Chapter Two: The Sunflower’s Voice
Feeling a vibration, Riz slowly awoke from sleep.
It seemed like she fell asleep while staring at the painting of the fish in her closet.
However, why was the floor rattling and swaying?
It wasn’t just vibrations but also movement— it felt like she was riding a carriage.
The instant she imagined that her consciousness cleared abruptly.
Riz hurriedly lifted her head and looked around her surroundings.
Cramped. It was not a flat place. And was she on a higher level? Was this a seat?
It wasn’t her imagination and she really was in a carriage.
Her body stiffened when she was aware of this.
Why was she riding a carriage?
After a short sense of disorder, the worst scenario came to mind.
Had she been kidnapped by someone?
She was about to scream but pressed down on her mouth with both hands and resisted. It was better not to thoughtlessly raise her voice when she wasn’t clear on the situation.
Closing her eyes tightly, she regulated her wild breathing.
If she was assuming she was kidnapped, then by who exactly?
The religious war that ended fifty years ago still dropped a deep shadow on the lives of the people.
In areas that had become battlefields, the looting and vandalism by opposing soldiers was seen as a matter of course. The unfortunate people who lived there lost their homes, their families, and their wealth.
There were also times when the country’s compensation and aid supplies were stored in the pocket of the barons.
The lives of the farmers fell progressively into poverty.
Abandoned with barely any aid at all, the farmers were forced to make painful choices in order to live. Would they fall to becoming slaves? Or, if not, would they join a gang of thieves? They held a deep resentment towards the aristocrats who enriched their own pockets. The majority of the kidnappings of aristocrats for ransom purposes and murders were related to these former farmers. There weren’t many crimes done out of politics or foolish passion.
Even within this royal capital, Sprarugle, where guards were deployed in various places, there were cases of aristocrat kidnappings that occurred when opportunity seemed to strike.
Had she been involved in that kind of situation?
If she was to imagine something even worse, then had the mansion been attacked by a thieves gang?
It would be unusual in the royal capital, Sprarugle, but not nonexistent.
Generally, the fates of aristocrats who were captured were atrocious.
Women were raped and then killed; there wasn’t a big difference with men either. Even if ransom money was handed over, the probability of beineg returned unharmed was extremely low.
A shudder crawled up from her feet. Swallowing her saliva, Riz took deep breaths. She looked around inside the dark carriage once more and strained her ears.
From the sounds of the horseshoes striking the cobblestone, there were two horses. It was a coach for two people.
There wasn’t enough room for her to lie down, which was why when she woke up she was in the uncomfortable position of leaning against the back of the seat.
Riz bit her lip.
This wasn’t a carriage owned by the Milton family. It was also different from the carriage used by her uncle, Hine.
So, was the mansion actually attacked and she was the only one kidnapped?
The sound of her heart became violent. Her family… might not be safe.
Aristocrats, middle-class and higher, normally employed guards to prepare for these crises. And so, the thieves attacking the mansion would be challenging that at the risk of their lives.
Did they see her and grab her along the way while dealing with the guards and seizing the money and goods? Since virgins seemed to be traded at a high price.
Riz racked her brains, thinking up to there. But none of it made sense.
If there really had been an attack then, naturally, the sounds of fighting and screams should have flown through the mansion.
Why didn’t she wake until this moment? No matter how insensitive she was, this situation was too unnatural.
Was she made to drink a drug that would deepen her sleep while she was asleep?
But that was also hard to accept. Would thieves go out of their way to prepare such a thing?
Riz secretly parted the curtains of the carriage window with her fingers while feeling a sense of discomfort.
The orange light of the carriage lamp shone in from the gap of the curtain.
Even though she strained her eyes and peered outside, because it was also nighttime, she couldn’t tell where the carriage was running to at all.
Riz racked her brains again at that point.
It hadn’t been evening yet when she went into her closet.
But the outside of the carriage window was plunged in the color of a deep night. It wasn’t the darkness of evening.
Did she dare to jump out the carriage? That thought came to mind, but she felt doubtful when she looked down at her own clothes.
The clothes she was wearing was the same as the ones worn before sleeping; it was a dark green dress made of velvet and black lace. Her feet had indoor slippers on. It looked like it’d be impossible to jump down.
Maybe if someone was a trained soldier; however, if a nonathletic person like her jumped out then it’d be inviting a tragedy.
It would be best if she waited for the carriage’s speed to drop at least.
Was there something else she could do right now?
Riz tried to explore the surface of the seat with her hands. It’d be nice if there was a tool she could protect herself with.
Something moved by her feet. No, did she kick something?
Riz cautiously stretched out her hand to that “something”.
This was… canvas?
It was dark so she couldn’t see the brushwork clearly. She held it up to the carriage window where the light was shining in.
As she thought, it was a canvas, and a familiar painting at that.
It was the painting of the fish that Riz had.
Why was it here?
When she regained her composure, she noticed there were a number of inconsistencies scattered around.
No matter how weak Riz looked, if she was kidnapped then her hands and feet should have been bound as a precaution.
It would be a problem if she screamed too, so something like a cloth should have been stuffed in her mouth. She should have been blindfolded too, so that the places she moved through couldn’t be identified.
Yet she wasn’t restrained at all.
She honestly didn’t know what sort of situation this was.
It happened the moment she furrowed her brows.
The carriage began to slow and then gently came to a stop.
Tension ran through her entire body. Did they arrive at their destination? But they weren’t even out of the capital yet?
Holding her breath, Riz squeezed her painting which she rolled into a cylinder and waited several minutes.
She was on guard for a coachman or burglar to appear, but there was only silence. Not even the sounds of animal cries or insects could be heard.
Riz prepared herself and then quietly opened the carriage door.
She couldn’t see anyone.
There was no sign of a coachman. Did they abandon the carriage and run?
After she waited a few more minutes, she jumped down to the ground from the carriage while carrying her painting.
If it was a carriage from her mansion then the coachman would have put out a carriage step. That was a matter of course, so she was slightly surprised when an impact throbbed through her feet. Riz was reminded that she was wearing slippers.
It was when she was outside that she realized it.
This place was in front of the art gallery her uncle, Hine, managed.
In that case, was the person who brought her here Uncle Hine?
But even if he was putting on an act to surprise her, would her gentle uncle choose such anxiety-inducing methods?
Then maybe her other relatives… but when she thought that she decided that was also wrong.
All the relatives who interacted with the Milton family knew that Riz had poor health. There was no one who would forcibly take her out at night. In the first place, Virma wouldn’t have allowed that.
She didn’t understand this at all.
Adjusting her hold on her painting, Riz took a turn around the carriage.
The figure of a coachman really was gone.
She couldn’t even see a single stray cat, to say nothing of thieves.
The surrounding buildings were sunk in darkness and the moon was distant. Speaking of lights, there was only the carriage lamp and this spurred a sense of loneliness.
