A room, lined with extremely luxurious furniture.
There were ten men, including Asyut, seated around a large round table. Their serious expressions were reflected on top of the diligently polished table. Four tall gilded pillars surrounded the men at a distance and looked down on them— the ceiling was far off. Complex patterns were drawn on that ceiling, as if representing the tangled relationships between the men.
Asyut massaged the furrow between his brows with his left hand, elbow resting on the table. Fortunately, the deep sigh that leaked out didn’t seem to enter anyone’s ears. But that wasn’t surprising, something like a single person’s sigh would disappear under the vigorous exchange of opinions happening in front of him. Vigorous opinions— yes, that expression sounded nice, but honestly several people were especially insistent on their own opinions.
There were around five civil officials who reported directly to the king; the remaining people were prominent priests. In this meeting, which began with these members, Asyut was the representative of the Order of Knights and was essentially participating as a neutral party. Ordinarily, the priests passed their time in their tower under their own laws, but if they made a request it was custom to open a meeting like this. This time the request was particularly strong from the priests’ side and so a meeting was held in a hurry.
The topic of discussion they brought in was about the country’s reaction to the anti-saint faction.
“In any case, I do not agree that the country is in a condition to leave the anti-saint faction to take care of itself. If you make light of a small organization, the carpet will be pulled from under you at an unexpected moment.”
This was a priest who could be seen to be in his late sixties with short hair that was conspicuously white. The man, called Roblin, was one who had been snapping at the royal palace for a while with exclusive values. He was a troublesome person.
“Father Roblin speaks the truth. What exactly does the king intend?”
The other priests followed him. The civil officials lowered their eyes, as if exhausted.
“No, the country is definitely not leaving the faction to itself. The other day, the conflict that occurred in the royal capital was suppressed.”
A civil official, who belonged to the younger group in his early forties, explained while keeping his eyes lowered on the documents at hand.
“That is nothing more than pulling out one weed in the wilderness! What point is there in that!”
The civil official trembled and shut his mouth at Roblin’s indignation.
“Please calm down. There is no doubt it is important to suppress small uprisings. Moreover, if we wish to completely crush the organization, then the country must be discreet with its movements. If we rush and show our hand, we will simply end up scattering the spider’s children. It is for that not to be the case that we are having discussions upon discussions right now.”
The person who opened his mouth instead was a civil official called Garon, who had an imposing beard. He was unperturbed at Roblin’s stabbing-like gaze and, on the other hand, he did not show a thoughtless attitude that would pour oil on the fire.
Asyut kept silent and watched over the proceedings.
The only female priest in this place raised a high, shrill voice.
“Once the people know about the movements of the anti-saint faction, they will be nothing but shocked. There is nothing more deplorable than purposefully not disclosing a problem that will trouble them! It may be said that the people will lose their trust in the country.”
“Exactly! The mere existence of those accursed people who would raise their hand against the saint, said to be a treasure to this world, is a black stain and large disgrace on this country! If the present situation exposes itself to the people, I could not bear it!”
Roblin again. At his anger, the civil officials could do nothing but look at each other and close their mouths. However, it didn’t seem like they were just being pushed by that threatening attitude. Even Asyut could feel there was one or two points in the words from priests’ side.
Far from it, that was exactly what the king’s aim was.
However, if Asyut said that then a huge problem, incomparable to the uprising of the anti-saint faction, would break out between the king and the priests.
Asyut straightened his sitting posture, wondering if he should raise his voice soon. In this meeting Asyut, who was markedly young, rarely expressed his opinion. If he gave a plausible opinion, he could see Roblin’s glare leap to him. And that was why he tried to mention only the opinions he thought were truly necessary. In exchange, he kept his mouth closed at every important point as something like a facilitator or moderator.
At this time, it was a suitable moment. He could not let this one-sided rebuke go on any longer. He would promise an urgent response and dissolve this meeting for the moment—.
Unexpectedly, the meeting was forced to adjourn without conclusion.
Without any previous notice, the door to the room was suddenly opened.
This rarely happened. Everyone turned their heads to the intruder, taken aback, to see a civil official with an extremely serious look and tightly pressed lips. The civil official glanced at every one, who had stiffened wondering if an emergency happened, and then rushed to Asyut’s side without hesitation.
“Excuse my intrusion while you are busy.”
