Difference between revisions of "Tsurugi no Joou to Rakuin no Ko:Volume 1 Chapter 10"
(Created page with "==Chapter 10 – New Moon== It was one night before new moon. The Celestial Army had captured Santcarillon, allowing their troops of ten thousand men to enter the city. The c...")
Revision as of 10:49, 10 April 2013
Chapter 10 – New Moon
It was one night before new moon. The Celestial Army had captured Santcarillon, allowing their troops of ten thousand men to enter the city. The citizens of Medoccia scattered flowers over the streets adorn with bells, enthusiastically welcoming the arrival of the awe-inspiring honor guards donning the emblem of a winged wheel. The crowd’s exhilaration was pushed to the max when a large, elaborate palanquin passed by after the honor guards.
After Francesca and the Order of the Silver Egg retreated from Santcarillon, they stopped temporarily at the small town of Epabella along with the other members of the Allied Army. And on that moment, the fanfare from Santcarillon could be heard even in the campsite.
“It seems like the citizens of Medoccia have already half-abandoned their Duke.”
Sitting by the window, Nicolo raised the curtains and mumbled as he gazed at the outline of Santcarillon, handing his telescope to Francesca right after that. Francesca raised the telescope. When she saw the purple flags waving on the city walls, she sighed and tossed the telescope back to the military doctor, who then said:
“Even if Her Majesty arrives, I’m not sure if they can truly forget the nightmares of the heavy taxes and unreasonable military recruitment system imposed upon them by the Duke of Medoccia.”
“If Medoccia becomes territory of the Queen, the taxes on the citizens will decrease. Such rumors had long spread far and near.”
Francesca shrugged. Of course, such news was just baseless hearsay. In fact, no matter if the Celestial Kingdom would reassign them a representative governor or select an easily manipulated successor after retiring the current Duke would make no difference, it was highly probable that Santcarillon would maintain its current system.
“But speaking of which, it’s probably the first time in history for the Weneralia Festival to be celebrated in a city apart from the capital.”
It was five days before when Santcarillon was seized by the troops of the Celestial Kingdom. Francesca proposed to the Allied Army to leave the Duke of Medoccia while the troops of each nation were to retreat directly. Using her merits for saving the Archbishop, Francesca forced the commanders of the other five nations to give in. After all, if even the Duke of Medoccia escaped from his own city, the citizens would completely devote themselves to the nobles of the Celestial Kingdom.
However, even Francesca never thought that the Queen would actually arrive at the city of Santcarillon.
“Won’t the people from Santuario be annoyed if the wedding is held in Santcarillon? Gahahahaha!”
Not long before, the Queen had already declared an Oracle Decree by Tuekay, proclaiming Consort Prospect Cornelius as her Royal Consort, the Queen’s husband-to-be. However, only three days separated the arrival of news of the Oracle Decree at the city of Santcarillon and the Queen’s arrival, meaning that the Queen departed for Santcarillon right after the proclamation of Tuekay’s Oracle Decree.
(Why did they suddenly change the tradition, holding the wedding ceremony at Santcarillon?)
With her arms crossed, Francesca gazed upon the majestic outline of Santcarillon under the setting sun. She judged that it was due to the fact that Cornelius could not leave the city.
(Is he trying to lure someone out? But then, who is his target?)
She turned around to look at the room lacking in sunshine. Part from Nicolo, she had nearly forgotten the presence of another person there— Minerva. That moment, Minerva was still clad in her battle robes, squatting in a corner while holding her greatsword in her arms. Perceiving Francesca’s gaze, she immediately raised her head and asked, the ink-black circles around her eyes making her look like a panda:
“…… Why didn’t you attack them while they were still in their journey?”
Francesca sighed, “That won’t do. How can we launch an attack on the troops protecting the Queen without being noticed by the soldiers stationed in the city of Santcarillon? Besides, we won’t be able to obtain the assistance of the Allied Army as well.”
“This war will end the moment you kill the Queen. Why didn’t you grit your teeth and just do it!”
“Yes, it might be the end to you. However, our battle will still continue. You know that, don’t you?”
Hearing that, Minerva puffed out her cheeks and turned away, standing up from the ground after that.
“It’s not like we can’t attack. But if we announce your circumstances to the world, telling the whole Allied Army that the current Queen of the Celestial Kingdom is a fake, declaring war upon the Celestial Kingdom with the flag of a winged wheel, that would indeed be useful, but will you think that the situation has changed then?”
Leaning against her sword, Minerva stood mutely without moving as she supported her weight on the sword hilt. She bit her lip, biting it until her lips turned white.
In the campsite of the Allied Army, there was hardly anyone who knew Minerva’s true identity. Even in the Order of the Silver Egg, only Francesca, a few of the elite guards and Nicolo knew it. Francesca’s grandfather was in the know, but her father, the current Duke of Zaccaria never heard of that matter before.
Francesca thought, judging from the current situation, there might even be more people in the Celestial Army who knew of this. After all, rumors of the legendary swordsman, the Salt Sprayer, had most probably spread into the ears of the Celestials, and as long as they listen to the descriptions from the rumors, they would be able to discern that the person was Minerva.
The Celestial Kingdom had absolutely no need to hide Minerva’s identity. In fact, the ones truly afraid of the news being revealed was just the Celestials, but Francesca thought, she definitely could not allow the countries of the East to know of Minerva’s identity.
They could indeed solidify the Seven Countries’ military forces in Minerva’s name. However, if they obtain victory, what would be left over would still be a group of nobles worshipping their Queen. They would still fight to monopoly the power of the Divine, and in the end, nothing would have changed.
(We have no other choice but to end this war with our own power, and not in the name of the divine.)
That was what Francesca thought.
“…… So we still need time to unite the Alliance, huh.”
“Are you saying that the other nations are all scaredy-cats! Right now, the maintenance of Santcarillon’s East Gate has yet to be completed, while the city is in a mess because of wedding preparations. Isn’t this the best chance for us to attack!”
“Yes, that’s right. They’re all scaredy-cats. After all, after the Weneralia Festival, more than half of the forces of the Celestial Army will be switched back to Santuario, so there are quite a number of people saying that we should first return to our respective countries to reform.”
Hearing Francesca’s statement, Minerva hammered her fist on the wooden pole, “What a joke! If we wait until the wedding ceremony is over, Silvia will…… The lizard-like person will……”
With a pitying expression, Francesca gazed at the Queen’s elder sister as her shoulders trembled continually in anxiety.
After the marriage between the Queen and her spouse, they had to give birth to children. Minerva was supposed to be the one to bear that pain.
“…… Very well, I understand.” After saying that, Minerva hoisted her greatsword up and walked towards the entrance.
“Are you planning to attack all by yourself?”
Francesca asked coldly, while Nicolo’s eyes widened at her question.
Minerva did not turn back, “Why do you ask when you already know?”
“H- Hey, wait just a bit. There must be other ways to do this, you’re just going to your death if you go alone!” Nicolo exclaimed.
“Chris is still there all alone, but I…… But I— I ran away all by myself!”
As Minerva turned around to glare at Nicolo, her flaming red hair swung in an arc behind her. The pure power of her gaze made Nicolo back away to the window in fright, “…… That…… isn’t your responsibility…… is it?”
“It’s not a matter of responsibility! Chris is my belonging! He is going to— My fate, he will—“
“So you are going to chase him to death? You fool!”
“Chis won’t die—!”
Not only did it shock Nicolo, even Francesca couldn’t help but inhale sharply at Minerva’s cry.
