Yuna watched the changing scenery as she sat on top of a horse, supported by Asyut.
She never expected that she would leave out of the gates in the same way that Yodel, who she saw off several days ago, did. Feeling a strange connection, Yuna sighed in wonder. That sigh, in the blink of an eye, disappeared behind them.
Yuna and Asyut were on a horse that was galloping on a continuous straight road; the two were heading to the orphanage that Celiastina used to live at in the past.
Yuna and Asyut both knew how dangerous it was to leave the city when worries about the movements of the anti-saint faction were rising, but this was something they couldn’t yield on. Though it was unreasonable, they officially left the royal palace secretly.
Asyut had arrived at their meeting place slightly late. But when she asked if something had happened, he only smiled and shook his head, replying that it was nothing important. That being said, for Asyut – who was always busy – it must have been quite hard for him to leave his work and slip out of the royal palace. When she thought about that, she could only hold him in high esteem.
But still, it honestly made her happy for the two of them to go out. It had also been a while since she rode a horse like this. Yes, ever since that night when she first woke up as Celiastina, at a loss at the bottom of a cliff, and was saved by Asyut–.
(A lot of time has passed since then, huh.)
That night was the start of everything.
She had wondered why Asyut had been angry when he saved her. When she tried talking to him, he replied with cold words and made her shrink. Still, on that night, he firmly supported Yuna who was swaying on the horse.
(My “time” should have already ended in that moment, but time has definitely been passing since then.)
Now, she was sure that if she spoke to Asyut behind her, no matter how trivial it was, he would respond with a gentle voice. Time, which had certainly been passing, brought about a great change to Yuna and Asyut’s relationship. It made her happy, sad, and pained. It gave her feelings that she couldn’t put into words.
When she swayed on the horse, the scenery changed dizzingly.
The scenery that was seen in the distance, approached quickly, and then once again became distant. Things that she thought were far away, flew by all too soon.
Yuna didn’t speak to Asyut. It was hard to raise her voice against the cutting wind and, above all, she felt like the right thing to do was to not say anything. Asyut also didn’t speak to Yuna and she was thankful for that.
The horse continued running as it was.
They passed through people on the streets and country roads. There was nothing around them to the point where she wondered if the orphanage they were heading to even existed. Before she knew it, Yuna started to fall into a doze. Her lower back hurt because of being unused to riding a horse, but she felt comfortable enough that the pain became indistinct. Finally, losing to sleep, Yuna leaned against Asyut and felt a greater sense of security wrap around her.
“Lady Celiastina, I can see it.”
After a while, Asyut spoke up. Yuna, who had been completely leaning against Asyut, woke up from the vibrations of his voice. She twisted her body to adjust her position and then, when she looked at the spread out scenery in front of her again, a gasp slipped out.
Before they went down a gentle slope, a large building with gates could be seen. Beyond that, on the other side, was a scattered village and then, even further, a thick forest seemed to stretch out.
–Ah, what a nostalgic sight.
Her younger self must have seen the same sight in the past. The only things left in her impression were the gloomy ivy crawling on the walls and the small storeroom where she and her friends slipped into. These strong feelings were revived for the first time the moment she looked over the entire building.
“It looks like that big building, huh.”
“Yes, most likely.”
It was the same old building. Like her memories, there was ivy tangled all over the wall and the iron gate was also rusty.
The horse’s speed gradually slowed as Yuna and Asyut approached the building. What if it had already become abandoned? This thought passed her mind, but it immediately turned out to be a needless fear.
On the other side of the gate, children could be heard.
That also gave her complicated feelings. Laughter was mixed into their voices.
“It looks like… people are here.”
Yuna secretly took in a deep breath to calm her heart, which was beating fast enough to be painful. She got down from the horse with the help of Asyut and felt the solidity of the ground beneath her feet that she hadn’t felt in a while. She still felt like she was floating and swaying but, by the time she reached the gates, her body’s sensations returned.
“Let’s go in.”
Asyut placed his hand on the iron gate; the gate raised a rusty screech, as if hating being opened. And, as if surprised by that noise, the excited voices of the children which they had just heard went silent all at once.
When they entered the orphanage’s courtyard, there were about five children beside the gate who were frozen. The youngest was a girl around three or four years old and the oldest was a boy around eleven or twelve years old. Everyone looked at the intruders who came into the orphanage with curiosity. The older children had gazes that were permeated with clear wariness.
Yuna spoke in an unassuming manner. When she did, the children corrected their posture as if struck. So that she wouldn’t frighten them any more, Yuna made an effort to crouch gently beside the children. She smiled sweetly when their line of sight was at the same height.
“I’m sorry for how sudden this is, but could I interrupt for a moment?”
The children looked at each other at a loss.
“Who are you people?”
A boy, who looked to be the oldest among them, opened his mouth. He observed Yuna with caution but, somewhere, he seemed shy and his gaze wavered.
“In the past, I used to be taken care of here. The person behind me is the one who brought me here.”
“–You were here… in the past?”
“Yep. It’s been such a long time, I thought I’d drop in for a visit.”
