The nice weather continued and, even this night, she could see the stars glimmering beautifully in the night sky.
While walking back through the quiet corridors, she unconsciously looked up at the sky in fascination. The night sky, which could be seen past the breaks between buildings, was like a framed picture. Thanks to the full moon and the ceaseless amount of stars, the corridors at night were relatively bright. Even without the lights that dotted the length of the corridor, she wouldn’t have been uneasy about her footing.
Doing something like walking alone this late at night was foolish, even she knew that. But still, Yuna slipped out of her room. Because she wanted to talk alone with Linus.
She heard casually from her maid, Nasha, that occasionally Linus left his room to stand in the courtyard at night. In the past, it seemed like Celiastina often stood beside him, and this sounded like a subject she shouldn’t touch but since Nasha became her maid – and since Yuna became Celiastina’s substitute – this hadn’t happened even once, which was thought to be strange.
She didn’t know if Linus was going to be in the courtyard tonight. If he wasn’t there, then she decided she would visit him again tomorrow. Why she didn’t just do that from the start was because, if she visited him in the middle of the night, she was hoping that Linus would take off his usual mask and show his true intentions a little.
Either way, she didn’t have the time to relax. Of course it was dangerous for her to walk alone, but she didn’t want anyone to see her actions as a rendezvous. And so, naturally, Yuna’s pace quickened towards the gardens.
The royal palace had many places that were called courtyards, but this garden was comparatively small in scale. The scenery of the garden, where the moonlight stretched straight into it and how it was surrounded by the corridors, looked magical.
But, in this courtyard where only the faint sound of insects could be heard, she could not see the person she was searching for. She tried coming here on a chance, but it looked like she missed the mark. They hadn’t arranged to meet here, so she had been too optimistic. Yuna’s shoulders fell.
Right at that moment.
Hearing a voice suddenly call out to her, Yuna’s body startled and then stiffened. When she turned around, there was someone standing in the hallway atrium.
It was Linus.
Realizing this, Yuna became flustered. She took a risk to meet him but, now that she was actually facing him, she felt nervous and guilty and her mind became blank.
“What are you doing here at this time? I was surprised when I saw you from my room.”
Linus approached the courtyard at a calm pace.
It appeared that their meeting wasn’t by coincidence, and that Linus had noticed Yuna and went out of his way to come and see her. Come to think of it, his room was close to the courtyard.
“Walking alone late at night… you’re being too careless.”
Linus gently draped the stole he had been wearing over Yuna’s shoulders. His actions and his voice were very kind and, before her surprise, Yuna felt an unbearable thought well up. He might be hard to deal with, but he was certainly a person she couldn’t hate.
“I… wanted to talk to you no matter what, Linus.”
Yuna bit her lip and nodded. If she told him she wanted to learn about Celiastina, what kind of reaction would Linus show?
Either way, she couldn’t run away at this point.
“I was taken to the historical archive by Asyut today. There, I learned all about the personal histories of the saints up until now.”
Yuna, careful not to let her composed voice crumble, continued on.
“I had thought that though the saints looked glamorous they had it hard, but it was actually even more than that, right? Today, in those documents I saw, was the first time I learned that everyone suffered a lot. I’ve come to this point as the saint’s substitute without knowing anything.”
Linus remained silent and stared at Yuna.
“I really don’t know anything. Not even about Celiastina. And yet, recently, I’ve been passing the days feeling satisfied and not even trying to learn about anything in the first place.”
She had just pretended not to feel the aching guilt deep in her heart.
“–But, you know, now that I’ve had a chance to touch the history of the saints today, I feel like my head is a bit clearer.”
Yuna stared directly at Linus. His gaze, as she made contact, held no warmth and she suddenly felt like running away. But still, she overcame that, and she somehow ended up almost glaring at Linus.
“I want to learn more about Celiastina.”
She couldn’t say that she had completely gotten over her doubts and hesitation. But she had a feeling that learning about Celiastina was something no one else but her was supposed to pursue. However that was a completely other problem and, from the moment the ceiling painting of Rhodiani overlapped with Celiastina’s form, she regained her feelings of wanting to face Celiastina.