After hearing reports from the tens of survivors of the assault unit that included Minerva, even Francesca felt despair. No matter who they were, they would turn into Cornelius’ puppets if they touch his demon sword. Although such a mystical power was hard to believe in, there was no other alternative when she heard her subordinates speaking of their experience of having their comrades raising their swords on them. Apart from that, the reports pointed out that Chris killed all of those who were manipulated by Cornelius’ demon sword, and was then skewered to the ground with spears by soldiers of the Celestial Army who reached just then. Currently, there was no one who knew of that who thought that Chris had any chance of surviving.
“I saw it…… The death prophecy of him piercing through my brow with his sword has yet to disappear! So he must still be alive!”
After saying that, Minerva turned around and exited the room, closing the door along the way. Francesca and Nicolo then heard heavy footfalls on the stairs.
(She saw the same vision as before, huh…… If so, this is indeed proof of Chris’ survival.)
“…… That guy…… is still alive?”
Nicolo muttered with a look of disbelief, then turned abruptly to say to Francesca: “Captain…… T- Then, Meena will really head into Santcarillon all by herself! We must stop her!”
“I have already told Gilberto to keep guard over her since we don’t know what Meena will do.”
Hearing her words, Nicolo scratched his head and sighed: “Even though Meena didn’t do anything these few days…… In the end, she turned out like this as soon as she found out that that guy is still alive. I find that she resembles a battering ram, only being able to see the small distance between it and the city gate, only knowing how to dash forward……”
Disregarding his sharp words, Francesca sank into deep thought.
Chris is alive. He might have been imprisoned. But why?
Why did Cornelius allow Chris to live on?
(Chris. Who…… Who in the world is he?)
(That’s right. The key to all of the questions is pointing towards that……)
All of a sudden, harried footsteps pulled Francesca from her troubles back to her dark room.
“Lady Fran, is it true that Chris is still alive!”
It was Paola. She seemed to have just changed into her blue medic robes, as her hat and hair looked especially ruffled, probably since she had not the time to tidy it up yet.
“How did you know?”
“I- I heard it. I- Is it true! Is, is Chris truly alive!”
“The walls of this building is horrendously thin…… Should I request for a change in room?”
Francesca patted Paola’s shoulders, as she seemed extremely out of breath, hurrying over in her excitement. She sighed: “Yes, he appeared in a future that Meena foresaw…… She said that he is still alive.”
“T- T- Then, let’s hurry up and save him. After all, Chris is very important to Minerva!”
Hearing Paola’s opinion, Francesca couldn’t help but stare at her with her eyes wide. Meanwhile, Paola’s eyes widened as well when she saw her liege lord’s surprise.
(Save him? Chris?)
Francesca blankly took two steps back and sat down on the chair.
Save him? But how? Francesca was horrified that she was actually thinking of possible methods to save him.
(Impossible. It’s no good, we’ll have to let him be.)
(Santcarillon has already been captured. It’s impossible for the Order of the Silver Egg to do anything alone……)
It was on that moment when Gilberto entered the room with blood dripping from his face.
“Gilberto! W- Why are you hurt!”
Paola paled when she saw him, and hurriedly scuttled to his side. However, Gilberto brushed her aside and knelt before Francesca as she approached.
“My deepest apologies, Lady Fran.”
Gilberto’s few words were enough for Francesca to understand everything.
“…… So you weren’t able to stop her?”
“Yes. I knew in one strike that my sword was unable to block her path.”
Hanging his head, the blood on Gilberto’s forehead dripped onto the floorboard. It might have been fortunate that Gilberto was the one who faced Minerva, as other people might not be able to escape with just a small wound.
“She told me that if I blocked her path, she was going to Santcarillon even if she needed to kill me, so I let her go. I thought that I should first report this to you and await further instructions.”
“Gil, I’m really thankful that you can make calm decisions each and every time.”
Francesca rested her hand on the shoulder of the captain of her elite guards, asking him to stand up. With a piece of cloth, she wiped away the blood on Gilberto’s forehead and asked Paola to take care of his wound.
“Captain, what should we do? I think I can help out if I’m assigned in the feint unit.”
“Nicolo, didn’t you just say that we should stop her?” Francesca asked instead.
“I said, we should stop her from going in by herself. But if by any chance you thought of a great tactic and gave us the order, Meena won’t be going in by herself then.” The military doctor smiled pleasantly after saying that.
Francesca raised her head to look at the ceiling.
It’s impossible. We can only leave Chris there to die. She shook her head. However, when her gaze met with that of Paola, Gilberto and Nicolo’s, an inexplicable emotion surged in her heart.
(What should we do……?)
With his cheeks pressed on the cold stone floor, Chris heard footsteps coming from the outside.
He raised his head in the darkness and looked at the flames shining in from outside the steel bars. The brilliant light made him cover his eyes. He already forgot how many days before was the last time his eyes saw light. Already used to the darkness, his eyes were aggravated, causing his eyelids to spasm, while tears formed at the corner of his eyes as well.
“…… Who’s there…… Isn’t it about time to sentence me to death already?”
Opening his eyes slightly, he looked outside the bars between his fingers. His lips were cracked, throat parched. Whenever he spoke, it would cause pain as though a rusted steel baton being swirled in his throat.
There was not only one light source, but three— no, there was even more. A large crowd stood outside Chris’ gaol. From their shadows, metallic smell, footsteps and other traits, he judged that they were soldiers in full armor.
“Come closer, Beast’s son.”
He recognized the voice. Chris’ throat convulsed like a fish out of water struggling before its death. His eyes gradually got used to the illumination before him. He fixed his gaze upon the source of the voice, and a tall man dressed in luxurious clothing and accessories gradually came into his view. Although there was a smile on the man’s face, his bead-like pupils chilled one even more than the stone walls of the prison.
“Do not taint my name with your filthy mouth. After all, I am one who is going to accept the ultimate blessing not long after this. It will best for you to remain silent, and just crawl over to a place where the oil lamps can reach your face.”
— The ultimate blessing, he said?
— What is that? What is this guy talking about?
— A person like you should be eternally damned instead.
With his five fingers, Chris clawed on the stone floor, and slowly crawled to the steel bars. Apart from Cornelius’ long sleeves, the scabbard of his slender, terrifying longsword could be seen as well. Apart from that, he saw quite a few pairs of legs behind Cornelius as well, probably his guards. Each of them had on the same military boots except for one who stood beside Cornelius.
Resisting the pain from his collarbone, Chris frowned as he raised his gaze.
The owner of the legs was a girl. She had long, red hair, and there was a silver crown on her forehead. The opulent dress she was wearing was tinted a faint orange under the illumination of the oil lamps. Hanging at the two sides of the dress, the pure white sleeves looked like a pair of open wings.
The most striking feature of the girl was her black eyes.
Chris knew it the moment he saw it. The timid, youthful face reminded him of another person.
“Let Her Majesty look at your face.” Cornelius said coolly to Chris.
Her Majesty— the Sibyl Queen who controlled the Celestials and the shrine maidens serving Tuekay.
“…… This is the man, isn’t that right, Lady Silvia.”
“Yes, this is the one.”
“This was the blade he was holding, correct?”
While speaking, Cornelius took a longsword from a guard behind him and raised it before the Queen. With a sword body as smooth as a mirror, it was unquestionable that it was the sword that Gilberto lent to Chris.
The Queen’s chin shook uncontrollably as she nodded, “…… That is correct, this is the one…… This was the sword that I saw piercing through my brows.”
