The sky was high, Yuna thought.
A clear, cloudless, blue sky spread out this morning. Yuna took in deep breaths while still looking up. Recently she realized that whenever she was thinking, or troubled, she found herself looking up at the sky; somehow it had become a habit. It was a strange thought because she didn’t do this before. It might have been because the sky was the only thing that hadn’t changed since her previous life and looking at it naturally calmed her down.
“Lady Celiastina, is something the matter?”
“Ah, no. It’s nothing.”
Aeneas was escorting her to the balcony that overlooked the plaza.
The Ceremony of Display was held here. Amongst the many ceremonies of the saint, this was the only one which allowed the general populace to participate in and so, naturally, the people’s interest were high and even through the window she could see that there was an overflowing amount of people today too.
“Today it’s in the morning, huh. The Ceremony of Display has always been done in the evening.”
Because she was able to see the evening sun right when it was setting on this balcony, Yuna always looked forward to this ceremony. That’s why she felt a bit disappointed.
“It is because recently there has been a very large amount of people gathering in this plaza. During the evening, there are floods of men returning from work and housewives returning from shopping. And so it seems they are experimenting on holding this ceremony in the morning. If it is held during a period of time when everyone is busy, the crowding will also be somewhat relieved.”
“They thought about it that much…”
Yuna was honestly surprised. It was true that there were a lot of people gathered at the ceremony, but to think that it grown to such a scale as to require countermeasures.
“I feel like I can understand the people’s feelings. If I was a commoner, I would surely come every day without missing a single one. Because Lady Celiastina always waves her hand with a smile from the bottom of her heart. Everyone must be thinking that they want to see you again and again.”
Saying that, Aeneas smiled. Yuna thought that his refreshing smile, with no hidden shadows, was a more exemplary smile that would mesmerize people. Yuna thought this in her heart but because it was such an embarrassing line to actually say she kept quiet.
“However, this might be regrettable to them but I happened to overhear that the Ceremony of Display may be canceled for a while because it is dangerous to have such a large amount of people in Lady Celiastina’s presence.”
This was extremely disappointing news to Yuna. The Ceremony of Display was the only time where she could come in contact with commoners– the side that she used to belong to. If even that was taken from her then Yuna would really lose contact with the outside world.
“However, this may be unavoidable. No matter how many physical searches are done at the entrances to the plaza, it is impossible to completely erase any danger.”
Aeneas concluded this with a serious expression.
“Lady Celiastina, please come this way.”
When they arrived at the balcony, the priests who had already put in order the preparations lowered their heads reverently. It was a sight she always saw so she had gotten used to it, but if what Aeneas said was true then she might soon lose this everyday scenery.
At the prompt, she descended onto the balcony. Loud cheers burst out.
Every time she stepped out in this ceremony, Yuna would first stare and take in all the people. Of course she had feelings of wanting to respond to everyone’s emotions. But, at the same time, she was unconsciously looking for people she knew from before. And then, every time, an alarm would ring in her heart telling her that she mustn’t look. That was why she would raise her head and face the setting sun to quiet her heart.
However, just as she looked up from the plaza today the setting sun was nowhere to be found. Instead, the sunlight falling down from a higher place illuminated the people’s expressions more and more clearly.
Yuna was slightly scared. If she really did see someone she knew then, at that time, she might end up not being “Celiastina” anymore. She would be standing in this place as “Yuna”, a person who should no longer be in this world.
She knew, just from being scared like that, that she hadn’t properly confronted herself yet.
Yuna tried waving her hand with all that she had, as if shaking off her anxiety. When she did so, the cheers of the plaza became even louder. She had to smile from the bottom of her heart. She had to deliver hope to everyone. Yuna told herself that this was the most important job she had to do right now.
At that moment.
The people’s cheers suddenly changed to something strange, like screams or roars. Feeling an illusion like the ground beneath her feet was shaking, she inadvertently staggered. What on earth happened? Although Yuna lost her balance, being taken aback, there was a hand that supported her from the back. Turning her head, was that not Asyut standing close to her?
Yuna’s surprised voice was swallowed by cheers in the blink of an eye.
On the other hand, Asyut walked up to Yuna’s side with a calm appearance and surveyed the plaza.
“What a large amount of people.”
That was probably what he said. It was a situation where she barely managed to hear Asyut’s voice, despite him being immediately beside her.
Yuna, with her mouth still open, stared at the side of Asyut’s face. Why did Asyut come to the Ceremony of Display? Up to now, he had never come to stand on the balcony with her. In the first place, the Ceremony of Display was always done by Yuna alone.
When Asyut raised one hand, the people’s cheers in response crashed against them like a wave. Asyut never showed himself in front of the people unless it was a time of great celebration. This young man, who rarely appeared, was now waving his hand at them in an unexpected place like this. Just that and it was an event that was like a dream for the people gathered here, especially the young women.
Asyut looked at the plaza for a while before suddenly turning to Yuna and, with a tender action, took her right hand and raised it to his mouth.
A soft, gentle kiss was dropped.
Everything was done like a flow. Yuna couldn’t understand what happened in front of her.
WAAH! The people’s voices were deafening to her ears. But then it turned into the sound of a distant world. Only Asyut, who was facing her, felt terribly close.
“Occasionally, something like this is good, isn’t it?”
This time she could clearly hear Asyut’s voice. All of Yuna’s senses were working hard to capture every single action and movement from Asyut. She did not even hear the surrounding cheers.
It was whispered. Most likely, her voice didn’t reach him but Asyut seemed to understand through the movement of Yuna’s mouth that she was calling his name. His calm eyes invited her to continue.