“Hey, Linus, when Celiastina came to the royal palace, there were too many people who died, wasn’t there? Moreover, there were a lot of people included who Celiastina didn’t order the death penalty on. What does that mean? Did something happen to Celiastina? What happened in the two years that she came to the royal palace? Linus, you would know a lot about Celiastina’s past, right? Please tell me.”
Her intent was to convey her honest feelings. There was no way bargaining would work with Linus and, in the first place, she didn’t have anything to bargain with. All she had were her feelings and right now there was nothing Yuna could do except for conveying those directly.
For a while Linus did not speak. Maybe he was looking for words to dodge around the issue? Or, maybe he was swallowing down words to refuse her. Either way, there was a silence that bit at Yuna.
“What will you do when you learn about Celia?”
Linus suddenly whispered with a smile.
“I have an interest, a pure one. By knowing Celiastina’s past, will that become a source of energy for you? Or for Celia?”
Smiling, Linus shook his head and interrupted Yuna’s words.
“You don’t have to say anything. I can tell just by looking at you this time. –Hm, that’s right, then just as you wish I will tell you a little. It’s not the type of story that would replace a lullaby though.”
If only I had the Holy Mark on my neck.
There were many girls who dreamed such a thing. Being the only special person who was chosen in this world, being sublimely beautiful, and existing as someone who was blessed and worshipped by everyone and anyone. That was what the saint was to those girls. However, in actuality, they didn’t have such glamorous lives. There were as many arrangements and rules for the saint as there were stars in the sky, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that their lives were restrained. Even the Holy Mark that the girls longed for was a “rule”– it would disappear when death was close– and was this not a cruel fate?
Even at the very moment of the previous saint, Malveneska’s, premature death, the people accepted this fact calmly. At any rate, her death had been known since the Holy Mark disappeared several years ago, and everyone had resolved themselves.
However, it was impossible for people to have been prepared for the new saint to be absent for fourteen years–.
When news about how the long absent new saint had been found ran around the country, the people were first dumbfounded, and then immediately decided that it was nonsense. That was everyone’s first reaction.
During the fourteen years when there was no saint, the people started to live their lives seeing it as their last moments. Even the people who had been eagerly waiting for the saint at every moment ended up accepting their fates willingly or not. There were three times in history where ruin greeted them when a girl with the Holy Mark did not appear in fifteen years. And that was why everyone knew. That an overwhelming dark cloud hung over their futures. However, there was nothing they could do but know this. There remained only one road, to give up and accept their future– there was only that.
Under such circumstances, even if it was suddenly declared that the saint had been welcomed into the royal palace, it was natural that the people weren’t able to accept that upfront. Inside the hearts of the frowning populace, the saint being “alive” was already long gone.
Then, what changed their minds? It was nothing other than the existence of the saint herself.
When Celiastina first appeared before the people, they were rooted to the spot by her mysterious beauty. No one was able to think that she was an ordinary girl that they could have passed on the streets just yesterday. Instead, she was like an angel sent by God, with a beauty that no sculptor could capture.
She didn’t even have to show the Holy Mark on her neck. All the people rejoiced loudly, were in an uproar, and welcomed from the bottom of their hearts their goddess of salvation who had appeared at last. Celiastina did not respond to them directly but, just by existing as the saint, she became everyone’s support.
Practically all the people in the royal palace who came in contact with Celiastina welcomed her. But because she had an atmosphere that didn’t allow people to get close, they watched from a distance. Quiet and expressionless, no one knew what she was thinking about– that was how everyone described Celiastina in their hearts but, because she had been brought up to this age at an orphanage, the majority sympathized with Celiastina’s attitude.
Yes, Celiastina was not a girl someone would ever hate. Actually, those who were in positions close to Celiastina wracked their minds on how to open her heart somehow. Whenever Celiastina showed the slightest expression of happiness, the maids would enthusiastically report to everyone that it was like obtaining 5 years worth of happiness. Whenever the tutor received a question from Celiastina, they would write a proud letter exclaiming how she was such an excellent student. When Celiastina, who had picked at her food like a bird, ate all the cooking without leaving anything behind for the first time, the chef and all their staff would be extremely happy and act as if the food was high quality. Like that, Celiastina clumsily but gradually fit herself in with the people around her.