“But you’re not one of this generation’s people, right? Because I don’t know you. Are you from the generation before?”
While petting his small brothers and sisters, who clung to him, the boy threw out even more questions. Yuna didn’t know the meaning of “this generation” and “generation before”, so she unconsciously looked back at Asyut behind her. Asyut, who caught her look, shook his head to show that he didn’t understand either.
“This orphanage closed once, and so the people before that are called the “generation before”.”
The boy guessed Yuna’s question and gave a simple explanation.
“This is the first time someone from the generation before came back here.”
Yuna couldn’t find her words and simply looked back at the boy. Even after receiving an explanation, she couldn’t understand the situation. So, after Celiastina left this orphanage something really did happen.
“Um, I was wondering if we could meet the director.”
The boy nodded and then called for all the children beside him to stand up.
“Everyone, we’re going to the director. Let’s race to see who gets there first.”
With those few words, the children who had been nervous and stiff returned to being excited. The boy watched everyone run off with fun and then turned back to Yuna and Asyut.
“Please wait a bit.”
Yuna nodded and then slowly stood up. Looking at the backs of the children who were sucked into the building, a smile rose but at the same time nervousness. Did something happen in the past at this orphanage? Or perhaps nothing happened?
There were a ton of things she wanted to ask and wanted to know. But, could those answers be found here–.
The wait wasn’t that long.
In a short amount of time the closed door of the building, which had kept silent, slowly opened again with a dull sound.
A face peered out from that crack; it was a gray-haired woman who looked somewhat worn.
The moment the woman timidly looked out at them and recognized Yuna, her eyes, which were behind glasses, opened wide and her breath caught. She was frozen as if time had stopped only around her but then, in the next instant, she sprang over to Yuna.
“Ah, ahh… Cella! It really is you!”
The woman called out to Yuna with tears mixed in her voice and clung to Yuna like she would collapse. While that was being done to Yuna, she could only look down at the woman without words. She looked like the years had taken quite a toll on her, but Yuna knew this person. During the period Yuna came here to play, this person was already in the orphanage. The woman didn’t notice Yuna’s shock as she grabbed Yuna’s pale arms and sobbed.
“You’ve become so beautiful. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Cella. I couldn’t do anything.”
Apologies spilled out as if a dam had burst. Yuna, as herself, had no way of knowing what those apologies were for. They came here specifically to seek those answers.
–Like she thought, something happened here in the past.
“It’s been a long time… though I don’t know if I should say that.”
The woman’s eyebrows furrowed as she looked up at Yuna, who opened her mouth with reserve. She must have felt a strangeness at the way Yuna spoke as if she were a stranger. However, unfortunately, the present Yuna didn’t know whether to be happy or sad at this “reunion”.
“I apologize deeply for our sudden intrusion. I am the First Holy Knight, Asyut Rothenlukia. Due to some complicated circumstances, Lady Celiastina and I have come here. We would like to have some time to speak with you.”
Asyut, who seemed to decide that the situation should be temporarily calmed, broke in.
“The First Holy Knight… Lord Asyut.”
The woman repeated his name as she took a long and hard look at him. It looked like her mind could not keep up with all these unexpected events happening at the same time. Looking between Asyut and Yuna, she tried her hardest to find the source of the confusion that had suddenly fallen on her. When Yuna and Asyut waited patiently for her next words, the woman eventually began to regain her presence of mind.
“Please excuse the sorry state of this place and all the disordered rooms but, if you do not mind, please come inside.”
Awkwardly, she returned that answer.
“Then, we accept your hospitality… Incidentally, you are…?”
When Asyut asked this question, the woman looked up at Yuna with hope in her eyes. It felt like she was relying on Yuna to really not treat her like a stranger. However, Yuna didn’t have the answer. And so she could only lower her eyes in silence.
“My name is Kazlow. I serve as the director of this orphanage.”
Kazlow answered in a voice that held disappointment.
“Though… I don’t have those qualifications.”
Her sad smile immediately disappeared when she turned her back to them.
The orphanage was enormous, but its construction was not extravagant.
Though modest, the long corridor they continued down held the warmth of people, and Yuna looked here and there as she followed Kazlow. There were a number of innocent pictures drawn by the children decorating the walls and, between those, there were dried flowers casually placed. In several places, there were silly posters saying “Don’t run in the halls” and “Make sure to greet people”. Everything she saw made her feel nostalgic.
The drawing room they were shown into was built better compared to the halls outside. Still, of course it wasn’t the same as the ones in the royal palace. Were the crooked textiles on the walls made by the director and children? To Yuna, this was a lovely atmosphere which brought back memories of the past days, but to Asyut who was sitting beside her it must have been a fresh experience.
“So this is the place where Lady Celiastina grew up.”
The director, Kazlow, told them she would prepare tea and left her seat. Unable to be calm while they waited in silence, Yuna exchanged some words with Asyut.
“We rode the horse only for a little while, and yet this place is completely different from the royal capital, huh.”
“That’s true. It’s not that the royal palace is unpleasant, but the atmosphere in the country allows you to relax. It feels like the flow of time itself is different.”