What she could perceive was the dust floating from the cobblestones and the smell of mildew. The streets at night were like ruins.
What was going on? Riz murmured, at a loss.
She couldn’t judge whether this was a dangerous situation or not. Standing still on the street in her slippers, she just seemed silly.
Did a coachman not exist from the start? When that supposition crossed her mind, she immediately denied that.
How stupid. How did a carriage move forward in the absence of a coachman?
Glossing over the faint fear and uneasiness spreading through her chest, Riz headed to the entrance door of the art gallery.
There was no use if she just stood there.
At any rate, it was better to stay in a secure place until patrolling knights came to this street. If she was protected by them, then she would be able to return to the mansion safely.
It looked like the street was unpopulated right now, but danger followed going out at night without an escort. Riz heard about cases where drunkards started fights on the streets.
Where would she enter the art gallery from? The door must be locked.
Break a window? That was the last resort. If possible, she didn’t want to make noise.
Knowing it was useless, she tried pushing the entrance door.
Her unease was stronger than her joy.
This was a gallery which handled valuable artworks, so she didn’t think Hine would forget to lock it.
Furthermore, usually, in order to deter robberies the art gallery would leave a watchman. Riz could rely on the watchman without seeking a patrol for help. However, she couldn’t sense anyone here.
Was this after thieves had slipped in already?
Or did the watchman nod off?
After opening the heavy doors halfway, she peeked inside.
“Is anyone… here?”
Riz raised her voice, half-desperate. She was gradually getting irritated in regard to this incomprehensible situation.
There was no response. Riz’s voice was crushed by the darkness before it went far.
However, instead, the protruding candlesticks placed near the entrance of the lobby lit up by themselves.
Riz opened her eyes wide. Her hands squeezed the painting she held before she hurriedly fixed the roll.
She heard that a light called a “gas light” was invented in a distant foreign country, but even that wouldn’t light up by itself. It needed human hands.
Next, the word “magic” came to mind. There was a country said to have many magicians.
That was silly. What was she doing, accepting Hine’s made-up stories as true.
In the past, there were times when mischievous fairies tried to scare her and would light up candles and lamps, but— no, things like fairies were an illusion.
Riz shook her head slowly.
She didn’t know who brought her out, for what purpose, and couldn’t read their intentions, but it didn’t seem like they intended to kill her right now.
In that case, she’d participate.
Even like this, she was a daughter of the Milton family that served as advisers of the Quito Ezira Astral Law Privy Council, one of the symbols of the country. If there was any injustice, a trial would be held, be they royalty or not. That was the household she was born into.
She didn’t want to show anyone the sight of her flustered and cowering in fear.
Straightening her back, Riz entered the lobby.
The sound of her heartbeat continued to be intense. If she became too agitated her chest would hurt and vertigo would occur. She had to take care.
The inside of the lobby wasn’t very large and it was the same as when she saw it in the afternoon: the lion statues facing each other, the round table decorated with flowers, and the fresco painting on the ceiling.
She cut across the lobby and approached the door on the other side.
This art gallery used its passages on the four sides as exhibition rooms instead. Through some kind of trick there were lights already in the niches.
Riz suddenly remembered something important. Hadn’t there been a widespread, ominous stagnation like a crucible of chaos in the surroundings of the art gallery?
She felt like she hadn’t sensed anything when she got down from the carriage. It might have been that she was overwhelmed with the bizarre situation and hadn’t turned her attention there.
She was at a loss as to whether or not she should step out briefly to confirm that, but moving around too much would exhaust her. Since she had already come this far, she decided she should investigate inside the art gallery first.
The cause of Riz’s illness was unknown. In any case, her body tired easily and if she forced herself to move around she would get a fever. From time to time, in the Milton family, a person with poor health like Riz would be born.
Riz quietly proceeded through the passage where paintings were being exhibited.
There were various paintings being displayed, even close to the ceiling. Because there was no one besides herself, the interior of the art gallery was dead silent and terribly eerie. It felt like she was being looked down on by the people in the paintings.
The heavy smell of paint coiled around her body, even the smell of damp oil from somewhere.
Still, the air was cool and dry. It was an air suitable for paintings; the humidity could neither be too high nor too low.
Riz stopped in front of a certain painting.
It was the painting of the nude woman— “The Moment of Liberation”.
A nude woman had both arms spread towards the heavens in the shape of a shallow bowl. Beyond her hands were a sheep and angels.
Both ends of Riz’s lips turned down naturally. Her brows were probably furrowed as well. It was because she remembered the face of the suspicious young man who spoke in a somewhat antiquated manner called John Smith.
He had handsome and intellectual features. Even though his appearance and atmosphere weren’t bad, his innumerable unreserved words ruined that beauty.
However, she saw his talent as an appraiser. He had calm eyes.
Unconsciously, Riz reached out to “The Moment of Liberation”.
But before she touched the canvas her entire body froze.
—Were the eyes of the sheep looking this way?
From her memory, the sheep should have been looking towards the angels.
No, something like memory could not be relied upon because, no matter what the truth was, it would be rewritten in her mind so as to be convenient.
Wait— did the sheep’s eyes move a little just now?
Riz took several steps back.
The light of the lamps in the niches shook and because of that it only looked like they moved. She knew that.
And yet the chills wouldn’t stop.
She removed her gaze, as if wrenching it free, and continued down the passage.
Why was she going forward? Riz was inwardly suspicious of her own actions.
This place was dangerous and it was better for her to go outside right now. Even though that voice of caution rang, her feet moved on their own.
Once again her legs stopped.
Currently, there was a collection of works tailored to the great summer festival being exhibited in the art gallery.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and then Friday. Friday of Ash and Silence. It was said to be the day when the Sulphur King, the lord of “Sloth” which was determined to be one of the great sins, awakened and scattered ash.
Riz’s awareness was turned to a painting of three maidens dancing in an eruption of smoke.
The title was “The Late Hours of Silence”.
There were dark clouds in the sky. The maidens each had a lily, rose, and sunflower in hand and were on top of a rock attached to sulphur.
If one looked closely, the huge rock was a dried apple. It was missing a piece, as if a giant took a bite, and the maidens were on top of that part.
In the Bible, the chapter “Ash and Silence on Friday” had the theme of destruction and death. None of the festivals could be separated from religion and the great summer festival was no exception.
Saturday was the chapter of resurrection and rebirth. And then it lead to blessings on Sunday.
Paintings based on Friday inevitably had many images introducing sinister elements. It could be said that death gods, night, wastelands, and other said ominous things were standard.
However, if a painter sought too much to be faithful to that depiction then the clients… the aristocrats would dislike it and donations would be discontinued. It was a huge problem for painters contracted with art galleries. The basic cost of materials was shouldered by the aristocrats, who were patrons. The degree of perfection also changed depending on the quality of art supplies. Depending on the circumstances, the necessities of life could be guaranteed too.