And then, at that time.
The maid who Celiastina had started to open up with died. She suddenly fell ill.
It was a maid who had never been sick with an illness to that extent before, and so everyone was surprised. She had been healthy just a while ago– those were ordinary expressions, but they could only say that to this sudden event. Celiastina also seemed to be shocked at her maid’s death and, for a long time, was in low spirits.
However, that was only the beginning of these frequent and abnormal accidents in the royal palace.
After some time passed since the first maid died of illness, another maid fell and died from the top of a tower this time. Again, she was also a maid that attended to Celiastina.
That morning the maid had been ordered by the head maid to organize the garments of the previous saints, which were stored in the east tower. They thought that if they showed a few of these to Celiastina she would surely receive them with enthusiasm. At the east tower, where people seldom went, the maid appeared to have accidentally fallen when she opened a badly built window to air the place out.
Those who were visited by this type of “sudden misfortune” or “unlucky accident” and lost their lives began to appear little by little.
Of course it wasn’t like these things didn’t happen up until now. However, it was clear that the number was large. Everyone thought that because Celiastina interacted with many people, these events were an unmistakable heartache to her. Just when Celiastina had started to make friends in the royal palace, she started to create distance between herself and others again unexpectedly.
These abnormalities gradually began to settle after a year and a half. For a period of time, a whirlpool of uneasiness had enclosed the royal palace but once it calmed down there was no longer anyone who cared. From the start, those were accidental deaths or deaths from an illness. It would be another story if they had died due to assassination but, if that wasn’t the case then people decided there was no point in arguing about it. No, actually there was a small rumor that flowed about these “series of events that involved Saint Celiastina”. Because the majority of those who died had contact with her. However, a sudden death by illness was something she couldn’t have done and, above all, she herself appeared to be greatly pained by the deaths of those close to her. And so there wasn’t anyone who deeply pursued that.
The situation was supposed to be settled without incident like that but–.
Celiastina suddenly acted.
She declared for everyone around who served her to be dismissed.
This order, which came like a bolt from the blue, greatly surprised not only the people who were dismissed by everyone around her too, and threw them into confusion. When asked about the reason Celiastina would never answer. The only thing she added were unreasonable and merciless words about how anyone who disobeyed her orders would all be executed.
If it was an order from the saint then it couldn’t be ignored. As she ordered, all the servants that had even the slightest bit of interaction with Celiastina were dismissed. Everyone around Celiastina was replaced but this time she didn’t open up to any of them, not even a little. Even when spoken to she would barely reply, and her expression would not move. What exactly Celiastina was thinking, no one was able to know.
“It was soon after that Celia started to pass down terrifying orders onto the servants. She would punish servants for trivial things, sometimes sentencing them to capital punishment. In those days, everyone trembled.”
Linus continued to talk indifferently, as if it were none of his business.
“The reasons why Celiastina suddenly changed is probably something no one knew. No one could ask the person herself, and so time passed with that topic being something no one could touch. But, it wasn’t as if there were no clues. Like you said, the suspicious deaths that occurred around Celia were not unrelated.”
“And the one who noticed that was Asyut.”
Linus quietly nodded.
“Asyut was one of the few people who acted seriously to calm Celia’s behaviour. Though, because the saint’s authority is absolute, Asyut would have to give in at the end, no matter what he said. That’s why he didn’t remonstrate her as a temporary measure and instead searched for the reason as to why Celia suddenly changed.”
“And so he turned to the many suspicious deaths…… Asyut thought that Celiastina did it herself, didn’t he?”
“I do not believe he was convinced, but simply that even if she didn’t do it then she might know something about those circumstances. He thought that if they could make clear the origin of those suspicious deaths then the fog that shrouded everything would clear.”
“Then Asyut went to ask Celiastina directly: what happened in the first place? And why did everyone who came in contact with Celiastina die one after another?”
Nodding, Linus was as calm as always and she was unable to sense how much of the truth he knew.
