Only one person.
—You can choose.
The woman who called him Lord Asyut smiled.
I can’t possibly choose.
This is madness. The smiling woman in front of me is insane.
—The one person you choose will be saved.
Please don’t say anything more, Asyut wished from the bottom of his heart.
He couldn’t understand. His mind was unmoving like it was paralyzed.
His feet, which should have been standing on a red carpet, started to tremble and gradually lost their sensation.
It felt like he would collapse there.
—You can’t choose?
His throat was dry and scratchy. He couldn’t get even a single word out.
The woman looked like she was amused and sad, like a goddess granting mercy— her expression constantly changed.
And still she continued to spin cruel words.
Each one of her words became a sharp blade which attacked and chipped Asyut’s soul.
Flickering lamp fire.
Damp air that clung to his skin wetly.
The sound of someone holding their breath.
Even though everything was right beside him, at the same time it felt extremely distant.
Asyut clenched his fists.
Ah, why did it come to this?
At the edge of his blurry vision his precious sister was standing still, unable to move, and looked like she was hugging herself.
Her large, widened eyes shook without steadiness.
It’d be fine, if he could just hug her.
If he could just take her out of here right away.
If he could just rewind time—!!
A light, dry sound leapt into his ears and Asyut returned to himself with a snap.
His pen, which had fallen out of his hand, rolled across the desk, dirtying documents with ink, right before it dropped to the floor.
He sighed deeply and bent to pick it up before standing up aimlessly from his seat. He went to the drawer alongside the wall and poured himself a cup of water from the jug there before draining it in one gulp. The lukewarm water left an unpleasant sensation in his throat. Asyut furrowed his brows faintly and then set the cup down without any strength.
There was no one other than him in his office. It seemed he spent quite some time sorting documents. By the time he realized it, it was already completely dark in the room and the lamp placed on his desk swayed unreliably.
Asyut stood still and stared into the darkness.
It was that dream again.
He said that to himself in his mind.
A dream— no, that wasn’t a dream. From time to time he was called back to the “reality” of the past. A scene that had not faded at all since that time and even now tormented Asyut terribly.
Asyut walked, as if dragging his body, to each lamp in the room and turned them on. When he lit the last lamp, he felt like he completed something unbelievably hard. Along with his sigh, he blew out the candle he used to light the lamps with a quick puff. The smell of the tiny smoke which spread stung his nose.
He knew it was already time to finish up his work and return to his personal room. Even he felt that lately he had been accumulating a lot of stress. All the more reason to return to his room quickly and get some rest, he told himself calmly.
But it was obvious that he wouldn’t fall asleep were he to return to his room and lie on his bed. Problems, which were unsettled, appeared in his mind one after another and he couldn’t help but consider them. There was the anti-saint faction, the whereabouts of his sister, and— Celiastina. It would have been better if he were thinking about constructive things. However, what appeared and disappeared in his mind was always helpless complaints and pessimistic predictions.
That was why it was easier to immerse himself in work like this for long periods of time instead.
Yes, that was what he thought but…
(… In the end, no matter where I am or what I do, it’s the same thing.)
Asyut shook his head lightly.
At the very least he was going to finish sorting his documents to a point where he could leave them. Telling himself that, he faced his desk again and, when he sat in his chair, his body sunk like a stone into the cushion.
In that moment.
There was a restrained knock on the door to his office.
Asyut raised his gaze, which had dropped to the documents, and he looked at the door.
He responded in an even voice – as much as possible – so that his exhaustion could not be seen. The person who entered was the servant who received visitors for him.
“Please excuse my intrusion at this time of the night.”
Saying that, he gave a respectful bow.
“What is the matter.”
“Yes, my lord. Sir Aeneas, the Lady Saint’s bodyguard, wishes for some of your time.”
Aeneas. The name made Asyut’s eyebrows dip.
“Is he outside the room currently?”
“Yes, my lord.”
The servant nodded while seeming to look somewhat bewildered. That would be the case, since it was rare for people who weren’t Asyut’s direct subordinates to visit him at his office. Furthermore, it was already an unreasonable time to approach him about work-related matters. Normally, the servant wouldn’t announce visitors to Asyut and would have sent Aeneas away but he was the saint’s bodyguard, therefore even the servant was unable to make a decision.
Asyut nodded lightly.
“I understand. Let him through.”
Most likely it wasn’t a matter about work. It was likely to be a personal matter, which was why Aeneas went out of his way to come at this time. In that case, all the more reason he couldn’t be sent away. —If it was a personal matter from Aeneas then Asyut could roughly guess the subject.
When the servant lowered his head once more, he quickly disappeared past the door.
In exchange, the person who appeared was Aeneas, who entered the room directly with calm steps and a straight back. The air around him was somewhat different from other knights. He had an upright and virtuous atmosphere. He came from a distinguished family whose blood wasn’t second to Asyut’s and— his will, which had no doubts, could be seen in his appearance.
He was wearing a bodyguard’s uniform. It was probably impossible to visit Asyut’s office in civilian clothes but, above all, the job of being the saint’s bodyguard was unrelated to the morning or night. Presently, Aeneas was essentially the only bodyguard and even now he might have chosen to come here during a break in his work.
Neisan, the other bodyguard, had been released from his duties some weeks ago.
