcoming battle to keep the dreams of her family – both of her families – alive. The upcoming conflict gained a new dimension of importance for her as she gazed upon the likeness of her parents. She felt herself becoming more resolved. Was it a good thing? She had always kept this city at a certain distance, so she could cut it off if necessary. And yet here she was, about to discuss a defensive strategy to keep it safe. This was probably a mistake, but it was a mistake she was committed to making.
A large number of people were milling about the town square, awaiting for Victoria’s announcement. They had been told that there was news of some urgency, but they had not been told what it was. Victoria stood atop a makeshift space in the front of the town square, the space’s boundaries marked by a line of unarmed guards. A cursory glance informed Lily that the guards were an even mix of human and demon – a conscious decision, no doubt. Lily frowned somewhat. Getting close enough to Victoria would require working their way through the crowd, a prospect that was largely unappealing.
Thankfully, upon seeing Lily approaching, accompanied by Prei and Tate, the crowd quietened and slowly parted, allowing them passage. As she walked through the orderly crowd, she overheard whispers and murmuring about her being the daughter of the Voirgaires. The whispering would have bothered her, if it had not been layered with tones of respect and gratitude. Clearly, Lily’s parents had done far more for the town than Lily had realised – why else would their names still be spoken with such gratitude, years after they passed? She felt a slight pang of regret that she had not been able to see their work with her own eyes, that she had not been there to help them, and the old grief briefly threatened to surface again. However, she shook her head clear of such thoughts. She had more pressing issues to attend to.
She made eye contact with Victoria as she approached the arbitrary boundary. Victoria met her gaze and narrowed her eyes. Undoubtedly, she wanted to know where Lily stood in this conflict. She was well aware of Lily’s stance about maintaining distance in her trade relations, but she needed to know whether Prei and Tate could be counted among their military assets. Noting the lines that worry had etched across Victoria’s face, Lily felt a little glad that she would be able to at least help assuage one concern.
As they passed the lines of guards, the soldiers snapped to attention and saluted Prei, who smartly returned the gesture. Lily raised an eyebrow. She knew for a fact that Prei’s role was as instructor, not commander. As such, she was rather surprised to learn that Prei had garnered the respect of her trainees. A hint of pride invaded her consciousness, proud that her daughter had grown to become a respectable leader. Finally, she stood in front of Victoria. Neither woman said a word, but the question that needed to be asked was clearly implied in her questioning gaze. Lily decided to let the mayor of the city protect her pride and spoke first, keeping her voice low so that the crowd would not overhear.
“You have our support.”
Victoria’s face relaxed, briefly showing a relieved smile. She clapped Lily on the shoulder and stepped ahead of her, coming closer to the crowd. Lily, Tate and Prei quietly walked past her and stood near the back of the clearing, waiting to see how people would react to the news. Victoria turned her attention to the crowd, taking a deep breath. The crowd remained silent, its attention riveted on her. When she spoke, it was in a loud, clear voice that carried across the square.
“Citizens of Riasode. It has been almost a decade since this town was established. We had a rocky start, but our progress has been remarkable. Through the efforts of a great many people, we have created a community where humans and demons may live at peace. A community where what you are doesn’t matter, a community where all that matters is who you are, what you’ve done. Our laws make no distinction between human and demon, we celebrate the festivals of both our human and demon members. Our faithful knights contain both humans and demons in our ranks. Our number of interspecies marriages have gone up, and the growth shows no signs of stopping. Through the efforts of everyone, we’ve created an inclusive society. We’ve created a peaceful society. We have overcome much, to live in peace today.”
Part of the crowd broke into applause, but the more skeptical people rightfully reined in their excitement. This was the type of lead-up that never heralded good news. Victoria waited for the applause to die down, before continuing.
“Unfortunately, it seems that this peace is now being threatened. Just today, we have received a report from a brave, badly injured messenger. A large human army has landed on our shores, and is moving inland. Eventually, they will reach us. And then they will attack.”
There was a brief moment of complete silence – the silence of disbelief. Then the crowd erupted. Angry shouts, worried cries, disbelieving curses. An air of fear trampled through the town square. Lily grimaced. This was the result she had expected. She glanced to Victoria, who was watching with a look of grim annoyance. Clearly, she had expected the same response. But knowing it was going to happen did nothing to make it less infuriating. She cleared her throat and started trying to shout over the crowd, but her voice, as powerful as it was, was drowned out by the panicking muttering of thousands of people. Lily cast her gaze over the crowd.