For this reason, contracted painters painted with elements that made one feel hope, while following the theme, so that they would not offend aristocrats.
Most of the paintings exhibited in the art gallery were of that kind.
Even the painting Riz was observing was clearly painted with consideration to clients.
First, she would explore the meaning of the giant dried apple.
The decay and drying of fruits represented degeneration, stagnation, and death.
The apple in this painting was hard like a rock and a part was missing.
If one just looked at the point of enlarging a fruit then it seemed to present “fertility”, but other interpretations existed as well. Fruit could also mean desire.
In this case, it was suggesting a bloated pleasure. Moreover, this fruit was dried. That alone and the ruin of the ground was serious proof.
The missing part indicated a lack of order.
She also couldn’t overlook the point that was drawn as tooth marks. It implied that the ruin on the ground was due to human greed and ignorance. These parts were easy to interpret.
The ochre-colored smoke spread in the surroundings suggested the presence of the Sulphur King.
It could be accepted that evil was covering the ground.
The maidens dancing atop the fruit would usually symbolize purity, but the three were barefoot and because of that their feet were dirtied. It brought to attention how even pure people were being corrupted.
To summarize all her interpretations, the moral derived was that the disorder on the ground was due to the desires of humans, but it was the devil that tempted them to that.
However, it wasn’t over with just this.
Riz wanted to pay attention to the flowers the girls held.
Lilies symbolized purity, roses were love, and sunflowers were pride and justice. These flowers weren’t withered and the sunflower in particular was facing towards the front and seemed to release a radiance.
This made people feel hope.
There was also a place in the dark clouds covering the sky where faint light was shining in. By following the part of that rift in the clouds, it could be seen to take the shape of a hook.
A needle hook was one of the tools symbolizing a “saint”.
Noticing that, the theme of this painting reversed.
It turned into a painting of salvation where a saint would one day alight onto the disturbed land.
It wasn’t a bad composition. Although it abandoned precision and seemed to intentionally make violent depictions, it didn’t make one feel the immaturity of multiple attempts to overpaint and of incorporating many colors.
Consistency could also be seen in the overall arrangement. The fruit was a little to the left, but the maidens on top were a little to the right. As a result, the maidens were placed in the center.
This suggested that holy things still existed in the center of the world.
Even if the thought about the conversion of the allegory and religious interpretation were omitted, she believed this was a work that aristocrats would accept.
Romantic painting was in fashion even now.
More precisely, what was sought after were technically accomplished and realistic, fantastical paintings; however, poetic styles of painting that included lyricism and Symbolism works that fixated on internal expressions were firmly popular because those could be enjoyed without knowledge. Symbolism paintings were commonly beautiful and that was the key point in the end.
Nowadays, works of a dark style that drew reality as it was were decreasing.
Regarded as Classicism, historical paintings which were characterized by abundant colors and elaborate details were praised by the Church and the Royal Fine Arts Agency and so they continued to be painted without going out of fashion.
The brushwork was novel but “The Late Hours of Silence” was likely a work painted by a classicist painter.
Because, unlike Symbolism works, the thought here was stronger and more dynamic.
Perhaps this was the work of a famous painter. If that was the case, then clients would put a price above the market price.
Even though she thought it was a good work though, why did her feet stop?
Were there still parts she hadn’t interpreted?
Riz unknowingly reached out to the painting.
“I would advise against touching that.”
Abruptly, a low voice slid into her ears. Her heart felt like it was about to stop and she panicked, nearly crushing the painting of the fish she held.
Before Riz could turn around a hand stretched out from behind her and grabbed her arm.
“It was as I thought. During our tour of the art gallery in the afternoon, you felt something for paintings apart from the one of the nude woman. However, you tried to conceal that. That you concluded your appreciation of the art was not because your health was bad.”
Riz was stiff for a while before she eventually turned around slowly.
“… John Smith.”
There stood the temporary manager of the art gallery who Hine hired.
His clothes hadn’t changed from the afternoon, but his glasses were removed. Those black iron eyes were like a starry sky. His lips were thin, his skin fair, and he had a cold atmosphere.
Was it because he was here that the entrance to the art gallery hadn’t been locked?
She couldn’t imagine it from his appearance, but he was strong enough not to be outdone by a swordsman?
No matter what, that was careless.
“Do you also feel an inexplicable distortion from this painting?”
Although she was asked this by a calm expression, Riz was unable to answer immediately. She clenched her hands around the painting of the fish she held.
She wanted to ask him a question too.
It was a stupid question, but— was it not him, John Smith, who brought her here?
He wasn’t surprised at all that Riz had trespassed into the art gallery without permission. Even though it was midnight.
It was strange for him to even talk to her naturally like this.
“Are you listening, Miss?”
John’s eyebrows drew together slightly.
It seemed like he was displeased, seeing that Riz wasn’t answering, but then his interest was piqued by the painting of the fish she carried. His gaze seemed to ask what that was.
Finally, the stiffness in her body was released. She spread out the painting of the fish, which had been rolled into a cylinder, towards him.
“Your painting? As in one you drew?”
“No… A traveler with beautiful eyes painted it when I was a child. He said this fish was me.”
She wondered why she answered honestly to an unfamiliar man.
“It’s not a bad painting.”
John brought his face a little closer and stared at the painting.
Riz noticed that her hands holding the painting were shaking faintly and was surprised.
Was she scared of this man?
That was a weakness unbecoming of a daughter of the Milton family.
Riz became obstinate, straightened her spine, and looked up at the man.
Facing him again like this, John was tall. Somehow, that was frustrating.
Moreover, even though she was desperate over here not to lose to fear, John was concentrating wholly on the painting of the fish. She thought he should have tried noticing other things. For example, Riz’s unauthorized trespass, her slippers, or something.
“Did that traveling painter say this fish was the Miss herself?”
“And how did you feel, Miss?”
Ah, she was being tested again.
He crossed his arms with an air of composure and transferred his gaze from the painting of the fish to Riz’s face.
His lips created a faint smile and his eyes were provocative. It was a sensual expression.
Having thought that, Riz became flustered and angry at herself.
At the same time, there was a ticklish sensation at having his eyes turned firmly towards her. She wondered why.
She had never experienced her emotions being shaken to this extent by anyone, much less by the opposite sex.
“Miss, is that all?”
John repeated his question.
After she breathed out deeply in a way that wouldn’t be noticed, Riz answered.
“I thought it was an honor.”
“Because it was a fish.”
“Why is being a fish an honor?”
“It’s said to be the provisional shape of the saint who God released from heaven.”
She was definitely being tested.
Riz opened the Bible in her head.
It was a book that contained the biographies of saints and was once the cause for a massive religious war.
The Bible consisted of twenty-two volumes in total. It was the fifth volume that had Saint Hebal.