“And then what happened? Please tell me.”
“Celia didn’t seem to respond to that at all. Instead, an insane anger was laid bare, to the point where one wouldn’t have believed that up to now she had been emotionless. She accused Asyut quite a lot about wanting to say that she had killed them herself. While crying, she screamed and asked him why he would think she killed them herself. It was a voice that echoed through the royal palace.”
Celiastina had cried and screamed. What exactly did that mean?
“Celia didn’t forgive Asyut for doubting her. But he is the First Holy Knight and Celia’s future husband. So no matter what Celia said, in the end she couldn’t punish Asyut directly. For that reason, she did an even more crueler thing to him.”
“A crueler thing?”
Linus tilted his head to the side a little.
“That story won’t be told by me. Let’s simply say various things happened and, as a result, Asyut’s little sister was banished from the royal palace. His parents died when he was young, and so his sister should be his only family. Even now he seems to be searching for her secretly but, because of Celia’s spread out gag order, her whereabouts are still unknown.”
She was hearing this for the first time. She didn’t know the fact that he had a little sister. Celiastina banished Asyut’s sister, his one and only blood relative. To think that even such a thing had happened between them.
The distance between her and Asyut, which she had thought was closing little by little, opened up again at once. The bitter look on Asyut’s face in the historical archive was brought back into her mind, and her heart hurt like something stabbed into it.
“Do you not know either, Linus? Where his little sister is?”
“I don’t know. I tried a little research myself but, impressively, I couldn’t find her. Really.”
Celiastina’s sudden change happened only a few years ago meant that the banishment of Asyut’s little sister wasn’t that long ago either. She was surely alive. And no doubt Asyut believed that as well, which was why he was still searching for his sister. Because he didn’t show even a hint of this, Yuna could only imagine what kind of feelings he had while searching.
“I wonder why she had to do things to that point. What happened to Celiastina? What made Celiastina do that?”
If it was Linus then he must know about the event that happened to Celiastina. Because Linus was always by her side and watching over her.
“…… Do you know about the “power” that is granted to the saints?”
Linus changed the topic abruptly. At least, that was what Yuna thought. Or was this topic connected? Unable to hide her dubious expression, Yuna asked back upfront.
“The “power” granted to saints?”
“The generations of saints were bestowed with mysterious powers that ordinary people did not have.”
“I know about that. There was a saint who had prophetic dreams and one that had clairvoyance.”
All the saints had varying abilities. There were saints with surprisingly large powers and saints with modest powers which wouldn’t really be noticed in an everyday life. These “powers” were said to have played a role in the rise of the saints becoming a sacred existence.
“What does that have to do with Celias–……”
Yuna, who had been speaking, was suddenly taken over by a question that arose.
Now that it was mentioned, this was something that hadn’t come to mind.
What kind of power was Celiastina endowed with?
Thud, her heart quickened loudly.
(Ah, again. I didn’t know even that.)
Up to now this topic hadn’t been raised even once, and so she didn’t even know that she didn’t know this. She hadn’t heard anyone gossip about it and it wasn’t published in the books she read. Yuna herself, in this body’s daily life, hadn’t felt any unusual phenomenons. Apart from being said to have an extraordinary beauty, there were no particular differences from an ordinary person.
Unable to find the answer in herself, Yuna looked up at Linus reliantly.
“What do you mean?”
Linus slowly opened his mouth. Yuna held her breath and followed the movement of his lips. But.
“It seems someone is here.”
Linus looked behind Yuna and said this in a light manner. Yuna, following that, also turned around but there was no one. However, the moment she thought that, if she stared she could make out a tall shadow approaching without any noise.
It was Neisan, who had not appeared ever since he had officially been appointed as her bodyguard. Having been careful about this or that with the people around her, she hadn’t created an opportunity for him to guard her.
“Guarding the saint at this time, what splendid dedication.”
Linus said this in a manner where one couldn’t tell if it was admiration or sarcasm.
“Did I interrupt?”
Neisan also answered with words that could be taken sarcastically, but in his position they weren’t words to think deeply on.