Yuna tried to recover her right hand, which was still taken, but his strong grip didn’t grant that.
“Shall we return?”
Asyut leisurely led Yuna back to the room, still taking her by the hand. The cheers of the people still sounded but Yuna was unable to pay any attention to that.
When they returned to the room and closed the balcony’s doors, quiet was returned to the place all at once.
“I thought to have a short talk with you, Lady Celiastina, and so I came. As I was already here, I went out to the balcony to look at the people but it seems I surprised, not only the people, but also you. I apologize.”
Yuna chose the moment when Asyut’s hold loosened to finally pull her hand back. She shook her head to let him know that it was okay, but her cheeks were still hot.
“We could speak here but…”
Asyut looked around the room. The priests, who were standing back, and the soldiers who were guarding them on the side started to prepare to withdraw.
“Let us take a walk and, at the same time, I shall escort you to your room. We’ll talk there. Is that agreeable?”
Yuna, who wouldn’t have refused, nodded but confusion and uneasiness swirled around inside her. What did he want to talk about? Was it about The Record of Congratulations and Condolences? Did he want to ask her what she thought after reading it? Yuna probably noticed the same possibility that Asyut did in the record book. But she was a bit scared to say that in front of Asyut. His loss of composure in the historical archive suddenly came back into her mind.
“Um, Lord Asyut.”
Aeneas, who had been standing to the side of the balcony, took a step forward with a nervous face.
“Let me escort Lady Celiastina.”
“No, that’s fine.”
“I said I had something to talk to Lady Celiastina about. You must have heard that.”
“… Yes, it’s just–“
Asyut decisively pushed aside Aeneas’ words. His manner of speaking wasn’t to the point of an order, but there was a pressure to his tone that made it hard to disobey.
Aeneas did not reply. He sank into silence but barely lowered his head and took one step back. Yuna was the one who felt a chill at Aeneas’ reaction, which clearly showed that he did not accept this.
“Shall we leave, Lady Celiastina?”
Following Asyut, who started walking, Yuna was led by that back. As she passed Aeneas she sent him a glance and nodded to tell him that it was okay. Aeneas watched Yuna leave with a pained look.
“Aeneas appears to treat you with great care.”
Exiting into the corridor, the first thing Asyut said was surprisingly about Aeneas.
“Yes, that’s right. He’s very nice.”
Yuna, who thought that she would quickly be dumped with the topic about Celiastina, quietly let out a relieved breath. She was managing to walk somewhat behind Asyut, but she felt like she was relaxed enough now to think about walking beside him. Asyut, who seemed concerned about Yuna, slowed his walking speed a little.
“He seems to treat me like an enemy though.”
“That’s not true. He’s just worried about me.”
Saying that, Yuna suddenly closed her mouth. Those words were implying that Asyut’s invitation to Yuna was something that would cause worry to others.
“He might be better suited as the First Holy Knight, hm. For the people, those in the royal palace… and for you.”
“I’ve never thought that way.”
This was the truth. It wasn’t that Aeneas couldn’t do it or that she didn’t like Asyut. It was that she didn’t have the right to wish, let alone the right to choose. –It was not her, who was here now, that really had a future.
“You’re making that face again.”
At some point, Asyut was staring intently at Yuna’s face.
“The more I stay by your side… the more I am unable to understand you.”
What did he mean? Yuna turned over Asyut’s words in her head but she didn’t really understand what he just said. She felt like asking what kind of look “that face” was, but the atmosphere didn’t seem to allow that.
“Last night, you slipped out of your room alone, didn’t you?”
Despite how Yuna was worrying alone, Asyut changed the topic all of a sudden.
“I received a report from Neisan.”
Yuna stiffened, at a loss for words. Not seeming to care about that, Asyut continued on in a quiet manner.
“Please refrain from actions that will shorten my life. This is not the first time that you suddenly disappeared. This time, I learned about the matter after everything was settled but I was still quite alarmed.”
Yuna said an apology in a quiet voice. She was sure there was a double meaning in Asyut’s worry. Like he said right now, she had slipped out of her room late at night. There she’d been found by Neisan and had to be taken care of by him. And, especially in the latter’s case, she had been told sternly for a long time not to be alone with Neisan and so there was no excuse to make.
“The royal palace is not perfectly safe. Especially in the future, you will need to be cautious. It may make you feel stifled, Lady Celiastina, but you must exercise prudence.”
“Especially in the future…?”
After hesitating a little, Asyut opened a serious mouth.
“Presently, the faction that has adopted an anti-saint rhetoric has created an organization and is moving.”
Ah, Yuna raised her voice. It immediately came to mind; the true identity of the “twisted and determined malices” that Neisan spoke about the other night. There was no doubt that was the organization that Asyut was talking about right now.
“Its core was formed from the people who were driven out of the royal palace. Their opinions are already standing on their own and steadily growing larger. Of course the royal palace does not intend to leave them at large, however the time is not right to subjugate them. And this time when we are standing and watching is, to them, an unparalleled opportunity.”
“What’s the aim of the people from the anti-saint faction?”
“To eliminate the worship given to the girl with the Holy Mark who is called a saint and to consolidate the power of the priests to the royal family. They are firm in their principle of a monarchical system. And, in order to acquire a foothold to make that a reality, they are planning to overthrow the current saint first. If I may say this without mincing words, they are aiming for your life. Even if the loss of saint will cause a calamity, they believe it would be a trial for them to overcome.”
I see, Yuna accepted Asyut’s words with a strangely calm feeling. Perhaps Duo was nothing more than a corner of the iceberg. It was natural that he was not the only person who held a grudge against Celaistina. There were still many who hadn’t raised their voices, but smoldered with the same feelings.
