“I…… I am listening to confessions. I am a priest.”
I felt as if I needed to respond sincerely after seeing the glare on his face.
No, I didn’t get scared by a kid… absolutely not.
“Hmph, you’re doing things you weren’t even told to do.”
The boy coldly responded. I reacted slowly because I had not expected such an attitude.
‘What kind of place has kids who are so rude to adults they met for the first time? No, no, no, no. That’s not the problem right now.’
‘Please pull the rope to your left if you need anything or are in danger.’
I reached my hand to the left after remembering Vice Captain Élisabeth’s words.
“I can call the Imperial doctor if you’re not feeling well. Just wai……”
I had chills from head to toe.
I moved out of instinct and slowly turned my head to see something metal that had just barely missed my cheek.
A sharp dagger had cut the end of the rope to my left and was stabbed into the wall of the Confessional.
The cut handle was rolling on the ground. I quickly turned toward the boy.
There was a hole in the wooden window from the dagger.
I guess he doesn’t want me to call them.
The boy’s voice trailed off near the end.
I heard something falling.
“Hold on, I’ll be right there. I won’t call anybody else.”
My mind was a mess, but I grabbed the handle on the floor and shoved it into my sleeve.
I then walked out of the Confessional and saw a knight at the temple door bowing to me.
“Your highness, we are about to bring in the next penitent.”
“Please wait a minute. I want to see what this side looks like.”
I just said whatever came to mind.
They must have thought I wanted a break as the knight bowed and closed the door.
I should have bought myself at least ten minutes with that.
“I’m coming in. I won’t do anything to you.”
I quietly said that outside the Confessional before quickly opening the door to the other side.
I immediately saw the little kid on the ground.
I knelt down and cautiously checked the child’s condition.
I made sure to close the door behind me as well.
“Hey buddy, you’re sweating a lot.”
I knew that it wasn’t smart to be concerned about a mysterious young boy who seemed to pop in out of nowhere.
I couldn’t let my guard down around a kid since I was almost killed by two very young punks a few days ago.
“Do you have a fever?”
He shouldn’t be able to harm me if I have my Holy Domain open.
“Don’t touch me.”
The boy sharply yelled and smacked my arm away.
The child’s orange eyes looked as if they were on fire. He seemed to be about seven years old.
The boy was much younger than Ganael and the other attendants.
He had a large black robe over him and the way he was pushing me away even as he was shaking made him resemble a small animal.
“How did you get in here? How do you plan on leaving? This older brother will help you.”
‘This little punk just sneered at me, didn’t he?’
I was getting annoyed despite being concerned about him.
“Fine, this mister will help you. I think your condition will get worse if you stay here. The floor is hard and cold.”
I quickly responded.
I raised my arms above my head so that the boy could see what I am doing before slowly reaching out.
The child just stared at me without moving this time.
“……You don’t know anything.”
“I guess I’ve been caught. Can you keep that a secret and not tell other people?”
I had a bitter smile on my face as I put my hand on his forehead. It really was as hot as a fireball.
“I guess I should have packed some medicine.”
I didn’t even think about how someone might be sick even though I knew I would be meeting a lot of people for confessions.
I wondered whether I should ask Benjamin to pack some simple things like aspirin or pepto bismol or whatever they use here as fever reducers or digestive medicine.
“Don’t say a word about what you saw today.”
His weak but firm voice broke me out of my thoughts. The boy then grabbed my wrist.
I suddenly felt as if the ground under me disappeared.
It felt as if the world was spinning. It kept spinning until everything went blurry.
I could see my circle that was lit up like a spotlight slowly becoming dimmer.
“You, what did you……”
I did not get a response.
The boy’s black hair became darker while his orange pupils turned red.
I lost consciousness once my Holy Domain completely disappeared.
* * *
Déjà vu is the feeling of having experienced something already.
“Hello, little prince. This is already the second time seeing you like this.”
What do they call it when you feel like you’ve experienced something for the third time?
“But you woke up within a day this time. Your Divine Power must have gotten stronger since the last time.”
Cardinal Aurélie Boutier gently smiled with a gaze that seemed to be praising me.
I blankly stared at her before snapping out of it and sitting up.
Familiar furniture and beautiful wallpaper filled my view. This was my bedroom.
“……Prince Jesse greets her noble Eminence, Madam Cardinal.”
“Yes, hello again.”
“Did I faint at the temple?”
“It was my incompetence. I ask for your forgiveness, your highness.”
I heard a familiar voice from the other side.
Vice Captain Élisabeth was standing to the left of the bed with a grim expression on her face with a pale Ganael next to her.
“No, it wasn’t your fault, Vice Captain Élisabeth. Ganael, I’m okay.”
I tried my best to smile.
‘I really hope that this is the last time that I wake up somewhere other than where I close my eyes. None of the three times were my choice either.’
“You lost consciousness because of aether depletion. You must have worked really hard listening to people’s confessions.”
I turned my head back to the right side of the bed. The Cardinal slowly started explaining.
“Your body will be in a state of shock from aether depletion if the speed of aether leaving your body is faster than the amount naturally being created inside you.”
“You can consider it the opposite of the aether overload you experienced last time. That was where the aether creation speed becomes extremely fast and shocks the body.”
She stopped talking and slowly brought her teacup to her mouth.
My mind was quickly moving to organize my thoughts despite having just woken up.
“Does that aether depletion thing strike suddenly like that?”
Her elegant brows slightly furrowed at my question.