“Hebal, who was baptized by the Holy Eivi Rio, was a hunter. He entered as a disciple in the latter half of Eivi’s pilgrimage. Unlike the other disciples, he had a suspicious and stubborn character. But he was also the only apostle who believed in the murdered Eivi’s resurrection.”
“At the beginning, Hebal didn’t belive that Eivi was holy… that Eivi was God’s heaven-sent child. He made an impossible demand that if Eivi was truly holy then Eivi would change the fish from the river that was caught in his net into gold. Let alone the fish inside the net, Eivi turned all the fish swimming in the river into gold.”
Riz readjusted her hold on the painting and drew a fish in the air with a free hand.
“Hebal was ashamed of his doubt and kneeled to Eivi. That is why the symbol of a fish denotes a saint.”
Incidentally, “saints” and “Holy Ones” weren’t the same.
Saints accompanied Holy Ones. Of course, there were also cases where a saint was also a Holy One.
“So the Miss personally felt honored to be likened to a saint, hm. What a boring answer.”
From time to time, the man’s speech became careless. How would one put it… it seemed strangely pessimistic?
Riz wanted those cold eyes, which turned away, to return to her direction.
“No, it’s not just because it’s a saint.”
“Then what is it?”
“It’s because I saw salvation in this painting.”
It was a painting depicting a world that didn’t exist in reality. At that time, it gave Riz a refuge for her heart.
When the traveler left the village, he said this. That she was—
“I am a Daughter of the Fish.”
Riz was surprised when she unintentionally spoke it out. She hurriedly covered her mouth.
John met her eyes.
“Daughter of the Fish. The meaning of that is?”
In the past, Riz saw the figures of fairies and strange living creatures.
The traveler did not reject Riz and leant his ear to her words. He also let her hear various stories.
He even taught her about distorted paintings.
Her memory was vividly revived. That day which foretold the coming of summer. The events under the oak tree.
A distorted painting was a blasphemous painting that was drawn accidentally.
And she was told that demons settled down there.
“By the Daughter of the Fish, a ‘demon’s hideaway’ can be—“
The traveler explained that, because she was the Daughter of the Fish, she could see fairies and was most definitely not a strange child, and he comforted her.
“If you know then this conversation will be quick.”
When Riz came back to herself, her cheeks were enveloped by two hands.
She couldn’t move. She had never been touched casually like this by the opposite sex apart from her family.
His hands were a bit cold like his eyes.
Even though she hadn’t been struck, her skin tingled, felt numb, and began to get warm.
What was happening to her cheeks? Were they being torn to pieces?
“Miss, give yourself to me.”
For a moment she forgot to breathe when she was told that by a serious face.
She couldn’t believe it, but had she just been confessed to?
Even though she was arranged to be married?
The word elopement ran about through her mind. If she did such a thing then Virma would mourn. Her family honor would also be harmed. First of all, why did she have to elope with a man she just met? Did this man fall in love with her at first sight? No way.
“Your eyes can see through to a demon’s hideaway. It can track down the demons that have hidden themselves deep in the colors. Those “Holy Eyes” will be useful.”
“…… Could it be that when you said give yourself to me that’s just limited to my eyes?”
“Was there any other meaning?”
After she was asked puzzledly in return, Riz reflexively flung off the man’s hands.
An exasperated expression was directed at her.
“You couldn’t have possibly thought that I yearned for you so much I lost my reason and kidnapped you, did you? Of course not. I brought you to the art gallery, thus it is obviously related to paintings— it is clearly for those eyes that can see through hideaways.”
“I’m certain the conversation wasn’t flowing in a way that would give rise to such a foolish misunderstanding either. I thought you had a face that seemed uninterested in love but, unexpectedly, are you a girl who fantasizes?”
Even though she knew this already, this man was, at any rate, outrageous.
“You are free to mistake this as a love affair, but please do not expect anything from me.”
It probably would have been better if he had a ridiculing tone.
When he had an indifferent attitude like this, it just induced even more shame.
“Wait, John. You said something important just now without hesitation.”
Riz stared at his face. Abandoning her anger, she reflected on John’s words. He brought her to the art gallery, thus… He said that without a doubt.
“You led me to this art gallery?”
“You’re slow. Who else is there?”
She didn’t shrink from the flat reply and continued her questions.
“How did you get me out of the mansion?”
Did John personally place her in the carriage? Why did she continue to sleep?
What did he tell her family to bring her out?
Where was the coachman?
What was with the odd silence of the streets?
Questions rose up one after another. They were all things she couldn’t understand.
“More importantly, as with the painting of the nude woman, “The Late Hours of Silence” is undoubtedly a distorted painting, yes?”
Her important questions were set aside with the one phrase “more importantly”.
“Wait, you also know about distorted paintings?”
“It is because I know that I am questioning you like this.”
“John, stop it with those malicious replies.”
Unable to put up with it any longer, she appealed to him but he tilted his head.
“I have no intentions to be malicious to you, Miss. Only, I am wondering why you are asking the obvious. They’re useless questions.”
It was her first time meeting someone who was worse at carrying on a conversation than her.
“It is pointless only to be able to pick out a distorted painting.”
John pressed a hand against his forehead.
“Because it is not certain that a demon has settled in there. There are many more paintings which are in a state of being ‘vacant houses’.”
The conversation steadily progressed and Riz was left confused.
Demons? Vacant houses?
“It is decisively easier to capture demons when they are lurking in distorted paintings.”
“John, please, I’m asking you to explain in more detail.”
“I am doing that now. Distorted paintings are nothing less than the “houses” of demons. However, it would be expecting too much to say they cannot be discovered. It is the same logic as saying humans inside a house cannot know who is outside. But houses have windows and doors. If they consciously look outside, then they will notice those who are searching for them.”
Her head hurt from this conversation that was disconnected from reality.
On the other hand, she felt a strong uneasiness.
The traveler who taught Riz about the existence of distorted paintings also spoke about demon hideaways.
At the time it seemed believable, but that was simply a fable. Wasn’t it an admonition against possessing inauspicious paintings that seemed to blaspheme God?
And calling her the “Daughter of the Fish” was also just his concern for Riz who had to live apart from her family. She must have looked sad.
Thinking about it now, maybe at that time she had told a childish lie about seeing fairies to attract the concern of the adults around her? No, she wasn’t conscious of telling a lie though.
At that time she thought she really could see them.
As she grew, the sight of those delusions disappeared. Things like fairies couldn’t have existed.
Riz tried to avert her eyes from her past self, but remembered the problem of the suspicious fog flowing around the surroundings of the art gallery.
That also seemed like an apparition at first glance, however she could think of many causes.
The land was an execution site in the past, so it was something of a different air that even a normal person could feel. Or something was being burned in the vicinity that was giving rise to black smoke.
She fervently repeated excuses in her mind.
If she didn’t, she felt like she would be caught by something terrifying.