“It’s very calm here, and time just passes.”
Yes, calmly and slowly, a gentle time passed.
From the window, the excited voices of the children could be heard again. They were healthy voices, with no traces of gloom.
“–Did something really happen here? In this warm place?”
Asyut glanced at Yuna.
“Considering how Miss Kazlow reacted when she saw us at the beginning, I believe something happened here. However, certainly, it is hard to imagine the orphanage, as it is now, of having a guilty past. But even if time passes gently, time is certainly passing.”
Ah, yes, Yuna was easily convinced. It was unmistakable that many things were different since the time Celiastina spent here in the past. Perhaps there weren’t even any traces of the past. But if it completely changed that much then it’d be meaningless to find an answer from the current scenery. But that was fine. It meant change had come to the orphanage in a good direction.
“I apologize for the wait.”
Kazlow reappeared with a flustered voice.
“There aren’t many people here, so I apologize for all the running around.”
Kazlow apologized as she poured the tea. But her motions were familiar and there was a sense of security from watching them. Kazlow’s feelings might have calmed down during the time she had been preparing the tea.
“Miss Kazlow, I would like to keep the fact that we came here and the conversation that we will have secret.”
Kazlow, who took a seat facing them, nodded solemnly.
“As you can tell, by the two of us coming here alone, we have a topic we don’t want publicized.”
Receiving Kazlow’s clear response, Asyut gestured at Yuna to continue.
“Kazlow, to be honest… I don’t have any memories… of the time I lived here.”
In the end, after some hesitation, Yuna broached the subject. If she could, it would have been best to confess that she and Celiastina were completely different people, but of course that was the one thing she couldn’t do. Kazlow was thrown into disorder and, above all, Asyut was listening next to them.
“It’s not just the time I lived here. I don’t have any memories except for very recent ones.”
Yuna nodded slowly. Kazlow’s eyes widened with shock.
“How… in the world?”
“I had an accident at the royal palace and lost consciousness. When I woke up, I couldn’t remember anything.”
“Right now, you still can’t remember anything?”
Kazlow shrunk away, as if afraid. It felt like she had caught a glimpse of an extreme confusion, but Kazlow kept her mouth closed.
“And so I want to know about the past. I believe the days I spent here at this orphanage were very significant to me. I came to visit today to see if I could hear about it.”
A heavy silence filled the air.
When Kazlow opened her mouth next, her voice had become somewhat low.
“Aren’t the memories of your time at this orphanage too old to want to get back?”
“No, I’m sure they are precious.”
Yuna stubbornly clung on, but Kazlow did not seem enthused.
“Kazlow, what kind of life did I have here? Won’t you talk about it? Even a little bit at a time is fine.”
There was a great disparity between Kazlow’s sunken expression and the bright voices of the children that could be heard from outside. The silence conveyed clearly that, if possible, she didn’t want to talk about it.
But Yuna couldn’t withdraw.
“… It must be very difficult to have lost your memories. But I believe there are pasts which are better left unremembered. Your life here is one of those.”
“You’re saying my days here weren’t bright then.”
“Yes, that’s right. That’s why I want you to have only the enjoyable and glamorous memories of when you started living in the royal palace.”
“I cannot do that.”
Yuna decisively denied that.
“None of the days I spent at the royal palace were glamorous or fun. I was hurt in the royal palace and, above all, I personally hurt many people. I can’t move forward by looking away from the past. That’s why I want to know, no matter what, the beginning of everything.”
Kazlow met Yuna’s eyes with hesitation. Her eyes were red and shook as if she were about to cry soon.
“Far from being bright days, to you life at this orphanage was extremely painful. Do you still want to know?”
“Yes, please tell me.”
Yuna displayed absolutely no hesitation. She wanted to show Kazlow that she hadn’t come here to visit on light feelings.
“… That’s right, it’s your past. I’m not the one who should decide what to do with it.”
Kazlow looked down and released a sigh.
“I understand. Then, let us talk. I’m not sure where I should start but, ah yes, won’t you come with me? There’s something I’d like you both to see.”
Following Kazlow, who seemed to stand up to throw off her doubts, Yuna and Asyut also stood from their seats. There were deep wrinkles carved into the side of Kazlow’s face. They looked more like wrinkles that had appeared from troubles which piled up than from age. Yuna felt like she had been a much happier and lively woman in the past. It seemed that the past here wasn’t painful to just Celiastina. She was sure that it was the same for Kazlow herself.
When Kazlow opened the door of the drawing room, she pulled back quickly in surprise. Yuna, wondering what happened, peered over at the other side of the door. There stood several children who looked at each other with awkward faces.
“Oh my, oh my. What’s wrong with everyone?”
One of the children looked up at Kazlow clingingly.
“Teacher, did something happen?”
“What do you mean?”
“Because, teacher, when we said that a big sister from the past came, you were really surprised and ran to meet her.”
“Ah, I’m sorry. That would surprise you all, huh.”
Kazlow slowly crouched and stroked the heads of the children. Yuna couldn’t see anything but her back, but she was sure Kazlow was smiling gently because the children’s stiff expressions loosened little by little.