When Asyut and Celiastina had visited the graveyard together, an attack had occurred from the anti-saint faction. There was no mistake that Neisan had been involved in that matter and, naturally, he was arrested in the royal palace and voices were raised about him being thoroughly investigated. However, that did not happen. Celiastina had opposed that intensely. Because she stubbornly insisted that Neisan had searched for the anti-saint faction on her decision, in the end he was discharged as a bodyguard and demoted, which was a relatively generous punishment, and the matter was settled.
However, whether Neisan truly sided with the anti-saint faction or the royal palace—. That still remained unclear.
“I apologize for intruding at this time.”
When Aeneas stood in front of the desk where Asyut was, he gave a perfect bow.
“I do not mind. How about a seat?”
“No, thank you. I will remain standing.”
“… Well? What exactly is the matter.”
He didn’t feel like chatting with Aeneas and so Asyut cut directly to the chase. It seemed that was Aeneas’ intention all along, since he nodded once and started speaking without hesitation.
“It is about Lady Celiastina. I have something I wish to say.”
When the name he expected leapt from Aeneas’ mouth, Asyut narrowed his eyes slightly.
“Do you have a report as her bodyguard?”
“No, I do not.”
“I thought so.”
Asyut sighed, a quick breath, and looked away from Aeneas. He lightly clenched his hands which were stretched out on his desk. Aeneas’ voice quickly chased Asyut.
“It’s a very personal matter, but I thought you would appreciate hearing it, Lord Asyut.”
Asyut slowly raised his head. Why was it that Aeneas could be sure of himself with such strong eyes? Though he didn’t want to think that he was envious.
“I dearly love Lady Celiastina.”
It was like there were no doubts; it was a voice that carried his core.
“I believe you are already aware of this, Lord Asyut. Of course, I remember the many times that I have been warned up to now. I, myself, understand that these feelings are indiscreet for someone of my standing.”
For the first time, Aeneas grimaced.
“And that these feelings cannot be granted.”
Asyut remained silent and looked up at Aeneas.
“I have also thought that it would be best to stay silent and withdraw. However, in the end, I cannot do that. I cannot give up at all without doing anything.”
“Next time, I intend to convey my feelings to Lady Celiastina.”
Aeneas ended his words there and stared down at Asyut, who did not move at all. It was like Aeneas was telling himself that he couldn’t avert his eyes here and that he couldn’t show even the slightest doubt.
Asyut opened his mouth again, but he was surprised when his voice was lower than he thought.
“What am I going to do?”
“I simply wanted to say this to you. Because I do not want to do something like sneak around.”
Asyut slowly stood up. The two, who were close in stature, faced each other again as an opponent to confront. Whether it was because it could not endure the heavy air drifting between the two or not, the flame in the lamp on the desk shook and swayed.
“I believe you do not expect encouraging words from me either but— to be honest, I want to shout at you not to screw around.”
“Even so, I will not withdraw.”
In this tasteless room, Aeneas’ eyes – as clear as a blue sky without any clouds – seized Asyut. Where did the color of hate towards Celiastina inside of Aeneas go, Asyut wondered absently as he was drawn into Aeneas’ blue eyes. Just like himself, it should have surely been inside Aeneas too. The terrible hate for Celiastina and feelings of scorn. Even now he couldn’t understand himself. These feelings of care for Celiastina… how pure were they?
—I will let you choose only one person.
That light voice echoed in his head once again.
Faces in every direction, without color, and everyone was standing still. His sister, frightened and in tears.
A threatening dark impulse of wanting to kill that woman filled him from the depths of his heart.
Asyut closed his eyes tightly, trying somehow to overcome this disturbance.
It wasn’t something to remember right now. He had decided not to connect those events with the current Celiastina. —Yes, he had decided and yet… In the first place, with how he was still bound by the past, he didn’t even have the qualifications to face Aeneas like this, right?
What exactly did he want to do?
Indifferent to Asyut’s conflict, Aeneas continued with more words.
“If Lady Celiastina were to choose me, and this may be nothing more than just a dream, even so, I am prepared to throw away everything. That is how much I treasure her.”
Aeneas’ words were absolutely steady.
On the other hand, what about him?
It was painful to face Aeneas. He didn’t want to take one step back, but even though he had no intentions to pull back, why wouldn’t his heart stop pounding?
A hoarse voice escaped his throat.
“I have nothing to say. This talk is over now.”
“What do you mean by that? That you could not care less about Lady Celiastina?”
“That is not true.”
Asyut glared sharply at Aeneas.
“However, I do not wish to do something as stupid as brandishing my authority to seal your mouth. That is all.”
Aeneas pressed his lips together, looking displeased somewhere. But he lowered his head with a stiff movement and turned his back on Asyut without saying anything more. Asyut watched Aeneas’ back as Aeneas left before his brows drew together firmly.
Even when he sat down, he did not feel like picking up his pen again.
He leaned his back against the chairback and looked up at the ceiling. Only now did he notice that both his hands shook slightly.
As he thought, it didn’t seem like he would be sleeping tonight either.
(T/N: Reminder to purchase this series to support the author if you love her work! And you’ll get more gorgeous illustrations like the one above :’)! This is one of my favorite chapters btw because not only do we get a fun confrontation between these two but clues about Asyut’s past and !! I just love his subtle breakdowns as he gets closer and closer to Yuna.)