“There is no guarantee that there are not people within the royal palace that are in league with the anti-saint faction. Therefore, please, be more careful than you have been up to now.”
“Okay, I understand.”
Asyut suddenly stopped walking. Yuna copied him and then followed Asyut’s line of sight when he raised his head. Before she knew it, she could see on her right side the courtyard that Linus and her had talked in late at night.
Coming in the daytime showed that it was a very modest courtyard. To the point where one might have called it an inner garden instead. The way the moonlight had shone into the garden had been impressive, but right now in the brightness its surrounding corridors were familiar and it was buried as another part of the scenery.
“Was it because I brought you The Record of Congratulations and Condolences that made you sneak out from your room late at night to speak with Lord Linus?”
It was certainly one reason, but it wasn’t something that Asyut had to feel responsible for.
“It was careless of me to have done that and involved you. Particularly the Record of Congratulations and Condolences, which I needn’t have shown you.”
“I asked you to tell me though. I’m sure that, even if you hadn’t shown me the record book, I would have acted. But I might have been late in noticing many things.”
Even now, she didn’t know what to do with her own feelings and it was hard to move forward. But still.
“Wait a little longer. I’ll definitely find it.”
The truth of the lost past.
“… Please do not do anything reckless.”
When Asyut gave a somewhat sad smile, he abruptly lowered his eyes and gently scooped up Yuna’s right hand. Asyut’s thumb softly rubbed the shining ring on Yuna’s middle finger.
That was the ring Linus left with her. Thinking that she would return it if she ever met him somewhere by chance, she hadn’t thought deeply about putting it on her finger. A ring for self-defense, that was all it was, and yet she felt the urge to get rid of it from her hand and Asyut’s sight.
“Come to think of it, I am always running after you. Even so, sometimes I find it unbearable when I notice one side of you, you who I cannot understand… But I’m certain that, from here on too, I will continue to run after you.”
Yuna, caught by the heat of Asyut’s fingers, was unable to move for some time.
The transparent jewel set in the center of the ring sparkled.
Yuna, who was spinning the ring around with her fingers and feeling that sensation, suddenly gripped the ring tightly at a thought.
Asyut’s pained expression wouldn’t leave her head. Before she knew it, she was always thinking of him.
Yuna was sitting on the sofa in her own room and holding her knees.
Whenever she was alone, she somehow felt disheartened. Burying her face into her knees, she tried hard to endure the loneliness. This large and cold room was the only place for Yuna to belong. She couldn’t leave this place and she couldn’t stop being the saint. She wasn’t allowed to like someone or confess her feelings.
The “loneliness” that she hadn’t been feeling recently was just now, in this moment, felt keenly. When she asked her own heart why she was suddenly trapped by this anxiety, she noticed Celiastina’s shadow silently lurking there. Ah, this was also Celiastina’s feelings. Perhaps the past Celiastina had also sat on the sofa in this room and held her knees in the same way.
(I’m sorry, Celiastina.)
This body and life was not her own. How many times had she told herself these words? And yet, Yuna’s mind was still unable to swallow this simple fact.
The image of the goddess Rhodiani, which Ron had told her about, came to mind. The Rhodiani inside of her was looking over her shoulder and searching for her own self. One day it would catch up and maybe it would take over this body entirely like some kind of demon.
Yuna held the ring up, which she had been clenching, in front of her eyes.
(Let’s see Linus again.)
And they would continue the story about Celiastina which had been interrupted. She was going to look for Celiastina’s past so that the Celiastina inside of her would not become a distant thing.
As soon as she had her maid, Nasha, confirm Linus’ schedule she received a message that said “I’ll be waiting for the ring”. So, Linus intended to continue the story too. She couldn’t let this opportunity escape. Yuna instantly started preparing to visit him.
It had been quite some time since she last visited Linus’ room.
Whenever she came here it was mostly to make a request and so naturally her body became tense and nervous. But still she pulled herself together and when she knocked on the door a light response came back, telling her to come in.
“… Excuse me.”
She timidly opened the door. When she peered inside Linus, who was sitting on a sofa, closed the book he was reading.
“That was quick.”
Sit, Linus said as he gestured at the seat facing him; Yuna did as she was told and also sat down on a sofa.
“First, here’s the ring I borrowed, Linus.”
When Linus accepted the ring, he smoothly caressed the jewel and then brought it up to the edge of his lips.
“It seems there were no opportunities to use it. I’m glad.”
He was talking about using the ring to call for people if Neisan attacked her.
“Or should I still lend it to you?”
“No, it’s okay.”
“Hm, that’s right. Asyut wouldn’t be amused at seeing you, his fiancée, wearing the ring another man gave you.”
He spoke as if he had seen something. She tried to smile but her face was stiff.
“What? You’re making a strange face. Did you fight with Asyut again?”
“W-We didn’t fight. I made a promise with Asyut. That I will definitely find the truth about Celiastina.”
Yes, today she wouldn’t let herself be mislead by Linus’ words. When Yuna declared her thoughts, Linus’ laughing expression slowly tightened.
“… That’s right, you two have the right to know.”
Saying that, Linus’ eyes suddenly had a dark color in them.
“It’s not a long story. Nor is it a difficult one. But, because it’s simple, it tells of how there is also cruelty in this world.”
Yuna felt like she was being sucked into Linus’ deep eyes.
“Let’s stop all deceptions or dodging. There is also no need for an introduction. You find this best too, right?”
Linus watched how Yuna nodded while holding her breath before he opened his mouth again.
“The past suspicious deaths that happened frequently at the royal palace were, like the quiet whispers said, not tragedies caused by accidents. –Everything was caused by the “ability” that Celiastina has as a saint.”
