As they left the orphanage and went further on horse, the entrance to the forest appeared faster than she thought. And, indeed, there was a quiet graveyard spread out on their side of the forest. Not a lot of people seemed to come here and the hushed and lonely atmosphere made Yuna feel more and more depressed. She didn’t think anyone would want to stay here long with the force of the dense forest closing in from behind.
“Please do not leave my side.”
Stopping the horse, Asyut murmured that while looking around at their surroundings. Feeling the tension in his form, Yuna also braced herself once more.
Looking out over this desolate ground, there was not a soul in sight. Instead, there were shabby tombstones dotting the land.
“There’s a cemetery even in a place like this, huh. I thought it was normal to have one in a church or on a hill or somewhere like that.”
“… It is most likely–“
Asyut got off the horse and held out a hand to Yuna. He helped her to the ground while supporting her firmly.
“–this is not a normal cemetery. I believe it is a cemetery for the poor who do not have citizenship, or a burial place for criminals.”
None of the graves had an offering of flowers. It was a graveyard where the remaining relatives would not turn around and look back on. However, the weeds weren’t overgrown to a point where they would block sight; they were maintained at the most minimum level. There was definitely someone who came here every now and then.
And it might be the previous director of the orphanage.
“There is a small cabin over there. Shall we take a look?”
There was a cabin where Asyut was looking. In a painful state where it could be mistaken for being abandoned, the house seemed to hide in the shadows of the trees as if embarrassed. When Yuna nodded, Asyut approached the cabin with her following behind.
Even when they came up directly to the cabin there were no sounds. Thinking that it might actually be abandoned as Asyut put his hand on the door, it ended up opening easily and anti-climatically. On the other side of the door, a single room spread out.
The room was furnished with the bare minimum necessary furniture, such as a table, a bed, and a shelf. All of them were worn and damaged like the cabin, but they did not seem unused. There was a presence that someone lived here. However, they were just away from home right now.
(He’s… here. He really does live here.)
Yuna was assaulted with an inexplicable sense of nervousness. Thinking about the person who she had only ever met a few times, her body stiffened. It wasn’t like he treated her horribly. And yet, Yuna’s fingers steadily became colder due to her nervousness.
“No one seems to be here right now. Let us return home for today.”
Asyut did not trespass deeply into the room. He spoke while remaining beside the entrance.
At the same time, Yuna didn’t want to leave so easily. “For today” he said, but if they turned back here when would be the next time they could leave the royal palace? In the first place, she wasn’t even sure if she had the time left to wait. If she didn’t meet him now then she wouldn’t meet him ever again. A premonition that was close to confidence rose up inside Yuna.
“Let’s wait here a bit more. Once I’m convinced we’re not going to see him, we can go home.”
Convinced… how long would she wait for that to happen? An hour? Or around the time the sun was completely set?
Relieved at Asyut’s answer, Yuna let out a small sigh.
“Thank you. I’m sorry you’re always dragged into my selfish requests.”
“Please do not apologize, because I am not inconvenienced. But, as I mentioned earlier, do not leave my side for any reason.”
Okay, she said with a nod, and then looked around the room once more. But Dankis did not return with that action. Since it wasn’t proper to wait inside the house without its owner the two passed the time outside the cabin.
While leaning against a tree, Yuna haltingly called out to Asyut.
Yuna and Asyut passed the time in silence for a short while after they exited the cabin but, when she thought about it, they never really had opportunities to talk leisurely to each other. She was curious about Asyut’s silence at the orphanage and she wanted to hear what he thought about the truth of Celiastina.
“Were you surprised… by the past me?”
However, she didn’t know how to ask that and so she ended up speaking vaguely. Asyut watched with calm eyes as Yuna lowered her eyes to the ground and scuffed her toe against some weeds.
“Rather than being surprised, it was more a feeling of “Ah, so that’s how it was” and comprehension.”
“At the orphanage where Lady Celiastina was raised, my feelings were unexpectedly calm. Furthermore, my emotions weren’t moved by any intense feelings of anger, sadness, or surprise, when I learned about her past. To me, Lady Celiastina’s past is like a distant world.”
Asyut’s profile, as he spoke, was completely calm. To him, the Celiastina at the orphanage who constantly fought against loneliness as a little girl was another person. That little girl and the beauty who laughed harshly, behaved cruelly, and committed atrocious acts would never become one. Merely, the origin that molded the saint was made clear and this fact fell into their hearts with a thump. It was just that.
That being said, it wasn’t that Asyut was indifferent. The Celiastina inside Asyut might have become too distorted of an existence for him to hold any sympathy or pity for. If his heart was moved to forgive all her sins after knowing her past then Asyut might break this time from being unable to bear the weight of the past, because Asyut managed to stand and walk to this point by hating Celiastina and cursing himself. It must be difficult to treat Yuna kindly, given who she was.
“In the end, no matter what truths I know, I cannot change my thoughts about our past. Of course, I will not impose my feelings onto you. I believe you should accept Lady Celiastina’s past in your own way, as yourself.”
“You know, I’m really sad and frustrated. I wanted to scream and ask why nothing was done until everything became like this.”
Yuna jerked her head up and looked at the clouds that slowly flowed by. Her current feelings, which didn’t seem to match the calm scenery, made her feel like crying.
“But you did not. You looked very calm.”
“Because I don’t have that right. Even if I feel miserable after knowing Celiastina’s past, I can’t take that out on anyone. Because I…”
Am not Celiastina.
“Is that so?”
Asyut struck at Yuna with words that were in a slightly angry tone.
“Have you not been frantically accepting everyone’s censure to Lady Celiastina up until now? Many people have been saved by that. Now it is time for you to be able to tell your feelings to someone.”
Yuna slowly shook her head.
“I’ve told everyone enough about my feelings up to now. But I think this matter alone is different.”
