This was Asyut’s first time going to this jail.
Originally, this place was nothing more than a temporary detention facility for those who caused trouble in the royal palace. Normally, it was a forgotten space where no one entered or exited. Even when there was the occasional imprisoned person they would be properly transferred within a few days. Duo was probably the first person to have stayed in this jail for several weeks.
And that Duo… what was his emotional state as time passed?
When he thought about that, Asyut felt like he could understand a little bit of the emotional whirlpool in Duo. The sorrow of losing a loved one and the pain of being unable to save them. No, it was surely more than that– it must have been a deep and violent feeling of self-condemnation that tormented him, as if he had done it with his own hands. He must be thinking he could never get up again–.
(Duo also hasn’t thought about wanting to be saved, huh.)
People have said that because there are people who wanted to live more but couldn’t, one mustn’t treat their lives poorly. That living itself was something to be rejoiced. But those words only suited one’s own convenience. Why did they not think about the suffering of those people who wanted to die but couldn’t? Why did they have to compare themselves with people who stood in exact opposite positions? It was not always possible for people who were facing the past and forced to face the future to take one step forward.
There was almost no possibility for someone, who was hurt in their heart enough to wish for death, to find hope in themselves. If such a person were able to stand up again…
Stepping off the stairs that went below ground, Asyut looked over the prison. A long and narrow corridor continued to the back. At a high location there was a window where light shone in and the air was clearer than he expected.
He heard that Duo was in the furthest back room. But he could hardly feel the presence of a person. That wasn’t only because Duo didn’t stir an inch, but because he had parted with his life. His heart was on the brink of death. Asyut walked down the passage with a steady gait.
Immediately arriving at the room in the back, Duo was crouched down with his head hanging. He was holding his knees and there wasn’t the slightest movement. Compared to the day when he attacked the saint, his body seemed a size smaller.
“I came to release you. –Today, at this time, you are a free man.”
Duo gave no response. He did not even lift his head.
“… Do you not want to leave from there?”
Asyut’s calm voice did not break.
“Are you going to rot away like that?”
It wasn’t his intention to extend a helping hand. But it also wasn’t his intention to forsake Duo.
“Is it your wish to die there, doing nothing, just continuing to sit there?”
“… Shut up.”
Duo’s voice was small.
“I have to ask about what you want to do.”
“You already know. I want Celiastina’s death. My only wish is my revenge on that person.”
“Are you still saying that?”
“What did you say…!”
Asyut shook his head unhurriedly.
“Laying your hands on Lady Celiastina is no longer possible. First, you need to accept that. What I am asking about is after that fact. Knowing now that your revenge on Lady Celiastina is impossible, what do you want to do? Do you want to die? Or do you want to live? If you want to die, what would it be for?”
“If you are going to follow your late wife, do you think your wife would be happy about that?”
“SHUT UP! That way of talking pisses me off the most! What do you know!? After all, you’re on Celiastina’s side. Don’t give me lip service, pretending you know everything, when you grew up comfortably as a pampered child!”
Duo raised his head for the first time and snarled violently at Asyut. Seeing that, Asyut narrowed his eyes slightly.
“Everyone has their own pain. If you think you’re the only one who is unhappy then that would be called pretending to know everything.”
“How many people do you think die by the day. Hundreds and thousands of people are lost every day. And each time that happens there are many who grieve over that person’s “death”.”
“Are you trying to say that Rin and I were nothing more than one of those?”
The furious shaking of the jail bars resounded through the entire jail.
“This is repeated every day. The sorrow of losing someone. Nevertheless, most people continue on every day as usual. Why do you think that is? Is it because their sadness was not that deep? That’s not it. –It’s because they have other precious things they must protect.”
The reason he was able to stand up again was because he was able to realize that.
“Do you not have anything else? If you say you don’t, are you not just convincing yourself of that? You might say that your wife, Rin, was everything to you, but isn’t there something else – even just a few – that are important to you? Will you really be content to avert your eyes from that, listen to the voice of death from inside you, and end your life?”