Hearing her words, Chris almost forgot to breathe in shock.
“The longsword that I saw did indeed possess such a crystalline body.”
— The same…….
— The words that she spoke were the same as that of Minerva’s…….
— Is it possible that under the arrangements of destiny, I am to kill the Queen as well?
That moment, Silvia squatted down by the steel bars, flustering the guards standing behind her.
“Your Majesty, you should not bow down to a prisoner!”
“You shouldn’t even have came to meet him here from the start! He is too filthy—“
Cornelius stopped her by catching hold of her arm before she managed to squat down. However, Chris could already see the girl’s eyes clearly on the instant her eyes approached the steel bars.
— Ah…… Her black eyes……
— They’re exactly the same as Minerva’s…… Like the color of the lightless sky of a new moon’s night, brimming with despair and pain……
“Are you perhaps acquainted to my sister?”
Chris nodded at the Queen’s question. At the same time, the speculations stirring in his heart rapidly solidified into painful truth under the chilling cold— Minerva was the Queen’s elder sister who inherited the cursed bloodline of the Celestials, the true Queen.
“…… Is she okay?”
The young, false Queen’s beautiful face looked as though it was melting due to the tears in her eyes.
“Cornelius. Please release this person. I have something to relay to my sister.”
“Your Majesty, you jest!”
The guards’ clamors were silenced with a look by Cornelius. Silvia did not respond to the voices of dissent, “Please tell my sister that as long as she is safe, I can still persevere…… Ask her not to join any more battles, and look for a peaceful place away from the crowd to live in……”
As Chris heard her words, he could almost hear the sound of his blood boiling in his body as well.
— She can still persevere, she said?
— Stop fighting, she said?
— Can I even say something like that even if I go back alive!
— How could I say it! How could I say that to Minerva!
After the Queen stood up, Cornelius took a step forward. His next action made Chris’ eyes widen— He handed over the sword that Gilberto lent to him thorugh the metal bars.
“My lord, what are you doing!”
After saying that, Cornelius tossed the longsword to the ground. The sound of the sword on the floor was like a block of ice shattering from its impact with the ground.
“This is yours. Take it as use it as you will. And also, just get out from here if you can.”
“…… W- Why……”
Cornelius did not answer, but instead spoke to the guards behind him: “Bring Her Majesty back first. The ventilation here is bad. We can’t have Her Majesty wait here.”
“What about you, my lord?”
“I have something more to speak to the prisoner.”
“Cornelius, please, let him return to my sister’s side!”
“I am glad to oblige to Your Majesty’s kindness.”
Silvia gradually disappeared from Chris’ sight while being surrounded by her guards. The young Queen repeatedly turned around to look at Chris as she was leaving.
After awhile, the dense footsteps gradually disappeared from the stone steps. Chris picked up the longsword lying by his side, at the same time raising his head to look at Cornelius.
“You will kill Silvia with that sword. It’s a prophecy. You did hear it, didn’t you?”
“If so, why…… why did you return the sword to me.”
“Because it’s your fate.”
Cornelius bent down, his face slowly approaching the railings.
“It doesn’t matter if you kill anyone, even Minerva.”
“Tuekay’s power will only be passed on after its owner dies, haven’t you heard of this from Minerva? That is why Silvia and Minerva are sharing the power inherited from their mother, don’t you know? One nation does not need two Queens. As long as one dies, the oracular power will be absorbed by the other.”
“Y- You fieeeennnnnnnnnd!”
“Destiny might change its path just a little because of one person’s efforts, but its path will always be headed to the same end. So no matter who you kill, the other will still fall into my hands.”
Chris suddenly felt a pain as though someone was forcefully clenching his parched throat.
“I now understand why a pair of sisters inherited Tuekay’s power this time. Its purpose is to protect one of them from their unchanging fate of death you brought onto them, allowing her to survive and succeed the position of Queen.”
Hence, even if Chris killed one of them, the other would still survive.
“Beast’s son……” Cornelius’ eyes gleamed suddenly as a smile resembling soldered iron surfaced on his face, “Only you. In this world, only you, the owner of the filthy Brand of the Beast, can kill the Sibyl Queen blessed by Tuekay!”
In his wrath, Chris gripped his longsword, and was about to swing it at the man at the other side of the bars. However, with the movement of one of his fingers, not only did Cornelius stop Chris, it made the nerves in his whole body spasm in agony. Chris could only raise the longsword a few inches from the ground while his wrists were locked in place.
— What…… is this?
Cornelius stepped back from the bars while smiling faintly. At the same time, Chris felt as though his body was pressed down to the floor by a heavy object, unable to move even one finger.
“Therefore, you being born into this world, struggling to clamber before me— all of it was for me. You should just continue to struggle in your pool of blood, right until the last second. Even if you now understand that there is a heavy shackle on your neck right now, you are still unable to change anything.”
“…… I’m going to kill you!”
“Such foolishness. Are you perhaps still unaware of the power of destiny? I was chosen by the Gods. Don’t you understand? I will obtain this country and impregnate the Queen with my flesh and blood. When the girl grows up and gains divine power, I will be the one to kill the Queen. That is what the Oracle Decree had dictated. Do you understand now! You, killing me? What a joke. Being chosen by the Gods, I will not die. When you kill Silvia, the future that she foresaw will be completely shifted to Minerva. Then, Minerva will be the one to bear my child, and the one who will be killed by me.”
“Such, such a future—!”
Severe pain suddenly pulsed on Chris’ forehead. The back of his hand holding the longsword started to heat up as well. Meanwhile, a similar glow surfaced on Cornelius’ hands and forehead.
“Your patron god is the God of Pain and Sacrifice, sustenance for my God of Fortune. For that reason you live. For that reason you struggle. And for that reason you die. Die in the darkness where nobody can reach you. Give in to your fate.”
“…… You, who are you. Why do you know so much about—“
Cornelius rose and left while laughing.
The prison sank into darkness once again. Holding his longsword, Chris rolled on the floor while foaming from the pain of his brands.
New moon was approaching.
The Beast craved for blood.
In his ears, Cornelius, and also Silvia’s words fused together to resound in his mind. That moment, only the feeling of the chilly blade he was holding allowed him to maintain his consciousness that might fade at any moment.
Chris did not know how long he struggled in the darkness. That moment, the stone floor trembled from noise and sound waves of unknown source. Music from stringed instruments and woodwind could be heard, perhaps due to the Queen’s approaching wedding ceremony? The sound of wheels rolling over the stone floor sounded heavy, perhaps due to the number of wedding gifts they were carrying?
However, the sounds were gradually swallowed up by the sound of the Beast, like bubbles surfacing from a quagmire.
All of a sudden, footsteps rang from upstairs, making him spring upright, facing the steel bars while gripping his longsword. The pain in his body even spread to his teeth as light shone upon his eyes. However, when he saw the silhouette at the other side of the bars, he froze, and nearly dropped the sword he was holding as his grip loosened.
The oil lamp illuminated the familiar flaming-red hair, unwavering black eyes seemed to have been frozen on that familiar face, and that person’s clothing was in white……
Standing before him, Minerva’s eyes widened in surprise as well. Her gaze fell on Chris’ hand, “…… Why do you have a sword?”
Minerva’s question made Chris snap out of his shock, and at the same time, hurriedly backed away while gripping his longsword, “W- Wait a minute! Minerva, don’t come close to me—“
Minerva raised her heavy greatsword single-handedly, breaking the lock on the door by just using the weight of the sword body. Chris retreated to the walls, “H- How did you get in!”