“It’s not that something happened; this is a happy reunion. It’s been a long time, so I’d like to talk more with this big sister. Can you all play amongst yourselves?”
Was everything really okay? The small eyes seemed to say as they flickered at Yuna and Asyut before running away.
“Hey, come on, everyone. Don’t trouble the director and her guests. Let’s go already.”
The young boy who received Yuna and Asyut at the beginning appeared around the corner of the hall and pushed the children’s backs. He was still far from being an adult, but he seemed to have the role of gathering the children at the orphanage.
“What’s with that, Ruth, you were the one who asked us to come check things out.”
A precocious young girl pouted and protested. The young boy, who was called Ruth, turned red and raised his voice.
“Stupid! Don’t say extra things!”
“It’s not extra.”
With a red face Ruth turned to Yuna and the others and bowed his head before leaving the place with the children, looking like he was carrying them all. As they watched them leave, Yuna exchanged looks and smiles with the other two. She felt like the tension in their feelings eased by a little bit.
Brought by Kazlow, the three of them arrived at the backyard of the orphanage.
The greenery was overgrown with small flowers blooming here and there. There were also trees here with rare fruit. It was not cleanly managed but there were signs of human handiwork and it did not have an impression of being wild.
Yuna enjoyed the sound of stepping on grass while she squinted her eyes against the sunlight filtering in through the trees. This backyard hadn’t changed much. She remembered well that, whenever she came to the orphanage, she spent the majority of her time here.
“As you can see, this place is sunny and so it’s a favorite place for all the children.”
As Kazlow said this she walked directly to the wall of the building. The wall was covered by a gentle green vine plant, whose small light pink flowers seemed to flow down from the top like lace.
Yuna caught her breath when she looked up at the plant. It was like a waterfall… But, could this be–.
A young Cella was always by herself here, crouching. Because she wanted to take care of the plants she was alone and didn’t join the circle of friends.
“Do you remember?”
Kazlow stared intently at Yuna with hope in her eyes.
“… To think it grew to be this big.”
At Yuna’s unconscious murmur, Kazlow nodded happily.
“Furthermore, its flowers are blooming. Even though it’s an asiatic jasmine.”
“I-Is that so.”
“Is this a special plant?”
Asyut, who was unable to see the conversation, opened his mouth reservedly.
“This asiatic jasmine in and of itself is not special; it’s actually the model of what it should look like. But the flowers of an asiatic jasmine only bloom for a short period of time in a year. And this is not the season for it.”
“You know a lot, Cella. –But.”
Kazlow slowly looked up at the wall in front of them again with nostalgic eyes.
“This asiatic jasmine’s flowers have been blooming all year round. It’s almost been fifteen years and it’s still blooming.”
“Yes, it has never withered once. Because it received your blessings.”
“That’s right. Your blessings as a saint. I’m certain this is your ability.”
–No way! Yuna shook her head reflexively, because she knew. Saint Celiastina’s ability should be amplifying the force towards “death” of those she connected with. And it was actually due to that power that many people died.
“What do you mean?”
Asyut, seeming to feel the same doubts, asked for an explanation.
“This plant was planted by Cella when she was still young. It was a time when everyone at the orphanage was to grow their own plant. Cella put in her utmost effort to care for hers. During that time, there were children who grew bored and gave up caring for their plants midway, but Cella was the most passionate. Mysteriously, this asiatic jasmine matured at an unnatural speed. Normally, it would take five years for this wall to be covered, but in two years it grew to a point where its flowers seemed to spill over and fall.”
Yuna also knew that Cella worked hard to care for this asiatic jasmine. She had really treasured this plant.
As Yuna listened to Kazlow’s explanation, she reached out gently to the asiatic jasmine. Its small flowers tickled her fingers.
“Even when Cella became Saint Celiastina and left the orphanage, this asiatic jasmine hasn’t forgotten to flower. And it’s not just this asiatic jasmine. The flowers that Cella planted don’t wither easily and, conversely, for flowers that have withered, if Cella gives her love to them, they regain their health. It is said that, for generations, the saints are endowed with mysterious powers. I believe Cella’s saintly power is to encourage the growth of plants.”
“If that’s the case, then Lady Celiastina’s power at the royal palace…”
Asyut opened his mouth and seemed to have trouble saying it. Without needing to ask, Yuna knew what he was saying.
“A saint has never had two or more powers, right? Then, in either case, one is unrelated to my ability and is nothing more than a “coincidence”.”
“Coincidence you say…”
While Yuna and Asyut talked, Kazlow looked up at the asiatic jasmine which was spread like a curtain. Yuna noticed sorrow and uneasiness on Kazlow’s profile, which seemed to chase her, and once again turned to face her.
Kazlow bit her lip hard.
“Kazlow, you seem to know more about something else, don’t you? And that’s why you have such a pained look, right?… The ability that I’ve experienced up to now as a saint has been completely different. It’s an ability that is frightening to put to words; an abominable one. If you know anything about that then…”
A painful silence dominated the area.