He quietly whispered into Asyut’s ear. And the moment Asyut comprehended the contents he stood up from his chair with such force that it was kicked back.
One of the priests called out, startled. But Asyut did not have the time to answer.
Telling them those two words, Asyut left the meeting place without turning back. Roblin’s shout came flying at his back, asking what exactly happened, but he couldn’t care less about them.
—Celiastina had collapsed.
Unconcerned about people’s eyes, Asyut ran through the halls and finally slowed when he could see Celiastina’s room. Getting his rough breathing in order, he took a long hard look at the front of her room. —Someone stood at the door.
It didn’t take long to know that was Aeneas. In that moment, a violent impulse, like rage, rose up in his chest. Aeneas, even as he closed the door, sent a look of painful reluctance into the room behind him.
As Asyut stepped up briskly, Aeneas also noticed him. For an instant, an uncomfortable expression appeared but it immediately changed into resolve.
Asyut couldn’t hold back his strict tone.
“On her return from the infirmary, she suddenly collapsed. According to the doctor’s diagnosis, it does not appear to be a serious problem. It may have just been accumulated fatigue.”
“… And her consciousness?”
“It has not returned yet, but it is said she will wake up soon.”
Now then, excuse me. Aeneas said that with a nod and then turned on his heel and left. —Asyut wondered if something happened between Aeneas and Celiastina. Even though he knew there was no use in being suspicious, he couldn’t remain calm inside.
But right now it was about Celiastina’s condition.
He knocked just in case but, as he thought, no words came back. Asyut opened the door like that and walked to the bedside, while being careful not to step loudly. Unexpectedly, Celiastina had a peaceful expression as she laid there with her eyes closed.
Pulling up a chair beside the bed and sitting down in it, Asyut stared intently at her sleeping profile. Asyut’s heart finally settled when he heard her regular breathing. The moment he heard she had collapsed, he thought his heart had been seized.
Come to think of it… Asyut reflected in his mind as he stared at Celiastina.
(This happened once before.)
Thinking back, it was already such a long time ago. The signature collection that happened to prevent the execution of the young man who was caught attempting to assassinate the saint. Celiastina, who had been active under the strong sun, overworked and collapsed.
At that time too, he had waited beside Celiastina just like this for her to wake. But his heart was not the same as then.
(Before, it didn’t feel like my body was being torn apart like this.)
Until the time she awoke, why had he been able to sit calmly? Right now he felt like, if he relaxed his control, he would grab Celiastina’s shoulders and call out in a loud voice while shaking her.
(“Until the last moment”—)
Those words from that time revived abruptly in his mind. Asyut stretched out a hand to Celiastina’s pale cheek.
I’m okay, he wanted her to say that while smiling. He felt like he hadn’t heard the voice she spoke to him with in a long time. He wanted her to call his name. He wanted to hear her say his name in that soft voice.
He gently stroked her cheek.
To think he had feelings to this mad extent still inside him.
It was something he thought he had lost forever. No matter what he saw, or heard, his heart had always been cold to the very bottom— he was sure that there was nothing that would ever shake his heart strongly again. —And yet.
The girl who had froze Asyut’s heart in the past, with the same appearance, was now melting it this time.
It was ironic and yet he didn’t feel like laughing. That didn’t matter anymore though.
As long as she woke up. And as long as she stayed by his side forever. Just that.
(If I would lose her, then I don’t even care if she and the past Lady Celiastina are the same person— not anymore.)
Even if all the events that occurred in the past were to be thrust before his eyes right now.
Even if all his deceased loved ones were to speak ill of him from the heavens.
Even still, he could not throw these feelings away. He would not lose them.
He should have known.
That he… loved her.
Hearing a fragile voice call out his name, Asyut returned to himself. Celiastina was looking up at him with eyes that were slightly cracked open.
Asyut instinctively leaned forward and gripped Celiastina’s hand.
“Have you come to?”
Celiastina slowly looked around the room with eyes that were out of focus.
“Your private room, Lady Celiastina. You collapsed on the way back from the infirmary and were carried here.”
He explained with brief words, as if instructing her. However, Celiastina still seemed to be absent-minded and vacant.
Asyut, still gripping her hand tightly, couldn’t move.
“I’m still… alive.”
It seemed liked she was speaking to herself more than she was to Asyut. He couldn’t help but place his other hand on top of the one that held hers.
“Of course. You’re alive.”