It should be Celiastina herself who confronted this problem. It wasn’t an area that Yuna should step into.
“Then, why are you here like this and meeting with the previous director, Dankis?”
–Why? Yuna asked herself this again.
Really, why? What was she planning to do when she met him?
“If you are at a loss then–“
Asyut seemed to press for an answer even more with his words, but he appeared to see something beyond Yuna and his words cut off as his eyes widened with surprise. Yuna, following his gaze, turned around. Two shadows that were approaching them slowly entered her vision.
–Was that possibly…
As they came closer their features became clear. One was a boy who was still very young. The other was a skinny elderly man; he was covered by filthy clothes, which made him look like a beggar, and carrying a paper bag. The bag was the only thing that looked brand new. That man walked – led by the young boy – and as he glanced at them with a lifeless expression he looked like the walking dead. However, the moment his gaze took in Yuna, a light shone in his cloudy eyes. At the same time, the paper bag slipped out of his hands and fell to the floor with a thud. Potatoes rolled out onto the ground from the paper bag.
That man made a wordless noise. It was like a noise that came from an intense emotion. And then, with a swaying body, he ran over to them in a straight line; compared to the young boy who stood in the same place, bewildered.
When Yuna shrunk unconsciously and backed away, Asyut stepped forward as if to shield her. But the man didn’t care and came up directly in front of them, looking only at Yuna as if Asyut didn’t even exist.
“C-Cella. Cella. Is it you, Cella?”
The man called out her name over and over again in a low and trembling voice. Stop, don’t say that name, rose a scream in Yuna’s heart. It wasn’t even her own name and yet she couldn’t bear this man saying it. –It was like the Celiastina inside Yuna was screaming.
“I can’t believe you came to see me. I didn’t think I would see you again while I was alive. Aah, I continued to beg God for forgiveness in this place. Did my feelings get through?”
Continuing to be excited, he stretched out his right hand to touch Yuna’s cheek. But Asyut knocked away that hand sharply.
“Do not touch her. This lady isn’t a being who you can touch. She is not your daughter– now, and back then.”
At that firm voice, the man recoiled and drew back his hand. His gaze hesitantly jumped around his surroundings and he was at a loss at this sudden situation that swooped down. His appearance was both comical and pitiful.
The young boy who had been left behind finally caught up, pulled the man’s arm, and called out in a shocked voice.
“Calm down, old man.”
“Who are you?”
Asyut directed his sharp look towards the young boy. The young boy shrugged his shoulders without any hesitance.
“The grave keeper’s helper, I guess. I weed the graveyard over there… This old man is a bit strange. It’s best not to get involved.”
Even though the young boy said these things point blank the man had no reaction. He kept glancing at Yuna and then looking away.
Yuna swallowed audibly. She tried to calm her pounding heart, but it wasn’t working. Now that she was meeting him face to face like this, she noticed a look of madness in his eyes, and suddenly grew afraid.
“… You’re Dankis, aren’t you.”
Do not be swept away by his madness, Yuna told herself. She tried, as much as possible, to talk in a voice with suppressed emotions. Her voice probably didn’t shake. The proof of that was how the man’s face, when he nervously met Yuna’s eyes again, was somewhat calmer than it was before.
He didn’t nod to her question, but that in and of itself was an affirmation.
Yuna didn’t know what else to say. –She finally met him. She finally arrived to where this person – where the beginning – was. Yuna felt the strength leave her entire body.
Yuna raised her head and released a large sigh. Her nose stung.
“Cella, you came to see me, right?”
Dankis asked in a hesitant voice. Yuna, who was glaring up at the sky and trying not to cry, returned her gaze to Dankis again. Yes, she came to see him. That was right. However, for some reason she wasn’t able to nod.
“Do you… hate me?”
Dankis’ eyes shook with loneliness.
“That’s right, of course you do. Because I treated you the wrong way.”
“But please believe only in this. I truly loved you. It’s not a lie, it’s the truth. I just made a mistake in how I treated you and I hurt you with that. I really regret it. That’s why I’ve been spending my life from that day on in repentance. Cella, if you look at me now, you should understand how much regret I have.”
It seemed like there was enough power in Dankis’ words for him to speak. The madness inside him was once again swelling and overflowing. And, as if words weren’t enough to convey half of his thoughts, half-way through he bent his body towards Yuna to sidle up to her. The young boy beside him hurriedly pulled Dankis’ arm, but it was like Dankis did not even notice that. Yuna felt disgusted enough to want to run away from Dankis, but an anger that was greater than that rooted her to the ground.
“Don’t come closer.”
As soon as she clearly rejected him, Dankis seemed to become flustered. He had been doing the same thing over and over again. He fluctuated between insanity and sanity, before Yuna and Asyut appeared here, ever since he left the orphanage– no, perhaps even further back in the past.
Yuna called out that name while feeling helpless.
“It’s true that I came all this way to see you. But it wasn’t to reconcile with you. I… can’t reconcile with you.”
Dankis’ expression twisted horribly. With his expression like that, he opened his mouth to say something. However, she didn’t want to hear it. Yuna couldn’t accept Dankis’ words any more than this. To say nothing of forgiving him in view of those words. Because she wasn’t Celiastina.
“It’s not something… I can do.”
Yuna murmured that, as if through gritted teeth, while she looked away from Dankis.
“Wait, wait, Cella! How much do you think I loved you? It’s because I love you even now that I’m suffering from the acknowledgement of my crime!”
She couldn’t listen to him. Don’t listen, don’t listen, don’t listen.
“If you don’t understand that then I can’t be saved! Save me, Cella! I’ve been waiting for you all this time. Save me!”
Yuna shut her eyes tightly. However, at the same time, she realized there was a part of her that desperately took in his words. There was certainly something in her that braced herself so as not to miss a single word from him.
