The Songstress of Avalon
Six months ago, I defeated the demon lord.
Not alone, of course. I assembled a party of warriors and together we journeyed through the land of Avalon on the quest of a lifetime.
And, as I've already mentioned, we finally succeeded six months ago. In other words, it's been exactly six months since the threat of the demon lord was eliminated for good, and exactly six months since my party went their separate ways.
But funnily enough there was no place for me, the hero, to go back to.
Instead, I headed back to where it all began – Fulworth – which was far from a spectacular place. If you can remember the Starting City of the last RPG game you’ve played, then you know exactly what Fulworth is like, and you can even say that you've been there, at least in sprit.
Even so, that’s where the magi who summoned me with the Hero Ritual were living and now that the demon lord was gone, I thought it would be a good time to ask them if they could send me back to Wakaba City. I didn't even care if they couldn't make me seventeen again.
“Uh, I don’t think so.”
“Are you sure?”
“Listen, hero, the grimoire told us how to summon you from the aether, but it didn’t tell us anything about sending you back. What’s so great about the aether anyways? Why not just stay here?”
Quickly, my dreams of returning home were crushed. Fortunately, I had built a strong rapport with the realm’s various kings, and they were all very eager to offer me a position in their armies. The demons had even wanted me to become the new demon lord, but I opted to stay with the humans who had summoned me.
“We need an ambassador to the Kingdom of Amalfi,” King Algernon Karslake told me one day over dinner. “I’d like for you to run the embassy over there, hero.”
I accepted King Karslake’s invitation, partly because it was the only offer that didn't involve the military, or treat me like some kind of weapon. Additionally, Amalfi was one of the few kingdoms that I had yet to visit; this was because it was south of Fulworth, whereas the demon lord’s realm was located to the north. Its geography meant that it had been practically insulated from the war with the demon lord and his minions.
Sure, they sent a nominal number of troops to assist us, but the demon lord threat was apparently not considered to be as pressing or as immediate as in the northern kingdoms. As an added consequence, the name ‘Hero Ayato’ didn’t hold much weight there, or so I was led to believe.
There was also another reason why Amalfi appealed to me.
Unlike the other kingdoms, which were largely homogenous, Amalfi was home to almost all of the various beings which inhabited the realm, including demons. I had managed to convert a few to my side during my quest so I knew that demons, despite their name, weren’t incorrigibly evil.
Still, I couldn’t imagine the demons in my party working a regular job, at least not without eventually burning their place of work to the ground.
It's been just under a month since I became Avispa's ambassador to Amalfi.
“Alright, let’s get hyped for another day of pushing papers…! As if…”
The grand, five story building contained both the Embassy of the Kingdom of Avispa in the Kingdom of Amalfi (this was the official title in all documentation and was a hassle to spell out every single time) and the private residences of the embassy staff.
In actual fact, we just needed the first and second floors. We had commandeered the third, fourth and fifth floors and turned them into luxury apartments, even though we only had a staff of three people. As such, my daily commute was nothing if not agreeable. I crossed the threshold that comprised my residence and bounded down the stairs to the reception room.
“Morning, Marissa, have any Avispa citizens living and working in Amalfi lost their passports?” I asked my secretary at her desk, placed conveniently right outside my office.
“I’m afraid not, Ayato,” she replied in her inscrutable, almost robotic voice.
“But I bet there’s a load of papers piled up on my desk that need my signature?” I sighed, not even bothering to hide my disappointment.
“It’s only been a few months, but you’ve already gotten the hang of this job,” Marissa replied sardonically.
“This job is a piece of cake,” I said, ignoring the backhanded compliment. “After all, I was the great hero who vanquished the demon lord.”
“I know,” Marissa smiled, as though reminiscing about something. “I was the healer in your party.”
“Yeah, well, we’re both overqualified.”
I slammed the door shut behind me, my features immediately twisting into a scowl at the sight of the mountain of papers that greeted me.
“Isn’t this just like that movie with the terminally ill bureaucrat?” I thought to myself, as I settled into my chair. “But at least he could see the end. Just how much longer do I have to endure this?”
A morbid thought, but perhaps not as morbid as the nightmare that I was living where the saviour of the world is relegated from hero to pencil pusher.
