The Beloved Fake Saint
“It is time we put an end to this matter. We’ve been putting it off for too long.”
“We cannot afford any more conflict.”
“Your Holiness, please make your decision now!”
“For the sake of lasting peace in the empire!”
Sitting at the center of a grand conference hall resembling a courtroom, I took in the faces demanding my verdict. Men from various political factions were roaring with flushed faces. And the three men who represented those factions were gazing up at me expectantly.
The first was Kyle Alexis Elide, crown prince and swordmaster of the Elide Empire. His eyes were the same color as his bright red hair. He sat in front of the palace officials, representing the monarchy.
When I looked into his eyes, I suddenly heard his voice ringing in my head. “Choose me. Or else...”
The long sword strapped to his side sent a cold shiver down my spine.
Then there was Reihas de Elle, the pope with golden hair and eyes, and features so beautiful it looked like he’d stepped out of a painting. He sat in front of a sea of anxious priests, representing the gods.
“I’ve prepared a prison just for you, my goddess.” His red lips twisted into a decadent smile.
And lastly, there was Marquess Cass Lloyd, head of the Lloyd Merchant Group, whose dark hair and blue eyes were as black and cold as his heart. He sat in front of the other members of his company, representing the merchants. There was no point in trying to read his eyes. They were set inside a stone face, showing no emotion.
“Your Holiness... We await your decision.” The urging of the officials pressed upon my ears like the deep sea. And before my very eyes, excited messages from the deities appeared on a glittering blue screen.
[Monde, the deity of arts, is preaching about the aesthetic value of Reihas’ appearance.]
[Ciel, the deity of destruction, is insisting that only strong people like Kyle can win your love.]
[Hessed, the deity of knowledge, is spelling out the details of valuable items that the Lloyd Merchant Group owns.]
[Odyssey, the deity of love, is dancing around in excitement.]
There was no backing out now. I had to make a decision. I let out a deep sigh.
How did I end up here?
* * *
The sound that came out of my mouth as I yawned was foreign and sweet. I was surrounded by high ceilings, chandeliers, and luxurious decor.
“Your Holiness, are you not feeling well again today? I’m worried because you seem quite confused... Two days ago, you even asked me what your name was.”
I turned my head toward the voice. It was my maid, Annie, a side character never mentioned by name in the original novel. She looked to be about seventeen. Her freckled face was framed by two brown ponytails and she was wearing a frilly navy blue maid’s uniform. Her dark brown eyes twinkled with concern.
“Oh, I’m starting to feel better now,” I said.
“Then shall we prepare for the banquet? I’ll call for a priest right away if you’re feeling unwell. I wouldn’t want you to miss the chance to wish the prince well on his birthday, not after His Holiness went to all that trouble getting the dress you wanted. It must’ve cost a lot…” said Annie, her voice still full of worry.
I listened to her without saying a single word, unlike the old Ariel who surely would’ve burst into hysterics. Something along the lines of... Don’t even say such a thing! I will give His Highness a speech so unforgettable he won’t be able to get me out of his head!
But I am not her, so I collected my thoughts and replied quite casually, “Will you... bring me breakfast first? You can leave out the lousy salad, though.”
“Right away, Your Holiness,” she replied with a smile. “How odd,” she continued under her breath. “You’ve never had salad for breakfast before, anyway...” She opened the door and was soon out of the room.
After the door had closed completely, I slowly rose and walked toward the full-length mirror. The unfamiliar reflection looking back at me still made my heart race.
I couldn’t help but laugh a little at my predicament. The girl in the mirror looked to be no more than seventeen years old, with skin as soft and pale as a white shore. I slowly stroked the long golden hair that fell halfway down my back as I stared into the ocean-blue eyes reflected back at me. The girl was, undeniably, very pretty with a mystical aura that drew people in.
But this face, this body, wasn’t mine. Nor did it belong to the protagonist of the original novel. The main character, Saint Camilla, had platinum blonde hair and fresh green eyes like an emerald forest.
“Ariel, right? So I’m Ariel.” As I gazed into the mirror, she—I mean, I—let out a small sigh and pursed my lips. How can I even begin to explain what had happened?
The Return of Saint Camilla was a reverse-harem novel I had read in my previous life. It was about a noble saint named Camilla who got courted by three incredibly handsome men, all from different backgrounds. In the story, the three men all strove to win Camilla’s affection. The character development was supposed to give the reader a sense of catharsis.
It ended with all three guys becoming Camilla’s husbands, which was a bit of a shock.
Still, it wasn’t a bad read to kill time. Anyway, two days prior, I had been reborn as Ariel, one of the characters in this novel. An illegitimate child of a lowly baron’s daughter and her servant in the countryside, Ariel was plagued by obscurity. Her goal had been to climb the social ladder by marrying into a good family. So, despite having no faith of her own, she had attended her local temple regularly in hopes of finding a good match. In doing so, she’d caught the eye of Reihas de Elle, the pope, and he’d brought her to Elium Temple. After making a deal with Reihas, she served diligently as a fake saint for two years.
The problem was that, in the original novel, Ariel was a villainess.
Ariel’s days as a fake saint were numbered to begin with. Her position was a temporary ploy to stabilize the political standing of Crown Prince Kyle and Pope Reihas. She was fully aware that she would be cast out if the real saint ever appeared, but she continued to depend on the pope as her guardian and carry a secret torch for the prince. And that’s how she became a thorn in Camilla’s side once she inevitably appeared.
I’ve only got five years until the real saint shows up.
I bit my lip, remembering what became of Ariel.
—“The moment Ariel drew her dagger at Camilla, who had been generous enough to forgive her, the three men swung their swords at her. She died then and there, before she even had a chance to scream.”
Ariel’s death in the novel had been so satisfying to read.
But I don’t want to die.
I hadn’t been able to sleep for the past two nights straight, I was too busy worrying and trying to find a way out. I could still feel the sting of death from my former life. And since that body was dead, dying here would be the end of me. I had no choice but to live the rest of my life in Ariel’s body.
I glanced at the extravagantly large windows, letting bright sunlight pour into the room. Walking over to one of them, I cracked it open a little. The cool breeze gently blew my hair away from my face.
“I have no choice but to accept that this is my reality.”
I’ve always been observant and adaptable.
“Maybe this isn’t so bad,” I said to myself.
I was reborn as Ariel before she turned completely to the dark side.
“As long as I don’t make the same choices Ariel did in the original story, I shouldn’t have to suffer the same fate.”
I could feel the fresh air in my nose, a privilege reserved only for the living. Having felt the chill of death flow through my body, I knew better than most that it is always better to be alive than dead, no matter the circumstances.
I was a bastard child, just like Ariel, but born into a rich family. My childhood was spent walking on eggshells. I had finally managed to save enough money to move out of that house, only to die less than a year later. Being a fake saint in a novel couldn’t possibly be any worse than that. In fact, it might be better. I had the advantage of knowing the consequences of Ariel’s actions and could easily avoid making the same mistakes.
I was not the least bit interested in being a saint or in winning the heart of someone else’s man. Five years should be plenty of time to save money and learn how to live in this world. I’d happily hand over my position to Camilla once she showed up. I’d leave the temple, buy myself some real estate, and maybe run a small business or something.
Worry slowly washed away as I processed my situation and made a plan. There was no point in denying it any further. I had already wasted two days wallowing.
“Ariel. Yes... From now on, I am Ariel.”
I was clenching my fists, trying to slow my heart rate and conjure up some confidence for my new start, when suddenly...
[You have accepted your new fate. A bright path unfolds in front of you.]
A blue screen with a strange message materialized before my eyes.