There was a murmuring, pleasant sensation.
It was a little cold, but its gentle and soft caresses against Yuna’s body put her at ease.
Yuna slowly opened her heavy eyes and raised her head a little.
Her eyes were still out of focus but faintly, in her vision, she could see a rock face? Come to think of it, she could also feel a rough and rugged sensation against her body.
Where was she right now? What was she doing?
Little by little, her awareness came to her and Yuna slowly raised her upper body– her body was very heavy. But even still, she somehow twists her body and looks around the area. It seems that she is at the edge of a river.
Most of her body is submerged in water and only her upper body is leaning against the moss-covered stones of the riverside. She must have lost consciousness like this. Because she had been in the water for some time, her hands and feet were chilled.
There was a thick forest in this area and in between the gaps of the tall trees, a black night sky spread. And, as if shying away from the painted black sky, the stars twinkled here and there, and the moon could not be seen.
Yuna gathered up her white one-piece dress, heavy with water, and crawled out from the river.
“Where is… this place.”
Muttering that, Yuna became anxious.
A small river in the middle of the forest. At this vague realization, she also realized that she didn’t have the slightest idea as to why she was here or what she was doing here. Did she come here on a walk? However, surrounded by steep slopes and exposed rock, this place doesn’t appear suitable for a walk.
So then, why was she–.
She– her… Her?
Suddenly, Yuna looked up.
She just remembered something. A very important something.
“That’s right… that’s right, I… died!”
And, on top of that, she became a substitute for a complete stranger with a stranger who also died, all because of a brief moment… No, it wasn’t forced onto her. The events in that white world gradually came back to her.
“I’m not– Yuna anymore.”
Mumbling this, Yuna was shocked. She spread both her hands, numbed with cold, and took a long hard look at them. But they were the hands of a young girl around the same age as her, and she couldn’t see a difference between now and then. Even more so in this darkness. In this night, without a moon, she couldn’t even check her face in the water’s reflection. She lowered her hands, giving up on them, but then felt like she touched a small lump. Reflexively, she pulled her hand away and glanced down. There was a black lump stuck onto the one-piece dress she was wearing, and she happened to see it crawl, rustling, across the fabric.
Yuna brushed it away at once with her hand. Looking closely at the lump that tumbled down onto the ground, it was a poisonous insect. It was said that some have even lost their lives if they were bitten. Becoming scared, Yuna forced her heavy body to move and stood up to leave the edge of the river, running away from the poisonous insect. The stones tripped up her feet and she nearly fell many times. However, there was no one to support her.
(I don’t want to be in this place. I want to hurry and leave. At any rate, I want to meet someone.)
Yes, first she had to somehow make her way to a village. What had become of her, why did Celiastina choose this place as her last moments, and what she knew or what she should do– all of these were out of the question until she found someone first.
“What do I do? Is this place a brook or something?”
If that was the case, then if she climbed up the forest slope there might be a boardwalk. And if she walked alongside that then it should become a road. On another note, she hadn’t been expecting that she would end up with this hard work upon her return to life; but nothing would happen if she complained about that now. Yuna approached the slope and tested the solidity of the soil. The slope itself was gentle and the ground wasn’t too soft. It seemed possible to climb if she grabbed onto the tree trunks and weeds as she went up.
(Here we go!)
Motivating herself, Yuna reached out to the first weed that would be the beginning– at that moment.
She heard the neigh of a horse in the distance. Following it, the faint sound of a man’s voice. At first, she couldn’t hear what was being said, but as she strained her ears she could hear that he was calling out the name of the saint– It was a person who was searching for her!
But the horse’s footsteps and the voice repeatedly came closer and went farther, it didn’t seem like they were approaching her. At this rate, they might leave without noticing her. Upon realizing that, Yuna raised her voice without hesitation; it was a voice louder than she had ever made, including the moment before she had been run over by the carriage.
“I’m over here–!! Help me–!!”
… Was it no good? The wall of dirty in front of her seemed to suck in her voice, making it so that it wouldn’t be heard very far.
“Please, notice me–!! SOMEONE–!!”
As Yuna continued to shout she, unconsciously, began to give into despair until somehow it seemed like the other person noticed her. The sound of a horse galloping over suddenly became quite distinct to her ears.
“I-I’m over here! Please, notice me!”
This time she could clearly hear the voice. That low, pleasant voice was strained right now but even still, to Yuna, it felt like a mercy filled blessing from God.