“Cella, we can still reconcile. You must have come here for that.”
She wanted to shout that. But, if that was the case, why did she come here?
Once again a feeling of wanting to cry assaulted Yuna. It came like a tall wave surging towards her threatening to sweep Yuna entirely away.
No, she mustn’t cry. Yuna scolded herself again while being exasperated at how much of a crybaby she was. However, at the same time, an understanding came upon her.
Celiastina, I understand your feelings.
This helpless sorrow, this incomprehensible anger, and this despair enough to make everything in front of her eyes pitch dark–.
Right now, she was certainly experiencing it powerfully; Celiastina’s existence– her certainty and her strong feelings.
“Cella, only you can save me. From the moment I saw you, I truly loved you as a special being. That’s why I couldn’t give you to the royal palace and raised you dearly and preciously at my hands. Your Holy Mark exists to protect the country and me, who is your parent. Right, Cella?”
Dankis’ voice became soft enough to be seen, seeming to attract Yuna’s attention as she remained looking down.
(As I thought–)
He knew about Celiastina’s Holy Mark. And he hadn’t let her go due to a selfish logic.
From the start.
Yuna, who clenched her teeth hard, jerked her head up.
(Celiastina, you have to properly express the feelings you have right now in your heart to him. You really can’t disappear like this, leaving things as they are.)
Celiastina herself had to confront him.
She wasn’t Celiastina. And so she couldn’t judge Dankis in her place. However, as Yuna, there was a mountain of things she wanted to say to Dankis. To the point where she wanted to yell and scream loudly!
Dankis, who was glared at by Yuna’s sharp eyes, slowly closed his mouth which had been trying to curry favor with her. Overpowered, he completely cowered.
“Why do you think Cella can save you?”
This time it was Yuna’s voice which trembled. That was how great her anger was.
“For what reason have you been living here alone?”
“What exactly are you repenting for? I don’t understand. Haven’t you not changed at all from the past? You say you truly loved Cella but everything was a disastrous mismatch, so how can you still say that? You’ve just continued to run away. You haven’t faced your own feelings at all. Are you still trying to capture Cella by justifying things to yourself and staying miserable?”
“N-No. That’s wrong, I…”
“It’s not wrong! Why haven’t you properly faced your own feelings? You might have really loved Cella, but it wasn’t just that, right? What did you really think about Cella, who was troubled the more you poured love into her?”
Dankis staggered and took a step back.
“I… truly… loved Cella.”
“Is that your truth?”
“It’s the truth, it’s the truth!!”
Dankis shook his head like a child throwing a tantrum.
“If your daughter were to stand in front of you right now, could you still pretend to be blind to everything?”
Dankis’ shoulders jolted as he gave a large shudder.
“Could you say that you loved Cella from the bottom of your heart, while looking away from your daughter?”
Dankis’ face was as white as paper now. His eyes weren’t in focus, to the point where she wondered if he really couldn’t see. He was facing Yuna, but it was like he was looking for something else.
“… I… loved Cella.”
Aahh, Dankis’ sigh was like a sob.
“Stop, don’t make me think.”
Dankis shook his head several times. Was he trying to run away from confronting his own heart? Or…
“M-My… daughter was…”
Suddenly, Dankis began to mutter intermittently in a shaking voice. It was terribly forlorn and much more unsteady than the way he had talked before. It was as if he was ignoring the flow up to now, and was trying to start another topic, but maybe this was necessary to reach Dankis’ “beginning”.
“My daughter… was a very adorable girl. Everyone praised her for being lovable. She was bright and innocent and always had a smile. This kind of daughter was even more precious to me as her parent. She was an irreplaceable treasure to me…”
Yuna did not open her mouth, she simply continued to watch Dankis intently.
“When I gave my daughter love, she also returned love to me. I was happy with just that. I thought I was the happiest person in the world. –And yet, on that day, my daughter suddenly–“
Didn’t return. The sound was faint and the words were only determined by the movement of his lips.
“The love that overflowed in me for my daughter had no place to go. My daughter was no longer here. Where was I to put my affections? I was scared of my overwhelming love that had no place to go. My lost love and helplessness changed to hate against something. And then I was terrified of myself. That’s why… that’s why… I decided to love Cella, who was cherished in the past as a holy girl, like a daughter. I would give her my utmost love.”
Dankis continued to speak cautiously. Rather than choosing his words, it was more like he was taking care so as not to stray from his true feelings.
“But… that… didn’t go well.”
At last, his voice was more faint than the sound of a flying mosquito.
“I didn’t love Cella well. Even though I thought to love her. My heart hurt a bit whenever I tried to make Cella happy. Conversely, when I saw her scared, I felt satisfied for some reason. But there was a moment where I was even more content. And that was when I saw Cella trembling from my love.”
“Why were you satisfied?”
“Even though she hated it, she didn’t reject me. I felt like I was controlling the Holy Daughter. Besides…”
“I thought that my daughter was happy. I was able to convince myself that dying after falling from the hill was better than being saved. That it was better for my daughter to have died at that time.”
“You couldn’t have Cella becoming happier than your daughter.”
“I did think that a little. But I didn’t hate you from the bottom of my heart… I shouldn’t have. I really did think that, as the saint, you would have to leave the orphanage eventually. And I hoped you would walk on a path of happiness after that, without getting involved with me ever again.”
Yuna slowly shook her head.
“But she couldn’t have become happy. Cella, who became Celiastina, had never been happy even once. She’s only continued to suffer.”
Dankis’ face twisted and a sob leaked out.
“Cella, I’m sorry. I’m sorry…”
No matter how much he apologized that voice wouldn’t reach the person it was to reach.
“The Cella you knew no longer exists. No matter how many times you apologize to me, it won’t reach her.”
