Several days later, a message was delivered to Asyut from Yodel.
At that time, Asyut was glancing through the reports which had collected in his office. Even after Celiastina disappeared from inside the royal palace, his everyday routine continued– yes, on the surface.
Yodel’s letter was brought to him by a messenger and, upon receiving it, Asyut broke the seal on the spot. In it was a concise message written in soft brush strokes about her consent to being present at the interview. Asyut gave a deep sigh of relief and sat down on a nearby sofa. His gaze dropped to the stationery in his hands once more before he closed his eyes tightly.
(So the interview is today.)
In the letter Yodel apologized for the suddenness but on the contrary it was a welcome development for Asyut. If it was possible, he would have liked to enter the Priest Tower right now, needless to say of a few hours later. Ever since Celiastina had been confined in the tower the days without any progress were much too long and vexing for Asyut.
Until it was time for the interview, he finished the word at his hands as much as possible. Nevertheless, due to the impatience he couldn’t help but feel, he finished his word a little earlier than planned and left his office. In order to calm his impatience, he purposefully took a roundabout way to head towards the Priest Tower.
It had been quite some time since Asyut stepped towards the Priest Tower.
Thinking back, it had been since he sent off Celiastina to meet with Yodel. It was already more than half a year ago– at that time “she” was certainly beside him and, thinking about that, Asyut felt a strange feeling.
Asyut looked at the building in front of him and his feet came to a slow stop.
The sight seen from here was unchanged from before. A tall white building with countless small windows in its walls. Even the cool and strained air that rejected outsiders and seemed to observe them was all the same as that time. At the very top floor of this tower, which did not feel the flow of time, Celiastina was imprisoned.
Asyut looked up at the tower once and then placed a hand on the door that was shut perfectly. The large wooden door made a dull noise as it started to move reluctantly.
The inside of the tower was quiet. Was it because it was time for prayers? Or because there was a dislike for an outsider like Asyut to visit? Even the black robed priests which could be counted and went back and forth through the passages did not even meet his eyes as if he didn’t exist from the beginning.
“Lord Asyut, I have been waiting for you.”
From one of the several rooms that were lined up, Yodel’s figure appeared. Immediately behind her, the disappointed figure of Roblin followed.
“Sister Yodel. I apologize deeply for my unreasonable request this time.”
“No, I understand the situation well. Rather, I am glad you called out to me.”
Yodel glanced at Roblin behind her. Looking at her gaze and the resentful expression of Roblin who received it, even a child could notice the painfully tense air that flowed between the two.
“Lord Asyut, I will ask of you to end your interview shortly. Although it is to bring the imposter saint before us, it is not our intention to put a burden on Lady Celiastina.”
Roblin gave this warning in a thorny voice.
“That was my intention.”
“Father Roblin, let us not stand around and talk. We shall be on our way now.”
When Yodel told Roblin this flatly and coldly she exchanged looks with Asyut and they started walking. Roblin’s tutting reached Asyut’s ears but with Yodel’s manner of how it was something that didn’t concern her at all, it was like she didn’t care. Asyut realized anew that this priestess had a boldness and nerves of steel that didn’t suit her fragile appearance.
“Why did things become like this, I wonder.”
Yodel, who started climbing the long spiral staircase that ran along the walls of the tower, murmured this suddenly without turning around.
“Why can Father Roblin only display his faith in this form? It is truly regrettable. Even if things were done like this, God would not be pleased.”
Asyut followed after Yodel in silence.
“Of course, I cannot say the king’s actions are correct. However, I believe Father Roblin has clearly lost sight of his path. Imprisoning Lady Celiastina in the tower arbitrarily is the height of his folly.”
Yodel’s voice echoed inside the tower indistinctly.
Contrary to her, Asyut felt his body become heavy with nervousness every step he went up. Celiastina was awaiting them at the end of this, and just thinking that almost made his legs unable to move as if they were hardened by plaster.
“Sister Yodel, have you already met with Lady Celiastina?”
“No, in truth, not yet. As you have said, Lord Asyut, circumstances have been pushed into even the tower and I have been unable to request a meeting.”
And then Yodel left a small pause.
“That is why I too am nervous.”
As they approached the top of the tower the stairs became narrower. At the same time, even the air drifting around the area felt like it carried a weight. Before he knew it, Asyut continued walking mindlessly.
