The Songstress of Avalon
I awoke to the sound of rain splattering against the roof of the gazebo.
As I slowly wobbled to my feet, I realised that I now understood the truth. A pleasant westernly wind greeted me as I joined Arisa and Mab, both sitting on the gazebo's parapet and engaged in conversation. The fact that Arisa managed to wake up from the spell made me wonder whether or not I was beginning to lose my touch.
The fainting sniffling from the Queen of Fairies ceased as soon as she spotted my approach; in in an act of uncharacteristic inelegance, she wiped a tear from her eye with the tip of her thumb. As her tears dried, so did the rain around us begin to let up.
It brought to mind the image of Arisa when she first arrived through the portal - soaked to the bone, and murmuring something
incomprehensible about feeling sorry for Mab. We didn't know who she
was then, but in hindsight, it was a laughable thing for a girl, so far
away from home, to say about one of the demon lord's generals.
"Oh, it was raining just now."
That's what Arisa had said, wasn't it?
My mind reached the most logical conclusion. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that Mab was linked to this world in an ineradicable way; in such a way that her emotions even affected the weather.
"Tommaso told me something strange before he died, y'know," I began; as expected, Mab's ears twitched noticeably at the sound of the name. "He said that I should try to think of him kindly, as though he had done something wrong."
"Hmph," she huffed in reply, "more like he had finally done something right."
I didn't bother to stifle the chuckle forming in my throat. "Why didn't you just tell us that you and Tommo had that kind of relationship?"
"A woman is allowed to have her secrets, no?" she shot us the cryptic smile that seemed to be her signature.
The last time I had tried to pry into a girl's personal affairs, she had said the exact same thing. Even if they were different species, a man and a woman had their own circumstances. Perhaps it wasn't a boundary I was allowed to cross. I decided to cut straight to the chase instead, and asked:
"How many months along are you?"
This time, it was Arisa who perked up. Her eyes lighted with interest. She had known about Mab's situation before I did, after all, although I still didn't see how.
"About seven months."
"EH?! WHAT?!" Arisa's eyes threatened to bulge out of their sockets. She lowered herself so that she was at eye level with Mab's stomach. "You don't look it all."
"Well, I do have a demon's physiology... hey, what are you looking at?" Mab turned her body away from Arisa's piercing glare. A bead of sweat formed on her temple, and threatened to drip down her cheek.
Arisa stood back up to her full height, and began to wonder. "But still, you're pretty young. And this Tommaso guy is dead, huh? Single mothers really have it tough..." she rubbed her chin sagely, as though she were a wise old timer dispensing advice to unvirtuous youths.
Mab's face remained stony, and she replied with steely stoicism: "I'm 143 years old."
"HAA? Say that one more time?" Arisa's face contorted comically. "You... you look really good for your age."
Romantic relationships between humans and demons have served as a motif in stories circulating across the realm since antiquity - it promoted the idea that love can transcend all barriers. But for humans who did not possess romantic hearts, this kind of illicit relationship was on the same level as one between yourself, a rational being, and an unpredictable, bloodthirsty beast.
For demons, whose notions of romantic love were completely different from that of humans, it must have been something along the lines of marrying a farm animal. Eisan, I remember, said that he had found all humans repulsive before he joined my party, but even now I wasn't quite sure how to take that.
Tommaso and Mab's relationship probably couldn't be defined by orthodox standards either. It must have possessed a legitimacy rendered any marriage certificate unnecessary. After all, in a few months time, a halfling child would be born, and that was all the validation their relationship needed.
In any case, a friend of Tommo was no enemy of mine.
"Then why did you drug us?"
"To confirm something," Mab's lips curled into a loose smile. "I've been traversing my own dreams for the past six months, the only place where I can still talk to him, to touch him. A rendezvous with a specter, as pathetic as that sounds. But in my dreams, he always appears the same, do you understand? The tussled black locks, the gentle eyes, the deliberate and flowery way of speaking, reciting poetry while asking you to pass the sugar... but of course, you would know him better than I. Isn't that right, hero?"
