The Songstress of Avalon
"To old friends and to new! Cheers!"
At Marissa's urging, we raised our tankards, filled to the brim with this world's version of cola, and clattered them against each other. We were crowded around the coffee table in the waiting area - Marissa, Misane and our unexpected guest, Lullaby Boy were seated on the couch, while Arisa and I pulled up two stools.
Even the prospect of eating one of Marissa's home cooked lunches couldn't distract me from Lull's arm. It had been six months since we parted ways, and although he had been offered a position here at the embassy, he had chosen to strike it out alone as a solo adventurer. Since he had been the youngest member of the party, I couldn't help but feel somewhat responsible.
Maybe I hadn't prepared him well enough. Either way, I didn't expect him to return so soon, and burdened with what looked to be a high class curse.
"What happened to your arm, Lull?" I addressed the room's proverbial elephant.
"This?" he flailed the deformed arm like he was doing a rubber pencil trick. "A demonic beast's handiwork. You know the one that was terrorising Gelasius Town out west? I got him, but not before he sunk his teeth into my arm."
I stood up, planted myself on the couch's armrest, and patted Lull on the back with perhaps more strength than his little body was accustomed to. Gushing profusely, I began, "You slayed that monster? You sly dog, he was all over the papers! If I didn't have my hands full managing this embassy, I would have taken a carriage down there myself...!"
Under my torrential praise, as effusive and hearty as if I were praising my younger brother for getting into TokyoU, Lull turned red and was grinning sheepishly.
"It was nothing, really..." he started.
"You're right, actually," I replied, feigning seriousness. "If you couldn't even do that much, you'd be embarrassing me! Everyone knows you were in the hero's party after all," I gave him another slap on the back for good measure.
"Men are pretty stupid, aren't they?" Misane condescended, watching with wry eyes as that last slap sent Lull flying from the couch and crashing onto the floor.
"Tell me about it..." Marissa replied with a sigh, replenishing her tankard straight from the bottle.
Seeing this, Arisa thrust her tankard out at Marissa, who complied with the good grace of a seasoned secretary. "I want to hear more about the demonic beast."
Lull, sprawled on the ground, sprang to his feet and began to eagerly recite his tale.
"Do you want to know why they call me Lullaby Boy?" he addressed himself to Arisa, but before she could reply the rest of us had shouted "NO!" in unison, once again sending Lull crashing, this time into the couch. Misane dodged him instinctively, and began to sip her cola, all without breaking a sweat.
"He can put people to sleep with his flute," Marissa informed a confused Arisa. "He's a whizz with it. He can even play it with no hands."
"I think we've had enough of being put to sleep for one day, don't you think?" I added sardonically, eliciting a nostalgic laugh from the only other person in the know.
"I put him to sleep, and then I spent the next twenty minutes cutting him up," Lull explained, rubbing his aching limbs. "I can't cleave monstrous beasts in half with one swing of my sword, but whatever gets the job done, hey?"
Certainly, the tale Lull recounted didn't appeal to one's romanticism. He put the enemy to sleep, and then spent the rest of the time carving him up - rather than a hero, he sounded like a butcher, but if the party had valued Lull at all, it was more for his resourcefulness than his power.
Who could fault him for using his strengths?
"And," he continued, "it just so happened that my arm was in the beast's maw when he fell asleep. Hence this," he flailed the cursed arm again.
"A demon's greatest instincts are self preservation and propagation" Misane interrupted. "Knowing that he was going to be completely defenseless once he fell asleep, the demon decided to pass his demonic energy somewhere else. That's not just a curse you've got there, Lull, it's a demonic embryo."
"What does that mean?" Lull asked, but I'm sure that same question crossed all of our minds.
"It means that your arm is going to fester, and the disease is going to spread until it takes over your entire body at which point you'll become a demon yourself; not like Eisan or Rynn, who were born demons, but a mindless monster like the one you killed."
"That's scary as hell," Lull admitted, but his voice remained composed, as though he had gotten through tougher situations than this. He did, of course, and that was something I could attest to. "What can I do?" he asked.
Misane's amber eyes honed in on me. "Do you still have the Sword of Promised Ruin, Ayato?" she inquired.
"Of course not. I surrendered that to the Citadel after we beat King Balam," my reply was immediate.
"What about Surtur?"
I stood up from the couch's armrest and raised one arm to the sky; red flames began to swirl around my elevated hand, and then mingled together to form the shape of a sword. When I gripped the flaming monstrosity, the flames dissipated, leaving a sword of steel in my hand.
The magic sword Surtur - I had come across it early on in my journey and, at least until I pulled out the Sword of Promised Ruin, it had been my go-to weapon. It was the only sword that didn't shatter when I infused it with the Heavenly Flames of Rakshasa, and the legend was that it had been forged by the God of Fire himself.
"OK," Misane didn't even pretend to be impressed; it wasn't in her character, and besides she had seen me do this many times before. "Now use it to cut off Lull's arm. That's the only way to save him."
"Wait, what the hell..." Lull was suddenly on his knees in front of Misane, clutching at the hem of her skirt. "I came here because I thought you could help me. You're always reading books, aren't you? There's got to be something else!" he wailed.
"I'm doing some important research right now," Misane was checking her nails, completely ignoring Lull's pleas, which were getting all the more desperate. "On the Hero Ritual. It's the boss' orders, you see."
Misane almost never left the library, and I supposed that I was partly responsible for that. It was me, after all, who instructed her to find out information on the ridiculously arcane Hero Ritual; it was via this ritual that I was summoned to this world in the first place and was, presumably, the only way to send me back.
But, of course, Lull's plight was way more important!
I had every intention of telling Misane to drop everything relating to the Hero Ritual for the time being, and to focus solely on finding a way to cure Lull without having to maim him. But Marissa beat me to the punch, her voice assuming the motherly tenor that it always did when Misane and Lull were involved.
"Why don't you all take this up to the library," she began, "and I'll bring up some tea in just a moment?"
Arisa and I looked at each other and grimaced. We both had the same thought, I knew. It was still too soon for another cup of tea.