And then, eventually, the arrived at the very top floor.
Yodel’s feet stopped at the landing stairs. The landing was small to the point where, if two adults faced each other, they would feel it was tight with just that. There was a brown door to the side. It seemed like it was not locked and Yodel opened it easily with her delicate right hand.
Beyond that door a space that should be called a connecting space rather than a corridor continued. And then beyond that was another door.
“Lady Celiastina is over here.”
Yodel told him in a few words.
“I will not open my mouth at all. Please treat me as if I was not there.”
“I understand, thank you.”
Asyut turned towards the door directly and took in one breath. He recalled the instant he faced the true Celiastina, who he had not seen in a long time, several weeks ago. It was a meeting where the fact that he lost a person he could not lose was thrusted clearly at him. But this time there was a decisive difference from that time.
This was a meeting connected to hope.
Asyut called out in a quiet voice and slowly opened the door. In that instant, the soft fragrance of flowers tickled Asyut’s nose. On a shelf close to the door an arrangement of blue Roche flowers that the priests preferred entered his eyes.
The room was larger than he thought. Although it was not to the extent of Celiastina’s personal rooms at the royal palace, it was not small enough to feel inconvenience. However, it seemed like a room prepared by the priests who did not enjoy a life of grandeur, and overall it had a simple atmosphere.
He was able to find the owner of the room immediately.
Celiastina was sitting in a chair prepared in the corner of the room. Was that a scripture in her hands?
“I’ve been expecting you.”
Celiastina raised her head and closed her book together with a quiet voice.
“Please, go ahead and sit down.”
Invited by her, Asyut and Yodel sat in nearby chairs. Asyut found himself casting a searching gaze at the girl who also moved herself to sit facing them.
Celiastina’s appearance hadn’t changed at all from several weeks ago. She was wearing her usual white one-piece dress and a stole was loosely worn on top of that. Even her long golden hair, which reached her waist, was casually left down.
“I am able to meet you at last, Lord Asyut. The priests didn’t listen to me at all no matter how many times I requested this, so I must thank Yodel.”
Celiastina started talking in a light tone. It seemed Yodel really didn’t intend to add to the conversation as she only lowered her eyes slightly in place of a reply.
“But I’m certain now is the time to be moving. The king is also about to aggress on the priest faction, is he not?”
“Yes, most likely there is not much time left.”
Asyut answered like that and was inwardly surprised at himself for being unable to speak well. He felt awkward as if he was forcing rusty gears to move. Celiastina looked at that Asyut with a serious expression but soon lowered her eyes. Those long eyelashes created a faint shadow at her eyes.
“To be honest, I personally have no objections to spending the rest of my life in this tower. Although I am alive like this, I do not think it is to live a fruitful new life. Though, of course, I am grateful to Yuna’s efforts for my sake.”
Asyut’s shoulders trembled minutely at that name.
“Is she the person who was living in your place at the royal palace this past year?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
Celiastina gave a firm nod.
“Yuna is a very large presence to me. Ever since I was young, and coming to this very moment.”
Asyut straightened his posture and waited for the continuation of Celiastina’s words.
“I believe you already know, Lord Asyut, that originally I was an orphan living at an orphanage. At that time, there were a number of people who appeared at the orphanage to help out of goodwill. One of them was Yuna’s mother. Yuna was brought to the orphanage many times by her mother and she was my playmate.”
That was an unexpected fact to Asyut. There was this connection between Celiastina and Yuna from that long ago?
“It seems that Yuna herself didn’t remember that. Because we only played together for a very short time at the orphanage, it might not have left that much of an impression to a young child. However, to me she was special. And that is why I could never forget her.”
Celiastina’s eyebrows drew together slightly. It was an expression like she was enduring a dull pain– her emotions, for the first time, spread across her face.
“At the time I came to know Yuna, the twisted love from the director was already directed at me, and I was emotionally exhausted. My ability as the saint became strange and people around me also started to die around that time. The adults and other children began to leave a distance between me and them and I was tormented by a terrible loneliness. However, Yuna did not know those details and always cared about me. I suppose I became too dependent on her.”
She anxiously awaited the days when Yuna would come to play at the orphanage and ended up waiting for those days, praying and counting her fingers– Celiastina looked back at that time.