The silence, which was thought to continue endlessly, was broken first by a gentle gust of wind that blew through. As that breeze swept back the bangs on her helpless face, Kazlow gave a small nod.
“I know. There’s no way I don’t know. Because the very moment your power was distorted, I just stayed silent and watched.”
Looking away from the asiatic jasmine, Kazlow faced Yuna directly.
“Could you come with me some more? There’s another place I would like to guide you to.”
The next place they went was the top of a small hill, which was a short walk after exiting from the back of the orphanage.
On that hill, which barely had anything apart from the green of vegetation, was a single neat grave and that was the only thing that drew the eye.
Yuna read the name on the tombstone but it was unfamiliar to her. Noie Risban. When she looked at the age of death, the person seemed to have died more than ten years ago. Just a bit before Yuna came to play at the orphanage. Moreover, what caught her attention was that the person seemed to have died at the young age of seven.
“The grave of your childhood friend, Cella.”
Kazlow rearranged the bouquet of flowers in front of the grave which had been blown into a mess by the wind.
“And the daughter of the previous director. She was a bright and energetic girl who pulled you around, since you were a bit shy. The two of you always played together.”
“… She died young.”
Yes, Kazlow said with a solemn nod. Her tight expression, which seemed to say that this was the beginning of everything, made Yuna stiffen.
“Noie died because of an accident on this hill.”
“It was a very unfortunate accident. No one could have done anything.”
Kazlow sighed. When Kazlow said that no one could have done anything, it sounded like she was persuading herself and admonishing someone who was not here.
“When Noie was playing on this hill, it seemed like a gust of wind blew through. She fell to the bottom of the hill. Unfortunately, she struck her head hard and, though she held on for a short while, in the end she passed away without waking after half a month.”
Kazlow closed her eyes. Her somber expression looked like she was giving a silent prayer to the young girl whose life was quickly taken away by an unlucky fate.
“Noie was a central presence in the orphanage and so her death gave everyone a huge shock. Especially to her parents, one of which was the director at the time, and his grief was very deep. Of course, there aren’t any parents who wouldn’t be devastated by the death of their own child. But the director loved his daughter to the point where, if it could save Noie’s life, he would be willing to sacrifice his own life or the life of others. Even his wife was sometimes exasperated… Ah, I’m speaking ill of him. He really wasn’t a person who would neglect others for his daughter. However, his beloved daughter’s death completely eroded his spirit.”
Kazlow opened her eyes again and looked at the tombstone.
“At the time, Noie didn’t fall from the hill alone.”
She hadn’t been alone. Then, who had been with her?
“Cella, she was with you.”
Yuna’s heart jumped with a loud thud.
“Both of you were playing as usual, joking and running around. A sudden wind then pushed the two of you and you both tumbled down the hill. However, you came out of that with scratches and scrapes. You pushed your small body to its limits to carry back Noie, who was limp and unmoving. I can still remember clearly… the sight of you sobbing for help for Noie.”
Noie had been taken to a doctor immediately but the doctor’s expression had been extremely hard. His cruel prognosis had been that she wouldn’t be able to make it to the next day. Cella had clung to Noie, who was on the bed with closed eyes, and bawled. The director and his wife had stood still on the side and looked down at their beloved daughter in a daze. Kazlow, unable to endure being in the same room a second longer, had turned around.
However, contrary to the doctor’s words, Noie had continued breathing the next morning. And the next morning too, and the morning after that, her faint breathing could certainly be heard. That was why a small hope began to be born inside the orphanage. Noie’s life, which had been said to not have a day, continued on thinly like this. Perhaps she’d even wake up soon and look up at them with clear green eyes–.
Kazlow spoke about how that hope had been eventually crushed but, during that time, the director’s spirit had been unmistakably exhausted more and more. Sometimes he sat around without moving for hours like a bronze statue and, at other times, he acted strangely cheerful and would smile widely. He probably didn’t know how to deal with his own heart which drifted in the space between hope and despair.
“The director’s interactions with you, Cella, looked normal at first after Noie died. Although the director’s wife clearly began to avoid you, the adults around felt that the director endured well. Cella, you did nothing wrong, but both you and Noie went through the same thing and yet the difference was like heaven and earth; complex feelings and questions as to why it became like this were probably unavoidable. Despite this though, the director loved you, Cella, as usual. In fact, he seemed to favor you more than the other children, but I thought he was worried about your mental hurt and so I was moved by how he was a man of character.”
But, she was mistaken, Kazlow said as she shook her head.
“Some time after Noie had passed away, you looked visibly spiritless, Cella. You were like that after the accident, but this was different from the sorrow of losing a friend and was some other kind of depression. When I asked the reason, during a moment we were alone, you cried and brought this up, “I’m not Noie. Right, teacher? But maybe I need to put up with it. Because I couldn’t save Noie”.”
Kazlow had tried to ask for more details, but Cella didn’t say anything further. In order to know the true meaning of those words, Kazlow had watched over Cella whenever she had the time. And then she finally noticed it. The attitude the director had towards Cella was… strange. It was too peculiar.
To put it briefly, the director was too affectionate to Cella.
