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They headed to the main gates of the royal palace.
At the front was the king, following him was Asyut, Milifaire, and then Jin. At the end was Neisan and Aeneas. During their walk through the corridor empty of people, no one opened their mouth.
The cold air in the corridor accelerated the tension in the area. Currently, the main gates were in the middle of a battle. How did the situation go when Celiastina appeared on the battlefield? Asyut thought over this matter as he moved out of the building with nervous legs. Was she safe or was the battle already reaching its conclusion? However, the tumult of that place couldn’t reach this place. And that just made Asyut feel even more stifled.
When they exited the building, angry voices that were thrown past each other flew into Asyut’s ears.
He knew immediately that the battle wasn’t over yet.
Far from that, it even seemed like the anti-saint faction was becoming increasingly animated.
(And Lady Celiastina?)
Panic pushed on Asyut’s back. He was driven by the impulse to push aside the king, who wasn’t breaking his relaxed stride, and rush over to the main gate in an instant.
“What the heck is that.”
Jin muttered this in a puzzled voice when he looked at the center of that chaos.
“It can’t be… Celiastina in the battlefield?”
“That is correct– is how I will answer for the moment.”
The king answered without turning around.
“But that’s impossible.”
“That is not the case. If it’s “her” then she would not hesitate to do it. This is “her” personal intention.”
Milifaire, who was walking half a step behind Asyut, whispered this quietly. It seemed that she had begun to feel strange at the king’s words. Who exactly was this “her” that he was indicating to–.
The king’s gait did not change.
The eyes of the guards popped wide open as they let the calmly walking king pa.s.s. They probably didn’t know what was happening today. No matter how small its scale, the king was somehow proceeding to a battlefield. Properly speaking, he wasn’t a person that was supposed to exist in this place– the same as Celiastina who appeared a while ago.
That Celiastina stood, unchanged, in the center of this ma.s.s.
Right now, he couldn’t see anything but her delicate back. It appeared like she was exchanging words in a strong tone with the leader, Ghada. No, perhaps it would be more correct to say she was being showered one-sidedly by words.
After Asyut left this place once, Celiastina had stood in the center of this battlefield facing that large man as her opponent with a straight back until this moment. Was that how prepared she was to receive herself the condemnations of the people who hated her?
As Asyut stared at her back he felt as if his heart were being squeezed and he had an urge to cry. He wanted to protect that small body behind his back and face these difficulties in her place. But even though he thought like this, she would never stop walking. Like a person trapped in a cage who, before they knew it, broke out and wanted to flap their wings.
(But there are limits.)
This situation was too much for her hands alone. The problem was much too large and nothing could be done with Celiastina’s singular determination.
Ghada brandishing his spear in front of Celiastina entered Asyut’s eyes. For an instant he was frightened, but Ghada’s actions were antic.i.p.ated by the soldiers around him. Immediately they readied themselves for a counterattack. Ghada was going to be killed like that.
Were it not for the king raising his voice.
It was a quiet voice as usual. However, it resounded impressively on the battlefield.
The well-trained soldiers came to a complete stop with the tips of their swords pointed at Ghada, right before they tore his skin. Celiastina, who turned around, showed a shocked expression when she recognized the figure of the king– and then, as if her strength left her, her legs shook.
“It is not over yet.”
The king looked out over the people of the anti-saint faction.
“That girl cannot accept everyone’s hatred. The reasoning being that girl is not Celiastina.”
“Kin… King Ronbarno…!”
Even Ghada, who had just been about to be pierced, opened his eyes wide and muttered only that. The anti-saint faction members who followed behind him also fell deadly quiet. Even the sound of someone swallowing seemed to echo.
“What do you mean by this girl isn’t Celiastina!”
Jin, who had followed them up to here, raised his voice in a snarl.
“No matter how you look at her, isn’t she Celiastina herself. As if I could forget this appearance!”
People stood there in surprise and then, all at once, their eyes concentrated on Celiastina. That Celiastina only stared at the king intently with unreadable eyes.
