“I hope I didn’t make Iris too upset.”
“Prei, it’s fine. She already said you didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Still, I should have been more sensitive, I should have apologised more.”
“Prei, you apologised literally seventeen times. I counted. It’s fine. I promise you Iris doesn’t blame you for anything.”
“…Well, okay. If you say so.”
They flew in silence for a while, before Prei spoke again.
“But what if, though. I can’t believe I made her cry. I’ve only seen her cry once before. What if she thinks I’m horrible and selfish and rude? I don’t want her to hate me!”
Lily released a sigh. This was the third time they were having this conversation during this flight alone. Prei clearly regretted what she had done, thinking that she had laid bare Iris’ fear and humiliated the android. Lily naturally knew that such was not the case – it was her own fear, not Iris’, that had been exposed – but in the interest of presenting a strong front for Prei to look up to, Lily could not admit this fear, and could only offer Prei empty comforts. Even though she had apologised profusely to Iris prior to their departure, even though Iris had made it clear that she held no ill will towards the girl, Prei still felt guilty over her words.
“Iris doesn’t hate you, Prei. She loves you as much as I do. Or, well, almost as much. I certainly don’t intend to lose to anyone when it comes to love for my daughter. Actually, that’s not quite true. I think I might be okay with losing to Tate.”
They banked hard to one side as Prei faltered in her wingbeats, momentarily flustered.
“Mother! There’s nothing of that sort between us.”
“We’re very good friends, that’s all.”
“Friends who happen to sleep in the same bed.”
“H-how did you…”
“I noticed the wing-shaped depression in the mattress.”
“Huh? But I sleep with my wings off the bed.”
“That was a lie. I was just guessing. Thanks for the confirmation, though.”
“I- you- I- Mother!”
Prei, overcome with embarrassment, was unable to properly formulate full sentences, and settled on simply crying out in pleading exasperation.
“I just thought I’d let you know, you have my blessing.”
“Mother! Tate and I, we’re, uh, we’re practically sisters! We grew up together, and she’s always been like a sister to me! Nothing more! And it’s perfectly normal for sisters to share a bed!”
Lily replied with a noncommittal whistle which made it very clear how entirely unconvinced she was by Prei’s attempt at a defence.
“Mother, really, it’s nothing. There’s nothing going on, we’re just sisters and friends, is all. And besides, even if we were in love – I’m not saying that we are, but as a hypothetical – you’re the last person who I want to hear from about speaking my mind!”
Panicking, Prei attempted to redirect the conversation towards Lily instead, an act which made Lily smile, for it indicated that she had achieved her goal of directing the conversation away from Prei’s guilt. The rest of the journey continued in relative peace, with Lily and Prei exchanging casual banter about relationships and love, and they quickly found themselves in the vicinity of Riasode. Looking ahead, Lily spotted the human army, on approach. They were still quite a distance away – a collection of silver specks, massing along the horizon, stamping up dirt as they marched across the plains. At the head of the silver specks was one white speck – as the initial reports had said, Vessel was leading the army. Lily suddenly felt vindicated in her decision to leave Iris behind. If she was right about Vessel’s intentions, the safest place for Iris was far away from Vessel – and it was becoming increasingly clear that Vessel would be participating in the looming battle.
Prei folded her wings and led into a steep descent, unfurling them again as she approached the ground outside the gate of Riasode. When the fighting began, her designated landing spot would be the town square. But until then, it seemed pointless to cause undue commotion. Prei allowed Lily to disembark, then transformed into her human form. Lily spoke up.
“Alright. Go to Tate. Bring her the device. I’m going to go meet Victoria and get an update on the situation.”
Prei nodded and quickly ran off in the direction of the forge, earring in hand. Lily, meanwhile, made a beeline for the war room, where she found Victoria poring over maps, moving pieces on the table with her other captains. She looked up as the door opened and sighed in relief as she saw Lily entering.
“Oh, thank Regis. You made it. If these were normal times, I’d offer you a cup of tea, but this present situation is, unfortunately, not very normal.”