Gugh, Duo bit his lip.
“If you had become alone in this world then at that time you would not be the slightest bit afraid of losing your life. But right now you are not alone. You still… cannot die yet, right? Even though it may hurt.”
Duo’s voice was frail.
“I can’t live if I’ve lost Rin.”
There was a little hesitation included in that answer.
“Duo, do you know about the petition that went through the entire royal palace on your behalf?”
“At the end, about eighty percent of the signatures collected were from servants in the same position as you. Undoubtedly, not all of the people who signed were serious about wanting to save you. Amongst them, there might have been those who signed because they followed the flow of people around them or those who had no choice but to follow their boss and sign. But I am sure there are those who signed wishing to save you, even if they had to exchange their life for yours.”
Asyut took out a folded paper from his breast pocket. He spread it open carefully and then handed it to Duo.
“In there is your mother’s signature. That the letters are horribly shaky is because it was a strong wish for this signature to save you.”
A sobbing sound resounded through the bars. Asyut gently closed his eyes.
“It’s true… that I still… have my family and friends. But…”
“You can’t forgive yourself for being the only one saved.”
“That’s right… I can’t forgive that. Me… being the only…”
It was an excessively pained murmur.
“… Certainly, your wife was not saved. And there are many others whose lives were stolen unreasonably. But is that not exactly why the success of this time and the feelings of those people who signed are so precious? Are you fine with crushing that yourself?”
“I don’t want to justify my survival with that.”
“That’s true. The thought that you were the only one saved will surely torment you for a long time. Even the existence of those who care for you might feel like a burden for a while. However–“
Asyut’s words broke off.
“In time, there will surely come a day when that becomes your support.”
A silence spread. Only Duo’s sobbing voice echoed quietly. Asyut didn’t say anything more; he remained silent and watched over Duo.
“I want you to tell… Celiastina something.”
Duo muttered bit by bit.
“That she needs to always remember Rin. And that she’ll never allow the same thing to repeat again.”
Asyut gave a firm nod.
The path ahead would surely be tough and painful. He knew that himself. But, some day when that was overcome, there would be something stretching beyond that which would move his heart– that is what he also hoped for.
And then, on this day, Duo was released after this period of a few weeks.
Duo, who stood under the sun for the first time in a long while, squinted his eyes at its radiance. He was welcomed by cheers of joy from many people. Most likely his family, friends– and strangers who joined the petition. Because of many girls, there were petals of blessing scattered brilliantly all around and the place was wrapped in a festive atmosphere.
Alone, Yuna watched that from a distance.
In the end, Yodel lent her strength. And then, as if that opened the lid, it was almost an unanimous decision to release Duo. There was no room for Saint Celiastina to object and it was as if her power this time had been meaningless– at least that was what it looked like publicly.
Yuna thought that was good.
Leaving that place it was when she came to a corridor that didn’t have much traffic that Nasha came running over. And then she grabbed Yuna’s hands with excitement.
“Lady Celiastina! Finally, Duo has been released! Congratulations! You worked so hard!”
“Mm. Thank you, Nasha.”
“Also, thank you very much for this.”
Rummaging through her pockets, she pulled out that pendant.
“Lady Yodel returned this to me this morning.”
“Yes! Lady Celiastina, you spoke to Lady Yodel about me, didn’t you. For some reason she thanked me.”
“Although, she seemed a bit tired. Maybe Lady Yodel has also been troubled over various things.”
“… You may be right, but if it’s Yodel then she’ll definitely be okay.”
As Yuna nodded, a distant human shape rushed over. Watching, she wondered who it was, only to see that the shape that was gradually growing larger was Aeneas.
“What’s the matter, Aeneas?”
“I’m glad you aren’t anywhere near that crowd of people. Are you going somewhere alone? Please allow me to accompany you.”
