Chapter 25:

In Service of a Hero

The Songstress of Avalon

"Oyo? This looks to be the real thing..."

After a cursory inspection, Misane lowered her magnifying glass and shifted slightly to Arisa's right. She then raised it again, this time examining the jewel from a completely different angle. To me, however, this looked to be an inane attempt at empirical observation. She put the magnifying glass down for the second time, and made a face which suggested that she was still not fully convinced.

"Ari, let me hold it," Misane took the jewel and placed it on her palm, occasionally shifting its position. "OK, now I'm sure. This is the genuine article, Ayato," she nodded.

I began to get excited - despite my earlier premonition, and Trajan's intel, it seemed as though Prince Lorenzo had yet to make his move. The jewel was certainly real, as Misane just testified, so perhaps there was a chance that I could be sent back to my world before having to deal with the prince?

"Marissa and the others aren't here, but I guess it can't be helped..." I stepped up and enveloped Misane in both of my arms.

Strangely enough, there was no resistance on her part; the unexpectedness of my actions must have stunned her stock-still. I couldn't see her, but I imagined her face had turned scarlet.

"W-w-w-w-what d-d-d-do y-you t-t-think you're d-doing!" Misane's voice was high.

"Thanks for everything," I said, releasing my hold. "I won't forget you. Now, can you use the jewel to send us back?"

"Ayato..." she looked surprised for a second, but in an instant had become her old, disagreeable self again. "Hmph! Fine, I'll begin the preparations. It'll only take a few days."

"Great. By the way, if someone shows up at the embassy asking for me, can you tell her I won't be needing her after all? Thanks, and... ah...?"

Wait, what?

"What do you mean a few days?! You can't send me back immediately?"

"Of course not," Misane looked incredulous, and then as though she just realised something, "That's right. I never told you, did I? The truth about the Hero Ritual, that is..."

"You said you needed the Jewel of Lazarus, but that was all. Was there more?" I asked.

"First off, I want to say that the Hero Ritual is a terrible name for what we're talking about," Misane prefaced her explanation with a sneer. "Rightfully, it should be called the God Ritual, you know?"

"The God Ritual?" Arisa and I both spoke in unison - she had been listening complacently up until now, but mention of the God Ritual had clearly sparked her interest, evidenced by the intense look of concentration now present on her face.

"Lazarus is the man who offended the gods, right? So, it's only fitting that these jewels are used as a catalyst to summon them," Misane began. "We're going to use the jewels to summon a god, and then we're going to ask that god to send you back to your world. Pretty simple, isn't it?"

"Sure, but why can't you send me back right now?" I inquired. "You said we already have the catalyst to summon the god."

"Because, you dunce," Misane rejoined, "we're dealing with a god here. Weren't you listening? A G-O-D!" she spelled the word out, but it still offered little in the way of an explanation.

"We can summon the god, but there's no guarantee he'll just do what we say, right? It's not like we're freeing a genie from a bottle, and it's obligated to grant us three wishes in return."

It was Arisa who ventured the above explanation, and it certainly made sense. If I were a god and existed in a space and time inaccessible to mortal beings, I would be absolutely peeved if I were to be summoned. In fact, I might even decide to use my godly powers to turn those who summoned me into frogs.

Maybe there's another way of getting back to Japan...

"Exactly, Ari!" Misane's eyes brightened. "I'm glad somebody was listening to my explanation," she was glowering at me.

"You didn't actually explain anything."

Misane ignored this and continued. "In any case, I have to prepare the appropriate offerings. If I do that, the god we summon will be appeased and grant us our wish."

"Offerings? I hope you don't mean like a sacrifice," I looked dubiously in Arisa's direction; if this were a second-rate love story, then even a monkey with a typewriter would have been able to pen the obvious, melodramatic conclusion - she sacrifices herself so that he can go home, or vice-versa.

But there was no way. Right?

"How do you know the god will accept your offerings?" I asked the question in order to assuage my vague suspicions.

"Don't you know anything, Ayato?" Misane was staring at me, her mouth curled into a smug grin. "The gods love fruits, and the best fruits in the realm are grown right here in Amalfi!"

And with that she was gone, presumably to pick some fruit for an unsuspecting deity.

"You'll finally get to go home, huh?" Arisa failed to hide, if she tried at all, the tinge of melancholy apparent in her voice.

"Not just me," I corrected her. "We'll finally be able to go home."

"Ah, I'm sorry to interrupt," an unfamiliar voice interrupted, its owner emerging from the shadows.

"Who are you?" 

"I didn't mean to eavesdrop, you know," the stranger, a gloomy man, said. "But I heard everything. I won't get into the legality of what you were discussing but, ah, well, I suppose the summoning of deities does represent a lacuna in the realm's laws. But first, you are Ayato, yes? The great hero who defeated King Balaam not so long ago?"

The man spoke slowly and articulately, but his delivery was so dry that I almost found myself falling asleep. It was like listening to a particularly boring teacher drone on about an uninteresting topic immediately after lunch. Arisa nudged me in the ribs, and the stranger repeated his question.

"Are you the hero Ayato?"

"Yes, I am."

The stranger nodded. 

"Then," there was a hint of a smirk on his features, "before you start imploring the gods to answer your summons, I suggest you answer these summons. You've been served," he shoved something into my arms and stormed off.

It was as he was dawdling back into the shadows that I suddenly remembered those mild features, so plain and unassuming that they could have belonged to anybody. However, there was only one person who possessed such a somnolent, dry delivery. Hadn't he been one of Arturo's holy knights?

Galbart something... or was it Gilligan? Ah well...

The thing he had forced upon me was an envelope. I held it up to the light to get a better view, already knowing what I was going to find. There, engraved in the middle of the envelope, was the official emblem of the House del Fiore.

It looked like Prince Lorenzo had finally made his move, and that I would have to deal with him after all. And here I thought the demon lord was meant to be the last boss. I wasn't irritated, though. Maybe I was even glad that an opportunity to tie up all the loose ends had presented itself. I flashed the envelope in Arisa's direction.

She recognised it immediately and frowned.

"You said you had a plan to deal with him, right?"

"Yeah," I looked up at the sky. "She should be riding into town any time now."

Steward McOy