“What should I do, Cella. I can’t… it’s hopeless. I don’t know what I should do by myself. Please, stay beside me.”
Dankis must have felt Yuna withdrawing from him, because once again glimpses of insanity could be seen in him.
“Hey. I don’t really get this, but are you two this geezer’s old friends?”
The young boy, who had been silent beside Dankis all this time, opened his mouth with a bothered look.
“If so, then do something for him. It’s been a long time since he spoke properly like this.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t.”
Yuna shook her head. It might be thought of as cold-hearted, but Dankis wasn’t a person for Yuna to extend a hand to out of compassion.
“Then why’d you come. I can’t see this as anything but you two bullying this old man. Are you just going to say everything you wanted to say then head on home not caring about what happens later?”
Yuna and Asyut looked at each other but neither of them said anything. The boy continued to speak, as if he couldn’t accept that.
“If you go home like this, this person’ll be all alone again. He’ll probably be alone until he dies, spending every lonely day suffering from his memories… that’s too harsh.”
It wasn’t just Yuna and Asyut who were silently listening to the young boy. Dankis, who was hanging his head, started to shake again. His pallor darkened to a color like dirt.
Something was strange about Dankis. Suddenly, he trembled violently to their eyes.
“No, no, NO! I don’t want to suffer alone! I don’t want to be lonely anymore!!”
“If you won’t be beside me then there’s no meaning! Death would be better! Cella, you too! There’s no meaning in you living!”
Dankis, whose emotions erupted, took out a dagger from between the potatoes which had rolled out of the paper bag on the ground. Taking it in hand, he raised his head and his eyes were dreadfully bloodshot.
An unpleasant deja vu assailed Yuna.
“We’ll die together, Cella!”
Dankis threw himself at her in a tangle of limbs. However, Asyut stood in front of Yuna again and, with a calm motion, swept Dankis’ feet to the side. When Dankis fell, Asyut kicked his right hand and sent the dagger flying out of his hand. Yuna thought it was over with that, but Asyut did not relax his vigilance. He pulled out the sword that was fastened to his back and took up a stance in silence.
“A-A-Are you going to kill me? I don’t care. I’ll take Cella with me!”
Even though Dankis was unarmed, he didn’t have a scared expression, and instead crawled on the ground trying to charge at Yuna again. His ghastly state made Yuna shudder as a chill ran down her spine. No, not just her spine, but from the top of her head to the tip of her toes. She was frozen stiff and could not move from that spot.
“Stop it, old man!”
The young boy shouted firmly from behind as he tried to stop Dankis, but the man did not falter. While Dankis shook off the young boy who was pulling at the sleeves of his jacket, the only thing reflected in his eyes was Yuna.
Yuna was paralyzed but somehow she managed to return to herself at the young boy’s voice. She saw Asyut’s right arm tense as he stood in front of her, shielding her.
“W-Wait, Asyut. Stop, please don’t kill Dankis!”
Yuna unconsciously clung to Asyut’s back. In the moment that Asyut looked back at Yuna, Dankis wrapped himself around Asyut’s right foot.
“Kill, kill them, kill me too!”
Dankis’ unfocused eyes wandered through the empty air as he continued to shout. Kill, kill everyone.
While looking down at Dankis, Yuna felt a nervousness gradually rise deep within her.
–Who was he talking to?
At first, she thought it was a meaningless shout at Asyut.
But, no. This was different. He was speaking to someone completely different and with a precise meaning.
Then who exactly was he speaking to?
Yuna looked at the young boy right away, but he was just looking down at Dankis with an open mouth, struck dumb. –No, it wasn’t him.
And then, at that moment, human shapes suddenly leapt out from the shadows of the trees surrounding the graveyard. Not just one person. –In total there were five. Each one held a sword.
As Asyut muttered lowly, he used his left hand to pull Dankis off his foot with all his strength, and then hurled Dankis’ body at the assassins rushing towards them. Two of them were caught by that and collapsed to the ground in a cloud of dust. Additionally, Asyut grabbed two potatoes in his empty left hand and threw them quickly at two others. One was hit directly in the face, but the other twisted his upper body and dodged it. However, in that space, Asyut had already dashed towards him. Coming up to the man, Asyut raised his sword and thrust it through the other man’s thigh without hesitation. GUAH, a terrible scream echoed through the graveyard.
“Lady Celiastina, over here!”
Yuna, who suddenly came back to herself, ran over to Asyut as directed. Meanwhile, Asyut took the sword the other man was carrying and threw it at the men who had been caught under Dankis. It struck the stomach of one of the men who had started to stand up.
By the time Yuna managed to get behind Asyut and raise her head to look around him, two of the assassins were already closing in on them. While Yuna swallowed back her scream, Asyut firmly caught one of the lunging swords with his own. In a blink, when the sword was thrust aside, Asyut reached out his left hand, grabbed the other man’s collar and threw him to the right. The second man, who had been swinging his sword down, stabbed it into that man’s back. A shrill scream rose from the stabbed man. Yuna reflexively shut her eyes. However, this wasn’t the time to be afraid. She had to look at the situation properly and move.
Asyut threw a merciless punch at the assassin who was struggling to pull his sword out of his companion’s back. Adding a kick at that defenseless upper body, the man collapsed onto his back and Asyut thrust his sword down on the man’s right foot. –Only one remained now.
But the last one did not come towards Asyut. Grabbing the neck of the young boy who was cowering beside him the man brought his sword to that neck.
“Drop your sword. If you don’t, I’ll kill this kid.”
“Uwah, l-let me go!”
The boy tried to resist by kicking both feet, but it was without any force. Asyut stopped moving for the first time and glared at his opponent.
“Come on, hurry up and drop your sword. Now!”
Yuna peeked at the side of Asyut’s face from his back. She wasn’t able to read from his grim expression whether he was hesitating or if he had already resolved himself and decided. Only the boy’s pained groans echoed on the spot.