He had treated Cella as if she were his world’s most precious and beloved daughter. To the point where he had pushed Cella to replace his daughter, who was no longer here.
“Furthermore, that was how it was on the surface. He superficially loved you, Cella, but it felt like in his heart he rejected you. The more I paid attention the more blatant his attitude seemed. In truth, the director couldn’t forgive you for being the only one saved, Cella, and the reality that you were alive but Noie was dead. And so he hated you greatly, Cella.”
Not once had the director been personally vicious and hurt Cella. On the surface, he had always treated her kindly. With a gentle and full of love – or so that was how it looked – attitude. However, the truth was different. I hate you, had been said underneath his smile.
“Cella, you probably didn’t know what to do, huh. Even if you wanted to run away, you weren’t able to run away. Moreover, because you felt responsible for Noie’s death you resigned yourself to accepting the director’s warped treatment. The director’s wife also never said anything and, around that time, they divorced and she left the orphanage. I too didn’t know what the right thing to do was. Because he was the perfect “father” on the surface I hesitated over whether I should condemn him and separate you from him, Cella. I believe I sympathized with the director and thought he was acting unconsciously. Now that I think about it though, I should have separated you two by force.”
Kazlow talked about how the director must have noticed early on that Cella had the Holy Mark – the proof of a saint – tattooed on her. But still, he wasn’t able to let her go. Perhaps he was stubbornly convinced that if she disappeared from his eyes then, this time, he would lose his “daughter”.
“Cella, you earnestly endured this. Except for that one time you confided a piece of your mind to me, you didn’t say anything to anyone else. But your heart certainly suffered. Gradually, abnormal events began to happen around you, Cella. Though, at the time, we didn’t notice it at first.”
“… What happened?”
Yuna asked that question, but the answer was obvious.
“The children who were close to you, Cella… began to die one by one.”
As if every single word was a blade that cut, Kazlow’s face twisted with hurt at her own words.
“The cause of death was varied: such as sickness, suffocation from something stuck in the throat, or falling down the stairs. That was why, at the beginning, we thought it was a series of unfortunate coincidences. But everyone started to notice faintly… that it was only the children who were close to Cella who died.”
It was most likely that no one had said it out loud to confirm it. The contents were something to hesitate over saying out loud and, if everyone’s opinions were in agreement, there was no one who could answer as to how to move from here. And so they had stayed silent; the children and staff began to keep a distance from Cella and treated her with the utmost care. Everyone, except for the director.
The director had concentrated more and more on Cella. Because no one would come close to Cella, he must have felt all the more that she was his possession. And yet, inside the director, his hatred towards Cella became greater.
And as Cella matured, the conflict of being unable to keep her close at hand was finally born – in the worst case he knew she had to receive the ceremony of becoming a saint before she was fifteen years old – in the end, it became clear to everyone that the director was wild.
He tried to rape Cella.
The person himself had said nothing about what he was thinking at the time. He must have thought, when he was thinking about the best way to hurt Cella while loving her, that there was nothing to do but this.
However, luckily it ended as an attempt. No matter how uncomfortable they were with Cella they weren’t inhuman enough to stay silent and watch a frail girl at her wits end be assaulted. For the first time Kazlow, and a few other people, stopped the director and somehow protected Cella. At that moment, the Holy Mark on Cella’s neck was revealed and, following that, she was sent out to the royal palace.
Hearing this story, Yuna thought back upon the time she visited the orphanage again.
Noie was already gone by the time Yuna came. Cella was often alone but she didn’t feel as if Cella had been left out from the others. Yes, there had also been a male director. He was always smiling and when he gave sweets to Cella he also gave Yuna some. Her judgement as a child had been that he was a nice man.
That time might have been the very last moment the orphanage had been able to maintain their shaky equilibrium.
No, at that time, Cella must have already had the seeds of misfortune that would continue into the future. She was suffering from the director’s twisted love and secretly seeking help. And then Yuna left the orphanage without noticing that. If she had noticed Cella’s pain at the time, perhaps something might have been different.
Celiastina’s words in the white world, “I despise you”, was brought back to her mind again.
“Did no one really notice Cella’s Holy Mark until that time?”
“At least I didn’t notice it. Come to think of it, the director had always hated it when the staff took care of things around you, Cella. It was probably him and a few others who knew.”
“Why was it not reported immediately to the royal palace?”
“I believe it was the director’s idea. But I don’t know the reason.”
If Celiastina had been welcomed into the palace the moment she came to the orphanage… Yuna couldn’t help but think about that.
“Then, at the very least, when I was sent to the royal palace, you should have reported the ability.”
As Yuna continued on that topic, Kazlow nodded without any strength.
“… That’s right. But, no one could say anything.”
The people around the young Cella didn’t stop her hurt from heading into a bad direction. They must have been drawn into the flow of the days and their surface-level calm. After incomprehensible deaths swooped down on the orphanage, they cowered even more and couldn’t move. So, when Cella’s Holy Mark was unexpectedly found, they drove her out of the orphanage on this fortune. Moreover, the royal palace side was not informed at all about Cella’s twisted ability. Even though, if a single word had been said, maybe fate could have been greatly changed.