“Eh, um, yes. But I’ll be fine.”
Yuna’s words were vague. It was Linus’ order that had her being together with Aeneas until Duo was released, but it hadn’t been her intention to take him along everywhere until it was all over. She had taken advantage of his kindness and took him to various places, but he was not yet officially Yuna’s bodyguard.
That thought must have appeared on her face because Aeneas’ expression clouded over.
“… Lady Celiastina, could it be that I am a bother? If you do not wish for me to be your bodyguard then–“
“N-No, that’s not it! I feel very safe when you’re with me, Aeneas.”
Shaking her head hurriedly, she gave him her brightest smile. At Yuna’s smile, Aeneas turned red before their eyes. Oh my, oh my, Nasha murmured quietly as she watched these events on the side.
“What’s wrong, Aeneas?”
“N-Nothing. I apologize.”
“Okay, well, I’m going to take a short walk around that area and then go back. I’d like to walk alone once in a while. But I’ll definitely return before the sun goes down.”
“By that area… where do you mean?”
Aeneas, who didn’t seem to want Yuna to walk alone, continued to press.
“I’ll be fine, it’ll be close like the courtyard in the royal palace. I won’t go far.”
Aeneas finally withdrew when she smiled wryly and waved her hand. Nasha was smiling as she watched them.
As she started walking, Yuna murmured in her heart the words she wasn’t able to say.
–In truth, she wanted to go and see Asyut.
She wanted to say her thanks again to Asyut, who had moved in various ways in order to have Duo released this time, now that they achieved their goal. Moreover, he must still have ill feelings towards Celiastina inside of him. When she thought about how he crushed that to cooperate with her, Yuna was worried about his own feelings.
However, on the other hand, it was this reason that made her feel awkward about going to Asyut. He wouldn’t want to see her.
(I know that but…)
While that may be true, it wasn’t so easy to come to a clean decision.
(… I wonder what happened between Asyut and Celiastina.)
Suddenly, a throbbing pain appeared deep in her chest. It was the feelings of the “other”.
Come to think of it, she spent all this time without knowing anything crucial. Why did Celiastina become a cruel saint? And why did she commit suicide? What was the pain that Asyut received from her?
(I want to know more things. But what can I do when I know about them. I might just hurt Asyut even more.)
She was sure she already hurt him though. Not Celiastina, but Yuna herself.
She called to mind the desolate smile that Asyut gave the other day. When she remembered that smile, she wanted to cry a lot.
At that moment, as if in consideration for Yuna, a gentle smell softly tickled her nose.
When she noticed it, Yuna arrived at the entrance to a flower garden that was in full bloom all over the area. How did she walk to this place? She separated from Aeneas and Nasha, followed the path for a while, and then passed a courtyard with a fountain–.
But that soon didn’t matter anymore. Red, white, yellow, bluish-purple– it was a flood of unbelievably brilliant colors. The flowers that swayed in the gentle blowing wind looked very happy. And, as if they wanted to share that happiness with her as well, they softly brushed against her feet.
The only words that came out were that.
But it didn’t need any more words than that.
She wanted to stop here forever. Until the sun rose, sunk, and the moon rose and sunk. Until that repeated ten thousand times. She wanted to stay like this forever…
Yuna walked into the flower garden. It was a landscape that didn’t end no matter how much she continued forward. Soon, she couldn’t bear it, and started running. Her breath rose. Yuna’s chest filled with the air containing the life of the sweet flowers. And then, as if she were drawn in by the brightly colored flowers, Yuna dropped down. There was barely any impact, the soft ground having enveloped Yuna. Stretching out, she twisted her body a little and faced the sky. The flowers tickled her cheeks as the blue sky spread out before her eyes.
Exhaling a breath, Yuna slowly raised her upper body. And then she closed her eyes and left herself to the blowing wind for a long time.
A quiet and calm voice fell upon her back. When she looked back slowly, there stood a very familiar young man.
