Lily flew alongside Prei, speeding through the air in the direction of the capital. Prei, in her dragon form, bore Victoria on her saddle, powerful wings beating against the air as she pushed her way across the vast skies. Lily’s own wings did not beat, did not, in fact, move. Instead, they emitted a constant stream of magic with a low hum, causing a trail of barely visible amber to follow behind her as she flew. Noticing that Prei was struggling to keep up, she reduced her output to a more comfortable pace. While they might have been going to fight Vessel, there was no particular rush. After all, Iris was already dead. No matter how quickly they moved, Iris would never come back. If that was the case, then it was wiser to go slowly, to conserve energy for the moment where it was needed the most. And from her experiences and Iris’ memories, she would need to be at peak condition to take on Vessel.

Thankfully, she knew for a fact that Vessel had sustained considerable damage in her fight with Iris. Their opponent would not be at her best. In contrast, Lily, endowed with Iris’ magic and knowledge, was more powerful than ever. Unlike the time in the fields when Lily and Prei had to work together just to fend Vessel off, unlike the battle at their home where Iris had struggled to keep Vessel at bay, Lily felt like in the current situation, under these circumstances, there was a significant possibility that she might emerge victorious, despite Vessel’s monstrous strength.

As such, there was no rush. There was no urgency. Not for Lily, in any case. However, every second they spent travelling was another second that the demon capital was under siege. While that was not Lily’s concern, it was most certainly Victoria’s. Casting a sidelong glance, Lily could see that Victoria was extremely worried about the state of the capital. The demon woman’s fists were clenched tight, her lips pressed into a firm line, tension radiating throughout her body. Her eyes were wrenched open, looking straight forward, staring intently at the distance. Another person might have mistaken it for a fear of heights, but Lily knew better – Victoria was no stranger to heights. The lookout tower on the city walls, where Victoria had spent almost all her time during the brief siege, was precariously high up. Besides, Victoria had previously expressed that her sense of duty was urging her to go to the aid of the capital, and it was clear that each second they spent travelling was to her another agonising second of uncertainty. Lily was briefly reminded of her own anxiety, all those years ago, when she had been preparing to cross over the hill and examine what had become of her city.

Hm, yes, it’s been a while, hasn’t it. Feels like forever since we first came to this continent.

A voice echoed in her head. Tate’s voice, presumably coming from the girl herself, who was currently fastened to Lily’s arm in her shield form. She had insisted on coming along this time, and Lily had been more than willing to bring her for the battle. With the enemy army encamped at the capital, there was no need for her to remain in the city, and for the upcoming battle, Lily expected that she would need all the help she could muster. Lily softly replied in a whisper that was more for her own benefit than anything else – When in this form, she could speak directly to Tate just by thinking.

“Oh? Did you read my mind, Tate?”

No, I read your face. Your nostalgic gaze was pretty telling.

Lily laughed.

“Nothing escapes you, does it?”

Tate was always paying attention to Lily, paying attention to Lily’s emotional needs. Tate said it was the natural instinct of a shield – she felt the urge to protect Lily both from physical as well as emotional harm, and that required watching her closely. Whatever the reason, it was a fact that with the sole exception of Iris, Tate was probably the person most attuned to Lily’s habits and needs. Now that Iris was gone, Tate held the honor of being the person who understood Lily best. A dubious honor, to be certain.

Lily banked right and ended up next to Victoria, who turned to her and gave a brief nod, tension continuing to run through her body. As someone who considered Victoria a friend, Lily felt she at least owed the demon woman an apology for slowing down.

“I’m sorry we’re taking so long to get there. I know you must be worried.”

Victoria, caught off guard by the sudden question, allowed some of her tension to dissipate. She shook her head quickly.

“No, it’s alright. I am indeed worried, but I also know the folly of haste. It makes no sense to rush to our destination if we arrive too tired to make a difference. I certainly don’t hold it against you, and have nothing but gratitude for this, really. Even at the slower pace we are currently taking, we are travelling far quicker than I could have hoped to travel by foot.”

As she spoke, Victoria stole another glance at Lily’s new appearance, the latest in a long series of cursory glances. Curiosity burned behind her lids, but the demon woman had the good sense not to press the matter. For now, they all needed to focus on the fight that was to come. Victoria recognised this, and thus did not ask Lily about what happened, or why her appearance had changed. Lily would tell her when she wished to talk about it.

“Victoria, I’m going to have to ask you a favor.”

Lily’s question took the form of a request, but the tone she spoke in carried the authority of a command. Victoria, being in Lily’s debt for agreeing to bring her along on this battle, quickly nodded.

“Please, state your request. If it is within my power I will definitely fulfill it.”

“When we land, I’m going to engage in combat with Vessel. I’d like to ask you not to enter that fray, and instead focus on the main body of soldiers.”

Victoria blinked, surprised. This was a very different attitude from the one which Lily had taken in the previous fight, where she had insisted on avoiding direct combat with Vessel, and had engineered a three-on-one situation when they were eventually forced into a confrontation. There was a glint in Lily’s eye, a sharp anger that lay hidden beneath her impassive face. Somehow or other, the fight against Vessel had evolved beyond merely something Lily was doing for the sake of protecting her daughter’s home. Vessel had done something. The fight was now personal. Victoria, knowing that Lily had a wife and seeing the unsettling face on Lily’s shoulder, had formulated a reasonably plausible hypothesis, but she had yet to confirm the facts. Regardless, Lily was now prepared to fight Vessel to the last, even if it resulted in her death. In the face of that resolve, Victoria could only smile and admit defeat.

“Certainly. I don’t have a death wish, and I’m reasonably certain I can’t fight on the level that you monsters inhabit. My only wish is to save our kingdom. I care not if it is done by my hand.”

Lily nodded in gratitude and banked left again, flying in silence while running internal diagnostics on her wide range of combat systems. As they continued their flight, the capital began to come into sight, the towering castle in the center of the city surrounded by little specks, the shapes of men, crowding around… something. A circle. A crater, a crater of scorched earth. Two figures in the midst of the crater were fighting, sword clashing against sword, moving far faster than the human eye could follow. One figure, all in white, moving in a flurry of feathers. The other figure, a black one, matching the white figure’s movements, blow for blow.

A gasp coming from Victoria told Lily all she needed to know. As she suspected, the black-clad figure was the Demon King, Regis. Speeding up by unspoken consent, Lily and Prei accelerated, hastening their approach. As they flew, the figures became clearer and more distinct, until Lily, with her inhuman vision, could make out the features of the combatants – a youthful-looking winged man in black armor, as well as the white-clad, unmasked Vessel, who had knocked away his sword and now ran her own blade cleanly through his neck.