“It means exactly how it sounds. Indeed, her appearance is Celiastina’s no matter where you look. However, she is not the person herself. Because the real Celiastina has already ended her own life.”
“–What are you saying…”
Everyone in the area was enveloped in shock. It was the same for Asyut who received the king’s words from right behind him. However, there was something that flashed in his mind immediately. The moment Celiastina was no longer Celiastina. The moment she lost her life. That was surely…
“It was about a year ago. Celiastina left the royal palace without notice and disappeared into the depths of the forest. After a frantic search, she was found in a valley. –The one who found her was you, Asyut, correct?”
Asyut was addressed suddenly, but somehow he managed to keep calm and nod.
“It is likely Celiastina threw herself into the valley. The moment Asyut pulled her up, already she was no longer the girl from before.”
Celiastina – or the girl who was thought of as Celiastina – was wrapped up in a cold air. Her surroundings began to take a fearful distance from her.
“The Celiastina here now is not the real Celiastina. This girl is an entirely different person. An existence who appeared to fill the absence of a saint. Therefore, it was not her who murdered innocent people and she was not the one to give you your sufferings. The creation of the Holy Jail and the torture inflicted there– any one of the sins committed by Saint Celiastina cannot be attributed to this girl.”
“Taking revenge on this current Celiastina cannot become what you all in the anti-saint faction truly desire.”
In response to the king’s words, Asyut once again turned his face to Celiastina. However, she did not move at all.
“There’s no way I can believe such an absurd story…!”
Whereas Jin rejected the king’s words with a trembling voice.
“It’s impossible, that kind of thing. It’s obviously a lie to silence us.”
“It is inevitable for you to think that. However, it is the truth.”
Another voice rose up. It was Ghada who had pointed a spear at Celiastina moments ago. He was in a situation where he was surrounded by soldiers with their weapons drawn still, but he showed no fear and faced the king.
“Then, who the h.e.l.l is this girl. Even if she’s a double, she’s too similar.”
“Well now, even I do not know the real thing.”
“I’ll ask you to stop confusing us. If that story just now is the truth then you prepared this girl.”
The king denied Ghada’s words shortly.
“I made no such preparations. That is why, in this long period, I have been at a loss as to how to treat her existence. She is truly a mysterious girl. I have always thought it strange how, even though this should be another person’s affairs, she is able to proceed straight forward even to this point. She herself should have nothing special like powers. However, hope goes on after in the places she’s walked. I can say this because we are here now but– I think she is a rare being. Regrettably, she is, in the end, nothing more than a “subst.i.tute”. She cannot replace the real Celiastina. And it will not be long before she disappears.”
Ghada closed his mouth and sent a shaky gaze at Celiastina. He, no, the majority of the people here could not understand what the king said.
However, only Asyut was unlike them.
He understood the king’s words to a painful degree.
–When she disappears. When she greets “the last moment”.
It was a future Asyut did not want to think about. One he kept turning his eyes away from, despite being stricken by that premonition countless of times. However, this despairing belief which didn’t permit that any longer fell quietly on Asyut’s back.
“Celiastina ended her own life. But it seems her soul has not been extinguished. She will return soon. And, from there, that will be the true moment of truth. –For herself, and for us as well.”
For the first time, the king’s eyes showed a strong light. He looked out over everyone in this place once again.
“It is not that “time” yet. The moment worthy of you all risking your lives is not this moment. I would like you all to understand that somehow.”
There is no one who opened their mouth. It was the intensity of the king, which allowed no denial, that overwhelmed the surroundings rather than the details that were revealed though.
Amongst this, the one who raised a thin voice was Milifaire, Asyut’s younger sister. She had been watching over the proceedings quietly and now she was not looking at the king. Her gaze was concentrated directly on Celiastina.
“If what the king said is the truth. Then I want to hear your own words. Who exactly are you? And what are you standing here for?”