“I did not sneak in. It’s quite crowded up there, so I did not even have any need to hide. Alright, let us depart.”
That moment, Chris realized that Minerva’s sword was already caked with dried blood, cloth and grime.
“…… Did you come alone?”
“But of course. How could I have involved other people for things like this.”
“Why did you do all this for m—“
“Because you are my belonging!” Minerva approached and grabbed Chris’ collar, “Didn’t you vow to protect me!”
Her roar made Chris avert his eyes.
“I…… can’t protect you anymore…… Because…… didn’t you see? I killed…… my own comrades…… They weren’t involved in any accident, I killed them with my own hands!”
“Idiot! You had no other choice—“
“It’s not about me having a choice or not!” Chris’ voice brought out from him moist, searing emotions covered up that of Minerva’s, “I had already sank that time, sinking in the feeling of tearing apart flesh and the nostalgic smell of blood! I had fallen! Even though I should have been able to stop it…… I am, a beast. If you come closer to me now, I will probably kill you as well. Cornelius spared my life just so I can kill you……”
“You said…… Cornelius?”
“Yes, I saw the Queen as well…… She told me of a future where she was killed by me as w—“
“Silvia? You saw Silvia? Why!”
As Minerva shouted at Chris, she caught hold of his shoulders and shook it vigorously. Chris explained to her everything that had happened, of Silvia’s wish, Cornelius’ laughter and of the fact that Cornelius returned the sword to him in the end……
“…… So you must listen to Silvia. Run away, leaving your sister and I, escaping by yourself. You cannot be killed by me!”
“Actually, today is the day.”
In an instant, Chris’ breath and vision was drawn by Minerva’s voice, unable to shift away.
“Today is the day when I will be killed by you.”
“T- Then all the more reason for you to—“
“You just need to escort me safely to Silvia’s side. No need to concern yourself with other matters.”
“If that moment truly comes to pass, just do as you will.”
Chris suddenly understood the meaning in Minerva’s words— her hidden wish.
In a corner of Santcarillon, there was a large cathedral with tall clock tower. It was originally a church for the worship of the Palkai gods, but the equipment for worship inside had already been cleared away. Now, the walls were furnished with flags of the Celestial Kingdom, turning the place into the venue for the wedding.
As the aged Duke of Medoccia walked on the cathedral stairs leading to the third floor, he sighed when he saw the revered white walls of the Santcarillon Cathedral tainted by bright purple.
To celebrate the arrival of the Queen, the security in Santcarillon was raised to a baffling level. There was a spear-wielding sentinel in full armor every two steps on each pavement leading to the Cathedral. Meanwhile, the ruler of Medoccia— the Duke of Medoccia was in a state of confinement, and was deterred from taking even one step out from his room.
“My lord, please return to your room.”
A middle-aged soldier who seemed to be the captain of the sentinels warned the Duke of Medoccia in a tone unbefitting of one speaking to a noble, raising his spear slightly at the same time. Although the veins could be seen popping out on his bald forehead, the Duke suppressed his anger and answered: “You probably don’t know how to move and store the equipment used for rituals, do you? We will be extremely troubled if you clumsily heave them out like swords and break them.”
“The ornaments used in worshipping pagan gods won’t be needed from today onwards.”
The surrounding young soldiers burst into laughter at the end of the sentinel captain’s words.
“They’ll have to be disposed of anyway, what harm will there be if there are one or two bumps on them.”
“I- Insolent fool!”
As the Duke roared in anger, he rushed forward to grab the sentinel captain, disregarding his own age. A performance like this was already the most that the Duke could do with all his efforts. Indeed, a group of sentinels hurried over quickly.
“Are you mad!”
“My lord, please calm down!”
“How could you do something so unbefitting of your status on a time of celebration like this!”
Four soldiers rushed forward to pull away the sentinel captain, but that did not suppress the chaotic scene. That moment, the Duke could see servants moving his belongings out of his bedroom at the end of the corridors.
“Damn, get him back to his room and don’t let him out until the secret ritual of the Holy Wedding is complete!”
At the sentinel captain’s orders, his subordinates roughly dragged the Duke of Medoccia on the red carpet back to his room.
When the doors were closed and the sound of clanking armor and footsteps gradually faded, the Duke of Medoccia turned around to look at the old foreman servant standing at a corner of the room. He asked: “Are you sure you were not noticed?”
“Ah, yes, most probably.”
The servant approached the Duke, his back bending over at the same time.
“Is it really okay to do this? If you are noticed, the Celestials will—“
“Silence!” The Duke of Medoccia lowered his voice, but his words still shot at the foreman servant like an arrow: “I have yet to lose my pride!”
“Y- Yes! My apologies, my lord!”
That moment, someone suddenly knocked on the door. The Duke of Medoccia and his servant jumped in shock.
“Duke of Medoccia. Are you there?”
A young, sharp voice pierced through the door. The Duke and the servant slowly approached the door and opened it with a resentful expression.
“I am here to apologize to you.”
The person standing outside the door was Cornelius. He was already wearing the luxurious white robes used in the Holy Wedding.
“O- Oh my, if it isn’t the Consort Prospect…… No, right now it’s more appropriate to call you the Royal Consort.” The Duke of Medoccia said with a small smile.
“I am still not a part of royalty before the secret ritual is completed. Besides, I am here to ask for forgiveness for my subordinates’ rudeness.”
As he responded, Cornelius looked as though he was wearing a human skin mask with a smile carved on. His appearance the Duke break out in cold sweat.
(They haven’t found out, have they?)
(I have to be calm. Act normal.)
“It’s nothing. I was the one who lost my composure. I should be the one apologizing for doing inappropriate actions on your wedding day instead. Please forgive me.”
Cornelius scrutinized the Duke’s small figure and nodded while taking a step back, “Let us meet later then. When the ritual is complete, I shall invite you to the Cathedral as Royal Consort. You will join the festivities of the Weneralia Festival, no?”
“O- Of course.”
The Duke answered with a rigid smile.
The grand Weneralia Festival would be held after the completion of the secret ritual between the Queen, Consort Prospect and a few priests before Tuekay.
(Hmph. I wonder what other commotion would occur before that.)
The Duke of Medoccia leant his back against the door and sighed heavily, as though he was puffing out his internal organs in one breath.
(The only thing that I can do now is to pray.)
(Wait, should I just use this time to escape?)
In deep thought, he shifted his gaze towards the scene outside his windows as the bells of the clock tower rang with the solemn, holy horns.
(The ritual has started……)
Santcarillon Cathedral was a large building with three floors. The second was a balcony built inside the building on the four walls, allowing one to see the whole first floor. Behind the altar on the first floor, there was a wall painting so elaborate that it did not seem to be drawn by human hand. The cathedral could contain at most three thousand people at the same time, and was known to be the largest cathedral in the East.
The third floor of the cathedral was separate from the first and second floors, and was the Divine Chamber where only bishops could enter. This place originally harbored quite a few statues of the Palkai gods, which were placed above the altar surrounded by tall stone pillars. However, the statues were currently shifted away, and were replaced with a flag with the crest of a winged wheel. Delicate Silvia, on the other hand, lied down on the altar in front of the flag. The thin chiffon robe on her made her look as if white feathers were scattered on her body.
There was one row of shrine maidens standing at each of the two sides of the altar chanting holy scriptures. With his head bowed, Cornelius sensed the three priests splashing fragrant oils on Silvia using complicated gestures as he immersed himself in the atmosphere.
