Chapter 19:

Beneath Her Starry Gaze

The Songstress of Avalon

For the next three hours, we enjoyed all of the fine things the Grand Bazaar had to offer. Although we certainly ate our fill, there was more to the bazaar than just food. We scoured the stalls for souvenirs and trinkets to bring back for Marissa and Lull; the latter, I knew, must have been immensely disappointed to have missed this seasonal event.

"Look at this Veronican fabric I got for Marissa. And this vermilion dye... I wonder what kind of clothes she'll make with these?"

"Probably a scarf or something," I ventured a guess. "She'll give it to Trajan, but he probably won't wear it."

"That sounds about right," Misane laughed, and then showed off her own omiyage. "Lull's always playing that dusty old flute. It’s a keepsake from his father or something, so he’ll never accept a new one. A case, on the other hand…”

She held the flute case up for us to inspect; like the container which held the Jewel of Lazarus, it was made of wood, and its meticulous design of geometric shapes and varnish finishing suggested that it was the work of, if not a master craftsman, then at least a very diligent one.

“Is anyone still hungry?” I asked, out of the blue to which the two girls stared at me with incredulous looks on their faces. “Not that I’m still hungry or anything! I’m just saying we should go back to the inn and tell Orion we don’t need any dinner.”

“I’ll tell him,” Misane stretched in her catlike way. “I’m tired anyways.”

“Ah, Misa, I’ll go with you-,” Arisa began, but was quickly cut off.

“You should stay here and enjoy the rest of the bazaar! You know, this place becomes a bit like a festival after sunset.”

“But I still don’t think you should go alone…”

“Take the hint!” Misane nudged Arisa in the ribs. “I’m giving you a good chance, or do you want me to third wheel all night? I have something important to tell you later but have fun first, okay?”

“Misa, it’s really not like that…”

I could hear everything, of course, even though I was trying my best not to. They seemed to be unaware that their voices carried over, which was strange considering that I only stood a couple of feet away from them. In any case, I felt like I had to say something quickly, before I overheard something sensitive.

“There’s going to be fireworks later.”

Misane latched onto this suggestion immediately. “Fireworks? That’s perfect! You two should go and look for a good spot. I’ll head back to the inn first, and tell Orion we don’t need dinner,” she proposed.

“Misa, wait!” Arisa began to protest, but the girl was already gone. She then looked at me, her head tilted in confusion. “How is she going to know where to find us?”

“I don’t think she has any intention of trying to find us.”

“You’re right,” Arisa sighed. “She didn’t want to third wheel, she said. She must be misunderstanding something…”

“What, you mean you’re not madly in love with me?”

“Hmph, as if!” Arisa puffed out her cheeks. “You’re nothing like Yoshi-kun.”

“Yoshi-kun? W-w-who’s that?”

“Fujiwara Yoshikazu.”

“That popular up-and-coming idol?” I began to laugh – the name certainly rang a bell, but it was hard for me to believe that Arisa was dating him, or even that a guy like him was allowed to date at all. “Is he your boyfriend?” I asked.

“Of course not!” she replied flustered. “I’m just saying that’s my type, and you’re nothing like him. And he’s not up-and-coming anymore. His songs are always near the top of the charts.”

Well, I suppose I have been out of the loop for the past five years…

“That’s your type?” I sneered. “Drenched in make up and mass produced in a factory? I think I’m a much better catch…”

“He’s nice, and talented, and handsome, and…”

“It’s just an act, isn’t it? He’s selling a character.”

“Well, a girl can dream, can’t she?”

At some point during our conversation, which cambered from playful teasing to our lives in Japan, our legs began to move and we soon found ourselves beyond the throng of bazaar-goers and into the realm of young couples and families. The incline which we gradually ascended guaranteed a plum spot for the upcoming fireworks.

The ground slowly became grassier, and eventually evened out. Essentially, we were standing on top of a small hill. A nervous moon occasionally peaked out from behind the clouds, illuminating slightly the faces of the people around us.

When we were a good distance away from any other group, we stopped.

“You know,” I looked at Arisa in the dim. “If we just continued our daily life like this, I think you would have eventually fallen in love with me.”

Despite the audacity of my words, she seemed to be considering them seriously.

“Why do you think that?” she asked, after some reflection.

“The mere exposure effect,” I explained. “The more familiar somebody becomes with something or someone, the more they develop a preference for it. Of course, its application extends beyond interpersonal relationships…”

“Then why haven’t Marissa or Misa fallen for you? Or any of the other people you might have had in your party?” she pointed out. “After all, they also say that familiarity breeds contempt.”

“Because I’m not from here,” I replied automatically. “You’ve also started experiencing it, right? The incongruity of being an outsider.”


“And besides, Marissa and Trajan are a thing. Probably because of all that time they spent together.”

“I see. So, I’m going to fall in love with you,” she spoke softly. “That goes both ways, of course? You’ll fall in love with me too…”

“Could be,” I grinned. “This is all hypothetical, because who knows how long it takes for the mere exposure effect to start working its magic? This time next week, I could be back in Wakaba and you in Matsumoto.”

“… going back.”

In a moment that wouldn’t have been out of place in a shojo manga, Arisa’s voice was drowned out by the sound of fireworks being set off. The first part of her sentence was anyways; I could just about hear the latter part, but for some reason, it didn’t strike me as being the love confession one might expect if this really were a shojo manga.

However, at that point, the only thing on my mind were the lights in the sky which reminded me of the summer festivals of my youth.

“I wonder what month it is in Japan right now…” I murmured.

As unfair as it was to the girl beside me, the image of Tsumugi flittered through my mind – in particular, the memory of our final summer in elementary school. Bedridden, as she often was, and unable to attend the local summer festival, we had enjoyed the fireworks from the window of her second-floor bedroom.

“We should go back,” I said, when the last of the fireworks rippled away into nothingness.

We found Misane waiting for us in the darkness of the inn, the Jewel of Lazarus awkwardly spilling out from the palm of her hand. Orion had probably already gone to sleep which, in its roundabout way, showed how much he trusted us.

She raised an eyebrow as we came in. “Back so soon?” she asked.

“The fireworks are over,” Arisa replied. “And besides, I was curious about what you wanted to tell me.”

“You have something to tell us?” I queried. “What is it?”

“I do, indeed,” Misane sighed. “I wanted you two to have as much fun as you could before I told you, since I just know that this will ruin your mood.”

At this juncture, there was only one thing that could possibly ruin my mood.

“Misa, you can’t possibly mean…” I knew what Arisa was hinting at before the words left her mouth. It was as though we had the exact same thought, at the exact same time.

“This jewel is a fake,” Misane stated bluntly.


“I had my suspicions when I held it for the first time,” she began to explain. “After all, a Jewel of Lazarus is supposed to fit perfectly in the palm of one’s hand. This one didn’t, but I couldn’t be sure since I never held one before. The reason I wanted to come back earlier was so I could run some tests and…”

“And it’s a forgery...”

The despondency in my voice was palpable; the only source of light in the room emanated from a lantern on the table near Misane. In the darkness, I felt something soft squeezing against me – Arisa’s way of comforting me, to be sure. I couldn’t remember the last time anyone had hugged me, so this provided more reassurance than any words could have.

“That’s not all. Orion gave me this earlier. He said it came for you in the mail,” Misane’s unintentionally cold voice broke the silence. She held up an envelope, affixed with the royal stamp of the eminent Karslake family who currently reigned in the Kingdom of Avispa.

In other words, my employers were trying to reach me somehow.

Steward McOy