The saint’s special power. Yuna turned over Linus’ words in her mind.
She remembered that he brought this topic up before. The saints were bestowed with various strange powers and were worshipped by the people for that reason. However, she had still been left in the dark as to what power hid in Celiastina. It seemed that saints who had the Holy Mark had some sort of ability, but what exactly was the relation between that power and Celiastina’s cruel behavior?
“Celiastina’s ability is…”
Her heart beat fast. Not being aware of it herself, Yuna clenched her hands on her knees, gripping her one-piece dress.
“Amplifying the force towards “death” of those she has connected with.”
Linus quietly stated.
It was a tone that suppressed any emotions to the best of his ability.
Yuna gripped the one-piece dress in her hands even harder. Harder, and harder, uncaring if there would be wrinkles. Other than that, her body didn’t move. It took a long time for her to digest Linus’ words.
–Amplifying the force towards “death” of those Celiastina connected with.
Yuna murmured those words once more in her mouth. But even then it was no good. Her mind blanked, like it burst open, and she couldn’t think well. She repeated the same words to herself over and over again.
Something spread through inside Yuna. What was this feeling? Yuna wondered absently. Fear? Anger? Sorrow? She couldn’t decide on any of them, but the closest feeling might have been revulsion.
Yuna closed her eyes. And she clenched her teeth, as if to bear the pain.
Ah, so it was like that?
With that single phrase from Linus, Yuna understood everything.
Why the people around Celiastina died. Why it was only the people who accompanied her and were close to her. Why it was the people who Celiastina opened her heart to, when she had been stubbornly closed off when she was suddenly brought to the royal palace.
“… When did it become like this?”
“Most likely from the start. That’s how a saint’s ability works.”
Contrary to Yuna’s hoarse voice, Linus’ voice was calm and did not break.
“However, it seems Celiastina too was unaware of her own ability when she first came to the royal palace. Of course, she realized it one way or another. Initially, she was more cautious than needed about the people around her because, before she arrived at the royal palace, people who were close to her often died. She was scared that the same would happen here and people would die.”
Things had been well when she had been cautious. But she opened her heart to those who watched over her warmly and at that moment–.
“By the time she was completely aware of it, two years had passed since she arrived at the royal palace. At that time, Celia was in such a terrible state that I could not bear to see it. She shut herself away in her room and wouldn’t come out before going on a rampage. There was nothing we could do to stop her. She wrecked the room, herself, and others. How many times was she made to drink a sedative? When we thought she finally stopped her rampage, she ended up becoming like another person. –Not her appearance, but her heart. She died in that moment.”
Yuna tried to imagine the situation at that time, but was unable.
“From then on, Celiastina behaved ruthlessly so that she would not connect with anyone.”
In order not to kill people, she had to hurt them. And that was the same as hurting herself. For a time, Celiastina had persisted on acting cold to distance herself from others, but a gear in her mind fell out of alignment. That faulty gear rattled dully and continued its unstable rotations–.
“Finally, Celiastina took the initiative and began to murder people. That girl must have forgotten the very reason as to why she had distanced herself from others. There was no reason or meaning in executing people. There was only killing.”
It might have been a salvation to her if she had been completely insane. But Celiastina was unable to “go crazy”. The faint sanity inside of her ate into her heart more and more. Why did it become like this? Why was she endowed with this ability? For what reason was she born? For what reason was she still alive?
(That’s why Celiastina chose to end her own life, huh.)
The last act from her sanity.
However, in the end, the heavens would not accept even that.
Linus nodded solemnly as his words continued.
“If Celiastina will truly return, I have been wondering what will become of her. Of course her ability will be removed, right? If not, then she will simply repeat the same suffering. What meaning is there in that?”
Yuna tried to recall the events of that white world that she could no longer remember clearly. That strange “light” had said nothing about this ability. Didn’t they say something along the lines of her needing time? Did they mean that it took time to remove this abominable ability? It had to be that, Yuna thought.
“… But even if that ability was removed…”
Linus muttered this and leaned back deeply into the sofa.
“Let us suppose that Celiastina will return mentally stable. At that time, will Celia really be able to fit in with her surroundings as if nothing had happened?”
Yuna’s words were stuck.
“Of course, the people around her will be doubtful that she changed, but that was a wall you overcame. As long as the person herself has the motivation then it is not impossible to have her surroundings accept her once again.”
However there is another problem, Linus pointed out as he continued.
“If her sanity returns, then I believe she won’t be able to bear the weight of the crimes she committed. Celiastina killed too many people without reason. That fact will not disappear, no matter what. The more sanity a person has the more that person would be unable to accept turning their back to those crimes and returning to a comfortable daily life with an ignorant face.”
“I’ve also thought that perhaps letting her sleep like this would be a happiness for her. And, actually, for the people around us… and for you. An option might be you living like this as Celiastina.”
For an instant, the shock that stabbed into her chest caused Yuna to lose her words.
To think that Linus would say those words. He was the only person who knew that a separate person resided in this body and he was the only one who had been negative to Yuna’s existence.
“Linus, are you thinking that it’d be better for Celiastina not to return?”
“It’s not about my feelings.”
“Let me hear your feelings, Linus. How do you feel? What do you think?”
“There are other things more important than what I think. For example, your own feelings. You worked hard and struggled alone and unassisted up to this point. Can you really consent to leaving this world upon Celiastina’s return?”
“Stop, don’t say that!”
Yuna shook her head like a mute child.
“Linus, you aren’t going to abandon Celiastina, right? That’s what I want to hear.”