When he told her that in a strong tone, Celiastina moved her gaze to Asyut once again. A light had returned to her eyes, more than before.
“—Mm, that’s right. Sorry, I said something strange, huh.”
And Celiastina, who smiled, looked fleeting as if she were on the verge of vanishing.
“Did I sleep a lot, I wonder? Could it be that it’s passed the time for the ceremony?”
Saying that, Celiastina raised her upper body and Asyut embraced her strongly like that.
Celiastina’s voice, colored with surprise and embarrassment, called out his name again from within his arms. Asyut felt her twist her body out of bewilderment, but he didn’t loosen his strength. What’s wrong, I’m fine now, even if she threw out words like that piece by piece, he absolutely wouldn’t let her go. Eventually, Celiastina closed her mouth like she gave up and her shoulders relaxed.
A momentary silence.
Suddenly, Celiastina murmured in a trembling voice.
It was a small voice. But she certainly said that.
That was surely the truth Celiastina tried to keep shut deep inside her heart.
Not showing it to anyone, not letting anyone know, she was going to leave.
Right now, for the first time, he felt like he had touched the deepest part of her heart.
Three days later, Celiastina took care to rest in her room.
Asyut came to visit her every day during that time, but from then on Celiastina never opened up again. It was painful for Asyut to watch her act as if nothing had happened. The fact that he couldn’t do anything for her made him irritated.
“Asyut, I’m really okay already.”
Today was the third day and Celiastina had already slipped out of her bed. Even her face, when she raised it from the book she was reading, had a much better complexion. If this was the case, it seemed like he didn’t need to worry anymore but…
“Your complexion certainly looks better. But because it isn’t good to stay in your room for a long time, how about we take a stroll through the garden, if you feel inclined?”
Celiastina smiled and nodded, but he could no longer understand her true feelings.
As such, Asyut spoke all the more.
“Do you remember?”
He gently reached out a hand to a flower in a vase that decorated this room’s desk.
“Before, we spoke about torch bugs in the flower garden.”
Celiastina looked at Asyut’s fingertips touching the flower.
The young bugs, when they were larvae, looked similar to the sinister appearance of a poisonous insect. However, when they matured, their entire body released light and they became a beautiful insect. That was a torch bug.
During the time when these bugs became adults and flew around the flower garden, they had promised to go and see those lights together.
“It is almost the season for those lights to be lit.”
“I see, so much time has already passed, huh.”
Celiastina murmured this with a voice that was deeply emotional somewhere.
“That was quick…”
And then she came to stand beside Asyut, reaching out to the flower vase in the same way. Her hand was trembling slightly. Ah, the moment Asyut thought that, Celiastina’s hand clumsily touched the vase and it careened to the ground.
At the same time Asyut shielded Celiastina, the flower vase smashed with a loud noise.
Holding back Celiastina who tried to kneel in a panic and pick up the shards, Asyut picked them up instead.
“Are you alright?”
“Y-Yes. I’m okay but…”
“I’ve only picked up the large fragments and we’ll have the maids sweep the rest with a broom later. Until then, please try not to approach this area.”
When he raised his head, thinking that she sounded close to crying, it was exactly as he thought and Celiastina was staring at the scattered fragments with teary eyes.
“Sorry, it’s ridiculous, but I guess I’m not back to normal yet. I’m being weird, aren’t I.”
Asyut shook his head slowly. It felt terribly frustrating that both his hands were occupied with fragments from the flower vase.
“There is no need to force yourself to act cheerful in front of me. Please act however you’d like with me, on your own terms, because there is no need to carry anything alone… whatever it is.”
Celiastina did not reply immediately. She continued to stare hard at Asyut’s hands before finally nodding.
Perhaps he should use this occasion to ask clearly about “Until the last moment”—.
The moment Asyut opened his mouth, the door was knocked on roughly, and then opened without waiting for an answer. When Asyut raised his head, Siegcrest stood there with a sullen expression and in a worn Order of Knights uniform.
When the two called out his name, Siegcrest raised one hand lightly in response.
“Sorry to interrupt your lover’s meeting, but Asyut can I have some of your time? It’s urgent.”
Even while he smiled teasingly, Siegcrest’s eyes were serious. Asyut wrapped the picked up fragments in a handkerchief and tossed it into the trash, before apologizing to Celiastina and standing up. Understanding Siegcrest’s gesture to the hallway with his chin, Asyut left the room. He confirmed there was no signs of life in the hallway before turning to face Siegcrest at once.