Perhaps he sensed that Riz was sinking into her thoughts, because John called out to her in a strong tone.
“You shouldn’t thoughtlessly make a demon impatient. Such as I am, I intend to treat you with some respect, more or less.”
“… Demon, you say.”
His words just now seemed to assert that he himself was a demon.
Even though she thought that was foolish, she couldn’t look away from his eyes.
“Your uncle isn’t a descendant of the Fish, but he appears to have a talent at bringing evil to him. It was by coincidence that I found this art gallery, but I was truly surprised. I could clearly sense the disturbance of the atmosphere.”
He drew closer to her, as if sliding up to her. The tips of his shoes touched Riz’s slippers.
“Even without the Holy Eyes, I could tell that distorted paintings were gathered here. However, as I said earlier, it is meaningless to only be able to pick out a distorted painting. I cannot grasp whether a demon is hiding there or not.”
John’s fingertip lightly raised Riz’s chin up. He stroked her as if petting a cat.
“And just as I was troubled over what to do, you appeared.”
Riz began to feel like a moth diving into a fire.
In fact, it might have been what she was feeling for him.
“Your eyes stopped at ‘The Moment of Liberation’ without hesitation. Many who can see through distorted paintings have Holy Eyes at the same time. Now, won’t you take a close look at ‘The Moment of Liberation’ and ‘The Late Hours of Silence’ once more? Are there demons lurking there?”
“Enough with the jokes—“
“Joke? I certainly wouldn’t have brought you to the art gallery just to play with you, Miss.”
How he brought her to the art gallery was a mystery, but his story was too unrealistic. Even if she was told to believe that she wouldn’t know what to do.
Riz was shaken by the voice of denial that surged in her heart.
Because of the pain from not being believed by anyone in her past, she became someone who could be believed.
Did he also reflect things that did not exist in those eyes, like Riz when she was a child?
“If you see through all the distorted paintings and show me the traces of demons, then I will kill you gently and tenderly.”
She was being looked down on, at a distance where their noses would touch, and her body shuddered instinctively.
Before she knew it, she had been driven to the wall.
His shadow fell onto Riz.
The light of the niche lamp was on the other side and, because of that, his face was shadowed in pitch darkness.
And yet only those black iron eyes could be seen clearly. They had the pupils of a beast.
She must have seen wrong; he wasn’t a goat, so there was no way a human could have horizontal pupils.
Riz desperately turned her face away and cast her gaze to the ground.
There she noticed something else.
John’s shadow was unnatural.
The light extending out from the niche wasn’t that strong. Normally, shadows were more indistinct and spread.
However, his looked jet black as if it were drawn on a painting.
There were other strange points.
His shadow fell on the wall in a shape that covered her entire body. However, for some reason, there was a shadow around his shoulders that seemed like wings, which stretched to the left and right.
Riz’s gaze returned to John’s face.
Like she thought, his pupils were clearly different from normal humans.
And, if it wasn’t her imagination, did the shadow of the wings that fell onto the wall just move?
“You’re a demon? Not metaphorically, but the real thing?”
“Did I not just say that? Yes, I am a demon. One with a pedigree at that.”
“It means I was born as a demon. Among us, there are those who exist as former humans and former wildlife, but I would like you not to group me together with such unequal demons.”
Riz slid down with her back against the wall, while staring at the man’s eyes, to sit on the ground.
As if he were mimicking her action, John also crouched down. He placed both hands on the wall to take away any means to escape from Riz.
“I will tell you now that persuading a demon with tears won’t work. From the moment of being eyed by one, you should be prepared to lose your life.”
“I won’t cry.”
“Even though you’re so frightened you can’t stand?”
“I’m not proud of this, but I collapse if I stand for too long.”
“I am undoubtedly a sickly human. I get tired.”
John’s eyes widened at Riz’s response.
She had a headache from a while ago and it wasn’t just because of their bizarre conversation.
“Aah, I see, is it the price for having Holy Eyes? I’ve heard that descendants of the Fish are often people in poor health or albinos.”
John tilted his head, seemingly troubled, and mumbled to himself.
Riz’s confusion deepened. Was this a dream? Or reality?
The temporary manager Hine hired was a horrible demon, like the ones that appeared in the Bible and fairy tales?
And, in order to have Riz search out distorted paintings, he led her to the art gallery using some sort of power?
It was an absurd story, but there were too many inexplicable points to flatly reject it as a dream.
Still, she didn’t want to accept that it was reality yet.
If all of this was true, then what were the days she worked hard to bury her past self for?
Riz lightly pinched John’s cheek while he thought deeply with a serious expression. The feeling was real. His skin was smooth to the point of making her envious. It made her want to yank it.
“What? Do you wish to pet me?”
Was he a dog?
He also said this and that about him being a pedigree. The idea was strange.
Her entire body suddenly became limp. Her physical health must have worsened.
“My head hurts. I’m dizzy.”
“This is troubling. Possessing an invalid isn’t my specialty.”
“It’s not my specialty to be possessed by a demon either.”
He seemed to be offended. John shook his head lightly and threw off Riz’s hand.
She would postpone the problem of whether this was a dream or reality. Instead, what should she do to be released from here?
Riz thought and then opened a dry mouth.
“John, did you become a temporary manager because there were many distorted paintings in this gallery?”
“That is the case.”
“But even if you somehow noticed the existence of a distorted painting you can’t tell whether or not a demon is lurking there.”
“You need the so-called ‘Holy Eyes’ in order to see through them.”
“And apparently I have those eyes.”
“After the distorted paintings being exhibited in this art gallery are confirmed by me, you plan to kill me just like that.”
She was answered immediately. She should have expected that; it was the feeling she had.
“But, John, what about afterwards?”
She hid her fear and looked at him. By nature, she was the type of person who had dead expressions and so, even if she was seriously scared, it shouldn’t appear that much on her face.
That’s why Riz took a bet.
“Is there a decided number of distorted paintings? Like only a hundred being in this country or something.”
“There’s no ridiculous rule such as that.”
“Then it’s possible there are distorted paintings outside of the ones in this art gallery?”
“If you killed me, then wouldn’t these eyes be unusable anymore? John, you said you wanted my eyes but you didn’t gouge them out on the spot. It’s because even if you robbed them, the ability wouldn’t become yours, right?”
John looked all around at Riz’s face.
Because his expressions were also relatively limited, she couldn’t grasp as to whether or not her hypothesis was correct.
“In the first place, why are you searching for other demons? Gathering friends?”
“The reason then?”
“Why must I tell you that much, Miss?”
“Is it an embarrassing reason?”
“No. What an appalling thing to say.”
Riz had been nervous that he would become irritated because of her barrage of questions, but John seemed to have an honest personality. He began to explain with a reluctant appearance.
“Before, the human I was contracted with was killed by some demon. Because of that, I ended up being left behind above ground in the middle of a contract. Many demons who seek hideaways are ones which humans fail to summon or seal and end up running loose.”