Everyone’s attention gathered on Celiastina once again. The said Celiastina glanced at Milifaire and then lowered her eyes slightly.
Her mouth barely moved. It was a quiet voice but it had not lost its strength.
That voice, which he should have long grown used to hearing, seemed to be very far from Asyut.
“What and who I am, I don’t think that’s important right now in this place. It’s true I am not the Celiastina of before… but I’m not the past me either. Right now, I’m existing as neither of them. Only, in this past year, I’ve just been walking down the path I believe in as best I can. And, here in this moment, I am confident there is something beyond that road. That’s why I don’t want to give up. On everyone, and on Celiastina.”
She raised her head and declared this in a clear voice.
“I’m certain that Celiastina will be able to change in the future. There, she will face her own sins. But maybe she might step off the path again. There might be a time where she can’t see her surroundings and finds herself at a loss. If such a time comes again, I would like you all to stop her at that time.”
That’s why, she added as she looked over all the gathered people.
“Everyone, please watch over Celiastina. And please give your words to her again like today. So that she won’t forget her crimes up to now, and so that she’ll never again mistake her path. The me right now can’t accept everyone’s thoughts and feelings. –Just like the king said.”
Please, I ask this of everyone. Saying that, she bowed her head deeply to her knees. Her long golden hair slid down over a delicate shoulder like a stream.
“… That’s impossible.”
Milifaire muttered that haltingly. At some point, a dagger was gripped in her right hand.
“I can’t do such a thing at this point in time. Because I’ve survived to this day for the sake of getting revenge on Celiastina. Yes, that’s right. It doesn’t matter anymore whether you’re the real one or the fake one.”
It was a terribly even voice. Her expression showed that her mind was not there, but her next actions were quick. Among the people who were standing still, Milifaire sprung off the ground and raised her right hand. Right before the lunging sharp blade tore Celiastina’s chest– Asyut stood in front of it.
Asyut nimbly grabbed Milifaire’s wrist and twisted it diagonally like that; Milifaire gave a m.u.f.fled scream and grimaced. The blade spilled from her hand and struck the ground with an echoing clatter. Milifaire glared at Asyut with a pained expression.
“Is this your answer, brother?”
“… It is.”
“Weren’t you the one who said the both of us tasted the same suffering, brother. And yet, why can’t we come to the same answer.”
“You left the royal palace and I remained in the royal palace. I’m sure that was when the path we followed changed.”
Milifaire’s voice was close to a scream.
“Why do you talk like that, like you understand everything! Isn’t that acting like I don’t understand anything! Well, then it can’t be helped. I don’t know anything but hate. I could only keep myself up with hatred. And yet, why aren’t you like that, brother. You should have the same hatred. I can’t. I can’t anymore. Everything hung on this day. It’s impossible to be given another path at this point now!”
And then Milifaire collapsed on the spot. Her wailing voice was soon soaked with tears.
Asyut looked down at his sister hanging her head and softly kneeled by her side. He gripped her trembling hand, which seemed forlorn without its dagger, tightly. It was a rough and cracked hand, not one in Asyut’s memory.
No matter what the words were, he was sure they would be meaningless to Milifaire. Right now, Asyut didn’t think his thoughts would reach her.
And so, Asyut only called out her name.
Inside Asyut’s hand, Milifaire clenched hers into a fist. Unable to bear the thought of how small her hand was, Asyut embraced her strongly, as if burying her in his arms.
“Milifaire. It’s enough. It’s enough already.”
Was it Milifaire who clung to Asyut. Or Asyut who clung to Milifaire.
Their hearts were still far apart, but Asyut felt the warmth of their certain blood connection.
“Let’s leave it at this point, you guys.”
During this, Siegcrest raised his voice for the first time in a while.
“The anger of you anti-saint faction guys isn’t small enough to be forgotten after kicking up a fuss here, right… Ghada, you too.”
Facing the man who stood right beside Celiastina, Siegcrest gestured at the spear in his hands with his chin.