“…… Can happiness be obtained? Those who gather sunlight, those who draw moonlight……”
The white-haired priest standing in the middle murmured the holy scriptures. That moment, Cornelius slowly stood up from the ground.
Silvia still had her eyes closed as her body trembled slightly. The elegant curves of her body could be clearly seen after the chiffon robe on her was wetted by fragrant oil.
(Am I really able to obtain her so easily?)
The sermon that sent one into stupors the longer they listened to it continued to resound. However, a loud clatter behind them caused the peace to collapse. All of the priests and shrine maidens hurried raised their heads with their faces pale, and even Silvia opened her eyes in shock.
Cornelius slowly turned around.
The double door of the sacred place looked somewhat far away due to the stone pillars arranged neatly at the two sides of the door. The next thing that attracted their attention was striking red flames and a heavy greatsword reflecting a grey radiance. Apart from that, there was also another silhouette.
A twisted smile surfaced on Cornelius’ face.
(So, will this be the place where fate blossoms?)
One of the uninvited guests collapsed the stone pillar by the door along with the ceiling with a slash of the greatsword, causing the shrine maidens present to scream. The collapsed rocks completely blocked the double door. The duo approached the altar with large strides. Among the panicking priests, Silvia gazed blankly at the intruder while muttering:
That moment, Chris and Minerva already had their whole bodies stained in blood. As Minerva marched towards the altar with Chris behind her, she dragged along her greatsword in her hands, creating a long trail of blood on the white tiles of the Divine Chamber.
They had already killed numerous soldiers of the Celestial Kingdom before they reached. On their way here, they coincidentally passed by a stone bridge connecting two buildings. Minerva collapsed the bridge with her sword, causing hundreds of soldiers to fall to their deaths.
Minerva and Chris couldn’t help but feel that the enemy will catch up soon by using a ladder, and thus resolved to settle everything before that happened.
They could hear Cornerlius reprimanding the priests in front of them.
“Calm down. The guards will be here soon. Be careful not to stain your robes with blood. Keep to the walls!”
“But my lord—“
“I shall protect Her Majesty. Besides, Her Majesty has the protection of the Gods as well. She has no need to fear these scum.”
Silvia’s cry resounded between the stone pillars, causing the frozen air to suddenly tremble. The surrounding priests couldn’t help themselves from starting a discussion, and their reaction was most probably because they realized that Minerva’s red hair and white robe was the same as the Queen beside them.
“N- No! Sister, don’t come closer!”
“…… Silvia, I won’t run away anymore.”
As Minerva answered, she continued to walk while dragging her heavy greatsword.
“All this time, I left the pain for you to bear all by yourself…… But all of this ends here. I will resolve everything at the end of this day.”
“Lady Minerva, nothing will end at the end of this day.”
Cornelius’ lips curved in a smile, and at the same time took out the ornamental sword on the altar, “Your life, your body, and each droplet of blood in your body will be an offering to the Gods. No matter how you struggle, the results will not change.”
With a roar of anger, Minerva dashed forward. Her sleeves danced as she raised her greatsword, creating a whistling sound along the way.
"Minerva, don't let his sword touch you!"
Chris warned Minerva and rushed forward as well.
Cornelius jumped down from the stairs before the altar. Minerva swung her sword in a powerful slash in his direction, forcing her whole weight on the sword, but was deftly deflected by Cornelius with his gold ornamental sword. Deflected from its path, the greatsword slashed at the stone pillar beside them, mercilessly slicing the pillar into half. The shrine maidens shrieked and hurriedly retreated behind the stone pillars at the other side of the room, and were quickly followed by the priests. Cornelius swung his sword at Minerva's back, but his attack was nimbly blocked by Minerva's sword hilt. However, the attack made Minerva lose her balance, spinning backwards in a circle. While Cornelius quickly gave chase, his legs were blocked by the tip of Minerva's greatsword that she flourished as she fell. This gave her a chance to stand up again. The blood on the greatsword as heavy as steel plates splattered onto the pillars, floor and also the robe used for the wedding ceremony on Cornelius.
"You wish to kill me? I, who was chosen from an Oracle Decree? Hah!"
Minerva blocked Cornelius' lunge with her sword body as he continued to laugh maniacally. That moment, Chris thrust his sword directly at Cornelius' throat from behind Minerva. While Chris strongly believed that the attack would be fatal, he did not feel his sword piercing through flesh and blood. Cornelius dodged his attack by millimeters by turning his head away.
"The reason that I evaded your attack was not because I saw through it." After he said that in a jeering tone, he kicked away Chris' sword and hid in the shade behind a stone pillar, "It was because your sword swayed away by itself. I could dodge it even with my eyes closed."
Minerva sprang upwards and swung her sword horizontally at Cornelius' white robe. The greatsword pierced through the stone pillar, but Cornelius had already retreated to the altar. His movements were so quick it was unbelievable.
"Sister, please stop! Hurry up and escape! The guards will be here soon!"
Draped in chiffon, Silvia suddenly gave a wail. The priests who previously ran away had reached the entrance of the Divine Chamber, and were moving away rocks while they picked up a ladder, probably to let the soldiers inside. But before that......
“—Who are you going to kill? Me?
Cornelius’ voice resounded in Chris’ mind. He could not move his legs all of a suddenly, and could only look at Minerva’s silhouette as she approached the altar.
That moment, Cornelius pulled Silvia into his embrace on the altar.
He clasped his left hand on Silvia’s throat, pointed the golden sword in his hand at Minerva, and shifted it to Chris, “Aren’t I the one you wish to kill? No?”
“Let go of Silvia!”
“I am speaking to the Beast’s son. Who are the one you are supposed to kill? Have you remembered?”
That instant, Cornelius’ left hand on Silvia’s throat emitted a pale glow— the insignia. At the same time, Chris suddenly felt a sharp pain on his forehead and hands, as though resonating with the radiance on his hands. Not only his forehead and hands, but his right shoulder as well. Chris’ limbs started to feel like lead. It was as though his whole being was tossed into a winter river. He couldn’t even feel anything with his body. When his hands were raised, he launched an attack on the red-haired girl before him.
Minerva turned around with astonishing reflexes and blocked Chris attack with her greatsword. Strands of cut red hair fluttered in the air. With a dazed expression on him as though in a trance, Chris raised his sword once again.
“…… S- Stop it! Cornelius!”
Chris forced out a few words, but his body could no longer be controlled by his own will. The tip of the longsword drew out a smooth curve in the air directly at Minerva’s head. Although it was blocked by the greatsword, the attack scraped a line on the sword hilt. That moment, Chris could not feel anything apart from the pain from his brands and the wound on his shoulder.
Cornelius burst out into mad laughter at a side, “How foolish. Do you think I will just let you lie there when you lost consciousness?”
The shoulder wound. It was a from Cornelius’ demonic sword. I was too careless. The regret that Chris felt tore at his soul, almost shredding his heart into pieces. Even so, his body continued to launch attacks lethal enough to kill with startling speed and at a sharp angle. He could feel the blood of the Beast in his body penetrating his whole body. Even though Minerva was able to predict his attacks, the speed of his sword was quicker than Minerva could evade. It was impossible for Minerva to block all of his attacks.
“— Minerva, kill me! Kill me, quickly!”
“Idiot! How could I do such a thing! Hurry up and snap out of it! Chris!”