(Why did things just keep heading in a bad direction?)
But she couldn’t only blame Kazlow.
If she had been in Kazlow’s position, what would she have done? She might have chosen the same road of running away. She might have sympathized with the director’s circumstances too and, even if it looked somewhat distorted, if he was giving affection then she couldn’t deny that head-on. If Cella herself barely made any complaints, then she would be belittling Cella’s strength. Even after finally knowing the depths of Cella’s wounds with the appearance of her twisted ability, she wouldn’t have been able to act. If she supported Cella warmly then one day she might become that ability’s prey and lose her life. Yuna thought that was terrifying. She was sure that even she would be prepared to run.
She could also understand the thoughts of the people at the orphanage and why they didn’t report this ability to the royal palace. They might have had to answer for how Cella was raised up to now and, in the first place, they would have been hesitant to even say that the holy messenger of God had a cursed ability. If they had thought this was a punishment for blasphemy against God, then it was unavoidable that they would be taciturn.
Besides, they might have had a small hope too. If her surroundings changed, perhaps Cella’s power would be at peace. If she left the director, who was the main cause of her suffering, and the orphanage, that reminded her of painful days, and lived in an entirely changed environment then perhaps…
Of course, that was nothing more than a selfish hope on the orphanage’s side, but that possibility must have been extremely attractive. It wouldn’t be strange if Kazlow and the others had wanted to bet on that.
“… But why did you stay at this orphanage, Kazlow?”
Yuna asked that question instead of blaming Kazlow.
“Even with me gone, life didn’t return to how it was before, right? This orphanage has changed a lot since then.”
For instance, she couldn’t see the previous director here right now. Instead, Kazlow introduced herself as the director. Also, from what the children before said, everything in the orphanage was replaced. Since then, the children who were here before– the “generation before” also did not turn up at this orphanage.
“Yes, it’s just like you said. After the orphanage sent you out, it was closed for a time.”
“Was that by the orders of the royal palace?”
“No, that wasn’t it. It was a request from the orphanage. We were really foolish, because we thought everything would calm down once you left the orphanage. But the reality was different. After you were gone, the orphanage’s atmosphere became much worse.”
The staff, who had tried their hardest to be cautious of Cella up to then, finally confronted their own disgrace. They lost all trust in the director, who attempted rape, and the orphanage completely fell apart. Staff after staff left and, finally, the orphanage lost its faculty.
“Did the previous director continue working even after I went to the royal palace as a saint?”
“At the beginning. Because the fact of his attempted assault on you was hidden. But still, rumors spread in the blink of an eye to the public. At any rate, in the end, the previous director soon left the orphanage at his own decision.”
“The children from the “generation before”…”
“The royal palace searched for caretakers. In truth, the orphanage was supposed to be completely shutdown. But, on second thought, I wanted to keep this orphanage going. So the previous director transferred his rights, I re-qualified for the requirements and applied to the royal palace again… and this is where it lead to.”
Kazlow answered even that with an apologetic and quiet voice.
“Even I don’t know exactly why I thought to stay at this orphanage. It’s just– I believe I wanted to make the children happy this time. Because I couldn’t protect you, at least I could protect someone else. I suppose I wanted to atone…”
After that, Yuna and the other two returned to the orphanage again and toured the other rooms.
While being shown all the places that the past Celiastina enjoyed, she felt like there was a small Cella running through the institution with lively footsteps. Beside her were Yuna’s own young footprints following her.
But, in reality, Celiastina didn’t exist anywhere.
Cella was no longer here. Celiastina also wasn’t here. She was asleep in a place no one knew about.
(Even though there are so many memories of you in this place.)
Kazlow had said that she looked after the children here as a way of atoning. But, at the same time, she might have been waiting for Celiastina at this orphanage. Even while thinking that Celiastina would never come back again, she had resolved to continue waiting for her entire life…
Opening the rusted gate, which hadn’t changed since the past, a modest front yard flooded with sunlight would spread out in front of her. Continuing on slowly, the laughter of children would be heard leaking from the building. And, on the other side of the door, Kazlow would appear with a smile and welcome her in a voice that enveloped her– “Welcome home”.
(It’s like I thought…)
In the orphanage, where a gentle light shone, Yuna could not help but feel sorrow.
(Celiastina can’t be gone.)
Celiastina had to return to this place. And she had to confront it with her own eyes and heart. There were a lot of things left here that she had to face. Things that were waiting for Celiastina only…
(I know that, but still I…)
Asyut, who walked beside her, had been completely silent. Yuna knew that this was his utmost consideration for her. Asyut himself must have had many more things he wanted to ask and know and he had the right to break this silence and ask Kazlow. Yet, Asyut gave priority to Yuna.
A small girl holding a flowerpot came running over from the other end of the hall. Following behind her appeared several other children.
“What’s wrong, you’re going to trip. And I thought I said there was to be no running in the halls.”
“Look, look, teacher. This flower bloomed. It’s pretty, right?”
The girl talked on and on, excited. Holding out the pot with a smile overflowing with happiness, she puffed out her chest with pride.