Suddenly, a man on horseback appeared at the top of the slope. In the darkness she could only see him as a large shadow, but it looked like he noticed her.
“Being in a place like that… please, wait for me!”
The owner of the voice said that sharply and nimbly jumped off the horse to descend the slope quickly. From the way he carried himself, she could tell that he received training.
In the blink of an eye he arrived at Yuna’s side and grabbed her firmly by the shoulders, pulling her in closer.
“Are you well!?”
The man looked straight at her with extremely serious eyes. Jet black eyes. They were sharp with a core that could not be shaken by anyone. To the extent that Yuna instinctively felt frightened.
In a moment, the man looked Yuna up and down, ascertaining whether or not she had any large injuries. He exhaled quietly, but upon noticing how her entire body was soaked and covered in mud, his brows furrowed greatly.
Yuna, being herself, took a long hard look at the man as well. His hair, as black as his eyes, was short and tidy, and he was a young man with a straight nose and graceful features. From his finely embroidered and detailed tunic, she didn’t think that he was a commoner. More importantly, if she had met him in a village she would have unconsciously backed away from the aristocratic atmosphere that was wrapped around his body. It seemed like he was someone of status.
“Are you unharmed?”
“Y-Yes. I’m… okay.”
“Nevertheless, let us return to the royal palace as soon as possible. Please hold on to me.”
Saying that, the man suddenly lifted Yuna up into his arms and ascended the slope as smoothly as when he had come down. It was so quick that Yuna could do nothing but clutch on to him pitiably and desperately.
The man put Yuna on top of the waiting horse. Following that, he jumped up behind her and forced the horse into a run. Watching this series of actions, Yuna noticed that he seemed to be angry.
(T-That’s natural, I guess. It looks like he was searching for the saint who went missing. Not only is there worry, but also anger, right?).
“… It is said that you went into the forest alone, without attendants.”
As she thought, the man murmured this in a voice comprised of anger. His voice was also accompanied by such a cold ring that Yuna trembled in surprise.
“And that, even when night fell, you did not return. Do you know how much everyone worried?”
She felt ashamed as he said that. For Yuna, this was blame for something she had absolutely no recollection of, but right now she was definitely Celiastina and so she silently resigned herself to accepting his words.
“Please, never again, do such a thing. I sincerely beseech you.”
Sorry, Yuna mumbled in a very thin voice. However, her mumble seemed to disappear into the wind as the horse ran. In that case she at least had to tell him this; Yuna clumsily twisted her body around to look up at the young man behind her who was holding the reigns.
“… Um, thank you very much for coming all the way here to find me. I’m very grateful.”
Whereupon his eyes widened slightly, as if in surprise, and then suddenly his face twisted, a smile full of sarcasm appearing.
“– Just what kind of pretence is that. Is this some new form of torment?”
This time it was Yuna who stiffened and could do nothing but take in the gaze of the young man, who looked down on her.
When they reached the gates of the royal palace, the area was noisy.
The expression on everyone’s face was of exhaustion. There was irritation, eyes wavering with anxiety, and people walking here and there. People who were of high status, people who were of no status, everyone was clearly tired.
In the midst of all of this, two youths returned on horseback. Everyone’s reaction when they saw those two was intense, relieved sighs mixed with joyful shouts and there were even those who cried when the tension was cut. Yuna faltered at this reception; she hadn’t expected that the saint’s disappearance would create such a large chaos. She could feel vividly how important the existence of the saint was. But it certainly was a serious affair in the country if the saint disappeared. On top of that, if she had actually been dead… it was scary to imagine the chaos then.
One shadow walked calmly to Yuna who borrowed the young man’s hand to get off the horse. Yuna, who was concerned about the muddy and heavy hem of her one-piece dress, suddenly noticed the shadow and raised her head.
It was a young woman. Her body was covered in a deeply-colored robe. Yuna couldn’t see it clearly because of the dark, but it looked purple? Much like the black-haired young man who stood beside her, this woman had an overwhelming presence that a servant couldn’t possibly have. Moreover, she had distinct and exceedingly beautiful features. However, there was also a characteristic inapproachable atmosphere around her.
“It appears that both of you are unharmed.”
The woman said in a monotonous voice. The words were directed to the young man beside Yuna, but the woman’s cold gaze rested on her.
“Yes. Thank you for your concern, Sister Yodel.”