She wanted him to say clearly that he wouldn’t abandon Celiastina. With that, Celiastina and herself would surely be saved. Certainly, it might be painful for Celiastina when she returned, but if she had someone beside her supporting her then she would be able to endure. It was the same for Yuna herself. Just by having someone waiting for Celiastina’s return, Celiastina would be able to feel cheered up. And yet.
Linus did not answer.
“You are too good. You’re an earnest and model person. I think you can be more selfish.”
Linus’ smile was tired. At that, a strong shadow fell on Yuna’s heart.
The truth about Celiastina could be called nothing else but a shock.
She knew that Celiastina wasn’t just a horrible person through and through, and that there was some sort of circumstance. But to think that such a merciless truth had been concealed.
(O’ God, why did Celiastina receive such a cruel ability?)
What was the reason for that ability? Wouldn’t this power produce nothing but despair? And despair, once born, was like a chain that steadily grew. It was connected so easily to a feeling of “loss” in this world. Even if that power was withdrawn at this point, or if things could be done over again, the hearts that were injured would continue to hold onto their unhealed pain.
Yes, from the start, Celiastina might not even think about wanting to do things over again. Perhaps that was what Linus wished to say.
(That might be reasonable too.)
Linus’ faint smile as he called Yuna a model person came to mind. She had moved along to the will of that strange “light” without any dissatisfaction or doubts – though she could only do that to the best of her ability – and steadily walked towards the end. Had she been chosen by the “light” to be Celiastina’s substitution because she was the most suitable and convenient puppet to manipulate, rather than the overlapping time of them losing their lives?
She thought she had gotten to this point on her own will. But was that not the case? Had everything been arranged? For the young girl called Yuna to become Celiastina and to crawl out of her dilemma one step at a time. To make one or two friends and then, at the end, disappear quietly without a complaint.
Yuna returned back the way she came, staggering on unsteady feet.
Aeneas followed several steps behind. Nasha had called him when Yuna was heading towards Linus’ room. Aeneas watched Yuna with concern but he did not speak or support her body; he simply kept silent by her side.
However, when Yuna was drawn into the opposite corridor to the path back to her room, Aeneas was unable to stay quiet at that point.
“Lady Celiastina, where are you heading? Your room is to the left.”
“Mm, there’s someplace close… I want to go to.”
She wanted to see Asyut again.
Yuna tried to walk down the corridor calmly but in truth, even now, she wanted to scream. An unrestrained whirlpool of anxiety and confusion rapidly grew larger and larger in Yuna.
Celiastina had been in constant pain. There was a crushingly great ability in such a slender body– it was a concealed curse. Hey, what should I do? Linus said that not returning might be Celiastina’s salvation. But is that true? Will Celiastina really be happy not returning? –Ah, why is there such painful things. I… I… what should I do? What’s the best thing to do?
She tried throwing all her confusion at Asyut who wasn’t there. But these overflowing emotions continued to well up one after another and she felt like they could escape outside at any time.
“Lady Celiastina, you don’t look well.”
Aeneas, who seemed to decide that it was not a good idea to continue watching her silently, grabbed Yuna’s right hand and forced her to stop walking. Yuna’s body swayed but she only turned her head to look back at Aeneas.
“I… want to see Asyut.”
The instant she said that a shadow suddenly fell over Aeneas’ face.
“Could you talk to me instead? I’ll do anything. So, please, rely on me too.”
“No, I need to see Asyut. It has to be Asyut.”
“Why? Why am I not good enough?”
Aeneas’ right hand tightened its grip.
“It’s not that you’re not good enough, Aeneas, that’s not what I–“
“To me they’re the same thing.”
Aeneas’ voice, which interrupted Yuna’s words, was heard awfully close. Ah, the moment she thought that, Aeneas had already pulled her into his arms.
Yuna was so surprised that she could not even call his name and she could only be pressed against Aeneas’ shoulder. His arms immediately went around her back and he held her tightly.
Aeneas’ arms and chest were hard. He was a man. For a moment, when she was aware of that, Yuna became embarrassed and blood rose to her face.
“Let me… go…”
When she begged him in a shaky voice, his shoulder jolted and stiffened. At the same time, Aeneas’ arms loosened and she was released. Hurriedly pulling her body back to create distance, she looked up and saw something like pain leap onto Aeneas’ expression.
Aeneas murmured this lowly.
Yuna was still unable to dispel her confusion but she felt like she had to say that, and then she shook her head awkwardly.
“–What is going on here?”
The moment Aeneas opened his mouth again to say something, another voice broke in between them. When she turned around, she saw Asyut coming towards them from a corner at the end of the hall.
“A-Asyut. Why are you here?”
“Lady Celiastina, I heard that you went to Lord Linus. I became a bit curious and came for you.”
As Asyut stated that, there was a faint annoyance in his appearance.
“Come to think of it, I am always running after you”– she remembered Asyut’s words. “I’m certain that, from here on too” and just like he said here he was coming to her.
Unconsciously, Yuna released a breath.
“Um, thank you for coming all this way. It just so happens that I was thinking of going to see you too.”
And then she turned to Aeneas, trying her best to act like nothing happened.
“Aeneas, I’m sorry. But this is related to a personal problem, so… thank you for everything up to this point.”
Many excuses wanted to come out, but Yuna managed to clamp down on them. Anything she said would sound like an excuse and he himself said that they meant the same to him. Even Yuna could understand vaguely the feelings that Aeneas was frustrated about. However, she didn’t have the composure yet to confront Aeneas.
“No, I’m the one who should be sorry. I apologize for my rudeness.”