There were already people scrambling to get away from the town square, presumably to try and pack up their belongings and flee. There were people openly crying, there were people who were trying to push their way past the lines of guards, who were doing their best to maintain order. Perhaps most unsettling, there were a number of humans who were visibly distancing themselves from their demon neighbours. Straining her ears, she heard several voices amidst the clamor of the crowd that were speaking about how they were human, and how they should keep themselves away from the demons, so that they would be safe from the invading human army. Lily glanced to Prei, whose face was twisted in anger. Clearly, she had heard those sentiments as well. Lily stepped up to Victoria, who was still frantically trying to make herself heard, and placed a hand on the demon woman’s shoulder. Victoria quickly turned to face her, her face etched with worry, but calmed down upon seeing Lily’s completely unfazed, confident expression. Victoria nodded and took a step back, allowing Lily to step into the center of the clearing. Lily raised her right hand to her lips, placing two fingers in front of them.
The words that emerged from Lily’s mouth were multiplied by the magical device embedded in her fingertips, intercepting the sounds and amplifying them a hundredfold, causing them to reverberate across the town square, louder than the entirety of the crowd’s shouting. A hush descended upon the people as they looked to the source of the chilling, emotionless command. The people who had fled the square stopped in their tracks and turned back, fixing their eyes on Lily. Noting that she had the attention of the people, Lily continued.
“For the humans among you: Some of you may be thinking that you are safe because the attacking army is human. Let me correct this misunderstanding. Several of the towns that the army has already passed through contained humans. They were all razed to the ground. No survivors. To this army, we are all demons.”
Despite the delivery of this dreadful news, the crowd did not break into a frenzy as it had previously. Rather, Lily’s voice and presence did not allow them to. Her magically amplified voice was one which was clear, emotionless, cold. The casual matter-of-fact manner in which she had delivered the information was almost frightening in its apathy, and this fear kept the crowd silent, awaiting her next words.
“And even if that weren’t the case, even if your safety was guaranteed, your demon friends and neighbours would not be as fortunate.”
To the crowd’s surprise, her next words had much more emotion in them – they were no longer a detached statement of facts, but an appeal to the crowd.
“What I’ve seen in Riasode is, frankly, astounding. A community that works together, that laughs together, that eats together. A community that celebrates at weddings and mourns at funerals together. You humans and demons have worked so hard to forge this community, where you live at peace – where you live as friends. This unity – this inclusiveness – is something that’s rare even among fully-human communities. All of you know this. You were all left behind by the so-called elite, fleeing the city due to their fear of the unknown. You know of how easy it is for society to fall into segregation, how easy it is for people to treat others as lessers. And yet you have overcome this. You live in harmony. Not many societies can make that claim. Where the elites fled from the unknown, you welcomed the unknown into your city, sought to understand them, sought to see them as equals, strove to create this community. What you’ve done is amazing.
And now, just because of an attack, you’re going to throw all that away? You’re going to start calling yourselves humans and demons again? For what? For the slight possibility that you might be spared the oncoming slaughter? Is that all Riasode means to you? Is that all that this city, this community, built on my parents’ sacrifice, means to you?”
Several people in the crowd looked down in shame at this point, while others were beginning to tear up. Lily continued her speech.
“It matters not whether you are human, or demon. You are a citizen of Riasode. Is that not the thing which makes Riasode great? Is that not something to take pride in? This is the city that my parents dedicated the last years of life to building. This is the city that my daughter Prei protects. This is the city that she calls home, this city where differences don’t matter. This is the city that I am proud of her for choosing to protect. I implore you, please. Do not toss this city, this ideal of equality, aside.
I’m not asking you to take up arms. I’m not asking you to defend this city to the death. I’m not asking you to stay behind if it falls. All I’m asking, is that no matter where you go, no matter what happens, no matter what you end up doing, always remember this community you’ve created. Humans and demons are not enemies. We can live in harmony, and you – all of you – are living proof of that. Please don’t lose sight of this ideal. For my parents’ sake, for my own sake, and for the sake of this community as a whole.”
With that, Lily stepped back, taking her initial place behind Victoria. Victoria nodded gratefully and stepped forward. The crowd remained quiet, a sense of peaceful resolve settling over the people. Nobody shouted. Nobody clapped. Nobody started screaming. They simply stayed silent and awaited for their elected mayor to speak to them. Lily’s words had effected a change amidst the people. They were no longer a crowd of individuals, desperate to ensure their own survival, gripped by fear. They were now citizens of Riasode, that fact a source of pride and dignity.