Except the woman, called Yodel by the black-haired man, was calm to the point where one wouldn’t even think she had been worried.
Being called out to by that woman, Yodel, made Yuna straighten her back in sudden nervousness. Of course this is what she would be called but, even though she knew that, there was an unspeakable sense of discomfort.
“Do you realize how much time everyone has lost for your sake? Everyone postponed their work to search for you. For what reason did you leave? If it is not a reason that can be understood, then everyone here will be unable to withdraw quietly.”
“T-That is, um…”
Yuna was lost. There was no way she could talk about the reason. If she said that she went into the forest to search for a place to commit suicide, the resulting chaos would be impossible to recover from. And, firstly, she herself would like to ask why the saint ended her own life.
Yodel’s brow furrowed and she glared at Yuna who couldn’t string her words properly. Yuna unintentionally dropped her eyes, becoming scared. However, at the same time, she could feel an anger boiling up inside of her. A cold anger. Noticing this, Yuna became even more flustered– what was this feeling.
(These aren’t… my feelings.)
Of course she knew the feeling of anger. It wouldn’t be strange to feel that towards Yodel who was staring at her with obvious hostility, but for some reason she couldn’t think of this as her own feelings. It was like her heart had become disconnected. This unknown part of her, right now, was angry at Yodel.
“Sister Yodel, this conversation can be done tomorrow. Let us all retire for today.”
The young man concluded their conversation in place of Yuna, who had remained silent. And it didn’t seem like Yodel was going to push the issue any more than that.
“Everyone, Saint Celiastina has returned safely. She appears to be exhausted but otherwise unharmed. Return to your stations and resume your duties. A messenger is to be sent promptly with orders for the search parties to return. That is all.”
The young man said this in a voice that carried and before long the chaos was calmed down. It seemed like he was a person of great authority since no one interjected and, as ordered, they dispersed and returned to their stations. Even though there must have been many questions they wanted to ask like where the saint went and why her appearance was so dirty, but not a single person voiced this. While admiring this, Yuna was taken deeper into the gates by the hand, past a row of bright flaming torches, and entrusted to the maids waiting at the entrance of the palace. The young man, who hadn’t told her his name, – though this was reasonable since it wasn’t his first time meeting her – glanced curtly at Yuna and took his leave with these few words, “Excuse me”.
(W… what was that?)
Yuna sighed, suddenly feeling tired.
It might have been due to being thrown into a world she didn’t understand, but it was also because of the harsh attitude from the young man and Yodel. Their attitude pierced Yuna. It doesn’t look like they were just angry because of Celiastina disappearing on her own. She felt something more than that, something like hatred. For a second that young man, in the brook, had looked straight at her with those eyes. But then after that he only sent her looks distorted with contempt.
If it was nothing, then they wouldn’t have that attitude, right? Most likely there was a dispute between them that she had nothing to do with. But there didn’t seem to be a way to learn about that right now. Suppressing any feelings of dissatisfaction, Yuna let herself be pulled by the maids into a nearby room.
In a short time an elderly man entered the room. The man, who was a doctor, efficiently checked Yuna’s state and confirmed that she had no great injuries. It was all done very businesslike without him even saying a single word like “You must have had a hard time”, but maybe it wasn’t easy to speak to the saint. At the end all he asked was “Are you feeling unwell anywhere?”, to which Yuna answered she was fine, and then he quickly withdrew from the room.
Then they moved to another room. Once again guided by the maids, she was taken to a large bath. Now that she thought about it, she was soaked wet and covered in mud. It was unmistakably a miserable state unbefitting of the saint. If that was true, then she might have wanted to enter the baths first before being examined by the doctor.
Suddenly, the maids said “Excuse me” and started to remove Yuna’s clothes. Yuna was startled. Just moments ago, she had been living as a commoner and now she was getting help to take a bath!? Even though she knew this was common practice for nobility, she pulled away to refuse them at once.
The maids knitted their brows, puzzled, at Yuna suddenly withdrawing.
“Ah, no, um, I-I’ll be fine alone.”
At her hesitant answer, the maids’ eyes widened in surprise.
“Is something the matter?”
“No, I just want to enter the bath alone today.”
“Please do not say such a thing. We cannot allow Lady Celiastina to bathe alone.”
They had a point. She was the saint who went out alone, unreasonably, and became lost. And she might be guilty of other eccentricities. She might have people who need to stay by her side to watch her. However…
“Um, please, let me enter alone.”
“I’ll be FINE!”