Asyut said this in a low voice and tossed away the sword in his hand. “Now, release that boy.”
“… Ha, haha!”
The assassin’s cheeks were pulled up as he gave a dry laugh.
“That was awfully quick. Are you saying that, even unarmed, I’m no match for you alone? If that’s the case, you’ve made a terrible miscalculation.”
The air trembled along with the man’s words.
And, at the same, there was the sound of grass rustling.
It was only for a moment that she felt this was unusual. Faster than understanding what that unusualness was, multiple shadows jumped in front of them. The shadows– were new assassins. There was close to ten people, even more than before. Yuna and Asyut were completely surrounded; in an instant, the tables were turned.
“Because it’s like this.”
The man, who had been the “last one” seconds before, gave a daring grin and threw the young boy roughly away.
Yuna immediately tried to help the boy up, but Asyut grabbed her arm and she couldn’t move.
“Celiastina, we didn’t think you’d really appear in such a place. Thanks to that, our plans have gone awry– but let’s think that it’s fallen in a good direction.”
Together with his words there was the sound of ten people stepping forward.
There was no doubt that it was unreasonable even for someone like Asyut to take on ten people while protecting a woman and child. In such a hopeless situation, Yuna felt like she would faint this time. If Asyut hadn’t been supporting her, she might have collapsed on the spot.
The situation, as it was, did not bring despair.
What followed was a completely different development. The new assassins, who had suddenly appeared, were then surrounded by even more human shapes who appeared from the bushes.
There were about ten men who had appeared from the bushes with fearless expressions. They were silent as they held their swords out and took up a combative position– but.
The sharp glint in their eyes was not directed at Yuna and Asyut. They were looking at the assassins.
(What is this?)
“Honestly, they’re too slow.”
Asyut muttered this. At the same time Yuna looked up at Asyut, the familiar voice of a large man leapt into her ears.
“Ooh, you guys alright?”
The person that appeared with a bold smile and bright atmosphere, which was inappropriate here, was Siegcrest.
Siegcrest gave a quiet word. Simultaneously, the men charged at the assassins accompanied by the sounds of them pushing through the bushes. Their opponents panicked, not seeming to grasp the situation, but they still tried to fight back. However, the resistance they put up wasn’t much of a resistance.
Accepting the sword that Siegcrest tossed him, Asyut went around to provide support. Yuna could only hide behind Asyut’s back and make herself small. And, while being frightened of the horrible sound of flesh being severed and blood flying around, she earnestly wished for this to end quickly.
“I-I can’t believe this. What’s going on.”
The young boy, who was still on his bottom, seemed to realize it was safest beside Yuna and crawled to her.
“Is it your fault that everything became like this?”
“I’m sorry you got involved. But, right now, please bear with it and stay down.”
“No, I’m not kidding. I don’t want anything like this happening any more. –It’s probably best to end it quickly.”
The innocent boy’s face suddenly turned cold. Those cold eyes overlapped with the piercing eyes of Duo in the past. Oh no, at the same time as this thought, the boy thrust a dagger at Yuna’s chest. Asyut noticed this and turned around. –But he was too slow.
(I’m going to be stabbed–)
In that moment, something flashed in front of her eyes. Yuna, not knowing what that was, closed her eyes in preparation for the pain. But she wasn’t struck by pain and, instead, the boy in front of her cried out.
When she opened her eyes timidly, the boy’s right hand was shot through with an arrow. The blood that ran down his hand started to make a stain on the ground drop by drop. The young boy turned around with irritation and Yuna followed his gaze.
There, Neisan was holding a bow.
“Next is your head.”
In the mayhem Neisan’s calm voice could be heard frightfully clear.
The boy shouted something in a rough voice full of anger. But he realized this situation was too bad and ended up swallowing his words while glaring sharply at Neisan.
Neisan’s gaze did not shake at all and he pulled back on the string of the bow as he faced the boy. The boy clicked his tongue and then quickly disappeared from this spot.
Neisan didn’t chase the boy and instead calmly changed targets to the other assassins and brought them down one after another. Aiming at their legs, he made certain they were brought down to their hands and knees.
Even though their numbers rivaled each other, the difference in strength was evident. In a blink everything was settled and this time the last person collapsed onto the ground.
And then, finally, silence returned to the graveyard.
Siegcrest rested his large sword over his right shoulder with a thump.
“It’s over, huh.”
He declared that, satisfied.
“Wow, it’s been a long time since we had a real battle.”
“Don’t be in such high spirits, idiot. First of all, why did it take that long for you to arrive. Thanks to that, there were many close calls.”
“Even if you say that, we did the best we could because you guys weren’t at the orphanage. I didn’t hear anything about going to the graveyard from there.”
“If you can’t deal with that much then you’re unneeded as a holy knight.”
“A holy knight has limits too! In the end, we made it in time didn’t we?”
As Yuna sat in the swaying carriage and listened to Asyut and Siegcrest quarrel, she felt that peace had finally returned.
After everything, their enemies were arrested by Siegcrest’s subordinates and they were being taken to the royal palace temporarily in another carriage. No one confessed, but Asyut and Siegcrest seemed to know that they belonged to the anti-saint faction.
Fortunately, there were no serious injuries on Siegcrest’s side and no one in the anti-saint faction had fatal injuries. Only the young boy failed to be captured, but it seemed like his whereabouts was being searched for while they pursued the anti-saint faction.
For the previous director, Dankis, when they questioned him he spoke in a totter that took up quite some time. Finally putting together the information they got out of him, it seemed like that young boy suddenly appeared and tempted him to kill Celiastina. At first, he didn’t agree because he didn’t think he would really see Celiastina, but when he ended up facing her his emotions ran wild for some reason. He wasn’t charged with a crime and, instead, was going to be sent to a special hospital for mental health. Yuna felt sorry because all this happened from her wanting to see him and convinced Asyut, who finally nodded, that leaving Dankis as he was would do no good for him.