Her voice had been pervaded by a wistful jealousy.
"So you were swimming around in my memory," I began to summarise, "because you wanted to see Tommaso as I saw him."
The cackling of fire; an intermittent breathing.
So that's why I had recalled that scene by the campfire. It was one of those domestic episodes that littered our travels, something that you take for granted until journey's end, and you realise that those carefree days would never return.
"And how was the Tommaso of my memory?"
"As splendid as I thought he would be. He really was a man like no other," and then, after a slight pause where all was silent, "I wish I could have known him."
"What actually happened to him?"
It was Arisa's voice who penetrated the tense atmosphere. It was times like this that I appreciated her straightforwardness. It wasn't a comfortable topic, but I was sure that Tommaso would have been heartbroken to know that his name, after his death, had become a source of apprehension whenever it was brought up.
So this time, I didn't hesitate to answer.
"He was killed," I stated, matter-of-factly, "by Asmodeus, King of Revels."
"I heard Asmo-nii got what was coming to him," Mab grinned at me. "Even though he paid with his life, I still won't forgive him."
The way she looked at me seemed to suggest that she believed I was the one who had gotten revenge for her lover. But it wasn't me. The King of Revels had met his end at the hands of a man much more suitable than myself; even now, I remember Trajan's lachrymose eyes when he told me Tommo could finally rest easy.
"I see..." Arisa's sombre reaction to this story was a natural one; and, as I've already learned, she was never one to dwell too long on the past. Immediately, she inquired as to Mab's next move, and her plans for the child growing in her belly.
"I will stay here," she said resolutely. "After all, I can't leave. This place is tied to my emotional state, you've realised? And ever since Tommaso went away, I find that I'm no longer able to pass through the portal to the other side."
"In other words, you subconsciously don't want to leave?"
Mab shook her head.
"I created this garden for Tommaso and I. A place where we could be together, safe from judging eyes. It has a lot of good memories. But in the end this garden was, for us, just like a child's secret base. Something to outgrow. We always intended to go to the countryside, to North Dean or Hook Head village."
The names North Dean and Hook Head must have meant nothing to Arisa; but even so, I could see that she was vividly imagining the lifestyle that Mab had in mind. She, too, looked like she wanted to cry.
"You could still do that!" Arisa insisted.
"Tommaso was a Prince-Elector, a respected position in your realm, was he not?" Mab wiped away, with her finger, a droplet that had begun to fall down Arisa's cheek, and then she looked at me, "And he was also a member of the Hero's party. In comparison, who am I? A demon whose only social value is to serve as a horror story to scare misbehaving children. I, we, would never be accepted," her hand floated down to her stomach.
"I'm going to destroy this world," I proclaimed suddenly.
"You're going to do what?!" Arisa began to yell, incredulous. Mab, on the other hand, looked only contemplative.
"I understand your feelings very well," I told her. "You want to forgive somebody, but every time you think of what they did to you, you begin to see red. Rationally, you want to forgive them but the fact that you still feel upset means that you haven't gotten over it yet. Your heart and your mind are in two different places, Mab. That's why you can't leave."
"And destroying this garden is the answer?" Mab asked, meditatively.
"By doing so, your mind and heart can be reset. You don't have to live in this rain-filled world anymore..." I declared.
Up until now, she had played the part of a dignified hostess. But what would happen after Arisa and I left? Left to stew and ponder in her own melancholy, the rain would certainly begin again. That's why, I had noticed, the ground around us was perpetually damp. As beautiful as this world seemed, it was nothing more than a visage of a heartbroken woman, one that was trying her utmost to keep it together in front of her guests.
"I'm going to destroy this world," I reiterated, "so you can go to Hook Head or North Dean, or anywhere else in the realm. And if anyone has a problem with that, tell them to write a complaint to the Avispan embassy in Amafli!"