Lily knew the name from her studies of Victoria’s texts. Regis was the name of the demon lord. It had been the name of the first demon lord, and it was a name that was passed down to each successor. Every demon lord was named Regis, and the original Regis was regarded as the closest figure the demons had to a deity. It was the first time Lily had heard anyone use the expression, but she supposed it made sense, seeing as the demons were enemies of the gods. Thanking their enemies for good fortune would have made little sense.
“Hello, Victoria. Sorry I took so long.”
Victoria frantically shook her head.
“No, no. If anything, I’m surprised you actually agreed to create the device within such a short span of time. Well? Did you succeed?”
“Aye. I haven’t had a chance to field test it, but the theoretical basis is perfect, so I expect it to work fine. Or rather, we have no choice but to hope that it works fine. I saw the army on my way in. Time is running short.”
Victoria bit her lip and cast her gaze on the map.
“Right you are. I expect them to reach engagement range within-”
“Yes. They’re moving faster than we anticipated. Preliminary reports say that they march with a zeal and tenacity almost unnatural in its intensity.”
“Probably some sort of enchantment, woven by Vessel.”
“Yes, that was my conclusion, as well. But I consulted with a number of human mages, and all of them agreed that it was humanly impossible to cast such a vast enchantment to empower such a large army. What are your thoughts? Could it be a network of spellcasters?”
“They’re correct; such a spell requires a lot of mana, far more than a single human can produce. A network would be possible, but the mages within said network would be too fatigued to march among the army, and such spells usually require the caster to be in relatively close proximity to the targets. It’s far more likely that Vessel alone is fuelling the enhancement.”
“But I thought you said it was impossible for a single person to do that.”
“No, I said that it was impossible for a single human to do that. I am reasonably convinced that Vessel is not human. I suspect that she might be a creation of the gods.”
“The gods, you say… I dearly wish I could dismiss that as impossible, but we demons know fully well how heavy-handed the gods can be in their guidance. If you’re correct, this battle could be harder than we expected. I sincerely and truly hope you’re wrong.”
“As do I. But we should move forward under the assumption that our foe is a messenger of the gods.”
“Agreed. Though, that said, there’s not much about our plan that we can change. Our only hope is that whatever enhancements they enjoy will not be enough to render our assault forces impotent.”
“How are you doing on the equipment side?”
“Far better than on pretty much every other front, actually. Tate’s been working non-stop to churn out weapons and armor for our assault forces. She’s also been working on a number of defensive installations along the city walls, with the help of Roan and the other blacksmiths. I told her to pace herself, but, well, you know how she is. As a result, all the soldiers are better equipped than ever.”
Lily nodded. She had expected as much. Tate had always been one to push herself beyond her limits.
“So equipment preparations are complete. What about evacuation?”
“Mostly done. We’ve secured the cooperation of everyone in the city, and most of the people are packed up and ready to leave at a moment’s notice. The question is, where would they go? We’ve yet to decide on an evacuation location.”
Lily nodded and walked up next to the map, scrutinising it. If their city fell, there would be little hope for any of the other cities to remain standing. Therefore, seeking refuge in another city would be futile. Instead, she looked to the forests. Quickly scanning the map, she pointed out an area of the forest that seemed to be on flatter terrain.
“What about here? Prei can clear out the trees here, here and here to create a series of clearings. We can evacuate there. The citizens will have to camp outdoors, but there’s enough lumber to build a village network in the middle of the woods. There’s access to a river, and there should be enough game or edible plants to survive until we can start up farming practices. It won’t be anything close to the lifestyle they enjoy here in Riasode, but if the citizens had to evacuate and start from scratch, this is the place I’d pick.”
“Hm. Makes sense. It’ll take some time to adjust, but we can probably make it work. Hopefully, though, it won’t come to that.”
“Aye. If the plan works as it should, hopefully we can avoid relying on this contingency.”
“Oh, right, while you’re here, Lily, I wanted to ask you about your thoughts on our supply distribution for siege conditions…”
In this manner, the two women discussed the matter of war, the hours slipping away as the impending battle drew ever closer.