However, little by little, the opportunities for Yuna to go to the orphanage decreased. As Yuna’s mother became busy she was unable to help out at the orphanage as much, this is what was told to the young Celiastina. Every day after that, Celiastina told herself this hard. It wasn’t that she was hated and it wasn’t that Yuna distanced herself out of fear.
But was that really the case–?
Each time Celiastina told herself that “nothing could be done” the grinding in her heart could not stop.
Eventually, Yuna didn’t show up at the orphanage at all. But still Celiastina continued to wait. And, while she waited, she began to hold an irrational anger towards Yuna. Several years had passed since she had already parted with Yuna, but Celiastina was unable to forget her.
“By that time already, I could not help but think of Yuna not coming to see me as a horrible betrayal. I wasn’t able to come to a clean explanation on how childhood friends were like that. Nonetheless, still, I thought that long time had managed to calm my complicated feelings towards Yuna. Before long, I ascended into the royal palace as the saint and began a new life.”
Asyut knew well the things that happened after that. Just how Celiastina stepped off the path–.
“I thought I could do everything over again here. But that was a mistake. My distorted ability ruined many people even in the royal palace. I became aware of my own repulsive ability and despaired. In the end, I chose to end my own life.”
Asyut could not say a single word. Once again, Celiastina’s grand life was thrusted directly at him and shook his heart quietly. That Yodel did not open her mouth must have been more that she could not get any words out rather than doing as she declared.
“I should have died like that. That should have been the end of everything for me. However, that did not happen.”
“… That reminds me, she mentioned this. That due to an accident she was to serve as your substitute. However, from your story just now, it feels like she was not chosen simply by coincidence.”
Celiastina’s grim expression did not collapse. She raised her lowered eyes and those deep purple eyes held Asyut firmly.
“That is correct.”
In order to endure an intense pain, she stared determinedly at one point. That was her gaze. Asyut, while feeling as if he were about to be sucked into those blazing eyes, was silent and received her look.
“I believe the cause of that, in the end, was me.”
Celiastina stood from her seat and took out a small box from the drawer of the shelf. When she opened the lid there was a single old ribbon inside. Asyut also remembered seeing this. Before, when he met Celiastina, it was something she had gripped in her hands.
“On the night I was to throw my body in the forest, I looked at this ribbon I received from Yuna when we were young, and thought about her for the first time in a long time. Why did Yuna abandon me? Why did Yuna never come to see me again? Things like that. Maybe if she had been the only one not to abandon me then I might not be trying to die right now…”
Unbelievable. The guess that crossed Asyut’s mind was hair-raising.
“My feelings towards Yuna, which had been sleeping inside me all this time, felt like an explosion. Violent, cruel, to the point where I could not stop it myself–. My twisted ability drew her in by force. On that day, I’m certain Yuna was hit by the carriage because of me.”
The ability to amplify the force towards death of those Celiastina connected with.
Asyut held his breath and took a long hard look at Celiastina.
“After that, even I do not know what it was that bound the two of us who should have died. Only, I felt that I was always beside Yuna after that. I watched from right beside her as she worked hard in being my substitute as Celiastina. At the beginning, there was nothing but pain. I hated Yuna so much as she passed her days with a face like she was accepting everything; when she was someone who didn’t know anything, when she was someone who didn’t remember anything. Working hard for me, who was returning one day– I wanted her to stop spending her days with that just cause in her heart, as if she knew everything. But I was wrong. Yuna did not live every day in passiveness.”
She did not just live a harmless and inoffensive life. She faced Celiastina and tried to “know” her.
“And, finally, Yuna found me. The real me that even I was unable to remember anymore–“
Celiastina held the ribbon in both hands and brought that to her chest.
“This time I wish to save Yuna. No, I have to save her.”
Asyut managed to squeeze his voice out somehow while feeling his heart hammering like an alarm.
“Did she not die already when she was hit by the carriage?”
Celiastina stared at Asyut right in the eyes.
And then slowly shook her head.
It was a calm voice, but it carried her core.
“Yuna is not dead.”
Asyut listened, sharpening all his senses so that he would not miss even one word from Celiastina.
“She was certainly hit by the carriage and suffered serious injuries that brought her to the edge of death. However, she did not die. I felt that when I existed only as a soul.”
There was not a fragment of hesitation that could be seen in Celiastina’s eyes as she said that.
Yuna was not dead.
She wasn’t dead–!
“Yuna has been sleeping all this time. Waiting for the time to wake.”