Aeneas whispered that in a quiet voice without raising his head and then, without saying anything more, turned on his heel and departed. Yuna wanted to call out and stop him reflexively, but somehow she managed to swallow her words. As she watched Aeneas’ back like that for a while, she noticed that Asyut was looking at her instead of Aeneas and so she hurriedly turned back to Asyut.
“Well, what did you wish to speak to me about?”
“U-Umm. If possible, let’s talk in a place where people won’t come. I don’t really want others to hear this.”
Understood, Asyut nodded before showing slight hesitation.
“How about my office then? If I send people away, then no one will enter.”
“Okay. Then I’ll have to inconvenience you.”
Asyut started to walk at an easy pace. Yuna, who watched his back, followed after him.
It wasn’t that Aeneas wasn’t enough, it was that it had to be Asyut. Once again Yuna realized strongly that she felt relieved just from seeing his tall back. How long could she keep walking behind him like this? No matter how she estimated, it would be around half a year. Or perhaps she might have nothing more than a month.
Like Linus said, if she was able to continue living as Celiastina in the future, would Asyut accept that? And would he allow her to stay by his side until they grew old together?
(But, even if Asyut allowed that, would I allow that for myself?)
Her fragile heart was uncertain like a tower built on sand. As the waves continued to break along the shore, would it not collapse all too soon?
Yuna quietly stretched out her right hand to Asyut’s back.
If she grabbed his clothes like this, clung onto Asyut when he turned around in surprise, and cried out that she didn’t want to think about anything anymore and just wanted to be by his side… what would he do?
(It’s another “what if” again.)
Yuna’s hand cut through the air and dropped down like that. –She couldn’t. She mustn’t.
At that moment, Asyut suddenly turned around and Yuna unconsciously curled her shoulders in.
“Are you well?”
For a moment, she thought he saw straight through to her doubts and how she was caught by selfishness. Asyut sent a concerned gaze at Yuna, who nodded immediately with a head that wasn’t working.
“Let’s walk side-by-side. I feel uneasy when I can’t see you.”
A large hand was placed on her back very naturally. Yuna’s heart quickened.
“Am I that unreliable?”
Yuna tried smiling to hide her nervousness, but Asyut did not return the smile.
“Your complexion is very bad. You look like you’ll collapse at any moment.”
Just when she was about to answer that she wasn’t, she tripped over an uneven place on the floor. Yuna managed to hold herself up somehow, supported by Asyut who stretched out both hands without a moment’s delay.
Yuna apologized quietly under her breath, so embarrassed that she couldn’t raise her head. She was really pathetic. Getting her feet tangled in front of someone was obviously going to cause them to worry. At the very least, so that she wouldn’t have any more accidents, she would concentrate solely on walking.
Supported by both of Asyut’s hands, which hadn’t left, Yuna told herself strongly that she shouldn’t be afraid of losing these hands.
Asyut’s office was as neat as usual and there was nothing unnecessary in it.
A maid immediately brought them tea when they sat down in the sofas. As Asyut told the maid to the side not to allow anyone to enter for some time, Yuna quietly raised the glass to her mouth. It was cold and delicious. It calmed her feelings somewhat. With this, she’d be able to talk to Asyut calmly.
“Well, now that we’re here…”
Asyut, who was seated facing her, opened his mouth reservedly. Yuna gave a small nod and set her glass down.
“Um, you see, I just spoke to Linus.”
She drew in a light breath.
“I asked about the reason for Celiastina’s– the past me’s sudden change.”
Asyut’s eyes widened slightly.
“Did Lord Linus say?”
“Mm. He said we had the right to know. That’s why I wanted to talk as soon as possible. When I heard what he had to say, I became confused, and now I don’t know what to do.”
Asyut kept silent. No, maybe he lost his words.
“… May I ask what he said?”
Even then though Asyut asked in a resolute voice.
Yuna nodded firmly once more and then opened her mouth again.
“It’s not a complicated story, which is why it’s cruel. Is what Linus said.”
And it really was that, Yuna thought.
“Each and every saint is granted a special ability, right? I’m not an exception either and I have an ability bestowed by God.”
“Yes, that is right, but your ability, Lady Celiastina, has never been alluded to until now for some reason. I know nothing with respect to your ability.”
“I believe not many people know. Even the past me didn’t seem to realize until the time I came to the royal palace. In the end, maybe Linus is the only one apart from me who knows. Well, maybe the king or trusted people too.”
“Is this ability connected to why you changed, Lady Celiastina?”
She could see Asyut’s clasped hands tighten.
“Mm. I think it had a lot of impact. Because Saint’s Celiastina’s power is– to amplify the force towards “death” of a person she has connected with.”
Yuna declared this all at once and then, unable to bear it, lowered her eyes. She couldn’t look at Asyut’s face directly. What kind of expression would he have now that he knew the truth about the saint that he had been chasing for forever? Would he be like her, who hadn’t been able to swallow the truth well and was dazed? Or did he lose his bearings and was feeling emotions that could not be named, and were neither anger or sorrow, welling up inside of him?
“… A force towards “death” of those she has connected with… Then, the sudden increase of suspicious deaths was due to this ability?”
At Asyut’s calm voice, which was beyond her expectations, Yuna timidly raised her head. But, contrary to his calm voice, there was a complicated expression on his face. Asyut’s clasped hands tightened their grip even more.
“Yes. Being suddenly taken to the royal palace, I was full of anxiety, and then the people I opened up to… only those people died one after another, which is when I appeared to become aware of my own ability. Knowing that I was the cause, I became desolated. And then tried to keep away from people but that just escalated more and more.”
She was unable to say anything about what happened later. Amongst the countless people caught by Celiastina’s vicious ways, as she became filled with a quiet madness, included Asyut himself.