Were they stray dogs?
“You mean you’re searching for that demon?”
“Yes, they were lurking in a painting my contractor purchased. My contractor decorated their bedroom with it, unaware.”
“Were they killed at that time?”
“Yes. Now the demon has moved to another painting. It appears to be a clever one and has noticed my tracking.”
Did he want to get revenge because he loved his contractor?
Or was it because his pride was wounded by someone meddling unnecessarily?
“Once a demon chooses a painting to possess, they do not move except for on rare occasions. However, there are shrewd demons who repeatedly ‘change residences’ on a regular basis.”
Riz understood his reason for looking for distorted paintings. There was no need to find out if it was a problem of revenge or pride. She didn’t want to get deeply involved.
“If the painting you want isn’t in this art gallery you’ll search elsewhere, right?”
“I believe it would become that. Although it’d be bothersome.”
“Wouldn’t it be convenient for there to be Holy Eyes?”
“You’re asking me to let you live.”
“I recommend that you let me live.”
“Should I make you a captive?”
“You don’t have to.”
“Why? Do you prefer to be pampered to death like a pet?”
Maybe because he was a demon, but he sometimes showed strange fixations.
“However, it’ll be a hassle to own and raise a human…”
He had an annoyed expression.
What was with that “own”. She was the one who wanted to look annoyed.
Riz didn’t want to die here. She also wanted to decline from having her mind controlled or being collared.
Even though, until now, she had been pessimistic about the weakness of her own body and didn’t expect anything from the future, it seemed that her real opinion was different.
In the end, she wanted to live.
She wanted to become happy.
“I’ll own you, John. How about that?”
“I am the daughter of a count. It’ll be easy enough to provide for one demon and my uncle, Hine, is an excellent art dealer. Information on paintings can also be gathered.”
He faltered, but only for an instant.
John stood up easily and swiftly removed “The Late Hours of Silence” from the wall, also picking up a lamp in the niche, before he crouched in front of Riz again.
“Allow me to test you. Is there a sense of discomfort in this painting?”
“… You’re asking me where, but the answer is the whole thing somehow?”
His gaze became severe.
He was doubting how she might not be in possession of “Holy Eyes”.
However, John appeared before she could discover the identity of her sense of discomfort. It was inevitable that she couldn’t give a clear answer.
“What are the characteristics of a distorted painting?”
He changed the question. It looked like he intended to test her thoroughly.
“Symbols drawn that represent blasphemy. Ones the painter themselves don’t notice.”
“Knowing that, you cannot find them?”
He placed the lamp on the floor and brought the painting closer to Riz’s face.
“A special ability isn’t needed to discover symbols. They appear through knowledge, discernment, or insight.”
“In a sense, I think that’s a special ability.”
“You’re mistaken. Now, cease the chatter and think.”
He wouldn’t let her buy time.
And so Riz gave up and concentrated her attention onto the painting.
Where. Where was it strange.
Even painters should have unforeseen inauspicious symbols.
She looked around at “The Late Hours of Silence” which stood out in the light of the lamp placed on the floor. There was a giant fruit. The bitten part. Three maidens. A rose, a lily, and a sunflower. An eruption of smoke. Dark clouds.
What she could find were only things opposite to symbols of blasphemy.
Riz closed her eyes and pressed on her eyelids with her index finger and thumb. She opened them again.
She had to switch her emotions over and concentrate.
Was there any abnormal point in the fruit?
Was there an ominous shadow lurking in the smoke?
The streaks of light floating on the clouds… the direction of the hook?
It was facing up properly. There was no problem there.
In that case, was there anything unnatural in the flowers the maidens held? Their expressions? The direction of their gazes?
Riz widened her eyes there.
“You can’t see the expressions of the three girls clearly?”
“That is merely a problem of technique. It is not a work that demands realism. A casual recoat is also the flavor of this work.”
John shook his head.
“If you deliberately interpret on that, it means the painter consciously decided that the expression of “individuality” is unnecessary in this work. It is delineating how they have not drawn an inner world like the ones in paintings of Symbolism.”
He was right, she could feel the artist’s intention in this area.
Was there anything else that was an inconsistency?
An affirmation was immediately returned to her.
Riz threw her gaze over to John. He smiled in satisfaction.
It was a smile she often saw when this demon was talking about paintings.
She was about to become captivated, but hurriedly returned her awareness to the painting.
“All of the maidens’ hairs are wavy?”
“That does not matter.”
The smile disappeared from his face.
Fluster spread through her. But the point of paying attention to the hair wasn’t wrong. In that case…
“… The degree of the light?”
“Although you are correct, it doesn’t seem like you answered with an understanding.”
Her cheeks grew hot at being told that in a cold tone.
Under the condition of “hair”, she just hastened to pick up the parts her eyes landed on.
He sighed without warning.
“Well, your focus is not poor. I shall approve even just on that… Yes, it is the degree of light drawn on the hair of the maidens.”
He took his eyes off of Riz and faced the painting.
“Due to the center maiden facing towards the front, we cannot see much of her hair. However, the two to the left and right have boldly streaming hair, as if they were dancers.”
“So the hair is fluttering beyond the body’s natural movement?”
“It seems that the painter has consciously drawn it dynamically on that point.”
Was it an element that supported the world of the work? Or was it within the range of the artist’s individuality?
If a mistake was made in the selection of those then trash could be interchanged with a masterpiece and a masterpiece interchanged with trash. The quality of a painting wasn’t decided only on an artist’s talent. The judgment of appreciators could change the value.
“However, that consciousness appears to have made an ‘unconscious symbol’.”
John pointed to the hair of the maiden on the left.
“Place your attention here. On the gloss of the hair. The light goes from the top left to the bottom right.”
Next, he pointed at the maiden on the right.
“Here it goes from the top right to the bottom left.”
Finally, he pointed at the center maiden.
“This maiden is holding a sunflower at her chest. Incidentally, this painter appears to be overflowing with a sense of service towards their patron. They have drawn an extraordinarily clear ‘sign of salvation’. The sunflower is facing the front so that appreciators can pick out hope.”
Although the painter’s ulterior motives towards the simple aristocrats who were crazy about the arts was understood completely, Riz still thought it wasn’t a bad composition. This was much more useful than a painter who fixated on things beyond their own skills.
“Now, you must have noticed it already, yes?”
Riz was shocked when she was urged to make an attempt.
The diagonal light drawn on the hair of the maidens and the sunflower?
She wondered what meaning those held.
Covering her mouth, she sunk into thought.
Light entering diagonally. Did it represent a sword? Then what about the sunflower?
No, did these several symbols combine to create a new interpretation?
Maybe even the colors were also related.
Riz plunged into the depths of her thoughts. The inside of her mind transformed into a spiraling labyrinth. Numerous paintings pulled on a string, like a spider, and moved up and down. Which one was the painting where the answer was drawn?