She said this with unintentional force and the maids’ faces were suddenly filled with fear. And then, immediately, they lowered their heads greatly and repeated, “We apologize deeply”, over and over.
“We have offended you greatly with our lack of thought. We will call for replacements immediately, so please do not be angry.”
There was nothing to be angry about. It was Yuna who was taken aback by the sudden fear in the maids. This wasn’t a situation where she could speak poorly with the maids desperately asking for forgiveness with pale faces. But, during her confusion, the maids were changed, and it wasn’t a situation where she could say something like “I’ll enter alone”. And so, in the end, Yuna left everything up to the maids and finished her bath while feeling like her face was aflame with embarrassment.
It was midnight by the time Yuna was returned to her room and finally alone.
Even though she said returned, this was Yuna’s first time entering this room. It was excessively large and luxurious, a ridiculous room that could fit Yuna’s house many times over. There were also many items that she didn’t recognize set up around the room which would have cost her entire family many hundreds of years of work to purchase. If she hadn’t been in her current situation she would have been wandering around in delight, but she didn’t even have the energy to feel excited. Yuna threw herself on the soft canopy bed and heaved a large sigh.
(Tired… I’m so tired…)
It can’t be helped in a situation like this where she didn’t even know right from left. But thinking about how this would continue day after day made her feel weary. She started to feel nostalgic for the time she spent as a village girl without a burden.
(Ah, but I can’t return to that anymore. Because Yuna is dead. Once the real Celiastina’s soul returns, this time I will head to the afterlife. I will disappear… from this world.)
Yuna thought that this was cruel. If only she had just died completely at that time. Thinking that, she started to feel a bit of hate towards that light. She felt sorry for herself and how she had to live through these days while being tormented by the fear of a slow and gradually approaching death. But now that it’s come to this, it is unavoidable for her to live while always being aware of the form of death. It wouldn’t leave her mind. She would die, she would die, in the near future…
It was also sad that she couldn’t see her parents. Once the current situation calmed down a little, maybe she should secretly go out to see them. But when she thought that she immediately shook her head. Yuna was sure that her parents were mourning her death. And she was going to see them like that? With what kind of expression? Ah, that’s right, it was unfilial of her to die earlier than her parents. She couldn’t face them after that, right?
No matter what she thought she just became depressed.
Yuna moved her head sluggishly and looked over the large room; there was a full-length mirror in the corner, which reminded her that she hadn’t checked her own appearance yet. Thinking that suddenly, Yuna got out of bed quietly and timidly approached the mirror. She stood in front of the mirror, nervous, and slowly raised her head.
And then Yuna was astonished.
What was this. Was this the appearance of a human?
There stood an absurdly beautiful woman. Pale translucent skin and distinct purple eyes. Pale blonde hair that stretched directly to her waist and looked as if it were glimmering. Small and shapely lips, which were parted slightly in shock right now. Her long eyelashes, which swayed each time she blinked, would catch the eyes of anyone. And then, on her neck, the symbol of a saint, the “Holy Mark”, was firmly etched.
Certainly, she had heard rumors about Saint Celiastina’s beauty and how it surpassed any treasures of this world. But she had thought those were just flowery words to praise the saint. She was wrong. Those weren’t just flattery. She’s never seen a beauty like this before. Yodel, who she had just met, was also beautiful but Celiastina was even more so. It goes without saying that everything about Celiastina was arranged in such a way that Yuna could not even compare.
“This is… Lady Celiastina.”
Yuna recalled the look of contempt that the young man had while standing in front of this angelic woman.
Just this beauty alone would make anyone prostrate themselves before it, but he hated her. Why?
(– Argh, I keep on thinking about that. Stop, stop. Anyway, let’s sleep for today. Tomorrow is going to be just as hard.)
Shaking her head, she thought about something else. Yes, tomorrow would be hard. Right now, Yuna knew no one and she would be in a situation where the people around her knew her. Sooner or later, the people around her might start looking at her with suspicion. But Celiastina was definitely going to return one day. Yuna had to do her best to quickly become familiar with this place so that Celiastina, when she returned, would not be suspicious. That was her mission.
Her life up until now had ended. And now, a new life had begun. The girl who had once been Yuna closed her eyes and firmly accepted that fact.
A/N: I’m only going to include this one image from the book to show that there are illustrations throughout this story. If you’re enjoying this story please consider buying the books from Amazon Japan and supporting the author!