Chapter 14:

No Honour Amongst Thieves

The Songstress of Avalon

"They're out there again today."

It had been about a week after the fiasco with Lull and his cursed arm. The itinerant flute player was still recuperating in the embassy, and now occupied the third floor guest room. Any and all attempts by Marissa to change his temporary residency into a permanent one were quickly rebuffed. He was an adventurer, after all.

Misane audibly expressed her desire to see him gone as soon as possible, but strangely enough, her appearances at the dinner table had increased drastically over the past week. That, however, could easily be attributed to her wanting to question Arisa. 

But, on that front, she was probably better off trying to get blood from a stone. And in any case, I had a more pressing matter to deal with - we were being watched.

I had noticed them skulking around the embassy during my daily walks. Everyday, for at least the past week, the same two people would be loitering on the street just outside. They were undoubtedly Prince Lorenzo's goons, although they appeared in the casual garbs of regular city merchants. Trajan, when I requested a private meeting with him, only shrugged, but with that man, the lack of a denial was key.

I peeked through the window blinds, and noted the two grunts whose faces I had gotten so used to seeing. Not their true faces, of course, they both wore comically fake mustaches and sunglasses which looked completely out of place in this world.

"Let them burn themselves to death in this heat. Nobody's leaving the embassy today anyways, right?" I asked.

Marissa thought for a moment and then replied. "I bought groceries yesterday. There shouldn't be any need for anybody to go out," she said.

As though Fate, in her omniscient orbits, was listening in on our conversation and thought it appropriate to punish our complacency, Misane made one of her rare ground floor appearances, made all the more rare by the fact that Arisa was resting in her rooms, a fact that Misane would have known.

She was clutching a small volume in her hands, the book opened in the middle, and which she held out for me to read. "I found out some information about the Hero Ritual," she said.

"Do you need Arisa to read it for you?" I concealed my rising excitement with the jibe, but she merely ignored this.

"I'm going to need a Jewel of Lazarus," she said, scowling. "If you can get me one, I believe I can send you back to your own world."

"A jewel of who? It sounds pretty expensive."

"You don't know the story?" Marissa chimed in, the revelation of Misane's substantial news didn't seem to affect her in the slightest. Without affectation, she launched into the story of which I was so ignorant.

"Lazarus was a pious king who loved the gods more than anything else. In order to honour them, he had his citizens sculpt a massive monument to them out of stone. A wandering goddess saw the tribute, and was so moved that she used her powers to transform the monument into pure diamond. Even in antiquity, it would have been the most valuable jewel in the world."

"And this sculpture is the Jewel of Lazarus? Well, if it's so massive then it should at least be easy to find..." I began to say.

"Not quite," Marissa smiled. "The goddess was horrified by the way King Lazarus treated his subjects. He had them work inhumane hours and in grueling conditions; and if they refused, he got his soldiers to whip them. In order to punish him, the goddess shattered the diamond into equal parts and scattered them across the realm. Each individual diamond is known as a Jewel of Lazarus."

"A real Jewel of Lazarus should fit snugly into the palm of my hand," Misane clarified, holding out her open palm to demonstrate. "Any smaller or any bigger, and we're probably dealing with a counterfeit."

"I'll leave the appraisal work to you, Misane," I nodded. "But how exactly do we get our hands on a Jewel of Lazarus? There can't be that many in the world."

"Try the Grand Bazaar."

It was Lull who spoke, staggering down the stairs with only some minor difficulty. He had recovered to the point that he was no longer confined to bed, and it was clear that he was getting a little bit restless. I couldn't blame him since, just like me, he had an adventurer's soul.

"That's certainly a good idea," Marissa said. "Items from all over the realm are sold at the Grand Bazaar, and it's pretty close to here. Erisso in the Kingdom of Aleria, right? With two good horses, we could get there in two days."

"And it starts tomorrow," Lull pointed out. "A week long affair. I had intended to head there myself, after I was done here, but there's no harm in missing the first day."

Much like how it had been during our party's adventuring days, it was a brainstorm session which decided our next course of action. Being from another world, and having little knowledge of this realm, I naturally contributed the least to these sessions; but, being the de facto leader of the group, I could always give my stamp of approval at the end.

"Then it's decided," I affirmed. "Lull, Misane and I will go to the Grand Bazaar tomorrow morning. Marissa, you'll be the acting ambassador while I'm gone. Make sure Arisa doesn't leave the building."

Then, a scream pierced the scene.

Marissa, who had been standing by the window the whole time, was the first to react. She thrust her head out the window and shouted immediately that the two individuals who had been prowling around the premises had disappeared. It could only mean that Prince Lorenzo's goons had decided to make their move.

I rushed up the stairs with the intention of going to Arisa's room, but the struggle had already spilled into the hallway. The two men were large, and easily overpowered the girl who could only make things somewhat difficult by lashing out with the limbs they weren't able to restrain. 

Surtur was in my hand, and I was ready to attack when two figures zoomed past me, crashing through the hallway's stained glass window. At first I thought Arisa had decided to go full desperado and tackle one of her assailants. But there she stood in front of me, a bit shaken up, but ultimately unharmed.

"Ooh, was that the Moon Goddess' Typhoon?" Misane's drifted past me, as she made her way to Arisa's side.

"The Moon Goddess' Typhoon? What is that, some kind of spell?" I demanded to know.

"I've been helping Misa out," Arisa explained to me, almost shyly. "There are some spells she can't use, but I can. I don't really get it, but..."

Misa? How did you two get so close in the span of a single week?

"There are spells that only work when cast in the Divine Speech. I don't know why Ari here can speak it, but she's helped me out a lot. Some incantations that I thought were hoaxes have turned out to be extremely strong magical attacks... like that move just now. Hey, I wonder if those two guys outside are OK?"

Ari? You two are doing this on purpose, right?

But the friendship between Arisa and Misa was the least of my concerns right now. This wasn't just a case of burglary, but something much more heinous. It was an attack on the integrity of this embassy, and couldn't be allowed to stand. But it wasn't as though I could just march over to the Prince's residence and beat him up - I was a diplomat, after all.

"Who cares if they're OK or not?" I murmured callously, turning to the bottom of the stairs. Lull and Marissa were slowly making their way up, the former, still injured, being supported by the latter. "Marissa, I want you to write a letter to King Karslake and tell him that two men on Prince Lorenzo del Fiore's payroll attempted to infiltrate the embassy. We'll see what he has to say about that."

Best to see what the boss thinks before making my own move. Seeing Lull, I suddenly had a bright idea.

"Also, do you remember when the principal from the local school asked you to help make costumes for their yearly pantomime?" I added.

"Of course I do, it was only last month... why do you ask, Ayato?" she replied, puzzled.

"Bring them to me. I have an idea," I grinned, and hoped that the expression on my face didn't come across as sinister. It was a stroke of genius, I thought, and would appeal to everyone except the person who was to serve as the cornerstone of my plan.

But he'd just have to suck it up - even though I trusted Marissa with my life; even though she had access to Misane's treasure trove of arcane spells, I decided I couldn't let Arisa out of my sight.

Steward McOy