All of them were misses, was there a correct one? Hurry, hurry. Discover it, unravel it, and then—
Make this man speechless and smile at the same time!
She startled when she realized she was holding such strong emotions at this moment.
“Do you still not understand?”
Riz answered while hurrying.
She wondered what she was doing by losing her mind when she was in the middle of searching for a solution to the symbols. Didn’t it sound like she wanted to be recognized by John?
—It was only because this man spoke about paintings seriously and it made her feel like she found a kindred soul. There weren’t any dishonest feelings.
“To think you do not know, even though you are the Daughter of the Fish.”
“Symbology in paintings is basically treated as a secret and you can’t get an opportunity to learn unless you join a studio as an apprentice— Fish?”
Riz was caught on his words.
She looked around at the painting. There wasn’t a fish drawn on this painting. However.
The light in the left maiden’s hair was going from the top left to the bottom right.
The maiden on the right side was top right to the bottom left.
In the center was the sunflower. At chest position— it was in a place slightly lower than the left and right lights.
The moment she understood that the answer fell into her palm.
It was a symbol of the Bull. The right and left light entering diagonally and the sunflower arranged in the center… a “circle”.
If it was just a symbol of the constellation then it definitely wasn’t a bad meaning. Rather, it should lead to a holy interpretation.
However, because the maidens’ hairs were wavy, the parts of the light that made the horns… the lines of the left and right light drawn on the hair was twisting and turning a bit.
That twist could also be seen as drawing the horns like a spiral.
With that, the interpretation changed completely.
Goosebumps erupted. The false purity was stripped off.
“It becomes a symbol of the devil!”
How about that! Riz stared at the man.
John had an indifferent smile, even though she had expected a bit of praise.
“Correct. And, what else?”
“… What else?”
“If you do not expose everything, you cannot find the traces of a demon.”
There was still more?
“Think of the blasphemy symbols drawn in distorted paintings to be a key that opens the door of a ‘hideway’.”
Her cheeks felt like they were about to spasm, but there she suddenly remembered the painting of the nude woman in the afternoon— “The Moment of Liberation”.
“Could it be that the blasphemy symbols drawn in ‘The Moment of Liberation’ were all revealed?”
“So the door opened… and the sheep’s eyes moved?”
“Moved? The sheep’s eyes?”
John’s eyes sharpened.
“Then, as I thought, a demon settled in that painting.”
His cheeks were flushed faintly. It seemed like he was pleased.
“Well done, Miss.”
John suddenly patted Riz’s head. And then that hand immediately left.
For a moment she was taken aback, but then a wave of embarrassment and fluster descended on her in a single swoop.
To stroke the head of a woman, waiting to get married, like a child wasn’t something a gentleman should do.
And yet her cheeks were hot.
When she deciphered the emotions turning round and round in her, as she did the symbols, they meant— “happiness”?
“Is the other side looking over here as well?”
At the same time as John stood there was the sound of something tearing from a nearby place.
Wasn’t that around the place where Wednesday paintings decorated the walls?
Because it was past the point where the passage turned from Riz’s position, she couldn’t tell what was going on there.
“I see it broke out from the canvas.”
“Obviously a demon. Miss, remain here.”
He was about to leave behind the sitting Riz.
But at that time, from around the corner of the passage, something came running.
Riz turned her eyes to it and then became dazed.
A monster with three heads beside each other, sort of like a ghastly black sheep, appeared.
Its arms and legs resembled those of pigs. Its long tail was like a horse.
—What was this?
It wasn’t a real animal. It was surely just someone masquerading as something.
The black sheep glared at Riz and John with bloodshot eyes and roared.
She was frightened by that animal cry which couldn’t be imitated by humans. It wasn’t a costume?
John promptly observed the black sheep and then muttered ‘wrong’ as if displeased.
“It is not the demon I am searching for.”
“Huh, what are you going to do about that then. It’s looking at us.”
“I have no interest.”
She was answered immediately.
“It’s going to attack us, right!?”
“How about being eaten? If you don’t want that, then struggle—“
Riz pointed at the black sheep with all her might and screamed.
“John!! Exterminate it! Quickly!”
How long had it been since she was this loud?
Thanks to that the blood rushed to her head and made her dizzy.
Riz’s voice seemed to become the trigger and the black sheep charged over here.
John frowned and then let out a sigh as if he were annoyed.
But then, quite unexpectedly, he leisurely took out one of the pocket watches fitted on his jacket for some reason.
Disregarding Riz, who was looking up at him dumbfounded, he opened the lid of the watch.
Riz was about to ask why he was checking the time in this situation when her breath caught.
From the watch, small parts such as gears and screws rose up into the air.
There they rotated in the air and became enormous. All the parts where rusted and dingy.
The parts flew about like insects and then what was completed at the end of their combination was a mechanical skeleton knight. In both hands it lowered a rusted sword made in the same way as its body.
The skeleton knight, as its joints creaked, vigorously cleaved down at the black sheep which leapt over.
When it was being sliced without mercy twice, thrice, the black sheep couldn’t bear it and raised a violent cry. It countered undauntedly and bit the arm of the skeleton knight.
Riz was almost about to gasp. The part the black sheep bit… the area below the skeleton knight’s elbow was crumbling. A screw around the size of Riz’s pinky nail even flew over to her side.
However, even if it lost a single arm, the skeleton knight did not stop.
It expertly dodged the black sheep’s attack in the narrow passage and drove it to the wall. At last it skewered the three heads. The black sheep’s body was enveloped in flames in an instant. Right after it burned up violently it disappeared.
Ash scattered down and then eventually that too disappeared.
It was an affair that lasted mere minutes after the appearance of the black sheep.
Riz’s mind couldn’t catch up with these developments that were disconnected from reality.
The fairies and other things the past her had seen were cute compared to this spectacle.
Was John Smith really a demon?
It wasn’t magic in order to surprise her?
She desperately wondered if there was an answer that would explain things.
By the time she realized it, both her hands were covered in sweat.
The skeleton knight turned around while its entire body creaked. Inserted in its left and right eye sockets were gears of different sizes.
When the gear that was solid did a brisk revolution, the skeleton knight’s body began to disassemble by itself.
The parts floated up into the air as they did when they appeared. They became smaller as they flew around.
And then those parts were sucked into the pocket watch that John held in his hand.
John closed the lid of the watch with a loud snap.
Not saying a single word, he returned the pocket watch to his jacket and then turned to face her.
“Well? Are you serious about owning me?”
Those chilly eyes seemed to ask if a small girl like her could make him obey her. There was not a single fragment of kindness held in them. She knew he was thinking about how he could kill her at any time.
Riz tried to reply, but she wasn’t able to do so.
It was like her lips were sewn shut with a thread.