“No! Just kill me already—“
Chris used up all of his energy to cry out, though he still launched an attack directly at Minerva’s back. Minerva’s greatsword flew out of her hands as she spun in a circle, falling at the foot of a stone pillar in the end. The follow-up attack cut a deep gash on Minerva’s thigh. If not for her quick speed, the attack might have already severed her leg instead. Minerva bled as her back rammed heavily onto the stone pillar.
Chris’ limbs were already numb. The only reason he could move was due to someone manipulating his body, forcing him to take action. However, now that Minerva had no weapon on her, it was impossible for her to escape due to her leg injury.
Chris swung the blood of his longsword, and took one step, another step and another, slowly advancing on Minerva.
“Beast’s son. Choose whoever you wish to kill.”
After he said that, Cornelius loosened his grip on Silvia and released her.
Chris saw the Queen run towards Minerva with her frail body as his consciousness continued to flicker.
“Cornelius! Please, let my sister go!”
“That is something that the Beast shall decide on. It has been predetermined to be so.”
Cornelius said coolly and stepped on rubble on the ground as he walked towards the two Queens.
Minerva clung her sister’s arm as she raised her gaze. Blood trickled down her face, creating a trail of blood that gave her beautiful features a sense of heart wrenching melancholy.
Chris heard Minerva call his name. The eyes as clear as the new moon gazed at him, making him feel severe pain from his brands.
“Kill us both,” mumbled Minerva in a low voice, as though in prayers. Silvia, who was beside her, couldn’t help but stare at her sister’s face as a look of surprise surfaced on her face. Chris’ hazy consciousness was thus shocked into clarity by Minerva’s voice. That moment, the sisters were standing together in an embrace before Cornelius, whose brands were glowing on his hands.
“End this bloodline once and for all…… Right now, you are the only one who can do this.”
“How foolish,” Cornelius spat out the words, “This beast is currently in my control. I shall not allow that to occur. Is that what you desire?”
“Sister, no…… Don’t.”
Silvia continued to shake her head with tears trailing down her face as she stood in Minerva’s embrace.
“If you truly wish for such a thing to occur, then you might as well strangle your sister right now and commit suicide after that. However, that is impossible. You are neither capable of murdering your sister nor committing suicide, for you are a human. That is why we push such filthy matters on the beast. It is the same for you and I.”
When Chris saw Minerva’s face contort in agony, he knew the truth.
He understood that it was as Cornelius had said.
“The fact that you will be the one remaining, and also the fact that your sister will be the one to remain. You fear them both. Can’t you see? This fear has also been predetermined as well!”
“…… Yes. I…… have already……”
Trails of tears flowed down Minerva’s face that was drained of color. That moment, Chris finally understood.
— I see now. So this, is the reason.
Cornelius frowned. He noticed that his control on Chris had weakened just a little. Minerva opened her eyes moist with tears and gazed at Chris. Probably, that was because Chris was laughing.
“…… Minerva, I finally understand.”
“What…… do you understand?”
“I finally understand why I devoured your omens of death.”
The jet black eyes moved in confusion in its sockets glistening with tears.
Why would the Beast that should have devoured fortunes of other people, bringing disaster upon them devour Minerva’s death?
“Minerva, it is because you have always desired death. In that way, you will be free from all the pain on you, and your fate of being killed by me is your desired happiness…… Isn’t that right?”
Minerva did not answer. She hugged her sister even tighter as she continued to shed tears. From that, Chris perceived that it was the answer to all his questions.
— That was the reason.
— The Beast devoured Minerva’s fortune, allowing her to live on……
The brand on Chris’ forehead shone in overbearing heat. The strong sense of pain even started blurring his vision.
“…… Such folly. If so, bestow upon her the fortune that she so desires, Beast’s son.”
Silvia suddenly started struggling in her sister’s embrace right after Cornelius said that, “Stop! Don’t kill my sister, let me—“
That moment, feeling returned to Chris’ limbs once again. He stepped forward one step after another, making the flesh and muscles in his body wail out in protest. But in his vision, a trace of a smile surfaced on Minerva’s face.
“…… Then let that be so,” murmured Minerva, “That must surely be the reason for my encounter with y—”
“Don’t mess with me!” Before Minerva even finished her words, Chris blocked out her words with a roar of fury, “I did not stay by your side for this to happen!”
“W- What are you—”
— I did not meet you to kill you!
— If escaping from pain to death is the only hope in your life……
“I’ll devour that fate of yours!”
Tears on Minerva’s face fell on a lock of hair on her chest, shattering into dazzling fragments.
Meanwhile, Cornelius gave a wail of wrath and raised his hand on which his insignia was glowing high into the air. Dark energy flowed into Chris’ body, making him slowly extend his right hand holding the longsword. That moment, Chris twisted his neck and gave his arm a sharp bite.
“You brute! Doing such meaningless actions!”
Chris’ teeth pierced deeply into his flesh. Intense pain spread from his ears to his eyes. Even so, the movements of his right arm did not stop. That moment, he realized that the frustrating sense of numbness of his legs had disappeared, turning into extreme pain. Silvia, who stood in front of Minerva in an attempt to shield her, retaliated with her bloodstained foot. Chris saw himself reflected in her black eyes. The Beast Brand shining on his forehead was displaying his filthy name.
“Sister! Let go of me—“
Silvia struggled by twisting around her body. That moment, the pair of sisters had their gazes locked onto each other. The reflection of the Beast disappeared from Chris’ view as well, leaving only one thing— sound.
The Beast’s howls shook Chris’ skull.
(Eat up their fates till the end!)
His right hand was raised unconsciously all of a sudden. The sound of a blade thirsty for blood shattered the Oracle Decree bestowed by Tuekay.
That moment, noise echoed from somewhere far away— the sound of an old brass wheel toppling.
The sound of collision of bloodstained fangs pouncing upon rusted axles.
The sound of wings breaking, feathers scattering.
It was the sound of fate being distorted.
It was that which Minerva and Silvia had seen— death.
A blade piercing through the brows— it was reflected on their jet black eyes— Not in the least stained by blood, the sword body was as smooth as crystals—
The right part of Chris’ body burnt in intense pain. The sound of coming death that resounded from the wound that his teeth tore open muffled out the roars of the Beast that devoured fortune. The bloodied fingers that lost all feeling loosened, allowing the sword hilt to slip away, letting it fall, and fall—
It pierced through the space between the eyes of the duo.
Chris saw Cornelius’ contorted face, and also the insignia shining on the back of his raised left hand— the crystalline blade had pierced through the sign of the one who was blessed with fortune, penetrating his robe worn for a majestic ceremony, stabbing into his chest.
All of a sudden, the sound of fate collapsing dispersed from Chris’ mind. He fell on his knees as reality surfaced before his eyes at the speed of light. He tried to grasp something, but no energy was left in his trembling fingers. Finally—
He caught it. A warm hand gripped his wrist, at the same time supporting his body that nearly collapsed.
The screen controlling him that shielded his consciousness and various parts of his body had completely disappeared. He felt a surge of pain two times as severe as before. Only a thin strand of thread kept together his joints that almost fell apart. The chilling touch sank deep into every part of his body.
At the fallen altar, Cornelius was nailed to the wall with a longsword. Blood from his chest stained his robe red as his trembling hands raised weakly to pull out the blade, but fell again halfway through. Before he died, a radiant smile was still plastered on Cornelius’ face.
In the end, these images gradually distorted in Chris’ eyes as well as his consciousness faded. Pain, scorching heat and cold body temperature fused into one.
