The door to the Hall of Blessings opened.
A tranquil air filled the room inside.
On the bed that was set up in front of the altar there were overflowing flower petals and a single girl.
The goddesses drawn on the ceiling watched over the girl while dancing elegantly.
Celiastina was already concentrating.
There was a sensation as if her entire body broke out in goosebumps. From the top of her head to the tips of her toes, and even her blinking eyelids, slightly opened mouth, and her fingertips which were lightly clenched, she felt a “power” surging up from her body.
She took one step forward. Her right foot that landed on the ground carried a gradual heat.
She took another step forward. Her left foot, that landed on the ground this time, was covered in the same heat.
It was like her back was pushed by something invisible. Her body was already moving to another place along with her will. There was a feeling of elevation that she could not suppress even if she tried to suppress and it shined, blazing, in Celiastina’s eyes.
She was sleeping there.
Her soft cheeks held a faint redness and her chest moved slightly up and down.
It was a restful sleeping figure. However, her soul wasn’t here.
–Yuna, come back.
Hear my voice.
Celiastina kneeled beside the bed and quietly clasped both of her hands.
She closed her eyes and prayed silently and strongly.
Inside her body, a storm blew roughly. A strong force that could not be controlled became a violent torrent and ran through her. That power tossed up Celiastina’s soul with a terrifying force. It was so intense it was as if she was scattered and blown off from her body by an agitated wind.
Yuna. Yuna. Yuna.
Please, I beg of you, answer my voice–.
–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.
I’ll definitely treasure it…
It was a promise from a long time ago.
A promise that would never lose its vividness, but a very distant one.
I’m sorry for forgetting.
I’m sorry for not remembering.
I’m sorry for that long, long time, Cella.
Her drowsiness was suddenly eliminated at the dignifed and clear voice that seemed to echo directly in her head.
Yuna snapped her eyes open.
The world that leapt into view was a pure white space.
Where was this place?
By the time Yuna noticed it, she was standing in this place.
She stood still in a daze, blinking her eyes many times.
She didn’t understand anything. Her entire body was strangely sluggish and it was like her mind wasn’t working.
Ah, what had she been doing?
She felt like a long, long time had passed.
But from what?
She couldn’t remember well.
Yuna raised her right hand slowly with a heavy head that felt covered in a fog.
She closed her fingers and then opened them. As she repeated that several times, her mind began to accept this reality at last.
Yuna talked to herself and looked around the area.
A space with no up or down. It was an absolutely white world where she couldn’t even find her shadow anywhere.
Yuna recognized this place.
That mutter was the trigger.
All of Yuna’s memories overflowed from her head like a surging wave.
How she was hit by a carriage and lost consciousness. How she went into the body of Saint Celiastina and the days spent as a substitute. All the people she met and… left.
Yuna clenched her fist tightly.
She looked down at her own body. She had a simple appearance where she was just wearing a white one-piece dress. The golden hair that streamed down to her waist had disappeared and, instead, slightly wavy brown hair that reached Yuna’s shoulders swayed around her neck, matching her movements. Even the fist she was clenching tightly, and the right arm that followed that, was obviously different from the pale, almost translucent, skin that she had become familiar with in this past year. Her arm was undeniably a little tanned.
Even her murmured voice was very familiar to her ears and it certainly belonged to Yuna herself.
These sensations were nostalgic.
Yuna said out loud again, under her breath, while she touched her own face with both hands.
Unexpectedly, deep emotions did not arise. It might have been because it didn’t feel real yet. The fact that she had done all that needed to be done and was returned to the white world again hadn’t fit in yet. In the first place, she hadn’t thought the moment of regaining consciousness as Yuna again would come around after she returned Celiastina’s body to her. That was the case even though she was in this white world.
“You have awakened at last.”
At that moment.
Balls of light floated up from somewhere and began to drift around Yuna’s surroundings, drawing a circle.
Yuna remembered immediately even while her eyes widened. At the beginning the same light shone on Yuna and led her to a new life.
The balls of light became one above Yuna’s head and then split into several balls; they continued to repeat this and moved without haste. At times they would release a strong light, at other times they would become fine as if they would disappear. A mysterious voice fell down onto Yuna who was following those lights with her gaze.
“Thank you for your hard work during that long time.”
That one phrase stabbed sharply into her chest.
“… Everything is over, isn’t it.”
In that instant, the light seemed to sway kindly.
“Thank you very much. Owing to you, hope was indeed linked together. A small ripple born on the surface of the water has drawn a large circle that expands. In that way, the actions you took as Celiastina have created a breath of something new and connected it to what will happen next.”