Linus said there was no meaning as to why Celiastina started hurting people. But was that truly the case? Could a reason not be found there? For example, if Celiastina had wanted to get away from the cruel truth even for just a bit.
Opening her heart and then having her precious people – who she opened up to – being killed by her own ability. Had she not been constantly pursued by this inescapable fact? Even if she tried her hardest to look away, she was unable to avoid this. Like a drop of black ink on white paper, this black stain would never disappear, and instead would leap into someone’s eyes even more vividly. If Celiastina had been unable to endure that black glare and had thought to dye the entire paper pure black–.
“The subject that I asked Lady Celiastina about was, evidently, a topic to be avoided with her, huh.”
Perhaps he was thinking the same thing and Asyut said that quietly.
“It must have been a problem that she never wanted anyone to touch. And that’s why she did such brutal actions; she had lost that much self-control.”
Asyut’s complexion was not well, maybe because he was remembering those days.
The thing Yuna still knew nothing about; the discord between the two.
“And then what did Lord Linus say?”
Yuna looked down a little and, during that motion, brushed a loose strand of hair away with her right hand. At that, her body shuddered. This hair and these arms were not her real body. And they absolutely couldn’t be hers. She mustn’t do that.
“Linus said… that it might be a choice to remain like this.”
Her voice was hoarse. Even this voice wasn’t her own voice.
“Not remembering anything. In other words, he told me to stay as the present me and think about the future.”
“Lord Linus said such a thing…?”
“But I can’t do that. Because this is the past Celiastina’s life. I don’t have any memories of the past, so I can’t take it over. I mustn’t do it. I should know that in my head…”
What was she saying. She couldn’t say anything more to Asyut. She had to talk calmly. But, as much as she thought that, her feelings were running rampant.
“And yet, I was swayed by Linus’ words. Linus said that, even if the past Celiastina returns, she will only be in pain. That she might suffer again from the saint’s “ability” that has calmed now. And that, even if the power was gone, she won’t be able to escape the guilt of having raised a hand to innocent people… And I hate that there’s a part of me who agrees that this might be the case.”
Feeling like tears were about to overflow along with her words, she covered her mouth with both hands to try and resist that.
“You see, it’s not that I want to take over Celiastina’s life. And I don’t want anyone to approve of that… is how it should be. And yet, I don’t even know about that anymore. I don’t understand my own feelings. I’m scared of my own selfish feelings getting larger and larger.”
“Lady Celiastina, please calm down.”
Asyut stood up and sat down beside Yuna. But when he slowly rubbed her back, Yuna stiffened and could not move. If she moved even the slightest bit, she felt like the feelings she was somehow holding back would become even more violent.
Asyut’s call hurt her ears. Don’t call me by that name. My name is… Yuna. Not Celiastina.
To say that she wasn’t taking over Celiastina’s life while screaming like that in her heart… just what kind of mouth was she saying that from? Wasn’t she just paying lip service because she wanted to be a good person?
She didn’t know, she didn’t know.
Burying her face into her hands, which had been covering her mouth, she felt her mind become even more disordered.
She didn’t know anything anymore.
She wanted to melt into these hands and have everything disappear. And then everything could be rebuilt from scratch. If only everything that Celiastina did, and everything that she did as Yuna, would just disappear.
“You’ve really… just been suffering.”
Asyut’s hand, which was covering her back, pulled her in strongly. And then two arms were wrapped around her. Yuna, who was suddenly warm, finally realized that she was being held after a short pause.
Reflexively, she twisted her body to leave but he was unyielding. Instead, she was held even more tightly to the point where she could hear Asyut’s breathing by her ear.
Yuna, who had been controlled by a confusion that was as thick as mud, felt like her head burst. Next, a completely different type of confusion started swirling inside of her.
Her voice rose uncontrollably. Even though her bewilderment should have been more than conveyed through that call, Asyut placed even more strength in the arms that embraced Yuna.
“Lady Celiastina, are you saying that when you “remember” the past, the present you will disappear?”
Yuna’s breath caught.
“You’ll disappear from this world. You won’t become one with the past Celiastina’s memories. Exactly like the word means, you’ll disappear. Is that what you’re saying?”
Asyut’s breath and voice fell into Yuna’s ears.
“You’re a Lady Celiastina who has lost her memories. Why are you so afraid of the past Celiastina and why are you averting your eyes from the future? To me, the future I will spend “with you” is not very visible.”
The force in Asyut’s arms loosened slightly. Yuna supported herself with both hands and slowly raised her upper body, which had been buried against Asyut’s chest. Raising her lowered eyes they collided with Asyut’s serious gaze.
Yuna bit her lip.
Could it be that Asyut was starting to realize it?
That the person here wasn’t Celiastina but a completely different being.
Was she happy? Or was she sad? In any case, she couldn’t declare her real name and that she was a separate person from Celiastina and have that be accepted. If she did that, then it felt like she wouldn’t be able to backtrack at all. She would be hoping that Asyut would accept her as Yuna.
Shaking her head loosely, Yuna fled from Asyut’s hands. She tried to pull her body away and place distance between her and Asyut but his left hand, which was around her waist, pulled her in strongly.
“I feel the same as Lord Linus. If you say that you will disappear, then I want you to continue staying like this without any memories. It’s because I’ve seen your earnestness that the hate in me has calmed. But, if you were to disappear–“
Yuna interrupted him and couldn’t help but bury her face into Asyut’s shoulder. At that action, she was embraced strongly again and she hated herself for finding it comfortable.
Asyut was always a level and calm man. Perhaps to the point of being too calm with respect to Celiastina. In order not to be crushed by his hate for Celiastina, he endeavored to control himself. That was why she had the impression that he was always looking at things one step away.