“So you were in a place like this.”
Asyut came to Yuna’s side with a well-regulated pace. Because he extended his hand very naturally, Yuna grasped that hand and stood up. Asyut’s hand was large and warm.
For some reason, when she faced Asyut again, her chest tightened.
There were so many things she wanted to say and ask. But Yuna couldn’t say a single word. She had so many thoughts she didn’t know where she should start talking. And how would she say it so that she could convey everything–.
When she squeezed the hand that she was still holding, Asyut’s eyes widened slightly, and then he gave a smile that seemed to have a shadow.
Please don’t make that face. She didn’t want to cause him to make such a face.
But she didn’t know what to do.
“Lady Celiastina, please watch your step.”
When she looked down at her feet, following Asyut’s eyes which had dropped, a small black lump was crawling around. Yuna pulled her foot away at once.
“A p-poison bug!”
They were even here. Yuna clung to Asyut and then looked up at him immediately.
“Are you going to kill it?”
It wasn’t the first thing she should have said. But the first thing that came to mind was that scene of the soldiers easily crushing the poisonous bug underfoot in the room of worship. All this time it had continued to be stuck in the back of her mind strongly.
Asyut, who received Yuna’s question, shook his head relaxedly. There was no need, he answered in a calm voice.
“If we leave it alone it will surely go somewhere else.”
“But… isn’t it dangerous?”
“This isn’t a poisonous insect. It resembles one, but it’s a completely different species.”
“A different one?”
It was such a surprising answer that Yuna’s voice went high.
“Yes, these are called torch bugs. When they become adults, they become beautiful and light up and glow in the night. Apparently, when they are still larvae, they cover themselves in a shell that looks like a poisonous insect in order to protect themselves.”
Yuna looked down again at the black bug by her feet. She could only see it as a gross bug, unrelated to words like beautiful or pretty. But wasn’t that nothing more than a false covering it wore just for this season?
“The season has already passed this year for them to become adults, but I believe during their peak season this flower garden will become a wondrous view with many dancing lights. If it pleases you, would you like to come here next year?”
Yuna reflected upon those words. It was right around that time, when those lights would be dancing, that she would disappear. At that time, she might not even be in this world any more.
Yuna closed her eyes.
Underneath a whole sky full of stars that seemed to fall and fall. Many dim lights would glow indistinctly in the dark. One, two, three– an amount that she couldn’t count. And standing in the middle of that, if she was able to spend it together with Asyut like this right now…
“… Mm, yes. If I can come back, that’d be nice.”
Opening her eyes again, she looked up at Asyut and smiled widely. Yuna realized all over again how much of a priceless miracle this was to be beside Asyut right now like this.
Asyut stared at that Yuna.
“Ah, that’s right. Asyut, I’m happy you came all the way here for me. Thank you very much.”
Eventually Asyut gave a slow nod and returned a similar smile.
“Wherever you are, I will always come for you.”
A great wind blew through–.
The petals that danced in the wind glimmered brilliantly under the sunlight.
Unnoticed, the torch bug had disappeared.
(T/N: Honestly, the Japanese and their love for fireflies DESTROYS ME. They’re like the personification of mono no aware and the moment they’re used in any kind of media, you must beware, because someone is going to die soon LOL. Also, check out how the author uses this insect as a triple extended metaphor, damn I wish I could write like this.
By the way, I translated firefly like that on purpose because the author didn’t actually use hotaru for these bugs and instead used a word you’d see in lamps, torches, light, etc. So, yay, a more fantasy-esque name for fireflies? I get so annoyed she didn’t do that for the poison bug though. PLEASE, GIVE IT A NAME. Who the heck is like “Oh no, a poison bug!!”.
Anyway, this concludes the first book! The first chapter of the second book might take a while, since I’m going to finish up translating the first book’s afterword and character page. And then I’ll be setting up the summary and prologue for the second book.)