“Did I carry out my duty properly?”
“Yes, beyond what we wished for.”
–She wondered what exactly those lights, which said that, were.
Maybe they felt Yuna’s question, because the balls of light fluttered around lightly before gathering into one again and floated still directly in front of Yuna.
“We ought to convey everything properly, shouldn’t we. What we are.”
Yuna stared at the light in silence.
“We… are fragments of the souls of the beings called the past saints.”
Yuna was instinctively speechless at that unexpected answer.
“Do you remember? You read documents related to us in the historical archive of the royal palace once before. Documents on us about how the Holy Mark was discovered when we were young and how we ended up walking on the path of a saint who knew nothing in the royal palace.”
That’s right, she definitely read those. She wished to know about the saints in more detail and made an unreasonable request to Asyut to be brought to the archive where classified documents were lined up.
She read about how the past saints lived up to now and how they suffered–. Their appearance written in those documents were shocking. Yuna learned that inside the life of the royal palace, which looked glamorous, they struggled in pain.
Were the shadows of the former selves of those girls this ball of light in front of her eyes right now?
“Everything stated in those documents are the facts. During our lifetimes, we did nothing but battle our own lives. We waited solely for the day we would be released from life. It was truly a long time and painful.”
“That history did not change even with the birth of a new saint, called Celiastina. She also passed her days tasting the same pain we did. We, who are only fragments of souls that remain, sympathized with her emotions and felt that despair countless of times.”
Yuna stood in the place, unable to get any words out.
“We wished to save Celiastina’s soul. Every time a new saint was born, we wished for that same thing. However, all this time, there was nothing we could do. We did not know the method to save the wounded saints. –Apart from the ending of that life.”
“Only this time was different. Perhaps Celiastina herself also strongly wished to be saved. Her unique ability as a saint, together with that thought, transformed that wish into an action. In other words, it dragged your existence in.”
“Yes. From childhood, you were a special existence to Celiastina. Due to that, you became the target of her distorted ability.”
What did that mean?
Yuna felt a chill run through her back.
She suddenly remembered Celiastina’s distorted ability. Amplifying the force towards “death” of those she connected with–.
–Aah, so that was how it was.
She understood everything at last.
“Celiastina’s ability was invoked in a twisted form but, ironically, we were able to find hope as well. That, if it was you, perhaps you could possibly save her.”
“And so you moved my soul into Celiastina’s body, right?”
“Correct. It was all we could do. The rest was how you would act. And what Celiastina, who was seeing that, would think. We could only watch over that.”
A pretty high-handed way of doing things, isn’t it? A protest came to her throat but she managed to swallow that somehow. Looking back on it now, that might have been the best. For Celiastina– and for Yuna herself too.
In that one year, she experienced many things. She was able to meet people who she shouldn’t have been able to meet. And, above all, she was able to save Celiastina, who she couldn’t save when she was young, in the end.
(It’s much better than just being hit by a carriage and dying.)
Yes, she was able to think that honestly. It wasn’t only Celiastina who was saved.
But still, it stopped here.
She did everything she could. Everything was over.
She couldn’t say she had no regrets. There were many people she wanted to see so badly. A person she didn’t want to leave– a person she wanted to stay beside, always.
But there was nothing that could be done anymore.
Yuna bit her lip and looked down, troubled by the tears that were coming at this point.
Even though everything was over–.
“Now, Yuna, raise your head.”
The ball of light began to revolve around Yuna’s surroundings again.
“Because the road you walk has not ended yet. The road you believe in will become the road we believe in. Yuna, raise your head.”
The voice that fell down above her head gradually became more and more distant. Yuna raised her head slowly. The road wasn’t over yet? Those words…
“Thank you, Yuna. Please try walking once more. The road you believe in– a bright future.”
Suddenly, the ball of light burst open. A brightness that Yuna had never experienced up to now covered her eyes. Instinctively, she blocked her face with her right arm and waited for the flash of light to settle. No words came out. She didn’t know what in the world had happened.
It was likely that was for a short moment.
A pure white world.
Before she knew it, the light disappeared.
Instead, in front of Yuna far, far away was the small shadow of a human.
Yuna gazed at that silhouette in a daze. Little by little, an emotion deep in her chest began to surge up greatly in bits and pieces. Was that possibly…
(Could it be…)
Next thing she knew, Yuna was running. She kicked off the white ground. Like the first time she came to this place, she ran towards that same human shape.