“What exactly happened?”
“The king has moved on the anti-saint faction.”
Asyut’s brows drew together.
“The names of the people belonging to the anti-saint faction have been posted all around the city. As soon as they are found, they are to be handed over to the royal palace, is what the notice says.”
“That’s not all either. In those names, your little sister is there too.”
A shock struck his chest. Then his heart began to beat violently. Asyut clenched his fists, trying somehow to compose himself.
“A commotion is starting to spread in the royal palace too, with people wondering if there was some kind of mistake. There seem to be many who think your sister has been caught by the anti-saint faction. And so, normally, her name wouldn’t be exposed to the public like a criminal, right? Have you heard anything?”
Linus had told him to “be prepared” but to think the situation would move in this shape. He felt a sense of vertigo— to the point where he almost couldn’t even stand.
But still, Asyut managed to squeeze out a voice.
“Not from the king himself, but I heard about Milifaire.”
“And her name being posted?”
Asyut shook his head without any strength.
“I didn’t know about that, but I knew the king would be taking some kind of action in the near future.”
“What do you mean?”
“There seems to be someone in the anti-saint faction who betrayed them for the royal palace’s side. Through that, the king has grasped the other’s internal affairs.”
“… Since when did you know that?”
“Just a few days ago. I asked the king personally and half of the questions were dodged, but if I consider my talk with Lord Linus then there is no mistake.”
That sly old man, Siegcrest clicked his tongue.
“I see. He grew tired of small skirmishes with the anti-saint faction and has lit a fire under their asses to stir them up, huh. If I were a member of the anti-saint faction and my name was made public, I wouldn’t be able to live a normal life anymore. Willingly or not, they’ll have to make a move.”
“… That is the case.”
“But, if he understood their internal affairs, wasn’t there another way of doing something about your little sister?”
“… It can’t be helped.”
It can’t be helped, his own words echoed emptily.
“Because it doesn’t seem like Milifaire has been caught by the anti-saint faction.”
“She’s with the anti-saint faction of her own will.”
It took all he had to say that much.
His own words felt like a blade that cut at his body. He couldn’t even look at Siegcrest’s face, who had become speechless. His gaze, which dropped to his feet, was captured by his own shadow whose head hung down without strength. Really, why did it become like this?
“—Is that true?”
At that moment, a parched voice broke in between the two silent people.
Asyut and Siegcrest looked back, taken aback. The hallway shouldn’t have had anyone, but he had forgotten about the one and only person who was close beside him—.
Celiastina, who had opened the door and appeared, looked up at Asyut with a worried look.
“Asyut… is that… true?”
Asyut couldn’t answer anything, and so he kept silent.
“No doubt about it.”
Asyut sent a blaming look at Siegcrest, who had answered instead. However, Siegcrest was unperturbed.
“Even if you hide it, it’ll be exposed once everything is finished. In that case, isn’t it better to talk about it from the start?”
He didn’t want to tell Celiastina. He thought he couldn’t tell her.
Talking about his little sister, Milifaire, meant talking about “that event” of the past. But he still felt like the wound was too deep to do so. Moreover, he also didn’t want to involve her and have her take on any more responsibility.
But more than anything else.
He was afraid that, if the past was known, a distance would be placed more and more between them. He wanted her to stay unknowing about this matter. Because if she was unaware, then he could act like nothing had happened between them.
Maybe those thoughts were a mistake though.
Faced with Celiastina’s eyes which were unmuddied, Asyut couldn’t move. Her determination to desperately accept the truth was conveyed.
“Anyway, I’m going to confirm the chaotic situation around town. —You two need to cut it out and talk properly.”
Saying that, Siegcrest turned on his heel and left.
The remaining two people were wrapped in silence. Asyut turned to face Celiastina directly again.
Asyut drew in a small breath and then released it slowly.
Celiastina’s voice, which carried her heart, gave Asyut’s back a push.
(T/N: The next chapter is a pretty long one, so it’ll be a while until an update happens. SORRY
(the truth is that I need to recover from having my heart broken in this chapter; this arc hurts so much LOL jk)! I will end the suspense here though and confirm that next chapter we finally get to know what happened between Asyut and Celiastina in the past.)