“But I still don’t really understand.”
In the carriage on the way back, Yuna spoke up for the first time in a long while, and everyone turned to look at her: Asyut, Siegcrest, and Neisan.
“Everyone knew that we were going to be attacked there, right?”
Suddenly, an uncomfortable atmosphere spread throughout the carriage. Neisan closed his eyes and took up a posture that showed he wouldn’t join the conversation.
“… You see, I was asked by Asyut. He said he wanted several elite men to be sent unnoticeably because of the timing of the anti-saint faction’s movements.”
“I didn’t ask you to come though.”
Asyut added in a biting voice.
“It wasn’t that bad. I’m worth a hundred men and it actually worked out.”
“Then, Asyut, you’re the one who knew about this.”
Feeling that Asyut and Siegcrest were about to reply to each other again, Yuna forestalled them and moved the conversation forward. Asyut pressed his lips together, as if it were difficult to speak about, and he glanced at Neisan who was sitting opposite of him.
“… I… received information from Neisan.”
Neisan kept his eyes closed and did not move at all.
“Before we departed today, Neisan came to tell me that the anti-saint faction were aiming for the opportunity you went out, Lady Celiastina, and formed an assassination group to attack us along the way.”
Was that why he was there at the graveyard?
Neisan, who had shut his eyes, opened them a little and gave a slight nod.
Although she received affirmation, Yuna couldn’t find any words to follow.
“Because I was busy arranging everything at the time I didn’t ask in detail, but how did you obtain that information?”
In Yuna’s place, as she remained silent, Asyut asked that question.
“By becoming Lady Celiastina’s bodyguard, I have been able to use the time where I would normally be training a little freely. But, because I am rarely needed as an actual escort, I have been using that time to head into town and collect information on the anti-saint faction.”
“But, when it comes to this time’s assassination of Lady Celiastina, isn’t this information you would only be able to obtain by stepping into a risky position?”
“… That’s right, this was information I gathered at the very last minute.”
The corner of Neisan’s lips lifted up faintly. It looked somewhat like a self-deprecating smile.
“In other words, it’s like this? Neisan used his perfect position where it wouldn’t be strange for him to get revenge on Celia to butter up to the anti-saint faction. Then he took it upon himself to be a spy and bring back information from the anti-saint faction to our side.”
Siegcrest was sitting in a position where one knee was raised, and he rested his right arm on that knee in a lazy action.
“If that’s how it went down, then it really was last minute. Did someone at the royal palace order you to infiltrate them?”
“No, it was my own decision.”
“Then there’s a possibility you can be charged with a crime.”
“I am prepared.”
Even at such a time he was speaking without any inflections. None of his emotions were conveyed. But Yuna decided that this was just Neisan as a person.
“There’s no need to charge him with a crime.”
Yuna muttered. Neisan raised his lowered head. Asyut and Siegcrest also looked at Yuna.
“Just because you tricked the enemy doesn’t mean you’re a friend.”
“If you deceive all your allies, then you would not be called an ally.”
As usual Asyut was fastidious.
“Then I knew. I knew way back that Neisan showed himself a little with the anti-saint faction and got information. Is it okay now?”
Asyut’s brows furrowed as if he were asking her what she was saying. Yuna had a random thought that, lately, Asyut had been expressing an abundance of emotions.
“So everything’s okay now. It’s okay. –Please, let it be okay.”
She meant to sound firm but at the end her tone became an entreaty.
“… Ah, is that so. Alright then.”
Siegcrest took over after Yuna in a voice that included laughter.
“Great job, Neisan. But next time don’t do such a reckless thing. Do it after you talk to me properly. Okay?”
Asyut pestered him, as if wanting to say something, but Siegcrest merely smiled.
“Ah, alright, let’s stop now. I’m really tired too. Acting in an ambush doesn’t suit my personality, so I’m feeling really burned out. I’m gonna sleep now. Wake me when we reach the royal palace.”
Yuna snorted with laughter at that casual attitude.
“I’m tired today too and I’m going to sleep like Sieg. Wake me up when we reach the royal palace.”
The remaining two people looked at each other. Asyut was the first to fold and he deliberately sighed.
“That seems to be the case. Don’t think too deeply on it and go to sleep as well. I’m also going to stop thinking and sleep. We’ll talk again when we return to the royal palace.”
He closed his eyes, as if sulking.
They stopped the carriage and took a break once on the way back.
Due to an outburst from the previous director, Dankis, in the other carriage, they had to stop for a moment. Siegcrest, who did not get up and really seemed to be asleep, was left as he was, and Asyut ran off to put everything in order.
In the languid silence Neisan, who had his eyes closed and did not make the slightest movement, suddenly appeared to remember something and opened his mouth.
“… You are a kind person.”
Realizing that he was directing those words to her, Yuna kept silent and looked at Neisan.
“You’re concerned about me, when I acted on my own, and helped me without caring about how your own position might worsen.”
“I cannot imagine you to be the same person who imprisoned me in the Holy Jail and ordered me to be tortured every day.”
Yuna tightened her arms which were hugging her knees.
“I wonder which one is the real you… Up to now, since I have been a bodyguard candidate, I have been watching you from the shadows, Lady Celiastina. But the more I learn about you the less I understand about you.”
And so, Yuna murmured thinly.
“Are you saying that even though you hate me, you won’t kill me yet?”
Her voice was calm to the point of surprising herself.
“Or is it true that, from the beginning, you contacted the anti-saint faction to help me?”
Neisan kept silent with his mouth closed.