“… Oh my, it really has. It’s bloomed beautifully.”
Kazlow crouched and faced the presented pot’s flower.
“Is this what Rurie grew?”
“Yep, I grew this one.”
“Oh my, is it already time for flowers to bloom?”
I was also surprised, shrugged an older girl – a staff member – who had caught up.
“When I saw it this morning, I thought the bud was still hard. But because Rurie worked so hard, the flower must have worked hard too.”
“But this should be a wallia flower, right? It’s supposed to bloom blue flowers.”
Right now, in the girl’s hands there was a light purple flower.
“… I thinks that’s definitely a wallia flower.”
From between Kazlow and the others, who were looking at the flower strangely, Yuna spoke up unassumingly. Eh? All at once, everyone’s gazes concentrated on Yuna, seeking answers.
“Wallia flowers will bloom purple flowers but only very rarely. However, since they are rarely purple, the ones that have purple flowers are called “the light of hope from the heavens” in the language of flowers.”
“Oh my, really? Isn’t that amazing, Rurie. She’s saying purple flowers are special.”
“Really, big sister?”
The girl called Rurie looked up at Yuna with eyes that shone even more than before. When Yuna smiled and nodded, Rurie bounced on the spot, even more happy.
“It matches big sister’s eyes.”
“Big sister’s eyes and my flower are the same color. Both are really pretty.”
At those innocent words, Yuna felt happiness and embarrassment well up. Feeling Asyut, who was beside her, look her way she hurriedly crouched to hide her blush. Being on the same eye level as Rurie, Yuna stroked her hair while showing signs of embarrassment.
“Isn’t that nice, Rurie.”
“Not fair, I wonder if mine will bloom soon too.”
“I know, big sister, look at ours too! There are tons that are about to bloom!”
Having her arms grabbed by the children, Yuna was rushed from this place as her feet tangled.
“Wah, wait, wait. I’m going to trip!”
“Hurry, come! Look at mine first, okay?”
“Ah, you can’t do that, because the order has to be decided properly.”
“Teacher, big brother, come quickly too!”
Yuna gripped the warm hands of the children back as they pulled both her hands. They were small and very soft. When she held the hands of these innocent children, she felt saved from her low spirits.
“Hey, everyone, are you having fun every day?”
Yuna asked this as they ran. A lot of children looked back, smiling, and gave big nods.
“It’s really fun! And everyone gets along.”
“Teacher is kind too. I love her.”
“Big sister and the others should live here too.”
“Even if we don’t live here, we can always come and play.”
The words of the children, which were returned without any hesitation, sank directly into her heart.
She was glad this orphanage remained like this. She was glad it hadn’t been left decayed and with the laughter of children irrationally stolen away. She was glad Kazlow was here.
“I’m really… glad.”
“Huh, what was that, big sister?”
“No, it was nothing.”
Yuna shook her head and smiled.
(The rest is just my resolution.)
Once again, Yuna gently squeezed the hands of the children.
“If… if you feel like it again… please feel free to come here anytime.”
“Of course, Kazlow.”
At the entrance of the orphanage Kazlow and Yuna shook hands. It was around the time when it would shortly be dusk. It was just the right time for returning to the royal palace.
“… Um, Cella.”
Kazlow murmured as her eyes dropped to their connected hands.
“I have one more thing to tell you.”
Looking up, Kazlow’s eyes grasped Yuna without wavering.
“It’s about Dankis, the previous director.”
“Right now, he’s the grave keeper at the cemetery on the outskirts of the forest. I haven’t met him but sometimes I see him shopping in the town, so I believe he’s still there. He should be living alone ever since he left the orphanage.”
“That’s what he himself wanted.”
Was that his way of making amends? Or was this the result of being exhausted after years and months of deceiving himself with his false love?
“Please decide for yourself what to do with him, Cella. You’re free to meet him or to not meet him.”
Yuna tried to call to mind the image of Dankis in her mind, but all she could bring up was his ever-present smile and she couldn’t actually remember what kind of person he was. The director’s outline, which was barely formed because of Kazlow’s story, told nothing to Yuna.
Yuna raised her head and faced the dazzling sun, squinting her eyes.
–There was still… some time.
What was she going to do? She was able to know everything she wanted to know. What Yuna searched for was now in her hands. It should be fine to return to the royal palace like this.
What was she hesitating over?
Was she herself going to meet the previous director? What was she supposed to do with meeting him?
She didn’t know. She just knew that she didn’t want to keep his existence ambiguous like this.
When she called his name and looked up at Asyut beside her, he gave her a nod, as if he understood everything.
“Let us go to him.”
Those words severed Yuna’s hesitation. –That was right, she didn’t have much time left. Even this one day, today, was Yuna’s remaining time. However, that was precisely why she wouldn’t hesitate to move.
They went to meet Dankis, the previous director.
(T/N: Who was it that guessed plant powers? Andi, I think? Because ding ding we have a winner! Although there’s still some mystery because how do plant powers get twisted into death powers? LOL. Regarding updates, the next one is a huge chapter too, sorry!)