It was at this time that she noticed she was still holding onto the painting of the fish. It was crushed because of how hard she was gripping it.
A short silence passed.
She felt like she could hear the noise of a watch. Tick, tock.
The sound of the pocket watch that John possessed shouldn’t be echoing this loudly.
However, it didn’t seem to be an auditory hallucination.
“Time’s up, I see.”
He looked down at his own jacket and brought out a pocket watch again.
It wasn’t the watch that made the skeleton knight appear. It was another one. He had three pocket watches hanging on his jacket and vest.
Riz stared at John’s hand as he opened the lid of the watch. He had masculine and beautiful fingers; the nails were trimmed and his hand was larger than Riz’s.
That hand had stroked Riz’s head earlier and touched her chin.
Suddenly, for some reason, she felt like she was staring at something that she shouldn’t be. She quickly averted her eyes.
But what she saw were the works on the walls shaking in the light of the lamp.
Riz’s shoulders jerked in her surprise.
Each and every one of the paintings adorned on the walls were beginning to fade in color.
“Miss, to own a demon requires a great sacrifice. Are you prepared?”
Riz returned her gaze to John at his voice.
“Do not think you can live an honest life. Do not think you can remain pure. Do not think you can obtain salvation at the last moment.”
He bent down on one knee in front of Riz, who couldn’t stand, and in a dispassionate tone he spoke of terrible promises.
“Once you accept a demon, that shadow will cling to you for your entire life.”
He peered into Riz’s face and their gazes entwined.
Meanwhile, the paintings on the wall continued to change. They lost even more colors and deteriorated, rotting, and paint peeled off.
“However, it is true that I desire those eyes. I can also kill you and take them, but then they would become useless immediately and their ability would degrade considerably, hm.”
Those eyes without any warmth were appraising Riz’s life.
If she showed fear, she would be taken advantage of.
She knew that.
“Miss, I believe it would be your good fortune to die here.”
“People wouldn’t express being killed and having their eyes taken as a good fortune. It would be called a tragedy.”
Finally, her words came out.
Maybe Riz’s bluff was seen through, because John raised an eyebrow. And since it seemed like his bangs were getting in his way he casually tucked them behind an ear.
“I can consume you right now without any pain or we can exchange a contract and on the day your life ends I will consume you while you struggle in intense pain. Which would you prefer? I shall give you a choice.”
Did he have no plans to kill her normally?
No way was she going to be made into food.
“If I say no to both of them?”
“You’ll experience something much more gruesome.”
In that case her answer was obvious.
“Let’s make a contract. You’ll be owned by me.”
She wondered if he noticed that her voice was shaking.
Now that she was at this point she couldn’t lose her nerve.
She would get this man.
“In exchange, you will support me no matter what happens until I die. If I say it is white then it is white. If I say it is a clear day then it is a clear day, even if it is raining. You won’t acknowledge anyone else. I don’t need a demon with no strength. You will always be the strongest and cleverest. You will protect me with your life.”
A pleased smile stretched across his lips, as if he were in front of a painting before an appraisal.
Her opponent was a demon. If a sweet proposal such as “we exchanged a contract, but I will respect your will” was said then it would be her undoing, without a doubt. She could see that she would be manipulated as he pleased. Even now, after these strict demands, she felt nothing but anxiety.
“You will not inconvenience me, you will not let me hunger, you will not let me suffer, you will not let me be sad, and you will always prioritize me. You will not turn your head aside.”
After Riz said this she thought about how it sounded like a vow of love and her face stiffened.
But how could she take that back?
He nodded with an amused look.
“I shall serve you as if I loved you, my lady.”
Is that enough? Making such an expression, he caressed Riz’s chin.
“Do you also wish to be doted on?”
“Don’t get carried away. I own you, John, so it would be a matter of course for me to be the one to dote on and pamper you, no?”
Offended, Riz shook off his hand.
And then, on the contrary, she stroked his jaw.
Because she was desperate to seize the lead, she didn’t notice that John’s eyes had widened.
He laughed out loud. Unexpectedly, it didn’t take much to make him laugh?
“Very well, my lady. I will depend on you.”
There was no one who would say such a thing while looking down their nose like that.
But, more importantly, what Riz was worried about was the rapid deterioration of the walls on the left and right.
Did it have something to do with the black sheep from before? Or was there another cause?
Before she could ask, John suddenly pulled her left earlobe.
There was an instant of sharp pain and then she felt heat.
“We shall end things here. I will come for you after I make preparations.”
“Come for me?”
What was he talking about? He omitted his explanations too much.
From time to time he would advance a conversation on the premise that she already understood the contents. It was a way of talking that was particular to people who were bad conversationalists.
“An imitation space uses up an ability in its own way. Your physical body is also waking.”
“Could you please explain a little more thorou—“
She was in the middle of requesting that when her vision shook violently.
A white fog spread in her surroundings. It was like white paint diffusing in water.
“John, what is this? Did another demon appear?”
“No, calm down.”
The contours of John’s face became vague and then turned to an indistinct shadow.
His shadow swayed. It came close and then went far. It was too late by the time she realized the painting of the fish was pulled out from her arms.
She tried to tell him to return it but her voice wouldn’t come out. She also couldn’t move her hands and feet.
Riz noticed that the spreading fog was in her consciousness.
She still wanted to talk.
Yet her eyelids closed naturally.
“Well then, until later.”
At the same time as those casual words of farewell came, Riz’s consciousness fell into darkness.
When Riz woke up, she was lying still in the closet of her room.
She jumped up to her feet but was assaulted with a dizziness that made her crouch down.
Her body was horribly sluggish. She might have come down with a fever.
As she tried to remember everything, she felt her earlobe tingle with heat.
The name slipped out of her mouth of its own accord.
John Smith; the temporary manager of the art gallery. Although he possessed a calm and intellectual atmopshere, he was a man with deplorable conversation.
Hadn’t she just been together with him?
Where was he?
Had she been dreaming?
… That sounded right. There was no way that was reality.
Because she had been dozing here all this time.
It was an outrageous dream. John’s true identity was a demon and he was searching for someone to take revenge on.
For that objective, he said he needed Riz’s eyes.
Threatened by a demon, she ended up making a contract.
No, if she thought about it carefully, they merely exchanged a verbal promise.
Riz thought about how it seemed like she took a very self-assured attitude. She even yelled. They were actions that weren’t like her as an introverted person who liked the shade.
She was dizzy but, surprisingly, she didn’t feel bad. It was strange since she had a terrible dream.
Riz cautiously touched her left ear.
The heat in her earlobe wouldn’t recede.
It was the place that was touched by John in the dream.
The painting of the fish that should have been here had disappeared.
T/N: I actually haven’t read past this chapter after I decided that I would probably translate this story one day, so we’ll all be going in dark after this. I hope the story continues not to disappoint and please don’t blame me if the story does end up bad LOL.