And that was why, this time too, she thought Asyut would chide her. She was sure she had wanted him to reply with something like it not being okay to stay without her memories or that choosing to run away wasn’t like her.
But what was she thinking now that, in reality, Asyut’s words and attitude was so far from that?
Confusion, terror, and– was this not pleasure?
She hated herself tremendously.
(I’m not prepared at all to return this body to Celiastina.)
Yuna was hopelessly made aware of this against Asyut’s warm chest.
(… I need to get away.)
Thinking this with a numb look, Yuna twisted her body a little. Finally, Asyut’s hands came apart. Regaining a distance that was not close enough, yet not far enough, Yuna secretly released a breath.
“I’m sorry. I… haven’t gathered all my thoughts.”
Asyut gave a small shake of his head.
“… Lady Celiastina.”
“I’m sure you were looking for words from me that would sever your hesitation. Perhaps I should have answered that you should recover your past memories. However, I won’t say such a thing. I’m certain that, more than anyone else, I’m the one who sees the past you and the present you as separate.”
Asyut’s tired voice was slightly husky.
“I do not seem to hate the present you. However, that does not mean that the events of the past have been completely settled. I cannot hide the fact that even now I hate the past Lady Celiastina. But, when I am together with you, that wound doesn’t hurt as much. That is all.”
Therefore, Asyut hesitated before continuing.
“If you were to disappear, I wouldn’t know what to do. I wonder if I can accept the moment when you regain your past memories, Lady Celiastina. It is weak of me but I am still bound by the past.”
Yuna kept silent and stared at Asyut. That graceful face, which was not turned to her right now, was facing the window directly. The light that shone in made Asyut’s face stand out. Was it the future or the past that spread beyond the window?
Sighing, Yuna murmured that.
“I’m sorry, but I… I can’t move forward and forget about the past me. I can’t act like nothing happened.”
She couldn’t dream about shutting a lid on Celiastina’s feelings and taking her place to walk on the path that had been prepared for her.
“You don’t want to abandon the past Lady Celiastina, is what you’re saying, right?”
That word from Asyut stabbed into Yuna’s chest plainly. When Yuna asked Linus this, he didn’t say anything. Linus, you aren’t going to abandon Celiastina, right? Only a shadowed smile was given to that question.
The answer that Yuna wished for wasn’t given.
“I don’t… want to abandon her.”
“Even if no one is waiting eagerly for her return?”
That may be the truth. From the very beginning, what people needed might have just been the Holy Mark on her neck. People might have thought that there was no big difference as to what kind of person she was, so long as the Holy Mark was there. She was sure that Celiastina had also thought that.
“I don’t want to abandon her.”
Right now, she wasn’t able to have a firm resolve to leave this body and separate from everything around her. Moreover, she still didn’t know the good or bad actions that she had taken up to now. However, in these past few days of chasing Celiastina’s shadow and finally being able to understand her shape, Yuna didn’t want to look away from that.
She wanted to know more about Celiastina. Not just chasing her shadow, but feeling her breath. She wanted to experience that Celiastina had existed here, crying at times, laughing at times, and that she had lived through each day.
Only that thought was certain.
Asyut stared at Yuna with pursed lips. He looked like he had a mountain of things he wanted to say and Yuna knew what most of them would be about. But still, no, because of that, Yuna could not say anything more than that.
“… For me, there is still a small point of interest about the past Lady Celiastina.”
“Point of interest?”
His wandering gaze spoke of his hesitation as to whether he should talk about it or not.
“While I was investigating Lady Celiastina, I read many books about the abilities of the saints. There weren’t many on her ability, which made me curious. In the end, I didn’t know what ability she held at that time but in the course of the investigation I learned about many details of the past saints’ abilities.”
The ability of a saint. Yuna’s chest hurt with just that word. Because that power caused the past Celiastina to walk a path of destruction.
“I believe I was able to follow most of the past saints through the books. All of them, to some degree or other, had an ability. Some had the ability to create shooting stars, but there were also saints whose powers wouldn’t be noticeable in everyday life. However, among those, there was no one who had a power that was so “negative” like Lady Celiastina’s.”
Surprised, Yuna’s body stiffened. She took a long hard look at Asyut’s face.
“The saints’ abilities are said to be a blessing from our God, Vida. In other words, apart from being useful or not, at the very least there hasn’t been an abominable power that was bestowed. I believe that aspect is why everyone worships the saint. Because these girls have miraculous powers that ordinary people cannot attain. Then, why is Lady Celiastina the only one to be granted such a dreadful power?”
Now that he mentioned it, that was true. Even among the ones that Yuna investigated, none of the saints had abilities that would be shunned by people. And yet why was Celiastina the only one?
Linus said that she probably had it from the start. That this was how a saint’s ability worked. But was that the truth?
“I just remembered. Lady Celiastina is an orphan. I heard that she was raised in an orphanage until she came to the royal palace at the age of fourteen. I am not saying that it was because of the orphanage, but perhaps something happened during her life at the orphanage…”
Something. During her life at the orphanage.
Yuna kept her eyes on Asyut and blinked multiple times, overcome with surprise.
There was still more.
Everything hadn’t been made clear yet and there might be more suffering.
And if there was a reason as to why Celiastina was granted such an abominable power?
It might be that the real beginning was lurking there– Yuna bit her lip hard.
(T/N: Reminder to support the author if you love this series and for gorgeous illustrations. I realized I hadn’t posted any from Book 2 so ;) feast your eyes on that one. Also, this was a super long chapter with tons of interesting points but can I just say I LOVE ASYUT AND YUNA’S INTERACTION. It’s so… *clenches fist*.)