Chapter 62:

Starlight Sanctuary

Lovely kNight

Ophikka and I had sat side by side while traveling to the castle proper. While making headway to our destination, we’d both shared in friendly conversation and exchanged life stories. Even if I’d fallen in spirit thinking of Juna’s pain, he’d effortlessly swept those feelings away as we’d both laughed merrily together.

We’re greeted by a butler and a maid as soon as we enter the castle. They take Ophikka’s cape with a formal and refined finesse. They bow to their master who thanks them before he and I progress forward.

“There’s a special place in this castle I’ve wanted you to see for quite some time. It’ll be a bit of a stroll so all the while we walk to it, I’d like to share a secret with you.”

“A secret?” I ask him, curiosity well piqued.

We take to the halls and he begins his conversation while free from a single care.

“My family lineage is said to have been blessed with an innate gift. It is written to be a key reason as to why we were chosen to become the royalty which would keep watch over Celestia. The legend tells that it was due to this gift that the first maidens were able to have been chosen for the first Celestial Knight.”

“Truly? It’s been something I’ve wondered over since I’d first… had it revealed to me that I’d be building relationships with maidens. How is it that the kingdom is able to discover who would be a Celestial Maiden? I’ve heard so many different accounts that I’ve never been quite sure.”

“It’s simple really. The royal family is able to sense the presence of Celestial Maidens. Truthfully whatever tests the maidens had spoken of having had applied to themselves was merely an act of misdirection. Many are fearful of innate abilities and may very well doubt the validity of them. So my family has long employed placebos to help those maidens and whoever else may have a skeptical spirit trust that what is said it truth.”

“What you mean to say is…” I begin yet trail off as the answer walks directly beside me.

“You are a wise man so I’m sure you’ve already come to understand the truth. The tests had not revealed the maidens for who they are. In great thanks to my heritage’s blessed gift, I was able to discern who was and wasn’t a maiden for all until this point. And as I’d discovered each and every one, I’d made sure to keep records of their person and wait for the day they would be prepared to serve the kingdom. I had first met with each maiden in secret before they were told of their own special destiny. It’s often that I would go into the kingdom to seek for them.”

“Then what about Juna? When had you come to know she was a maiden.”

Stepping past a series of rich, red banners hemmed with gold, he turns to me with the most pleased expression on his face. There’s a sparkling in his lively green eyes as he laughs pleasantly.

“Although I’d felt her presence before, it was the moment I’d met her while she’d taken your side at the tournament. From that moment, I knew beyond doubt that you’d been in the presence of a Celestial Maiden for so many years. It was the most opportune of circumstances. Though I do wonder if it was some playing of fate that you two would have known each other well as friends since your youth.”

“This is all so shocking but it does answer many questions. How Plutia knew that Juna was a maiden from their first meeting. And how the maidens had been chosen from the kingdom. So you’re the one who’d discovered them.”

“I’m sure you can now glean understand as to why I’d taken an interest in speaking with Jupa after our first meeting. It was quite a surprise when I’d felt that familiar sensation inside during that banquet. I’d searched every face in attendance until I’d found her. It was unintended that I’d shocked her as I’d approached her so suddenly. It was fortunate that she’s quite nimble on her feet lest she may have dropped her tray.”

The red carpet comes to an end before a hallway that is unlike any other. Its stone work is a stark contrast to the rest of the castle, being differentiated with a defined line. The walls are pale in their color with a hint of blue paint. Though the most peculiar sight is set on the polished floor.

Abstract red patterns line the path to the end of the hall. Each and every mark is crafted from painted roses curling, spiraling and lacing together in bouquets of red petals and verdant stems. Even the tiniest spot contains numerous roses.

Ophikka leads the way with slower steps while immersed in thought. He keeps his eyes on the red patterns and places his feet down upon them with pauses in his stride. Continuing until we reach the blue and golden doors at the hall’s end.

He places his hands on the entryway and ponders to himself for a spell before he gently presses forward to reveal the grand, breathtaking room beyond.

Open and round. Its center raises into a raised circular platform. Upon that platform is a large bed with luxurious, soft cushions and blankets. Eight pillars encircle the platform and cradle the clear glass ceiling which rains down the light of the heavens on us so purely it’s as if it’s a divine calling. Each and every wall is painted with fine and intricate patterns as an irreplaceable masterpiece surrounding us.

The crimson decorations of the hallway find their conclusion upon the steps leading way to platform. Their end is a marvelous grand finale of the greatest bundle of roses intertwining and blossoming beautifully. The way the roses drip down the steps is an artistic touch that brings a peculiar, almost otherworldly life to its beauty.

I pace around the room and take it all in while Ophikka stands still and stares to the roses on the steps. His eyes are fraught with emotion as he looks to the sky and watches the soft clouds drift across the deep blue heavens. I return to him and speak my wondering.

“What is this place? I’ve never seen anything like it. These murals, the view of the heavens and these paintings of roses…”

“This is a sacred place with a magnificent purpose. A purpose that will be revealed in time.”

“So this is a sacred place… I think I can see why. It’s so peaceful.”

He gestures to the extraordinary sights surrounding us and basks in beautiful light descending upon us.

“The Starlight Sanctuary.”

✩ ✩ ✩

Ophikka sat beside the coiling roses and I ventured to join him. Despite how great my curiosity of this fantastic place was, he’d desired that I would first tell him of my own situations. So I’d explained the circumstances of Juna’s reevaluation.

“It’s a shame to hear that any servant sent would be subject to bias. That man has served the kingdom from long before my own reign. He has a sort of tenure but this matter must be investigated.”

“I’m a bit lost with what he’d spoken. That he’d asked if I would save the kingdom. I don’t know what to believe in. It all feels like a tangled web.”

“I would understand that yourself and Juna have your honor and pride to uphold. Though it is my desire, in respects to yourselves, I won’t be simply overpowering the law to bequeath the ranking of kingdom mage knight. Though I would hope that I could be allowed to assist yourselves with your circumstances in whatever way possible.”

I come to ponder if I should expose to him the situations of Chamelis’ investigation and the operation that would be coming later in the day. Yet when I remember the emotionless face the judge had worn as she’d delivered her verdict; the very devastation she’d brought into Juna’s life, I discard the thought.

“I’m grateful for your sentiments. For now my friends and I will be doing what we can on the matter. I’ll let you know what becomes of it as it continues.”

“I understand.” He acquiesces with a small nod. “If ever you would change your minds, I am here waiting and willing to assist. Be careful that your knightly honor doesn’t ever work to stumble either of you. I apologize that it may be blunt or even unsavory words to speak, but it is my concern that you may reject help when it is there for you. When it is okay to have that kind of assistance from a friend.”

A still comes to us but Ophikka is satisfied well enough with my recounting of events. He returns his eyes to the skies overhead while the sun rays fall on his gentle features and bring them to light. Sighing an entire world of emotion welling up from within, he tells me of the Starlight Sanctuary.