“Hey, I had a strange dream a while back. Late at night, someone came into my room from the window and pointed a blade at me. In that moment, I was really disgusted with myself and accepted naturally that this person appeared to punish me. So I didn’t feel like resisting at all and just waited to be killed.”
“But, you know, in the end that person didn’t kill me. He replaced the dagger in his hand and left the room. Even though he must have come to kill me, and even though it would have been extremely easy to kill me, he didn’t. Since then I’ve continued to wonder why he didn’t.”
“… I believe–“
Neisan quietly opened his mouth.
“–that while hating you, that person noticed “something” by looking at you that could not be measured just by hate. And they want to know your true identity.”
“Then, your hate still hasn’t disappeared, huh.”
“Yes. I’m sure it never will.”
At that moment, Siegcrest turned over in his sleep and, at that echoing sound, their conversation died out.
By the time they arrived at the main gate of the royal palace, even the setting sun was almost hidden.
Asyut, who descended from the carriage first, turned around and offered a hand to Yuna as he always did. Yuna looked at that hand and hesitated for an instant but, in the end, she did not borrow his help and got down firmly onto the ground herself. Asyut’s brows furrowed faintly but he didn’t say anything and lowered his hand.
I’m sorry, Asyut. But I can’t take you for granted any more than this.
Yuna pressed her lips together and looked down. Under the cover of brushing away dust from her skirt, she hid her sorrowful face from him.
And then, suddenly, a red burning torchlight appeared, illuminating Yuna’s feet.
The torch was being held by Aeneas. She wondered how long he had waited here for their return; even in the dusk she felt like his face was pale. As he held the torch up silently, his eyes were not looking at Yuna but at the people descending from the second carriage.
When Neisan appeared at the end, Aeneas’ mouth twisted greatly. To the point where it looked like he would cry.
“… So you did go to where Lady Celiastina was, Neisan.”
His trembling murmur was heard by Yuna.
“When I realized you weren’t in the royal palace, I thought my heart would stop.”
Neisan gave an honest apology.
“What did you plan to do by following Lady Celiastina and the others? To help them? Or because you were up to something?”
“… Who knows.”
Aeneas was unmoved at Neisan’s suggestive answer.
“Fine then. I wasn’t able to go and protect Lady Celiastina, so I’ll think you protected Lady Celiastina in my place as well.”
Aeneas thanked Neisan with a thump to the shoulder.
“Great work, Neisan.”
In that moment Neisan’s expression, which had been blank up to now, contorted.
“Well, anyway, let’s get some rest. It’s already night.”
While stretching, Siegcrest said this carefree. But a cold word from Asyut made him freeze in his stretch.
“You can’t possibly rest, because you have to deal with that group we arrested. First, we’ll report to the top.”
“Geh. Why me?”
“The Vice-captain went out to the scene himself. I’ve taken that as a declaration of your intent to accompany me precisely to the very end.”
You’re a demon, Siegcrest muttered but Asyut turned a deaf ear to that.
“Aeneas, you will escort Lady Celiastina back to her room. Neisan, stand-by in your room until you have another order.”
As expected, Asyut was accustomed to taking control over a space. Everyone nodded without objection and the long day was finally about to end.
But before that there was one more thing.
Yuna requested Aeneas to take her to the night courtyard on their way back to her room, while thinking that it was still early and she might not be noticed.
Like she thought, there was no one in the courtyard. Even though she knew that she sat in one of the stone chairs and closed her eyes patiently. Aeneas waited in the corridor a little way away. If she didn’t meet who she was waiting for in a little while then she would head back for today.
But just then Linus came without much time passing. Yuna lightly waved a hand to greet him as he walked up to her.
“Good grief, you…”
Linus had a complicated look.
“You have some courage to summon me over and over again. If you want to see me that much, please don’t hesitate to come to my room in the morning, at noon, or at night.”
“I’ll pass at night.”
Yuna gave a small laugh.
“So, you went today, didn’t you? To the orphanage.”
“Did you learn anything?”
Wondering how she should say it, Yuna looked up at the sky which was completely dark.
“It seems like Celiastina’s power wasn’t twisted from the start. Things happened at the orphanage and it became like that. Celiastina really went through a lot of hardships.”
Mm, Yuna nodded once more.
“But it wasn’t just painful memories which were left behind. Someone who went through the same time as Celiastina is the orphanage director right now. She’s a wonderful person.”
Yuna spread her right hand open and moved her eyes to her white palm. She recalled the time she shook hands with Kazlow and her hand’s warmth.
“I want her to meet Celiastina again properly. I want Celiastina’s own voice to reach Kazlow.”
Not just Kazlow. There were many things Celiastina needed to face. The orphanage which hadn’t changed, the children’s laughter, and the asiatic jasmine which was blooming in the backyard even now–.
More importantly, she was the only one who could truly confront the previous director, Dankis. She couldn’t disappear from this world while continuing to push away the intense emotions she had at that time.
Linus took a seat beside Yuna and looked up at the sky in the same way.
“In the end, you’re saying you won’t become Celia’s replacement, hm.”
“… That’s right.”
Linus suddenly began to talk. Yuna kept her face raised, but looked at Linus beside her with her eyes.
“Her name was Malveneska.”
“The saint before Celiastina.”
Yuna forgot that it was night and raised her voice.
“You might already know, but my mother did not live a blessed life. That’s why, from the beginning, I had no illusions as to what a saint was. Rather, I was even afraid that these beings would continue to appear throughout the ages without pause.”
That’s how it was. Yuna was still surprised but she also felt a question in her chest unravel. The reason a young man like him had been chosen to be Celiastina’s guardian was because he was related to the previous saint. That he didn’t succumb to Celiastina’s ability to amplify death in those she connected with might have been the influence of that lineage.
“I also felt sorry for Celia. A girl who was born as a saint wouldn’t obtain happiness easily. And so I let her did as she pleased as much as I could. If an inescapable curse was to follow her around her entire life then, at the very least, I would not deny her.”