But he did not fall.
He felt arms around him in an embrace while red hair dangling before his eyes stuck to his forehead.
It hurt. The voice calling his name, the fingers gripping his skin, one of his wounds pulsing somewhere on his body, all of them hurt. The droplets falling on his chest felt hot like scorching iron.
“Y- You, you idiot! D- Doing something like this—”
Not one bit of heat remained anywhere in Chris’ body. Because of that, he could only maintain his fading consciousness by clutching onto the sound by his ears. He tried not to let his consciousness fade into oblivion, as he saw Minerva’s crying face, crying in sorrow just like any other ordinary girl.
The voice made Minerva jump in shock. Chris turned his neck slightly in his overwhelming pain, shifting his gaze towards the direction that Silvia’s finger was pointing at. Sounds of someone pushing on the door could be heard from the rubble. As the door gave way, the rubble piled up in front of the door collapsed.
Armored soldiers filled the whole corridor outside. The oil lamps that they were holding illuminated the whole Divine Chamber.
“Your Majesty!” “My lord, are you alright!”
The soldiers who rushed inside kicked away the debris under their feet. Minerva quickly grabbed her greatsword lying on the ground and placed Chris in Silvia’s lap. When she was about to take a step forward, she clutched her leg due to severe pain and bent down.
“Sister, I shall stop them!”
It’s impossible…… was what Chris wanted to say, but he couldn’t make any noise. Murderous intent surfaced in the eyes of the surrounding soldiers.
“H- Hey, the Archduke is……” “Murdered!”
“Your Majesty! Who are these people!” “Your Majesty, please get away from the assassins!”
— Have we any choice but to charge outside?
— Minerva’s leg is injured, and my arms can’t move…… Even so……
— How can we die at a place like this?
With a howl, Minerva raised her greatsword, blocked the spear targeting her and knelt down once more. Her abdomen was kicked, and she was pressed down to the floor after she fell.
Chris hurried over, but tripped over the hilt of a spear that was viciously swung under his feet, causing him to ram into a pillar. He heard Silvia’s cries of shock, but he was already so confused that he didn’t even know where his limbs connected to his body anymore. Chris did not give up, and tried to search for any energy remaining in his body……
— Move! Move already! Blast!
— We already came this far! At a place like this, how can we—!
Just at that moment, the soldier pressing Minerva’s shoulders down suddenly gave a harsh cry as his body arched unnaturally backwards— a dagger pierced accurately into the slit between the helmet and the armor. The soldier’s eyes widened so much that his eyeballs nearly popped out of its sockets as he fell. The death of the soldier in heavy armor started a commotion around him.
“What!” “What is this!” “Where is the attack coming fro—”
As projectiles whistled through the air, wails arose from numerous soldiers of the Celestial Kingdom once again. This time, bows and daggers rained simultaneously on them, making them fall onto the white tile stones one after another.
“Wha- D- Dammiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!”
All of a sudden, a soldier beside Chris pulled him to his feet by his arm. Extreme pain tore apart his nerves. However, a sharp flash severed the soldier’s arm from his shoulder. His companions were dumbfounded at the look of the soldier spurting blood while rolling on the ground.
With a look of disbelief, Chris raised his head to see a tall, silver-haired man clad in black standing before him. In his hands, he held a longsword stained in blood that was just extracted from a corpse. It was still reflecting light like a mirror.
“Didn’t I tell you not to let go of this sword no matter any situation you encounter?”
The man glared at Chris coldly for a moment and swiftly swung his sword to sever the throat of a soldier approaching with a spear. When he turned around, he cut off the shoulders of a soldier lunging at Minerva.
“T- This…… Where did he come out from!” “Isn’t that Gilberto of Zaccaria!”
Discussion turned into wails of despair. Chris’ eyes widened when he turned around. In the chamber, not only was there Nicolo who kept on throwing daggers, there were other members of the Order who seemed to have popped out from the underground as well.
No, they really did come out from under the floorboards. There was a staircase under the altar. After dashing out from the staircase, they formed a human wall, pushing the formation of Celestial Kingdom soldiers back. The person who walked up the stairs was a silhouette with dazzling golden hair— Francesca.
She glanced at Chris, giving him a relieved smile and walked directly in Silvia’s direction.
“Your Majesty, please pardon my rudeness.”
Without waiting for Silvia’s answer, Francesca slipped a coat with white, wing-like sleeves onto her and withdrew a dagger.
The proclamation of the daughter of the Duke of Zaccaria echoed in the whole Divine Chamber.
Francesca only brought along twenty men with her. Apart from that, there was also Minerva, who sustained all sorts of injuries, Chris, who was at the brink of death, and the Queen of the Celestial Kingdom, Silvia, who was still wearing the robes exclusively for the secret ritual of the Holy Wedding. The Celestial Army focused their murderous gazes on them. However, they still walked through the courtyard of Santcarillon in clear view, exiting the city from the East Gate in a dignified manner.
It was all due to the dagger that Francesca kept pressed onto Silvia’s neck.
With his heavy injuries, not only was Chris unable to walk, he could not even stand up and had to be carried by Gilberto. Although Gilberto’s way of carrying him at his side was rather rough, it still helped a little in maintaining Chris’ consciousness as his wounds were rattled time after time.
When they stepped into the area without the city gate surrounding it, they finally realized the majestic strength of the cold night wind. The chilly wind soothed the burning pain a little. The pain on the wounded faded gradually like a dream, probably since their receptors of pain gradually numbed.
The solitary new moon rose in the starless night skies, chasing their footsteps to any place.
“It’s all thanks to the Duke of Medoccia this time……”
Francesca muttered as they left Santcarillon, reaching a patch of grassland.
“But I do hope that they won’t realize that he led us inside.”
It was said that the person who brought Francesca and her men inside using the escape route of the Santcarillon Cathedral, from the underground graveyard to the top floor of the cathedral, was the Duke of Medoccia. He pretended to be humble and servile under the flag of the Celestial Army, but in reality retained his pride of a commander, with his heart in the campsite of the Allied Army that he was a part of.
“But how in the world did you meet the Duke of Medoccia?”
Minerva was carried on Nicolo’s back. She muttered with a flushed look of displeasure:
“I already said that I didn’t want to drag you in……”
“He sent someone to stuff us into crates containing gifts, then carried us into the city. But thanks to his plan, all of us are aching all over.”
The surrounding knights burst into laughter at the same time at Nicolo’s answer. So that was why they weren’t wearing armor…… Chris finally understood the reason behind that. Although everyone was laughing happily, if there was just one chick in their battle plan, the infiltration unit would have been in danger of total eradication, like if someone asked to see the contents of the crate, or if someone realized that the Duke of Medoccia was acting as a spy, or if the Queen was not at their final destination…… All of them were dangers that could not be overlooked.
— Why did they use such a risky tactic?
Chris looked in incomprehension at Francesca’s white face that shone with a clear radiance under the moon.
“…… Because I am Francesca da Zaccaria. Won’t that reason suffice?”
As though seeing through the questions in Chris’ heart, Francesca gave him a smile.
A line of people met up with another unit awaiting further orders with their horses on a bridge. Over there, they allowed Chris to rest on a wooden plank, making him feel his temperature evaporate little by litt.e
Almost all of the knights were on horseback. That moment, Francesca said to Silvia: “Your Majesty, now, I will have to ask you to return by yourself. It is our deepest regret that we are unable to escort you back.”