She seemed to be contemplating something.
“The flow of my aether was fine until I fainted. There were no other symptoms, and then all of a sudden……”
I couldn’t finish my sentence. Black hair and orange eyes.
The boy’s handsome face suddenly popped up in my mind.
“Was there nothing around me when you found me?”
“Yes, sir, nobody was there as we had not let any penitents in at that time.”
My mouth closed on its own at Vice Captain Élisabeth’s response.
The last words I heard echoed in my ears.
‘Don’t say a word about what you saw today.’
Why had he given me such a warning? Was he on the run or something? Did he commit a crime?
He seemed too young to have done that.
Even if he had committed a crime, it was weird for a criminal to try to hide in the Temple at the Imperial Palace.
Wouldn’t most criminals try to get as far away from the palace as possible?
“Should I call the Imperial doctor, your highness?”
Ganael gently grabbed my arm.
He must be worried since I suddenly became quiet.
“No, I am fine thanks to her Eminence taking good care of me. I was just thinking about something.”
I responded as brightly as I could.
Looking into Ganael’s young honey-colored eyes reminded me of the determined gaze of the young boy who had grabbed my wrist.
A thought popped into my mind at that moment.
“Your Eminence, is it possible to suck aether out of someone else’s body?”
“As you already know, I have not learned anything regarding this. I am doing my best to study by using books these days, but……”
She responded to my question in a low voice.
“Priests and Holy Knights are able to give and receive aether from each other through bodily contact. They could also do it by opening their circles, but physical touch is the most effective way.”
I gently nodded my head as if I was just randomly asking it.
But my mind was as complicated as the gears inside a clock.
‘It was that child.’
My instincts were telling me that was the case.
The sudden dizziness and the feeling of my body falling to the ground…
All of that happened because that little thief grabbed my wrist and stole my aether.
‘Why had he done that? Did he need aether?’
I recalled how unstable the boy had been.
‘Were his fever and sweating a result of aether depletion? Then maybe that child is……’
“It is something that happened a lot back in the warring period…… It is rare for something like that to happen these days. There is generally no need for a large amount of aether.”
Vice Captain Élisabeth was the one to break me out of my thoughts. Her expression seemed odd when I turned toward her.
Her ash-colored pupils were shaking, and she seemed a bit angry.
I nodded my head at her.
“In addition to her Eminence and myself, are there any……”
– Knock knock.
Cardinal Boutier quickly responded to the knocking.
My question about whether there were any other priests in the Imperial Palace was cut off.
“You’re up, your highness.”
Benjamin walked in and seemed extremely relieved after noticing that I was awake.
I smiled and greeted him with my eyes.
“His royal highness, Imperial Prince Cédric has gifted you some precious tea leaves.”
There was a wooden box with splendid designs on the silver plate Benjamin was holding out with both hands.
“What are the tea leaves for?”
I asked as Benjamin came closer and slowly opened the box.
The box was full of dry leaves that gave off a pretty nice scent.
“This is sage tea that is good for your health. His royal highness sent it as he is unable to come to see if you are doing okay.”
“Really? That was very nice of him.”
I answered respectfully despite not meaning it.
‘What’s up with that punk?’
Vice Captain Élisabeth seemed to be mumbling something next to me, but I couldn’t hear properly.
The Cardinal seemed to be tired as she sighed a few times.
* * *
In the end, I returned to the temple.
“Will you really be okay, your highness?”
“I got plenty of rest already. Please don’t worry.”
“Your highness, here is the sign.”
I consoled Benjamin while receiving something that Ganael had prepared for me.
The front said, ‘now taking confessions’ while the back said, ‘the priest is currently unavailable.’
I had requested this wooden plaque while rolling around my bed yesterday.
‘I’m sure the Imperial carpenters have never received such a request before.’
“I am heading in now. I promise not to overdo it.”
Benjamin finally seemed a bit relieved after hearing that.
As I expected, Cardinal Boutier had canceled all of my scheduled confession times after I fainted in the temple from aether depletion.
She claimed that taking confessions three hours a day was bad for both the flow of my aether and the order of things at the Imperial Palace.
I couldn’t say anything back to her after having just regained consciousness.
I thought they would be upset, but apparently, the people who had been waiting in line with numbers that day wandered around the Juliette Palace all night, worried that I would be seriously ill.
That was why I declared that I will take confessions whenever it was convenient for me without setting specific times.
In return, I had them prepare this plaque so that anybody who stops by the temple would know whether I was there or not.
I could not completely stop doing confessions since it was my great excuse for not going to the ball.
“We will be in the Temple Office, your highness.”
Benjamin walked away with Ganael.
I guess they will be waiting for me in the area behind the temple where priests prepared for sacrament and rested.
I watched the two of them walk away before putting the plaque on the door handle of the Confessional.
‘The priest is currently unavailable.’
Penitents shouldn’t come in since this is up.
I clenched my teeth and walked into the Confessional.
I was planning on waiting for that little kid all day.
I couldn’t do anything about it if he didn’t show up, but based on his attitude at the time……
It didn’t seem to be his first time here. There must be a secret passage he used to get in and out.
I shouldn’t get hurt if I activate my circle, and I shouldn’t faint if I avoid contact with him.
I don’t know who that kid is, but I can’t let a little kid who isn’t even tall enough to reach Eunse’s hips wander the Imperial Palace in pain.
I swear…it’s going to be a battle between how many times Jesse can faint vs how many times Cale has already fainted in TCF.