“Yes. It is not a metaphor or anything else, she is simply sleeping.”
Asyut strongly gripped his own hands which had been trembling, unawares.
“Then what should I do.”
“Right now, I can feel that Yuna is very far away. I cannot wake her up like this. And thus, I would like to meet with Yuna directly. If I am able to face her properly, I am certain I can make use of my original power.”
“Your original power?”
Celiastina turned unwavering eyes to Asyut.
“It seems that Yuna thought urging plants to grow was my true ability, but in reality it is not. My true ability is– the power to nurture the life force of those I connect with.”
Asyut’s eyes widened.
“I myself did not know all this time. However, in this past year, I faced myself as just a soul and was able to feel my original power.”
“Nurture life force?”
“… Truly, what an ironic thing. My power once drove Yuna to the brink of death and, at the same time, my power has delicately fastened Yuna’s life to this day. However, I want to release that girl already. I want to save Yuna.”
Celiastina laid on strong words.
“Lord Asyut, I request this of you. Please let me meet Yuna.”
Even while he received her imploring look, Asyut couldn’t break out of his shock. Confronted with unexpected facts one after another, his head was in chaos.
Celiastina and Yuna’s relationship, the reason Yuna was “chosen” to be a substitute, and Celiastina’s original power. There had still been these unknown facts hidden. Even though he thought he had found out the deepest part, in the end what did he know at all.
However, even though he was confused, there was a part of him somewhere in his head that felt that everything was trivial.
For Asyut the most important fact was one thing.
The girl called Yuna was alive somewhere. Only that.
“Understood. I will ascertain Yuna’s location immediately.”
Asyut nodded firmly.
“Thank you, I leave this in your care. I can feel her presence growing smaller little by little. There is probably not much time left.”
–No time. Asyut felt a cold sweat down his back.
“I can faintly feel that Yuna is sleeping very peacefully right now. I’m certain there are people beside her whom she trusts from the bottom of her heart. I believe she is at her home, but that presence is distant. It seems she is not in the vicinity of the royal capital.”
“That being the case, where exactly…”
“Perhaps her parents still live in this town? Or they possibly moved somewhere.”
I see, Asyut nodded.
“I will confirm this immediately. As soon as I know her location, I will definitely bring her here. But, until that time, you will have to continue waiting in this tower.”
“I do not mind that at all.”
“But I am worried about Father Roblin’s movements. Sister Yodel, may I continue to borrow your power?”
He looked back and Yodel stared slowly at Asyut with a dazed expression.
“That is… yes… I understand. If there is anything I can do.”
Even in the midst of confusion, she seemed to have caught onto some parts of the situation from their conversation just now. Characteristic of her intelligence, she did not cut into their conversation and nodded.
“Lord Asyut, Yodel, thank you and I leave everything to you two.”
It was in the moment Celiastina bowed her head.
The door to the room was knocked on roughly and it scattered the air in the area, as if popping it. Before Asyut and the others could raise their voice, the person who pushed into the room was the person of their topic just now, Roblin.
“The time of the meeting is finished. It should have been more than enough.”
He said that as if snapping at them. It was written distinctly in the wrinkles of his drawn brows that he was unable to wait even a little more than this. And then, changing suddenly, he spoke to Celiastina in a gentle voice.
“Lady Celiastina, I deeply apologize for troubling you for such a long time. Are you tired?”
“No, I am fine. It was I who requested to speak with Lord Asyut.”
“And that conversation…?”
“It has mostly been settled. Lord Asyut will be bringing the aforementioned girl to the royal palace.”
Receiving Celiastina’s concise response, Roblin lowered his head reverently and quickly took a step back.
Asyut felt something catch in him faintly at that understanding attitude.
“Well then, Lord Asyut, Yodel. I apologize sincerely but, as I will be waiting here, I thank you again and leave things in your care.”
“Yes, I will bring her to you soon without exception.”
Asyut also took note of her feelings and stopped his reply at a few words. Standing up from his seat like that, he threw a formal bow at Roblin, and passed beside him in silence.
“Lord Asyut, I will escort you to the corridors.”
Accompanied by Yodel who followed behind him immediately, Asyut left the room.
As he left, Asyut quietly looked at Celiastina. There was a strong unwavering light resting in her purple eyes.
It closely resembled the figure of “her”, who he had seen many times in this past year.