Chapter 13:

A Hero's Resolve

The Songstress of Avalon


When I was in my final year of elementary school, I almost drowned.

It was during a fishing trip with the Satou family who lived next door. I had known their daughter, Tsumugi, practically since birth and because my parents were busy working even during the summer months, they were more than happy to pawn me off to the Satous for a day. 

Tsumugi's constitution was never good, and so she wasn't a particularly strong swimmer; when she incidentally fell into the water, I found myself diving in right after her. Only that I wasn't a great swimmer either. I had done OK in the school pool, but the ocean was a different beast altogether. Fortunately Tsumugi's older brother, a high school swimmer with Olympic aspirations, was on hand to drag us both out.

When my parents found out, they gave me an earful. They keep asking me the same question over and over: "Why? Why did you jump into the water even though you knew you couldn't swim? How could you be so reckless? Are you stupid?"

I couldn't help it, I'd reply. My legs moved before I could even think.

***

Having just made it in time, I now stood between Arisa, still clutching The Healer of the Lake tight against her chest, and Lull's engorged arm which had taken on a life of its own. The only thing preventing this demonic arm from crushing me was Surtur, which had materialised in my hand in an instant.

Balled up into a fist, the demonic arm strained against the vermilion tinged steel of my sword; imbued with the Heavenly Flames, Surtur was able to hold firm against the demonic pressure. However, the flooring of the library's second level wasn't particularly thick - even now, it rumbled, threatening to send us all crashing down.

Misane suddenly appeared, crawling between my legs, murmuring under her breath. 

"Didn't I say a demon's greatest instincts are self-preservation and propagation?" she said, clearly irritated, her voice unnaturally composed despite the situation. "He's angry because your spell was working. Just keep doing what you were doing," she tapped at the large volume in Arisa's hands.

"That's as good a plan as any!" I yelled. "Ah, Lull, why didn't you just let me cut off your arm?"

The arm had grown even bigger, to the point that it dwarfed the body to which it was attached. Comically, Lull couldn't even stand on his own two feet anymore. Instead, he was floating about twenty centimetres in the air, a look of consternation on his face. It was clear that he was trying to exert some control over the unruly limb.

"Alright, fine!" he wailed. "Since it's come to this, just cut it off! I'm probably the only musician in the world who doesn't need both arms anyway..."

"Hah! Good to know, but let's not get too hasty..." I tightened my grip on Surtur's hilt, the steel made a chattering noise as the demonic arm pressed against it. I turned my head momentarily to take in the scene behind me, Arisa reciting from the book while Misane watched over her.

I'm going to trust you on this one, Iwasaki.

As the heavenly soprano began again, I could feel the demonic arm's desperation growing as it pressed down even more heavily. It was essentially being assailed from three sides. Arisa's song must have been causing it unbearable pain, but his attempt to silence her was being thwarted by me; and I was sure that Lull was doing his own bit to stem the demon's influence.

The pressure gradually lessened. Lull's arm slowly began to recede in size, the dark pustules which marred it dissipating without leaving a single trace that they were ever there. As Arisa's verse came to an end, so did the curse which afflicted Lullaby Boy. I dropped Surtur and caught him as he fell, clearly exhausted after the ordeal.

Oblivious to Lull's condition, Misane shook Arisa by the shoulders and began to hurtle question after question at her.

"How did you do that? Do you know Divine Speech? Are you some sort of goddess? Where have you been hiding this whole time? Can you..."

Arisa's eyes glazed over, clearly overwhelmed by this deluge of questions.

"Stop that. This isn't the time," I reprimanded her. Lull still rested against me, his slight shoulders heaving weakly.

"Yeah, but..." Misane looked at me with dewy eyes, her mouth open as though she wanted to say something in her defence. However, a clattering sound caught her attention and she, and the rest of us too, directed our gazes towards the entrance.

Marissa stood there, mouth agape, a tray and several teacups littered around her in a circle. She looked up at us, still perched on the second floor, and in her motherly, reproachful voice demanded to know ''just exactly what the hell happened?".

***

Leaving Misane to explain what happened to Marissa, I lugged an exhausted Lull onto my shoulders and headed for the staircase. I had asked Arisa to come with me, not because I thought I'd need her help carrying Lull's slight frame up the stairs but because I wanted to spare her Misane's barrage of questions.

Well, I had some questions of my own too.

"Just what was that back there?" I asked, when we were out of earshot of those left in the library. Lull was snoring peacefully, dead to the world.

"What was what?" she replied, innocently.

"How did you know how to cast that spell?" I clarified, and Arisa merely shrugged in reply.

"How's it my problem that you guys can't read properly?"

I decided to accept her snarky answer readily, since it was clear to me that even Arisa couldn't explain how she had done what she did. From my own experience, I had observed that humans from our world couldn't, as a rule, utilise magic. If I hadn't made that contract with Rakshasa, I wouldn't have any magical ability to speak of.

From that, I can deduce that either Arisa made a similar contract in exchange for some sort of arcane ability, or it had happened but without her knowledge. The staircases in this building were wide, large enough to accommodate two people on the same step; Arisa walked beside me, and I looked over at her.

What did I really know about this girl?

"In any case, you might be my ticket out of here."

Arisa cocked an eyebrow and answered, "how'd you figure that?"

"I was summoned via something called the Hero Ritual," I explained. "Only the guys who brought me here don't know how to send me back. Misane's been trying to find out information about it. When she does, maybe it turns out that she can't 'read it'. Do you follow me?"

Arisa nodded with a laugh. "You seem really eager to go back to Japan. Any reason why?" she asked.

"Oh, you know. My beloved Tigers, Konbini chiki, and of course, there's school. I'm going to be a doctor."

I flashed her a look which I hoped would show my determination; probably, it was the same look that was on my face when I stood between her and Lull's cursed arm, although of course she couldn't have seen it then.

"Funny," Arisa began to hum. "I thought you had a pretty good life here. Ah, your hands aren't free. Here, let me..."

Seeing that both my hands were tied up in carrying Lull, Arisa darted ahead of me and opened the door to the third floor guest room. I walked in and deposited him on the bed and, for good measure, draped a quilt over his diminutive frame. Although still sleeping soundly, Lull seemed to be getting comfortable; a light snore now emanated from him.

"A doctor, huh?" Arisa, who was waiting outside the guest room, said when I exited.

"Yeah," I replied. "I'll tell you all about it soon. But first, we should help Misane clean up the library."

"You know, I meant to tell you about this earlier," she knocked on her head like it was a door, and stuck her tongue out, as if teasing me. "But I've lost most of my memories. I can barely remember a thing!"

"Wait, what?"

But she was gone - immediately after making that revelation she zoomed towards the staircase and descended back to the library.

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