Hearing that, Minerva hurriedly clutched her sister’s hand, questioning Francesca’s previous statement: “What are you talking about. We should take Silvia away as well!”
“No, we cannot bring Her Majesty back to the Allied Army.”
“If so, this war will never truly end. The Three Great Duchies have yet to be vanquished while the priests of the Inner Palace who tied down the taxes of the nations have yet to disappear. If so, nothing will have changed.”
Minerva frowned in displeasure.
Seeing her reaction, Silvia placed her hand gently on her shoulder— That moment, the younger Silvia looked as though she was older than her elder sister, weathered like an old tree that experienced vicissitudes of the seasons.
“It is as she said. Please understand her feelings.”
“W- W- What are you talking about, Silvia! If you return to the Celestial Kingdom, you will once again—”
“But if I go to Zaccaria, this war will no longer involve only the Celestial Kingdom and the Allied Army.”
Hearing Silvia’s words, Minerva caught hold of the hand on her shoulder. She gripped Silvia hand. Piteous trembling could be felt from it. In fact, Minerva knew in her heart that it was the truth. After all, if a small nation welcomes the Queen, it will bring conflict upon the country and the other members of the Alliance, while the Celestial Kingdom would send troops to reclaim the Queen as well, and might not hesitate to burn down one or two territories of the Duke of Zaccaria, attacking them again and again.
“That is why I must return to Santuario. To reduce the scale of the war and to bring peace, there is no other wa—”
“If all that you have said were true—” Minerva couldn’t help but press her face closer to Silvia’s shoulders in agitation, “Then for what reason did I bring you……”
“I saw you.”
Under the rays of moonlight from the new moon, Silvia stretched out her hand to caress a strand of her sister’s red hair as she said in a gentle tone: “Even for a little while, as long as I can see you, I already feel happy. Besides, there are so many people around you who will protect you!”
The words drifted into Chris’ wounds, causing deep pain as though salt was penetrating his flesh.
“But you don’t have them!”
“I have you. Even if we are apart, our blood ties cannot be severed. Our hearts are still connected.”
“Then I shall return to Santuario with you!”
“Sister, please don’t say something so willful. To those who are here, you are an irreplaceable existence.”
Minerva could not think of anything to rebuke her anymore. With her head dropped in speechlessness, her sobs did not stop for a long time.
“Your Majesty, the horse……?”
Silvia smiled softly at Francesca’s question and shook her head, “I have never rode a horse before.”
“My deepest apologies. We have offended you so much, and still have to ask you to walk back in the end……”
“No, it’s fine. After all, it has been a while since I went for a walk outside the city by myself. I might as well enjoy the road. However, the weather is rather chilly. May I borrow a cape?”
Francesca bowed down her head deeply at Silvia’s request.
“If the war ends one day, and we still have a chance to meet……”
“Can you teach me how to ride?”
“It will be my greatest honor.”
The Queen turned around and left. All who were present watched her depart without even a glance backwards. Only Minerva had her back onto the bridge as she squatted down on the ground, silently running her hand through the soil to hold back the agitation in her heart.
That night was so quiet that one could almost hear the moon spinning on its orbit.
When the small silhouette disappeared in the swaying grassland, Francesca ordered her men to pour oil on the bridge and burn it down. After all, when the Queen returns to Santcarillon, there will surely be soldiers in pursuit.
Blazing flames split the fates of Minerva and Silvia into branching pathways once again.
“Let us depart!”
Francesca jumped onto her saddle while Minerva refused to budge on the ground. Seeing the injury on her leg, Nicolo shrugged, “She won’t be able to ride like this.”
“Never mind. Just leave me here.”
Minerva spat out the words in displeasure, making Francesca sigh heavily, “Do we only have one plank? It can’t be helped then. Chris, lie to a side and make some space. Let Minerva sleep with you.”
“What! H- How can that be! Ack! S- Stop, stop! Let go of me!”
Ignoring her protests, Nicolo grabbed her and easily carried her to the plank. Due to her pain, she couldn’t even protest in a rougher way. In a fluster, Chris moved away to leave some space by his side for Minerva.
“Should we just tie them both together so that they won’t fall down?”
“Fran! I’ll remember this!”
While laughing, the surrounding knights carried the plank which Chris and Minerva lied upon by its four corners. That moment, the two on the plank had their back to each other, and could not see each other’s faces. However, Chris knew that flow of tears in Minerva’s eyes had yet to be stilled. He did not know how to comfort him, and could only grip the hand touching his. The temperature from it was not scorching heat, but warmth from a person.
That moment, Chris suddenly recalled the brands on Cornelius. He thought that his brands were proof of his cursed fate that belonged only to him. However, Cornelius let slip the name of Gods when he mentioned the brands: the God of Fortune, God of Pain…… He did not know if the power in him was as Cornelius had said, the power of one who owned a brand. However, he knew that he could never escape the fate that awaited him. At the same time, he knew that he would have to struggle in such cruel fate.
Minerva called Chris’ name in a voice that was almost muffled by the sounds of hooves and wind through the grassy land.
He did not turn around, and just let his shoulders show his response.
“Say, when I asked you to kill me, you looked sad……” She tightened her grip on Chris’ hand slightly, “I forgot about you…… I forgot that I said that I kept you by my side to suppress that power of yours……”
— That…… was the same for me……
“I forgot…… Sorry.”
“…… You don’t need to apologize. I am not angry. After all……”
As he spoke, he felt the warmth on his back shift as she moved.
“I don’t really know how to say this as well…… Well, probably…… it’s because of you, Minerva.”
Chris felt Minerva turn her head around abruptly.
“I didn’t want you to die…… I want to prevent that from happening no matter what. So…… there’s no particular reason, that is, I don’t have any other motives. I just want you to live on, that’s all……”
All of a sudden, the slender fingers clasping onto Chris’ five fingers tightened its grip so much that her nails sank into his flesh.
“…… Minerva? T- That hurts.”
“Shut up! Be quiet!”
“D- Did I say anything wrong?”
“Stop talking! Idiot! Don’t turn around, don’t look!”
Chris turned around to look at Minerva’s reaction. However, she immediately turned her head away. Messy hair covered her face, but Chris did indeed see a faint blush on the skin below the strands of hair.
— Perhaps making such a request was just too willful of me.
Chris turned to his side and gazed at the new moon that was slender like a strand of silver in the night sky, and at the same time reaffirmed the warmth behind him.
— I might have to continue to bear the pain of death upon me……
— But I hope that Minerva will be able to live on.
— Even if what she faces…… is a gentle pain that can take away all the pain on her, I shall give it my all to devour that death.
The slender fingers clasping his own curled around his whole palm. Her grip was strong, even stronger than just now.
“…… Minerva, it really hurts. Your grip is too strong, can you relax—”
“Idiot, I- I’m afraid that you will fall down from here!”
Perhaps due to the fact that the surrounding people heard Minerva’s overly loud shout, except for the knights on horseback, even Francesca turned around in a fit of giggles to look at them from the front.
“So……” Minerva hurriedly lowered her voice. She thought, Chris was probably the only one who could hear that, “So don’t you leave my side as you wish.”
Chris did not answer, but just tightened his grip on the small hand, feeling the warmth spreading from it.
— From today onwards, I shall fight for this cause.
— Even if it is just a struggle against my fate, it does not matter.
— From today onwards, my blood shall flow for Minerva.
He closed his eyes. In the night sky that he could see from the bottom of his eyelids, the new moon gave him a peaceful smile.
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