“What do you want to do. Is it that you won’t feel satisfied until you stab Celiastina once with that spear?”
“… Even then it wouldn’t be enough. Something like one thrust would never be enough.”
Siegcrest threw a fearless smile at Ghada’s low answer.
“I guess not. But this small body would easily die with one of your thrusts. And then it’d be over. It’d all end, if you swung that spear that is.”
“Throw away your weapons already. That kind of thing is too weak to throw your thoughts at Celiastina. There’s another way. Am I wrong?”
Ghada did not open his mouth. The people lined up behind him were also completely silent, and only Milifaire’s sobbing echoed in the public square.
“King Ronbarno, please. If everyone in the anti-saint faction throws away their weapons and surrenders, please spare their lives…!”
The king returned a faint smile to Celiastina’s entreaty.
“I am well aware that you desire that. And, certainly, I have accepted your feelings.”
“However, what decides their fates in the end is not your thoughts but theirs.”
Saying that, the king took a step.
“Now then, what will you do? After the real Celiastina returns home, how does opening up a path together with me sound?”
At that question, the anti-saint faction members looked at each other’s faces. Ghada’s stern expression did not collapse.
“From here, I have been planning to create a system to monitor the saint and priests. –Naturally, the opposition from the priests will be strong. However, in light of the royal palace attack from you all this time, we can see that realizing it is not an impossible plan. The details still need to be worked out after this but, so long as there is a resolve, I would like to appoint several members from amongst you to that system.”
Unable to stand this, Jin raised his voice.
“That can’t be anything more than a joke. It’s obvious that, not only the priests, but everyone in the royal palace would strongly oppose appointing the guys who attacked the royal palace to important positions of the country.”
“I suppose you cannot believe this either?”
The king had a deep smile.
“To be sure, it is quite outlandish. However, if you continue to practice what is established then nothing will change in the future. And I wish to change a lot. For this country.”
Asyut, who was still kneeling, looked up at the king standing beside him. His words had a power. That no matter how ridiculous the words were, if he said something would be realized then it would be realized without a doubt– that power made them think that.
Someone from the anti-saint faction murmured that. Everyone looked at Ghada with uneasy eyes. His will, as the core of the anti-saint faction, would be their will like that.
Ghada slowly closed his eyes. And then he exhaled deeply, where even Asyut could see it.
At last, he released the handle of the spear he was gripping. The dull sound of metal rolling on the ground burst through the area.
Ghada pursed his lips with a sullen expression.
“So, what’re you guys going to do.”
Siegcrest jerked his head and prompted the rest of them. Everyone was frozen, as if they were caught unguarded, and then once again looked at each other’s faces.
However that was only for a slight moment. Soon, one person threw away the long sword that they held. And then, seeing that, another person threw away their hoe. And, again, there was another person, and then another.
How much time had pa.s.sed.
At last, when the last sword rolled onto the ground, their expressions distinctly showed their strong will. They had not given up, and they were not simply being drawn along by the flow. Like what the king and girl said, they were looking to the future and watching the fate of the saint.
“–First unit and second unit of the Order of Holy Knights.”
Vansaider, the commander who had watched over the situation without opening his mouth until now, raised a sharp voice.
“The mentioned two units will take these people to the detention center for the present. The remaining men will withdraw and look to their respective captains for instructions.”
He ordered that in a voice that carried well and faced Siegcrest and Asyut before giving a slight nod. After that, he gave a short bow to the king. The soldiers who received the orders to withdraw started to leave rapidly and the stagnant air began to move once again.
(… Is it over?)
As Asyut helped Milifaire up, who still had her head down, he looked over the area once more. Celiastina entered his sight and he noticed her sending a smile to him.
Exhaustion was visible in her expression, but at the same time she looked refreshed.
With an elusive smile on those lips, she murmured something. Those words were erased by the surrounding noise. However, it came across to Asyut.
“It’s over, isn’t it. Everything.”
He was certain she said that.