But well, Linus continued along with a sigh.
“You appeared and now I don’t understand what a saint is. Because your body and mind is truly like a saint. I thought there could never be such a person, no, I still think that quite a bit, but if you could release Celia then I thought that could also be an optional path.”
Once again Linus faced Yuna.
“Does a girl like you really exist?”
His searching eyes brushed against Yuna.
“… Won’t you tell me? About the real “you”.”
It was not heavy with emotion, but still an earnestly gentle voice.
“… I am…”
Encouraged by Linus’ eyes, Yuna started to speak haltingly. Ahead of her words, it felt like her overwhelming emotions would overflow, and she couldn’t talk well.
“I was originally a person of this country. I was an ordinary village girl living with my family while we sold medicinal herbs in a small house not far from the royal palace. Really, everything was ordinary. I was their only daughter and my parents raised me with great care. There were a lot of children in the neighborhood and we played every day like siblings. The customers who came to the shop were like relatives. Every day was normal but I was really happy.”
It seemed like such a long time ago. To the extent where she almost didn’t know if she had really passed those days.
“But, you see, one day I was hit by a carriage and died.”
The impact in that moment– even when she tried to remember, she could only faintly recall a dull sensation.
“In truth, I should have ascended to heaven like that. But, right at that time, Celiastina’s soul had reached its limits. Celiastina…”
Here Yuna closed her mouth. Was it okay to say it clearly? But she immediately realized that she came this far and, even if she hesitated, there was no choice.
“Celiastina… tried to kill herself. But she is a saint and so she can’t die like that. And so her soul is taking a rest for a while. During that time, my soul is to serve as Celiastina’s substitute, and came to stay in this body. In other words, I’m just an ordinary human. Though I’m actually dead.”
“Then, when Celiastina’s rest ends?”
“At that time, I think I’ll ascend to heaven this time. From the start I was told this was temporary. That’s why I can’t remain in this body like this.”
Linus had a serious expression. There was a little silence. Yuna wasn’t able to read what he was thinking about.
“What is your… real name?”
Yuna slowly closed her eyes at that gentle question.
She sucked in a deep breath and the slightly damp night air filled her chest.
When she opened her eyes again and looked up at the sky quietly, the starry sky was as beautiful as always.
A nostalgic name.
A name as distant as those stars in the sky.
A name she thought would never be called again or spoken.
After that, Yuna took a bath, returned to her room, and sunk into the sofa with a loud sigh. She felt like she could finally be comfortable. –Today was a really long day where many things happened.
Her body was tired but her consciousness was strangely alert. When she thought back to what happened today and blinked, her feelings calmed each time.
By visiting the orphanage today, Yuna’s hesitation cleared.
Like Ron said, Celiastina wasn’t a person in a picture. She was certainly here, standing with her own will, with open eyes, crying, getting angry, and surely smiling. And she would like that too beyond this. It had to be Celiastina herself who would focus on the path continuing ahead.
When that time came some day, she would return everything to Celiastina. And she would give an encouraging push to that back.
It took her quite a long detour to decide on this resolution. If she had faced Celiastina properly the moment she entered this body then it might not have taken such a long time.
(I’m sorry, Cella.)
Yuna called her past name. I’m sorry for not noticing. I’m sorry for taking so long. But I’ve finally met you.
At last she also understood the reason she had been hated in the white space. She hadn’t been able to give anything to the girl with a broken heart. She didn’t notice, she didn’t stay by her side, and she couldn’t even remember. And then, in a place unrelated to her, Yuna had been filled with happiness.
Closing her eyes, Yuna leaned her head against the sofa’s back again.
Inside a pleasant nap, memories of a young age were recalled.
Cella and her hiding inside the orphanage’s storage room, playing. They lit a candle and stared at the swaying flame. Because the teachers told them sternly that using fire was off limits to them as children this was a big adventure for them today.
–Listen, Cella. Our time here is our little secret.
–Okay, it’s an absolute secret.
–Do you want to swap something to swear a promise?
–Yep. I’ll give you this ribbon. I really like it, but if you’ll take care of it…
–Thank you! Then I’ll, umm, give you this brooch. Take care of it.
–Mm, I’ll keep it in my treasure box.
–I’ll keep mine safe too.
–My treasure box has a key, so I won’t ever lose it.
–I’ll always keep it hidden under my bed. So I’ll be okay too.
(… Hidden… under the bed…)
Her mind suddenly shook and Yuna, who was about to fall asleep, abruptly came back to herself. What was that? Why did she remember that again? It was a fragment of a memory that she didn’t remember even when she had been at the orphanage today.
While rubbing her eyes, Yuna raised her upper body from the back of the sofa.
Something flashed suddenly in her chest.
Right now, hadn’t that been Celiastina’s memory?
Yuna stood up in a sluggish action. Her heartbeat gradually became quicker. Approaching the extravagant canopy bed, she kneeled beside it and stretched her hand out to the white sheets decorated with lace.
She slowly, slowly lifted it up.
There was a small wooden box there.
Pulling it towards her with her right hand, she scooped it up. It was a simple wooden box but to Yuna it was too dazzling. Calming her hands which seemed to tremble, she opened the lid.
Had she always cherished this ribbon?
Yuna could not stop from covering her face with both hands. At that action, the wooden box tumbled down to her knees but she wasn’t able to care. Her convulsive sobs were sucked into this night’s room.
(I’m really, really sorry.)
And– thank you.
For keeping this distant promise without forgetting, thank you.
This time, even if everyone forgets you, I won’t forget. Never.
“So definitely come back.”
She didn’t know how much time she had left. But she would dedicate all of that time to Celiastina.
Making this strong decision, Yuna firmly gripped the ribbon which was damp with tears.