“You hid your presence and waited so that you wouldn’t interrupt, no? But it looks like you became tired of waiting. That’s natural though, since your work hours have long past.”
“There was a suspicious shadow in this area of the royal palace and, being a little concerned, I took a look around.”
“A suspicious shadow, hm.”
“Please be at ease. I did not hear the conversation between the two of you. I saw a suitable time to call out and came closer, which was when you noticed me, Lord Linus.”
“Oh well, either way. Although Celia might not be happy.”
Being brought up when she was still taken aback, Yuna couldn’t say anything.
“Lady Celiastina, should you not return to your room soon? I shall escort you.”
At Neisan’s proposal, Yuna looked up at Linus again before answering. However, Linus did not respond to Yuna’s gaze and instead showed a challenging smile to Neisan.
“I’d like to escort her back but, unfortunately, I don’t have confidence in my physical skills. Well, I’ll leave it to you tonight. But if there was someone who was going to do something to Celia then, by the time they came, I would have acted. For example, even if there was a nefarious person who was hiding, they wouldn’t have any intention of acting at this point. Don’t you think so too, Neisan?”
She was worried about the hidden meanings in Linus’ speech. But Neisan did not respond to that.
“I cannot say for sure.”
“If that’s the case then don’t mind it. However, just to be sure… Celia, here.”
Linus removed the ring he was wearing and handed it to Yuna. It had a simple design with small, round gems. He had fitted it onto his little finger, but even if Yuna were to put it onto her middle finger it was large enough to have some leftover space.
“Please hold onto it until you return to your room. If something were to happen along the way, smash this on the floor. If you do that then a bright light will appear and people will gather immediately.”
Neisan was her bodyguard and so she wouldn’t need that. She should have said that. But Yuna could understand Linus’ intention. Linus was telling her to use the ring if Neisan were to make a move. He didn’t trust Neisan either. That was what he meant.
“…… Okay. But, I don’t think I’ll need it.”
“Of course, I think the same.”
Linus smiled as he said this without any embarrassment.
“Now then, good night, Celia. You can return that ring when you come again next time. I’ll be waiting.”
Was he saying that she had to come again if she wanted to hear the continuation of the topic? Yuna nodded vaguely and left with painful reluctance.
Although it was not a long distance, there was a little awkwardness in walking alone with Neisan in the corridors at night.
Especially when, just a while ago, Linus showed a blatant caution towards Neisan. Nonetheless, it was undeniable that she herself was tightly gripping the ring that was given to her at that time. She noticed that she was also keeping a distance from Neisan for some reason.
That Neisan was walking a bit ahead of Yuna. Looking at that tall back, she wasn’t able to tell what he was thinking…… In his case, even if she were to look at him straight on, it would be difficult to imagine what was in his head.
She wondered why Neisan appeared here. While being treated as a bodyguard in name only, he worried about the saint and took the initiative to patrol late at night. Was that really the truth?
–Hey, did you understand anything since then? About what is hidden inside of Celiastina.
If she tried asking such a question, how would he respond?
Whether the darkness of the night was messing with her thinking, incoherent and various thoughts appeared and disappeared. In order to break away from that confusion, Yuna gave a light sigh and stepped resolutely up to Neisan’s side.
“I’m sorry for making you escort me at such a late time.”
“It is nothing. However, next time please refrain from going out alone.”
Neisan gave Yuna a glance.
“This royal palace is dangerous, perhaps more than you yourself think, Lady Celiastina. Duo was talked down, but it is best for you to think that there are still many more who will strike at you with anger. Because there are certainly more twisted and determined malices lurking.”
“By that, are you basically saying something is targeting me?”
Neisan did not answer. With pursed lips, he only dropped his gaze onto Yuna.
“We’ve arrived at your room.”
As soon as she thought to open her mouth again, they had already returned to her room. Neisan’s expression, which was illuminated by the moonlight shining through a window, held no emotion as usual. However.
“Please rest tonight.”
–Ah, as she thought.
Yuna’s heart was hit with a terribly out-of-place thought.
Under the moonlight, Neisan’s eyes were… a beautiful amber.