Chapter 28:

The Adventurers' Banquet

The Songstress of Avalon

The king nodded serenely and accepted Prince Lorenzo and Gilbert Gloom's request to withdraw their petition. There was, I thought, even a hint of relief in his voice as he proclaimed his kingly judgment - after all, now he wouldn't have to risk offending King Karslake. It certainly would have made their next card game night a bit awkward, or whatever it was the royals did whenever they got together.

Prince Lorenzo cast a fornlorn expression as the judgment was being read, and then promptly fell into the arms of Trajan Araya, who had appeared just in time to catch him. He had been standing and watching the proceedings by Marissa's side. 

Although he hadn't been present at the side consultation, it seemed as though the shrewd Trajan had some idea of what we had spoken about. Our eyes met as he carried the prince out of the throne room.

"Thank you, Ayato. I'll make a decent man out of him yet."

Gilbert Gloom had become his old self again, dry and impassive. He watched the judgment with a neutral expression on his face, staring blankly into the distance. I imagined he wasn't really present in the throne room at all; the scene he saw must have been in a completely different time and space, and I imagined it involved the fluttering of white capes and the sharp features of Arturo Artois.

He'll probably never bother us again.

We returned to the embassy in high spirits. Marissa immediately headed for the kitchen to prepare a feast, while Lull and Mab occupied the reception room so as to get better acquainted. This left Arisa and I standing in the hallway.

"Is Misa still in the library preparing the.. uhm, offerings? I didn't see her at the petition."

"Yeah," I nodded. "It can't be long now. What did she say, that it would take two or three days?"

"That sounds about right."

At this point, perhaps we would have been better served by joining the lively pair in the reception room. Instead of doing that, however, we continued to bask in the silence of the hallway, not speaking although I'm sure that we both had a lot to say.

"Are you excited to go back?" she asked eventually.

"My life will finally be able to begin."

It might've been a cop out answer of sorts - naturally, I was excited to return but it was a feeling tempered with melancholy. Just a tinge. After all, Avalon was my home for the past five years, and it would be difficult to leave the friends I've made. But, at the same time, perhaps it was time to drop the curtain on my role as the perennial outsider.

But I couldn't find the words. I could never find the words.

Arisa nodded solicitiously, and then suggested, "how about we go up to the library and see how Misa is getting on?"

I had heard worse ideas. We bounded up the stairs to Misa's library and were greeted to a confounding sight. The girl had shifted all the furniture to the corners of the room, leaving the center looking uncomfortably bare. The high ceilings made the place look more expansive than it really was, and walking in, it was as though we had entered the grand hall of some centuries old castle.

"Two more days," Misane said, when she saw us; her ruffled hair, and general disheveled appearance was a testament to how hard she was working.

"I managed to find a merchant trading in golden apples," she continued, "in two days, I'll have the final offering and then we can start the God Ritual."

"That's all well and good, but you look famished."

Mab's sensuous voice drifted from behind us. She was here on Marissa's orders, she said, to act as a human (well, demonic?) dinner bell. The hard work had been done, and now it was time for us to kick back and relax.

It took some convincing to pry a reluctant Misane from her workstation, but we were eventually able to do it; down below, Lull and Marissa had already finished setting the table. We had all settled around the dining room table and had just begun eating when the baritone ding-dong of the doorbell sounded through the embassy building.

Marissa floated wordlessly out of the dining room and returned seconds with Trajan trailing right behind her.

"I'm not late, am I?" he said sheepishly, placing an expensive looking bottle of wine on the table.

Glasses were distributed and the bottle of wine was cracked open. The drink began to flow, the food was served, and the party got under way. Soon enough, it had extended beyond the confines of the dining room. I could see Arisa preventing Misane from sneaking upstairs, and introducing her to Mab. 

"I think I'll leave too. Once you're gone, I mean," Lull appeared beside me.

"Aren't you tired of being a wander? Maybe I can put in a good word for you with King Karslake, and you can take my place as ambassador. Be my successor."

"I think I'll be wandering until the end of my days, Ayato," he looked contemplatively into his glass. "It's times like these that I wish our quest never ended."


"Selfish, I know, but I guess I'm not used to being left behind. After all, I'm usually the one saying goodbye, you know?"

His delicate features glowed a subdued red, and it was quite obvious that the alcohol was doing a lot of the talking for him. He excused himself, and now it was another voice which rang in my ear. This voice was much less well-meaning, and hearing it often put me in a foul mood. It must've known this, but then again, Rakshasa never did seem to care about my feelings.

"Yeah, Ayato! Who wants to be left behind? I can't survive without you, so why not do me a solid before you leave and find me a body?"

"It might be better if someone like you disappears forever," I thought to myself - that is to say I communicated it to the demon inside my head.

"You're terrible!"

With that comical whine, Rakshasa fell silent. Like all sentient beings, demons were inclined to self-preservation but they didn't seem to fear death. The prideful Rakshasa, certainly, wasn't going to debase himself in order to get a second chance at life. Living in my head as he did, I imagined he knew that my mind was made up.

I didn't think I'd be hearing from him again - but who knows? Maybe he'd like my world.

I wandered over to the reception room sofa where Arisa and Mab were locked in conversation; Misane was hovering around too, but sensing an opportunity she quickly scurried away when she saw that the other two girls had been distracted by my approach. She mouthed a ''thank you'', as she tiptoed up the stairs.

"Tell Ayato what you told me," Arisa simpered, nudging Mab on the shoulder.

Mab looked somewhat embarrassed, perhaps a consequence of the drained glass in her hand. "It's about my son," she began, "Sora."

"Sora? That sounds awfully familiar," I replied, but I couldn't really put a finger on where I had heard that name before - maybe a video game or something?

"What's with that vacant stare?" Arisa frowned at me, yet another person emboldened by the feast's free flowing alcohol. "Sora is our son's name, remember?!"

The situation was ripe for a misunderstanding, and I almost half expected to see Lull or Marissa standing behind me, with gaping mouths and bulging eyes. A quick throw back of the head dispelled the thought - everyone was much too absorbed in their own conversations, Trajan and Marissa were probably getting cosy somewhere.

"Of course I remember!" I replied. "From the dream world. It felt like such a long time ago..."

But then again, these last five years have been like a dream. And it was almost time to wake up.

Steward McOy