That was… that shape was…
When she shouted the human shape, which stood there, turned to her. It was the appearance of a woman she had grown used to seeing in this past year; golden hair that flowed down like silk and distinct facial features. She was like a doll, however there was certainly a will resting in those eyes that took in Yuna’s figure.
She called out that name over and over again, along with a bouncing breath, because she thought that Celiastina would disappear if she didn’t do that. But Celiastina did not disappear. She simply waited in silence until Yuna came in front of her.
And now, at last, the two met.
Celiastina also called out Yuna’s name. The fact that the two of them were facing each other like this was in and of itself like a dream. No, it might be a dream. But she didn’t care even if that was the case.
“… It’s really you, Celiastina, right?”
Celiastina blinked at Yuna’s question.
She couldn’t believe it. Yuna felt sobs mix in with the breath she sucked in as hard as she could.
“… You’re still here. I thought you already returned back to your body.”
She cast a smile at Celiastina with a heart that felt like it was going to be crushed by emotions.
“No, indeed, I returned to my original body. Because of you I was able to return, once again as Celiastina, and I began to walk anew… However, I came here again at the end. In order to see you.”
And then Celiastina suddenly looked like she was about to cry.
“I have always been by your side in this past year. Together with your feelings. But, at last, we can exchange words like this.”
“… You were beside me all this time.”
“I was watching you at all times. But I couldn’t help but hate that at the beginning. I even wanted my soul to disappear all the more.”
Celiastina continued to speak carefully, as if she were reflecting upon her own words.
“And then you lived the life I threw out with all that you had. The life that I personally tore to pieces, scattered, and abandoned. You carefully picked up those pieces one by one.”
“I’m sorry. I did a lot of selfish things, didn’t I.”
Celiastina shook her head loosely. And then she quietly opened her right hand which had been clenched. There, in that hand, was the ribbon that connected the two.
“I’m the one who must apologize. I clung to the memories of my childhood forever and, because of that, I involved your entire life. I’m so sorry, truly.”
Yuna raised her gaze, which had dropped to the ribbon, and looked once more at Celiastina.
“You’ve kept this ribbon, huh. Thank you. And thank you for letting me spend this one year as Celiastina. Thank you for coming to see me now like this too. –Hey, Celiastina, I have so much feelings of gratitude. So, please don’t apologize.”
“Why are you so good-natured?”
Celiastina’s expression crumpled again.
“But, seeing you like that, made me think to try facing forward once more. Even though I didn’t want to raise my head ever again, where things were only painful and there was only despair in front and behind me. I was saved by you and, above all, this heart was saved by you. You lifted up my heart which simply wanted to sink together with despair… Thank you.”
Yuna nodded from the bottom of her heart. She truly thought that it was good to hear those words from Celiastina.
Like how Celiastina felt supported by Yuna, it may have been Celiastina’s existence that supported Yuna. For the sake of Celiastina who would return some day. Yuna managed to overcome the hardships that stood in her way, chanting that over and over again like a spell.
“Now, hurry and go back. Linus is waiting too.”
When Yuna said that unexpectedly, Celiastina blinked her eyes.
“Because he told me that he’d always be waiting for you, Celiastina. And I’m sure you’ll get along well with everyone else. With Kazlow, from the orphanage, and the children too. Even Asyut, with the two of you like this now, I believe you’ll surely understand each other. Certainly, there might be a lot of painful and hurtful things but more things than that will overflow into your life, Celiastina. So, this time, even if it’s slow, try walking.”
Celiastina made a teary smile.
And then she stretched out her slender arms. She embraced Yuna, as if clinging to her. Yuna was surprised but, right after that, she felt the tears she had managed to hold back until now trail down her cheeks.
Was she sad or was she happy? Was she scared or was she relieved?
Waves of emotions overwhelmed her intensely.
“But, you know, Yuna, you’re mistaken on one thing.”
“It’s not only me. There will surely be a lot of wonderful things waiting for you in the same way in your life.”
She heard Celiastina’s voice which was similarly wet with tears.
She didn’t have the time to think about what Celiastina meant.
“–This time, it’s my turn to save you.”
Please, wake up Yuna.
In an instant, Celiastina’s voice became distant.
Even the warmth in Yuna’s arms, the sensation of Celiastina’s arms around her back, and everything scattered in an instant. It felt like she was dragged by a tremendous force to somewhere and she couldn’t even raise her voice even though she wanted to scream.
What in the world was happening?
She meant to struggle frantically, but in the end she wasn’t sure if she even did that.
She felt like she heard Celiastina’s voice from somewhere far, far away.