I raised my right hand; a shard of fire flickered on the tip of my index finger and began to dance around the entirety of my palm. If I were anyone else, this would likely be enough to send me into a panic, but I was perfectly into control. For me, this was the equivalent of pencil twirling during a free period.
The Heavenly Flame of the Rakshasa.
This was the power I used to defeat the demon lord, and now it was reduced to mere entertainment for when I wanted to slack off at work. At a gathering last week, I had even used it to light the tobacco of an elven diplomat, but of course nobody was impressed – fire manipulation was, after all, commonplace in this world.
“Maybe I should have become the new demon lord,” I mused. “I could have kept my party together. A demon lord needs generals, and Marissa certainly would be a lot happier…”
The image of the empty throne vacated by King Balaam drifted across my memory; how the fearsome demonic sovereign, reeling after taking simultaneous blows from the Sword of Promised Ruin and the Sword of Promised Victory, attempted to crawl back towards his royal seat, a spew of purple ichor trailing after him.
If I had just walked past him and sat down, everything would be different.
“My daydreams are getting dangerous,” I rose to my feet, and decided to go for the walk which had become a fixed part of my daily routine. Maybe, and I hated admitting this, the best part of my day.
“Clearing your head again?” Marissa asked, not even looking up from the newspaper she was reading, such was the established nature of our interactions.
“Yeah,” I replied automatically. “Hold down the fort, won’t you?”
“Do you have a girl on the outside, Ayato?” she flipped the script of our conversation nonchalantly, yet her verdant eyes were fixated on the words of her favourite opinion columnist. She had never asked about my romantic affairs before, not even when we were adventurers.
“The walks you’ve been taking every morning.”
“What about them?”
“Are they just an excuse so that you can rendezvous with a lady friend?” she asked, not missing a beat. “You can't blame me for asking. This city is littered with duchesses, dames, and baronesses who all want a piece of the hero. It says so right here in the gossip section,” she held her paper up for me to see.
“Most of them haven’t even heard of me,” I scoffed. “When I say the word ‘demon’ to an Amalfian, it’s not bloodthirsty monsters that want to enslave them that comes to mind but the businessmen on Denaro Way that want to cheat them.”
“This is a city of commerce,” Marissa adjusted her glasses. “Here, the latter prospect would be considered twenty times more terrifying.”
“You know, Marissa, the most terrifying one here is you.”
She stuck her tongue out at me and then returned to her paper.
I took this as my cue to leave, strolling over to the wooden double doors which served as the main entrance to the embassy. With both arms, I pried them open and was surprised to see humanoid shapes in the distance making their way towards me at a frightening speed.
An assassination attempt? Shouldn't I close the door?
Speaking frankly, being the hero and all, I wasn’t afraid for my life; having said that, it struck me as almost offensive that my would-be assassins would attack me directly. I could count the number of people capable of fighting me seriously on one hand. Were they really so arrogant as to think that they were on the same level as King Baalam, the demon lord?
“To try and kill me, the ambassador, in broad daylight… you certainly have some nerve.”
The tips of my fingers began to tingle, clearly stimulated by the anticipatory flames of Rakshasa. I squinted and was able to make out my assailants more accurately - an exasperated girl, whose eyes looked as though they were going to pop out from her sockets, followed by two men who sported an emblem on their uniforms, an indicator that they were under the employ of some noble family.
“AAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGHHHHHHHH! HEEEEEEEELLLPPPP MEEEE!!!!!”
The girl’s shout for help caught me off guard and I stood rooted to the spot, unable to even close the double doors. The outcome was one that anyone could have predicted – the girl barrelled into me, extinguishing the burgeoning flames of Rakshasa, and sending us both sprawling onto the floor of the embassy building.
Even the perpetually stoic Marissa elicited a gasp, but it wasn’t on my account or because of the intruder lying on top of me.
The two men, whose emblems were now easily identifiable as being the rose insignias associated with the House of del Fiore, seemed ready to pounce but were restrained by the two strong arms which were suddenly draped over their shoulders.
“Hold your horses,” a calm voice spoke. “And don’t enter that building. It’s an issue of national sovereignty, you know?”
There was only one person I knew who could move with that kind of speed, but there was absolutely zero reason why he should be here in Amalfi. However, the sound of that unmoved, self-controlled voice which seemed to be imperturbable, could only belong to a singular man.
It was Marissa who confirmed my suspicions: