Chapter One: The Insatiable Corridor
EDIT: Thank you to Marceline McMew for sponsoring this chapter! They also run a blog all about romance in video games. Please check out their site!
That event could be traced back to a few days ago.
The location was the art gallery of the Houro district, which was set in the southern part of the royal capital Sprarugle.
Today Riz was also staring passionately at a book of paintings, staying inside a storehouse overflowing with art panels, painting materials, and reference books. She was sprawled out on a chaise lounge with a thin blanket over her knees.
Riz was presently the owner of this art gallery, although it was only for the period until her uncle Hine, who left for another country, returned. She could immerse herself in the world of art to her heart’s content.
She was relishing in her joy when the door to the art studio was opened from the corridor.
A man in austere clothing, sort of like a butler, entered and directly approached Riz.
“My lady, letters have arrived.”
He announced this and held out two letters.
Riz closed her book of paintings and sat up on the chaise. As she accepted the letters, she glanced up at the man.
His name was John Smith.
His appearance was that of an intelligent and handsome young man in his early twenties. He wore a long jacket, vest, and tie that were all in black; however, his shirt was a glossy cream.
A total of three pocket watches hung down from the buttons of his jacket and vest. Their making was the same, but a difference could be seen in the designs carved on their lids: beasts, birds, and flowers. There was also a slight difference in the color of their chains.
“One has come from the Royal Fine Arts Agency.”
“From the Fine Arts Agency?”
Indeed, the sealing wax used the emblem of the Fine Arts Agency. However, the signature belonged to the Seventh Church.
Riz faintly frowned.
This wasn’t the first letter from the Seventh Church. During this month, several had already arrived.
“I believe one arrived last week as well. What are its contents?”
John asked this and turned an observant gaze onto Riz.
“Nothing serious. It’s a common invitation for me to visit the church more frequently.”
Riz answered with something made up.
Its actual contents were different. She didn’t know what they were thinking, but the Seventh Church wrote a list of highly colored words demanding for her to hand over ownership of the art gallery. If she was resistant to this transfer then they asked if she would bind an exclusive contract with the Seventh Church or welcome a bishop as an advisor.
The matter hurt her head. It would be understandable if the church demanded for them to nurture a recommended artist in their art gallery, but these contents were quite forceful. The fact that this was delivered by the trade association without a messenger also lacked consideration. It was not a letter one would send to the daughter of an influential aristocrat.
No, it might have been because she was an aristocrat with power that this was concluded with only a recommendation by letter.
If that was the case then wasn’t this a relatively serious situation?
It seemed best to consult early with Virma, but the fact that it was addressed personally to Riz was suspicious no matter how one looked at it. There was also how they tried to put pressure on her by borrowing the emblem of the Fine Arts Agency on purpose. Furthermore, it was delivered to the art gallery and not the mansion.
As she was thinking, John leaned his waist lightly against the armrest which Riz had just been reclining on earlier and let out a listless sigh. His gaze was concentrated on the letter in Riz’s hands.
Riz was secretly flustered at the unexpected close distance.
But, because her expressions were limited more than a regular person, it seemed like he didn’t notice.
“The church, hm… Is it that if the noble ‘Maiden of Stars’ was to fervently attend then believers will increase? Come to think of it, the maids in the mansion gossiped with dreamy expressions on how my lady looks like the saints depicted in religious paintings when you wear a veil.”
Perhaps John believed in Riz’s lie because he made that comment.
She had mixed feelings. Riz, who had inherited the beauty of her mother, Virma, was called the “Maiden of Stars” ever since she was young.
Glossy silver hair and pale skin like snow. Her lustrous eyes were like black jewels… apparently.
However, regrettably, her expressions were overwhelmingly dead.
“You seem like you would doze while acting as if you were offering up prayers with your eyes closed though.”
“I don’t hate the church… There are many religious paintings and it’s calm and dim.”
If only dawn didn’t have to come because she hated the morning sun. She wanted to stay more in the damp shade.
If it was possible, she wanted to stay cooped up in the art gallery for her entire life and stare at paintings.
Riz was a lazy young lady without exaggeration. In addition, she was introverted and sickly. The people who knew Riz’s personality lamented at how she was so beautiful but it was a wasted treasure. Riz personally thought the same from the bottom of her heart too.
“Their objective is somewhat impure, but… is my lady obediently obeying that request of the church and so, nowadays, has been attending frequently with the Madam?”
John moved his gaze from the letter to Riz’s face. In his eyes there was an astounded and teasing light.
Riz liked his calm voice and languid atmosphere, which suited the moonlight more than sunlight filtering through trees. It put her at ease to be at his side.
“But the thoughts of the clergy are slow and annoying. If they intend to entice believers with a beautiful woman then I think it would be more efficient to build a brothel around the church. Even without inviting them on purpose, passionate people would descend on them.”
He was catastrophically horrible at conversing.
“Instead, how about providing naked women and male prostitutes in the lounges of the church? If I was a priest I would choose that method.”
How was she to train this demon?
“If you wish to know the love of God then first love thy neighbor, just say something like that and send the believers to a bed. The believers and God will be content and this is two birds with one stone.”
He was saying such outrageous things with an unruffled face. Riz pressed her fingers against her forehead.
“John. Humans have more complicated feelings.”
“Ah, you mean that it is vulgar to show desires? I do not understand. Rather, I believe it is more cowardly and base to keep up appearances of oneself with insincere words and by putting on airs.”
John said this with boredom.
He was merciless. In the eyes of a demon, it seemed like the self-respect of humans showed as nothing more than a deception.
Riz herself was one of those humans covered in lies. An emotion similar to shame spread through her body like smoke.
She placed a lid on her own heart for now though and returned to the course of the conversation.
“There is another reason the number of times I’ve gone to church has increased. My mother was worried I was suffering an injury to the heart.”
“An injury to the heart? Why that concern?”
“My fiancé, Sir Emil, ‘suddenly died’ last month.”
Until recently, Riz had a fiancé. However, because that person, Emil Carotion, died her engagement was naturally cancelled. Riz’s marriage itself became an unsettled matter.
“Seeing that I was spending more time in the art gallery than before, my mother seemed to misunderstand that I was horribly depressed. She even suspected that I might commit suicide to follow after him.”
“Yes. And so she said we would go to the house of God and soothe my heart.”
“Sir Emil is actually alive— it’s not like I could say this truth.”
Riz fell into thought while she unconsciously stroked the edge of the letter with a finger.
She was thankful for her mother’s concern but she also had a guilty conscience. Emil eloped with his servant, Loretta.
He was surely living quietly with her in a peaceful land.
After that the Carotion house changed its head of the family and sold their countryside lands to pay their debts; there seemed to be a fuss for a while, but presently things were calm. Although the new head was still young in his thirties, he was a sincere and serious person. The declining Carotion family would start to steadily get back on its feet.
The Milton house also intended to aid them.
“If my lady told the truth that we had cooperated to fake his death, then even the Madam would likely faint.”
John showed a smile that concealed a scheme.
“I wonder if the degree of shock would be stronger if I told her my true identity was a demon? How about we test that?”
“What shall I do?”
“John, you have a terrible expression.”
“Because I am a demon. We are terrible, you know?”
“… Your appearance isn’t very devilish though.”
“All the more reason for me to be wicked, do you not think so?”
He appeared to get interested in that. Smiling, he imitated the growl of a beast and lightly held a lock of Riz’s hair between his fingers. Honestly, did he have the characteristics of a dog?
“For example, this terrible demon is seducing an adorable and lovely young lady and drawing her into the art gallery every day.”
Whether it was intentional or not, for some reason or other, he showed her sweet and dark eyes. Riz was secretly pressured by the weight of that obscure gaze.
“Your wording is indecent.”
“It’s the truth.”
“I’m coming to the art gallery on my own will.”
“It depends on how you look at it.”
Because he was holding back a laugh, his voice slightly shook.
To a certain degree, it was a casual conversation because they were frank with each other but, somehow, she felt like she was playing with him. There was no doubt it would be mentally better for her to think of it as just messing around with a pet dog.
He didn’t try to release Riz’s hair. He was enjoying the sensation.
Leaving him to do as he pleased, she checked the second letter.
“Who is this from?”
“From a dead man.”
Riz stopped her movements at John’s answer. A dead man. There was only one person who came to mind.
“Could it be Sir Emil?”
“He should have just died right away in the wild. What a tenacious man.”
It seemed like John didn’t like Sir Emil and so he said that in a sarcastic tone.
Riz opened the letter. A pseudonym was used in consideration of the possibility this could be read by others. Lime Knoll. Lime was the letters of Emil read backwards and a knoll was a hill.
Thinking on it, she could understand this.
The last place Riz and John met with Emil was at “Dawn’s Hill”. She believed it was taken from there.
It was not a letter that spoke a lot. “Although we’re at a loss in this unfamiliar life, we’re both doing well and we’re very grateful to the two of you”… it was that sort of harmless and short content.
“My lady, why are you smiling?”
She raised her gaze from the letter and looked at John.
“Because even though they wrote about their unfamiliar life I can feel a happy air.”
To be honest, when she saw the two of them off, there was a cold thought in her mind that one day both of their presences alone wouldn’t be enough. It was a situation where their values were different, social status would be shown in unconscious actions, they would be impoverished, and there was no one to rely on. Anxieties would summon desolation and, eventually, it would bear the black-colored fruit called regret.
Riz could easily imagine the future of two people who disagreed with each other.
However, having read this letter, she was relieved. Love was protecting the hearts of these two.
Ever since she was born as an aristocrat, the lesson that she had to fulfill her aristocratic duty was taught to her from a young age. She wasn’t well-off for no reason. Marriage was not to nurture love but to connect blood. If she couldn’t finish her duty to make an heir then she couldn’t obtain freedom.
But sometimes exceptions might be nice.
Especially so in this case, Riz believed. Although Emil and Loretta did it for love, and there was no other method, they troubled many people. Some people changed their way of life, the head of the family also changed, and the mutual friends of the two of them too. Even those who worked in the mansion were changed.
Riz, who was complicit in the middle, also had a responsibility. That was precisely why she wanted them to be even happier.
“… Up to now, I have seen many humans and I have seen their desires as they are.”
John looked at the shelf, where art supplies were crammed into, and quietly spoke.
“But, in rare cases, there are people who choose love from the bottom of their heart. Persisting with love in and of itself may be the sole desire for those people.”
“Love is a desire?”
“There is nothing as selfish and intense as love, is there?”
Did demons also want love? She had such a question, but for some reason she couldn’t ask.
She just looked absently at John’s profile. His earlier expression of amusement had already disappeared.
What Riz found beautiful were faces overflowing with life like her older sister, Grace. Ones that had plenty of emotions and were carefree. On that basis, John was the antithesis of that. Fundamentally, he was apathetic and he rarely raised his voice to laugh.
And yet, the feeling of wanting to stare at him forever was unexpectedly born. At the same time, there was a pressure that made her heart creak under the stress. No, perhaps it was more of a prickling or damp feeling.
When Riz pressed a hand to her chest, John’s gaze returned to her. Those black iron eyes were blurred with a color of melancholy.
“Are you unwell?”
“No, that’s not it.”
“You have a pained expression though. Do not lie to me.”
He scolded Riz in an irritated voice and placed a hand on her forehead.
“You don’t seem to have a fever.”
That hand slid down gently to her cheek.
She thought of him as an overprotective demon. From time to time, maybe because he found it annoying to keep up appearances, his words would become a mess, but he would never be shoddy when it came to her care. Far from that, he took care of her gleefully. Lately, he even brushed her hair and he seemed to have become interested in pharmacology.
He had a good mind and was dextrous, but even someone as talented as him had things he was poor at.
Even though he was blessed with his abilities as an excellent appraiser and painting restorer, he couldn’t paint an original painting.
Riz glanced at the easel next to the central work desk.
Placed there was a strange drawing that was hard to distinguish as something like an abstract painting and yet not. It seemed like he had drawn an animal, but… Seeing the white-looking fur that sprouted, she wondered if he was drawing a snow leopard or something? Or was it a hedgehog?
As she stared at the drawing with doubtful eyes, she was noticed by John.
He showed an unusually flustered face and then rapidly stood up, leaving Riz to approach the easel. He snapped a cloth over the easel roughly to cover it and hid the drawing. It looked like he was aware of his own poor drawing to the point of being distressed.
When she smiled, his expression became severe. She could see a faint color of shame in those rebuking eyes.
Surprisingly, he had a cute side to him. A ticklish feeling came to her upon learning that.
“My lady, should you not be making preparations to return to the mansion soon?”
John spoke coldly to gloss over the second of shame that had been visible.
Riz’s enjoyment suddenly wilted and she furrowed her eyebrows.
It was planned for her to head to church with Virma in the early afternoon. She wasn’t able to refuse.
“However, before that.”
John straightened his back and made a serious expression like a butler. Riz was also drawn in by that and sat up straight.
“It is time to drink your medicine.”
Her demon was fastidious about time, Riz muttered in her heart.
Riz returned to the mansion together with John and, upon joining up with Virma, they hastened to the church in a carriage.
The place Riz and the others went to was the Seventh Church, built in the main district of the royal capital, Sprarugle.
This capital, which occupied the northeastern part of the Quito Ezira Empire, was an aggregation of seven parishes to be exact. Each district was highly independent to the point of holding their own jurisdiction. The large churches were called the “Seven Pillars” and there were as many of them as there were districts.
The Seventh Church, which could hold court even among the rest, had an important position and had an intimate relationship with the Royal Fine Arts Agency. There were multiple art studios established on its grounds and craftsmen polished their techniques and sensibilities by day and night. It was said that the aristocrats that lived in the capital did not talk politics in lounges hazy with cigar smoke, but in the break rooms within the church.
Riz looked around this break room with complicated thoughts. Because Virma firmly linked their arms together, she couldn’t even escape to run. From an outsider’s perspective, they probably looked like a close mother and daughter.
“Rouse yourself, Riz. However, take care not to forget elegance!”
“Meaning that even if the heart is a carnivore, the face must be that of a herbivore, right, mother?”
The pressure of Virma’s smile was overwhelming.
Riz quickly turned her eyes away. She had explained to John that she started going to and from the church in order to soothe her heart, but there was also another reason. It was to find a good man.
She believed that Virma, at the beginning, also proposed going to church with the pure feelings of wanting to console Riz’s heart. However, her mother’s expression gradually began to change.
She ended up staring at the gentlemen visiting the church with the eyes of a hawk hunting for prey.
Those with power gathered at the church— in other words, single aristocrats with influence would appear by turns.
Her mother was strong. It seemed to come to her mind that perhaps Riz’s marriage partner could be found.
So, after cleansing their hearts with hymns and gracefully offering up prayers, they moved over to the break rooms like this. Incidentally, John wasn’t in the church currently and was waiting beside the carriage.
“There appears to be wonderful men here today as well.”
The glittering in Virma’s eyes increased.
“Mother, I really wonder about ‘looking for a man’ in a holy church. For moral reasons.”
Riz said this in a quiet voice.
The scary thing was that she could see mothers and daughters here and there with hidden ambitions similar to them.
“What are you becoming timid for, Riz? The church is a place that preaches love. There is no suitable place more than this to search for your future husband.”
Virma replied in the same quiet voice as she looked around the break room with a broad smile.
I didn’t want to teach that sort of calculating love, God seemed to roll their eyes.
“Listen. Love isn’t something you can obtain just by waiting around. You must snatch it without hesitation and shoot it down!”
Virma whispered those heated words, showing an expression like that of a saint.
“Think of this place as a hunting ground. Understand?”
“Now, concentrate. The prey is scattered about all over.”
There was no doubt that if God could hear this they would be covering their face with both hands.
“However, you mustn’t show an artless attitude to the gentlemen such as ‘Oh, what do I do, my heart seems to have been stolen by you’. You must satisfy a gentleman’s desire to control well. That is what it means to be a lady among ladies.”
“Mother, I think God will cry soon.”
“In any case, finding the right person to nurture love is first. You must choose the more promising and attractive one.”
She wasn’t listening.
“I know you are still hurting from the bond with Sir Emil being cut, but— the living cannot stay in the depths of grief forever. You must become happy for him too! I’m certain he is also wishing for your happiness.”
No, Sir Emil wasn’t dead, but Riz held back from wanting to disclose the truth.
“Look, how about that gentleman beside the window in the back?… No, a gentleman wearing old-fashioned clothing is out of the question. If the husband’s taste is bad then it will be a hardship on the wife.”
Virma bluntly gave out biting criticism.
“Then, the gentleman sitting on that couch over there… ah, no. He has amorous features; that is the face of someone who will one day have many lovers.”
She seemed to have become a prophet.
“The gentlemen in front of the round table on the other side of the room… Oh my, isn’t he quite fine? It doesn’t seem like his age is too far apart and I believe he is somewhat handsome.”
Riz sent a fishy look towards Virma, who was in high spirits. She wanted to tell all the gentlemen and ladies who were spellbound with her mother and who said, “The Madam of the Milton house is looking splendid today as well”, about her evaluations.
Riz could feel the fatigue descending on her as she accompanied Virma, who began to exchange greetings actively with people. Lately there were continuous days of her in good health, but even still it would be a burden on her to walk around for long hours.
However, she hesitated to tell Virma, who had seen a close friend, that she wanted to return home.
It wasn’t like she was tired to the point of aggravating her health. She would be fine if she rested a little.
Riz looked for an opportunity and then quietly left her mother’s side as she continued to make pleasant talk with her friend.
She was given a glance by Virma. When she signaled with her eyes that she was going to rest by the wall, her mother nodded with a worried look.
She was a troubling mother, but also dear.
Riz thought over things while she walked to the edge of the break room.
That they were searching for a good man every day showed that Virma was seriously worried about Riz’s future.
Before Emil’s “sudden death” her mother frequented the church to pray earnestly for her sickly daughter to live a healthy life for even one day longer. Knowing this made it so that Riz was unable to abandon her family and ignore her social status and position.
Stopping in front of the wall, she gazed out at the break room again.
Despite being inside a church, there was a salon-like gorgeous atmosphere drifting about.
This break room was exclusively for nobles and the rich, and the common people were forbidden from entering.
The fact that such a discriminatory room was created within a holy church was a contradiction in and of itself, but if one read the Bible then they would know that God’s love also had a large bias.
For example, only those who did not lack in love and faith for God would be allowed to go to the land of miracles and promised fortune and eternal peace. In contrast, painful trials awaited heretics and those of difference races. Not a single word was written about how any sort of person would be equally saved.
A good man, huh. Riz murmured this under her breath.
Did there exist a real man who would love a dismal girl who lacked sociability like her without any self-interest?
In addition, she didn’t even know if she could leave behind a heir or not and only held an interest towards paintings.
Thinking such dark thoughts up to this, John’s figure suddenly passed through her mind.
She thought of his usual position beside her chaise as she sprawled on it in the art studio. When he didn’t have business he would guide the reading Riz in this and that related to paintings. Later, he would cover her with a blanket in a familiar motion. When he was in a good mood, he would even brush her hair. She would even feel a little like she gained something—
Riz hurriedly erased his form from her mind.
For some reason, recently, she remembered him whenever she looked at paintings, she remembered him when she looked at men around the same age, she remembered him when she looked at her own hair… somehow, there was a habit to tie everything and everything back to John. Each time that happened her heart would quicken.
What was happening to her heart?
Riz furrowed her brows. Even though no one was looking at her, she ended up making a displeased expression. This was strange of her and, wondering what she was doing, she grew even more embarrassed.
The moment she exhaled deeply to calm her feelings a young noble, who was looking over at her, came to a decision and walked up to her.
Taking advantage of that the nearby men and women also started to talk to her with smiles. Riz repeated inside her heart that this place was a hunting ground.
They were hawks, rabbits, and foxes. If she captured them, her personal connections would expand.
Maybe because it had been a while since she challenged socializing as an aristocratic young lady that, after a while, her head began to hurt.
When it became worse her vision darkened like it was a cloudy day. It was best for her to finish things up here.
She lowered her head a little and, before she could give notice, the gentlemen and ladies spun words that fretted over her physical condition and a path was opened. Riz was grateful for that.
Telling Virma that she would wait at the carriage first, she hurried to where John was standing by at the stables.
She would have him stroke the temple of her forehead. For some strange reason, when she was touched by that large hand, the pain would soften.
Riz unconsciously let out a sigh when she imagined that. His hands were hers and even his gaze should be directed to Riz in the end. If this was the art gallery then she could have put her head in his lap, and she wouldn’t have to be left disappointed.
She allowed her thoughts to run even more rampant while she endured the pain that seemed to stab deep into her head.
If she were to find a new marriage partner…
Would that man’s hand soften her headache like John’s hand?
If a man with gentle hands like that were to become her husband then wouldn’t her days be endlessly peaceful and blessed? She was confused at herself for feeling this on the spur of the moment.
Honestly, what was going on with her? To compare her future husband, whose face she didn’t even know, with a demon.
She sped up her legs as if to shake off her guilt. Until she came close to the carriage she wouldn’t think of him anymore!
Even though she swore that firmly in her heart, it felt like reality was chasing her down to the end.
After she reached the carriage stop, there was the carriage used by her house, but the essential figure of John was not there.
When she asked a coachman she was told that a priest-like person came and took John somewhere.
“What sort of gentleman was it?”
“Yes, miss, it was a very respectable, polite, and compassionate priest.”
The coachman gave a model answer. Even if the truth was different he would probably reply like this; there was nothing else he could say. There were many who thought that speaking ill of a priest would get them punished.
“Did something happen?”
“The two seemed to be acquaintances.”
“—I see. Thank you.”
Riz told the coachman to wait here and retraced her steps back to the church.
The moment she heard the word “acquaintances” the first thing she felt was uneasiness.
John was contracted with Petron, the former bishop of the Seventh Church, before Riz. Perhaps among the churchmen there were some who shared in that secret, or there were people he was close with.
That he was meeting with people connected to his previous contractor… the thought was unexpectedly frightening. The foolish thought that John might leave her shook her heart.
It was the first time she had such frantic emotions for someone else. She wasn’t confident that she could put on a calm attitude.
Riz looked away from the pent-up feelings in her heart. At any rate, she was going to look for John.
The church could also be entered from the carriage stop. That was where she came from. Basically, every church of the royal capital was designed to be easily accessible to aristocrats.
It happened when she climbed up the stone steps in front of the carriage stop and came out onto a pathway.
Riz noticed a single priest standing to the colonnade in front of her to the side.
Their eyes met and Riz stopped. This was the man, she thought. There was no doubt that this was the priest who took John away. It appeared he was waiting for her.
He approached with relaxed steps and stopped in front of Riz, showing a gentle smile.
“You are the young miss of the Milton house, are you not?”
Riz rapidly observed the priest while she lightly pinched her dress and curtsied.
He was in his late twenties or, no, was it early thirties? He was wearing pale vestments tailored as one cloth, the stole that hung from his shoulders was gold, and his eyes were blue with an impression of being slightly cold. However, thanks to his friendly expression, it was well hidden. His hair was a gray color that was reflected silver due to the degree of light. There wasn’t much inflection in his voice and it was deep, but calm. He was a man who gave the impression of an optical illusion painting.
If she weren’t in this situation then she would have been interested in the priest in front of her.
“My name is Greco Lóeil. I am a Sūpan priest, in charge of managing the sacred paintings and sacred tools in the First Church. But I was assigned to the Seventh Church since last month.”
“Father Greco then. As you know, my name is Riz Milton. I am the youngest daughter of the lord of the southeast, Earl Adovuil.”
Riz was taken aback by the sudden self-introduction, but she didn’t show it and easily gave her name back.
He wasn’t a regular priest who held rites. The organization of special priests whose roles were limited to religious works of art or, in other words, the management of relics were called Sūpan priests. She heard they were specialized churchmen of this independent nation who stressed the protection and development of art while also, in particular, investigating demonic possessions; however, she didn’t know if this was the truth.
“I have previously borrowed the wisdom of Mister Hine from the Milton house on many occasions about the authenticity of religious paintings. However, that gentleman has presently crossed to the neighboring country, hasn’t he?”
“Yes. He is planning to search for works of art over there for the time being.”
“Mister Hine is also familiar with classical art. I have no doubts he can even make sense of the distinction on works with motifs between the Bible and the Old-Verse Bible.”
Greco’s explanation was smooth. From his position, it wouldn’t be strange to have interacted with Hine, a noble art dealer.
Riz looked at his face again.
Putting aside portrait paintings, she wasn’t skilled at remembering the facial features of flesh and blood humans. But, if she carefully thought back, she had seen him several times inside this church.
That reminded her, hadn’t he also come to her art gallery twice?
“I’ve always had the thought of wishing to speak with you. If you do not mind, could I have some of your time?”
His bearing and way of talking was polite, but there was a resonance that did not allow a refusal in the core of his voice.
Riz let her gaze run quickly through her surroundings. Close to the carriage stop, the servants waiting for their masters stood by with bored looks. There were also people who snuck glances at Riz and the man who were speaking on the stone steps.
“Your thoughts, miss?”
“… Yes, I do not mind.”
She returned her gaze to Greco. He smiled widely and, placing both hands behind his back, prompted her with “Then, why don’t we take a small walk?”. Like how he came up to her, he proceeded on a path with a relaxed gait. It seemed like he didn’t want others hearing the contents of their conversation.
Riz inwardly put up her guard while she walked to follow him. She didn’t think a priest would harm her inside the church but, no matter how hard he tried, this man was shady.
The very moment she sent a doubtful look to that slender back Greco turned around.
“I have visited the art gallery in Houro before.”
“That is an honor. I hope there was a work that touched this Father’s heart.”
Riz looked back at Greco’s smile while holding a harmless and inoffensive conversation.
In the end, it didn’t seem like she saw wrong. She had witnessed him in the art gallery.
“Even among us, Sūpan priests, your art gallery is a topic of conversation.”
“I am overjoyed to have received the interest of the Fathers; however, the majority of the works we deal in at my art gallery are highly for entertainment. There are also ones that tend towards radical expressions, so I wonder if they have not been thought of to be profane?”
“Not at all. Popularity with the streets also has important implications, after all.”
“I am relieved to hear you say that.”
A cold sweat spread. Saying they were interested sounded nice, but it actually didn’t have a kind implication.
It was the same as being warned that they were listed as a candidate for surveillance. Why was her art gallery— Riz was only flustered for an instant and then had too many guesses. All the more if Greco realized John’s true identity. She was employing a demon and her fiancé had a “sudden death”.
Never in her life had she been so thankful for her own lack of expression. For the teachings of her mother, “Never forget the mask of a lady at any time!” too.
“However, even though I wanted to greet you, I have always been blocked by John.”
“Yes. John Smith. The manager of the art gallery you employed.”
Greco repeated the name, as if to block an escape route.
“Thus, this time I had to take a forceful method.”
During their talk, she wanted to remove her gloves. Her palms were sweaty and it was uncomfortable.
Greco’s attitude remained consistent. He was showing the merciful smile peculiar to churchmen. Like how Riz wore the mask of a lady, he also wore the mask of a priest, and they faced each other.
Riz took a single breath and calmed her shaken heart. In this situation, where she couldn’t tell where the conversation would settle at the end, she couldn’t show a pointless weakness.
“Father Greco, are you familiar with John?”
She deliberately ignored the dangerous words, “forceful”, that she just heard and asked this.
“We are old friends.”
Greco also did not bring it up again. He returned to facing the front and calmly walked through the corridor.
The churches within the royal capital were generally impressively built. They were wide and tall.
Its decorations, which could be taken as extravagant, heavily reflected a religious point of view, faith, and the sensibilities of the age it was constructed: there were elegant colonnades making half-arches, cupolas with a generous amount of precious gems scattered about, a richly colored decorative ceiling painting depicting a world of paradise, and angel statues exquisite to the point where it wouldn’t be strange if they were to move. Riz felt like she could hear the flapping of their wings. The polished knowledge and techniques were beautiful. And the place where the techniques of beauty were concentrated was the Church.
The tiles of the stone floor, carved with images of birds, made the sound of their shoes echo quietly.
The images of the stone floor were worn away and faint, like a faded painting, and it was probably from the coming and going of many worshipers. In this culmination of beauty, the history of all the people who walked through like this was accumulated.
From time to time, they would pass believers and priests. Seeing Greco, they would give a light bow.
Sūpan priests managed the studios which were exclusively with the church and actively interacted with art dealers of the streets. It was possible that Greco met her uncle Hine there. But what about John’s case? She wouldn’t be wrong in thinking this was connected to his previous contractor, would she?
Riz stared hard at his back. There was a grace in his movements, and they weren’t actions someone could learn in a short period of time. He was a churchman from a noble background.
“You spoke of being old friends, but how long have you known John?”
She threw out this question and he stopped before turning his whole body to face her.
However, his gaze was not at Riz but towards the granite holy beast statue that was placed in the hollow of a pillar.
Riz also looked over there. It was a winged lion with a flowing mane and its front limb raised up. It was a pose that overflowed with liveliness, as if even now it would leap at its prey. She gazed admiringly at its supple back and the power of its back legs which supported its weight
“—Do you not think this statue is strange?”
The topic was changed and Riz was bewildered.
“This is a holy statue. However, if you look closely, there is a sense of discomfort.”
She was triggered by Greco’s words and turned her eyes to the details.
The hollow of the pillar was built in a place that was slightly higher than Riz’s line of sight. Because of that, she naturally had to look up.
Riz stared at it for a while and then suddenly jolted. There were symbols of blasphemy?
The highly perfected statue was carved extremely delicately. The movements of its fur were detailed and it made a person feel the wind.
But what caught her awareness was the flow of fur around the abdomen. Depending on how it was perceived, it seemed like there were many small inverted crosses carved there.
She reflexively took a step back. Why was such a blasphemous statue placed in the church?
If she remembered right, John had said before that there were a number of dreadful symbols carved into the walls of the Seventh Church. Perhaps this holy beast statue was one of those secrets? What about the angel statues beside the wall which were placed facing this holy beast statue?
Riz turned her face to Greco. Why did he feel like telling her about the existence of an ominous artwork?
“Distorted paintings are not restricted to things such as oil paintings or watercolor paintings. If you interpret ‘pictures’ in a broad sense, then it could be objects such as statues or hymns.”
He was still the merciful priest as usual, and yet with a smile she couldn’t perceive.
Riz’s back suddenly became chilled. It was like this man, who was a priest, was going along with this blasphemous lion.
Riz pressed this terror to the bottom of her chest and straightened her spine. Her headache wouldn’t settle. If she didn’t lock her legs firmly then it felt like she would collapse to her knees on the spot.
“Miss Riz, you also know, do you not? Distorted paintings are when creators unconsciously draw in blasphemous symbols in their works. It is equivalent to a blessing for demons. They happily live there and, before long, call for disasters to their surroundings.”
You also heard an explanation on distorted paintings from John, right? Greco was inquiring with a tone that held confidence.
However, the color of his eyes abruptly changed. As if he transformed from a priest to just a man.
“Still, Miss Riz, you are beautiful.”
He approached in an instant.
She was confused at the sudden compliment. There was heat in the eyes that looked at her.
“If I was a sculptor I would move my chisel with undivided attention to capture your beautiful appearance for an eternity.”
“… I appreciate your compliment.”
“You’ve a beauty that steals the heart. Just one of your gestures would have a poet compose a hundred poems, and a writer would imagine a number of stories.”
Riz was used to her appearance being admired. There was nothing but her appearance, which she inherited from her mother, that would receive compliments from the other gender. After all, she was an introverted and sickly woman with dead eyes.
Putting that aside, they were talking about distorted paintings, so why did he suddenly start to talk about her personal appearance?
It happened the moment she tilted her head, unable to read his thoughts.
“However, John wouldn’t be submissive and drawn to just a beautiful woman.”
Riz’s breath caught. The heat from Greco’s eyes disappeared and he regained his serenity again.
“He’s nestled close to you and attached to that art gallery because there are distorted paintings there, correct?”
The conversation hadn’t been changed for no reason.
He deliberately touched on her personal appearance in order to watch her reaction.
“… Father Greco, you were the one to send letters to my art gallery, right?”
She finally understood the reason why she was asked many times by the Seventh Church to transfer ownership.
“Ah, so you looked over the contents.”
Did she invite this situation upon them by continuing to be non-commital in her responses?
To make her responses flustered, he took a “forceful” approach— meaning a method that implied a threat to John. There was no doubt that Greco knew John’s true identity, even after touching the topic of distorted paintings.
However, there were still some unclear points. Riz had kept quiet about John’s secret from before they were contracted, so why was she being contacted about this now? And what was the reason for their insistence on taking away the art gallery?
“So, where is John right now?”
From the coachman’s testimony, she knew a priest John was acquainted with took him.
“Miss Riz, I see you possess a strong heart. You are advancing the conversation calmly without being disturbed.”
Greco said that in a tone which didn’t sound insulting.
—It was impossible for her not to be frightened.
Riz kept this refutation only in her mind. She wanted to avoid confronting a person connected with the church as much as possible.
In the case their conversation turned sour, she would even cause trouble for her father. Unlike Virma, who was sweet to her children, her father was strict. In order to protect their honor, he had the resolve to abandon even his real daughter.
“I cannot help but wonder. Why is it that virtuous people are drawn to wicked beings? Even Father Petron was quite fond of John.”
Greco smiled wryly.
Riz didn’t actually know what sort of days John spent with his previous contractor, Petron.
However, when she looked at John, she would feel something indistinct.
That didn’t they perhaps have a rough relationship where they cheated each other?
“Are you willing to tell me? Where is John?”
When she patiently repeated her question, he didn’t answer immediately and fixed the position of the gold stole hanging from his shoulders with excessively careful actions. Riz felt annoyed, but she waited for an answer without rushing him.
Gentlemen and ladies who seemed to have finished a service and were returning to their carriages passed by them. The sound of their shoes striking the stone floor slid into her ears.
After they became distant, Greco finally opened his mouth.
“He’s restrained in the Holy Fig Tree Room.”
Riz furrowed her brows deeply. She couldn’t hide this expression.
“It’s a room decorated with the chair that the eighteenth pope, Urbaunus, habitually used. Presently, us Sūpan priests also use it as an assembly room though.”
“If you are restraining John over the art gallery matter, then could you release him? Let us resolve this problem between us.”
“There is another issue. He is suspected of killing the former bishop, Petron.”
“What did you say?”
She forgot her anger and fear and stared fixedly at Greco. Even while talking about violent words such as murder, a large change in Greco’s expression couldn’t be seen. He was just merciful and calm.
“Why is he suddenly being treated as a criminal?”
“It simply didn’t become public knowledge, but there has been suspicions since before. After all, he is— a cunning demon, is he not?”
Greco had plainly stated John’s true identity.
“As I thought, you also knew. I suppose that’s natural.”
Knowing he was looking for a reaction, Riz inwardly groaned. Please, mother, teach me how to wear the mask of a lady harder than any iron.
“Seeing that look of yours, my heart is racing against my better judgment. To think you would give me immoral feelings.”
Riz resisted asking him if he was a pervert and switched her emotions over.
“… Is it not just you, Father Greco, but also the other priests, who even now protect the love and teachings of the former bishop, who know about John? And, because of that, there are suspicions?”
“John is named as a suspect more for being the closest person to Father Petron than because his identity is a demon. Although, well, there are also priests who have realized his true identity.”
Somehow, it was an unclear answer. Whether it was because he didn’t know precisely or because he was intentionally avoiding a statement, she couldn’t read it from his appearance.
“I was one of Father Petron’s disciples, and so I realized his true identity immediately.”
Several questions emerged. Was he fine even if his own master contracted a demon?
Even if he was disinterested in another person’s circumstances because of an indifferent personality, from the standpoint of his position, she felt like it wasn’t something to simply be accepted. Normally, wouldn’t someone be surprised and desperate to distance themselves from a demon by all means? He should have tried to exorcise the demon and, if that didn’t work, discuss this with an inquiry commission board. It was that sort of important matter.
She wanted to inundate him with questions, but right now she had to get back John first.
“Father Petron met the end of his days with no signs whatsoever. Even though there are suspicions, it is a known fact that Father Petron loved John like a son. Thus, he was quickly removed from being a target of judgment at an early stage. However…”
Greco looked down at Riz, as if troubled.
“He went to you. And, this time, your fiancé came to a suspicious death.”
Riz endured her vertigo. She wanted to scream.
—Did Sir Emil’s “death” cause John to be suspected again!?
“Sir Emil’s stepmother, Lady Rachel, made a fuss in the church. Yes, I believe she said her stepson was killed by a demonic picture. And that it was because the daughter of the Milton house was cursed.”
Riz wanted to sit down on the spot. It was only natural they were suspected from this.
Although the matter of the painting was originally Emil’s own plan, Riz also helped in his elopement. It had come to light that Rachel had fraudulent dealings with her business and so, presently, she was awaiting trial. She was probably panicking and wanting even the slightest bit of advantage for her trial.
Furthermore, the scandal related to the youngest daughter of the Milton House was much more interesting in the eyes of the people than Rachel’s lone ruin. There was no mistake that she wanted to keep everyone’s interest over to Riz.
It went without saying for John, who was restrained, but Riz herself was in a pretty dangerous position.
She was disgusted at her own carelessness. In the end, she was just an aristocratic lady ignorant of the world. Once a matter happened, how much influence there would be on those around her— how far the ripples would spread, she hadn’t properly anticipated these at all.
However, Riz promptly sealed her regret and focused her awareness on Greco.
It was precisely at times like these that she needed to be calm.
“Cursed, nonsense. That is a misunderstanding and a grudge. Of course, I sympathize with Lady Rachel’s unfortunate circumstances.”
“A misunderstanding, you say?”
Greco looked as if he was trying to resist laughing when she nodded without hesitation. Riz didn’t care about that and continued speaking.
“Moreover, John also didn’t kill Father Petron.”
“Oh my, are you insisting he is innocent? Is he not just deceiving you?”
John had said previously that Petron was killed by another demon. He was obsessed with searching for distorted paintings for that reason. His contract with Riz was also for getting revenge on the demon who killed Petron.
According to him, she possessed the so-called “Holy Eyes” possible of seeing through to demons lurking in distorted paintings that were hideaways.
Riz went to explain this but caught herself.
She shouldn’t carelessly surrender information to an opponent that would calmly threaten her.
“Do you believe in the excuses of a demon? Or do you have the hubris of being trusted by a demon?”
Riz gave a vague smile.
One of the teachings of Virma, who carried a hundred masks of a lady under cover, was to smile prettily whenever one was at a loss for an answer.
“Father Greco, are you intending to judge John as a ‘demon’ rather than the adopted son of Father Petron? Is the request for the transfer of the art gallery also because of suspicions that it is tainted by a demon?”
He showed a deep, contemplative expression and stared at the holy beast statue.
“If this continues then it will result in John’s true identity being exposed to the public. Is it a sealing or an execution that waits at the end of that?”
Riz wanted to swear at his heartless words. What stopped her was because she caught something in Greco’s roundabout expression. It seemed like he answered her question, but also didn’t answer it.
Come to think of it, Greco did the same when she asked him whether or not he sent letters to the art gallery. He didn’t clearly admit that it was “him”. Did another person send the letters instead of him?
The accusation of murder on John and urging her to hand over the art gallery, was it all another churchman?
However, Greco was the one who restrained John. No, did he just take John there and left the capture to someone else?
She stared into his eyes after thinking up to there.
“Could I be allowed to see John?”
“Well now… although he is restrained, he is a clever demon and contact is dangerous. He might use you in order to escape.”
Even though he replied like that his voice sounded as if he were testing her.
It didn’t look like contact was forbidden and she would be brushed aside. He was putting on airs.
Which one of them was the cunning one? Even though he was a priest, he was looking for compensation.
“Oh Father Greco, a faithful friend of virtue and with a heart of mercy deeper than the ocean, please won’t you point the way for this lost and pitiful sheep? Yes, your words are light and your eyes are hope and your forgiveness brings about safety to the earth. Even the dark forest will clear in an instant and birds of wisdom will sing highly—“
“Hahaha, you’re a funny one. You’re making a request while boldly reading from the Bible sentence engraved in that pillar over there.”
Greco seemed as if he unintentionally spilled out a laugh.
“But God’s grace is given only to those who believe in holiness. Conversely, it seems like you believe in the devil, Miss Riz?”
She didn’t see that coming. Was this retribution for holding irreverent thoughts about how God wasn’t fair? Riz looked into the distance, but then immediately clasped her hands in front of her chest and feigned a sweet “request pose”, one of her mother’s skills.
“Please take a look at my clean and clear sincerity.”
“Sincerity, you say.”
Greco’s lips twitched.
“I am a devout believer. I frequently go to church while searching for a good man.”
He covered his mouth with a hand, perhaps trying to resist from bursting out into laughter.
“Searching for a good man… no, that’s right… The path to walk with God is tough and steep. There are hidden traps of desire here and there. Right now, you must be in the middle of that path.”
“I am grateful to you for changing it to a beautiful expression. Please convey to God to look at me with tolerance.”
He turned sideways. His brows were pulled together, but she could tell that he wasn’t angry.
“… Yes, Miss Riz, you are reputed to be the Maiden of Stars by everyone. Even God must be impressed by your lovely appearance of offering prayers.”
“Thank you very much. I was strictly ordered by my mother to be properly conscious of looking neat and tidy even in the middle of prayers. After all, one doesn’t know when they will catch the attention of a good man.”
“That is amazing, no, an impressive amount of work.”
His voice was clearly trembling with a laugh.
“I wonder if God will respond to my efforts? But, right now, I want to see John more than a good man.”
“God bestows trials as well as mercy. So that humans do not become conceited to God’s love.”
“I understand, Father Greco. Please tell me the contents of the compensation that is called a trial.”
At last his shoulders shook as he laughed.
“I didn’t think you were this odd… no, this interesting of a lady. I am at a loss and I do not dislike that. It makes me want to indulge you.”
“Welcome to the path of depravity. Please indulge me thoroughly and to your heart’s content. I can be indefinitely indulged.”
Riz watched over Greco as he continued to laugh with a lowered head for some time. She wondered if, thanks to her mother’s education, she had become quite skilled at conversing too?
“—Aah, it’s my loss. Very well, I’ll let you meet him.”
He wiped the tears of laughter from the corner of his eyes and pasted on the smile of a priest, whose emotions couldn’t be read, again.
“However, I cannot allow him to be free. I am certain he will receive judgment in the near future. If you say he is innocent then please search for that evidence.”
“… Is proving John’s innocence a repayment for you, Father Greco?”
“From the start, I have not asked for anything in return. I only wish to avoid a false charge. Even if the other person is a demon.”
That was shady, but she probably wouldn’t receive a precise answer if she poked any further. Greco extended a hand towards the back of a straight corridor. It was a beautiful gesture. He looked like a real messenger of God.
Riz moved her feet in the direction he pointed.
“However, please take care, Miss Riz.”
“If you aren’t able to prove his innocence then you will also be judged heretical with the sin of protecting a demon.”
“Is that so? I will keep your advice in mind.”
Riz’s feet didn’t stop and her expression didn’t change either.
As a lady, even when she was scared and anxious, she must be elegant.
Riz’s demon was, as Greco said, restrained in the Holy Fig Tree Room.
He was seated in a sturdy wooden chair that was said to be habitually used by the eighteenth pope. Although it was said he was restrained, his limbs weren’t bound with ropes.
Maybe just sitting in a holy person’s chair was equivalent to being restrained.
Riz was conscious of Greco’s gaze as he withdrew to the wall and approached John with her usual pace.
“John, are you unharmed?”
To Riz, who asked him that, he also answered dispassionately with a calm expression as usual.
When she vowed that she would come to save him and he just needed to wait, he sent detestable replies back one after another. Furthermore, he even lectured her about being lazy and other such things.
After a short while, where they had a conversation that seemed to be somewhat out of sync, John turned a chilly gaze to Greco.
“I would like to speak with my lady alone.”
Greco immediately excluded that with “That cannot be allowed”.
John became displeased to the point where even an outsider could tell. Riz looked over at Greco once and then kneeled in front of John, questioning him in a quiet voice.
“John, can you really not stand from this chair?”
“It’s impossible until after sunset, where the power of darkness increases. My entire body is numb as if poison was poured into me.”
Riz drew her eyebrows down. Poison. He had a nonchalant expression, but wasn’t it actually quite painful?
“I was thoughtless… I shouldn’t have made you accompany me to church.”
“What are you saying? Who would shove medicine into that mouth if your health worsened along the way?”
“Wait, your priority is my medicine?”
“What else is there?”
It was hopeless with this demon.
“Could it be that you’re unusually reflecting on yourself?”
He snorted. She was worried about him, and yet what was with this attitude?
“Where is the need to be gloomy? There are tools and seals to welcome demons into the church hidden everywhere. Prospering evil, the pale horse spreading fire and death— even the ancient grimoire that begins with such an ominous declaration is stored in the archives of the church. Therefore demons can trespass even into sacred spaces without being burned.”
Riz’s eyes widened. Was he saying that holy beast statue was placed there to protect demons?
But who exactly did that?
“Enough about me, you must return to the mansion and rest early. There is no blood in your face… Your head hurts, does it not?”
She couldn’t rest. She had to prove John’s innocence.
“Did you hear the reason for why I was captured?”
“Suspected of murdering your previous contractor.”
“Correct. Thus, it is unrelated to my lady. Return quickly with the madam.”
Her heart stung at being told that curtly.
“… But right now you’re my demon.”
When Riz refused to back down, John scrutinized her.
“How about you sell that art gallery? You could just have a new art gallery in another place. That way Mr. Hine can save his face.”
“Why are you saying that?”
“If I am judged then it would result in even you being implicated.”
“You don’t have to worry about that.”
“You received letters from the church and, in truth, their contents were about the buying and selling of the art gallery, yes?”
Unable to nod, she was lightly glared at.
“If you were to turn over the art gallery to Greco over there then, at least, my lady’s safety will be protected.”
“But, John, you won’t be safe.”
“Rather, my execution is good news for you. This might be your last opportunity to escape from the chains of a tainted demon.”
“I’m not willing to let go of the art gallery or you… Did you forget your vows? You are to serve me as if you loved me, right? Then I will respond to that.”
John gave a huff of laughter. Riz noticed that his glasses were slightly askew. She raised herself and fixed the position of his glasses. His smile deepened.
“Why, doesn’t it sound like I am loved by you?”
She thought he was making frivolous talk. However, right after their eyes met, the depths of her chest suddenly became hot as if a flame was tossed in. She wanted to praise herself from the bottom of her heart for having difficulties expressing emotions on her face.
“Yes. It is close to love.”
Riz drew back and turned her body around. She felt John’s gaze.
“Wait. I’ll be sure to free you.”
There was no response. He seemed to be at a loss. She was struck by the urge to turn around and see his expression.
At that time Greco, who had been standing beside the wall, approached while being all smiles.
“Miss Riz, if we do not leave soon we will be discovered by people. By nature, this is a place where no believers can enter.”
Riz, after wavering, asked Greco a question.
“Can you guarantee John’s safety?”
“Regrettably, I cannot promise that.”
She thought about giving the name of the Milton house but, in the case she couldn’t save John, all the lives of her family would end up being exposed to danger. That was something which must be avoided. But she was also resistant to leaving John in a place where there was a risk of harm.
In Riz’s conflict, Greco suddenly looked at her with sweet eyes and took her hand. It was an expression unbecoming of a priest. Riz was puzzled.
“To ask a churchman such as me to protect a demon. However, if you truly desire that then… oh, I know, I would like a reward from you as an individual and not a priest.”
“What is it?”
She wanted it to be a commonplace desire. If it was gold bars or jewels then she could prepare them, and if she borrowed Virma’s power then there was a degree of accommodation even in the church. But the wish that he expressed was an unexpected thing.
She was shocked. To be honest, she was worried that something more troublesome would be demanded.
“You’ll be satisfied with that?”
For some reason Greco had surprised eyes, even though he was the one who wished for it. Or rather he looked at her with eyes that doubted her sanity.
“I understand. Let’s do that.”
“I haven’t done this to anyone apart from the dog raised at my grandparents’ mansion, and so I do not know if it will be to your liking.”
“Wha, um, Miss Riz!?”
“I apologize, but could you bend down a little? You are tall so I cannot reach you.”
“Think this over. Calm down a bit, Miss Riz!”
“Specify the location. Is it the lips or the cheek? Forehead?”
She wanted to settle this before she was told, oh nevermind. She yanked Greco’s collar, while he panicked, and brought her face close. Greco turned bright red while saying, “We can’t, we can’t”. Despite rejecting her with his mouth, both his hands were placed cheekily on Riz’s shoulders. He was a man with a strange reaction.
John suddenly shouted.
Riz reflexively startled and released her hands from Greco’s collar. Greco also swiftly drew back like he was a young boy found to be playing a prank.
“I cannot believe this, but you are not seriously intending to follow through on this degenerate’s nonsense, right?”
Degenerate. Greco’s face twitched as he murmured that sorrowfully and, on that note, he fell silent.
Riz couldn’t reply either. Expressions were missing from John’s face.
“You are a young lady who has yet to be married.”
His voice was low. It made her feel like she was being sentenced to death.
“But, John, I think one kiss is a small price to pay if it can guarantee your safet—“
Riz cut off her words in the middle.
Because the coldness in John’s eyes behind his glasses increased.
He moved his gaze slowly, as if it were a massive force, to Greco. Greco took a step back.
“Greco. You are also, more or less, a clergy. What is the meaning of boldly flirting with a woman in church?”
“Sūpan priests are allowed marriages though… erm, no, I’m sorry.”
Greco tried to hide behind Riz’s back while he mumbled his excuses. What sort of priest was lectured for moderation by a demon?
“If you want a woman go to a brothel. Do not tease my lady.”
John’s eyes didn’t leave from Greco, who was shrinking down behind Riz. If he was this strong, then there wasn’t any need for her to help him, was there? Riz quietly thought this.
“It is even worse if you wanted someone to play with. In the first place, my lady isn’t suited to having affairs. Look closely at her, there is less light in this person’s eyes than that of a freshly severed sheep head.”
“Severed sheep head…”
Even more light disappeared from Riz’s eyes. Wasn’t there a better way of saying it?
“Furthermore, my lady’s physical strength is less than a baby’s and I would ask of you not to make her walk around needlessly. She is a troublesome person whose health collapses whenever there is an opportunity. In addition, she is extremely introverted. It would be easier to rear a mole above ground. The largest problem is that, despite being aware of her own delicateness, she doesn’t care for her body at all. I have been thinking of shoving an anesthetic down her throat the next time she stays up all night.”
After a freshly severed sheep head was a mole.
The expressions were so bad there was no room to defend herself.
“… Wow, he’s quite overprotective, isn’t he?”
Greco said this to Riz and sent her a strangely sympathetic look. John didn’t deny this and glared at him.
“If I wasn’t overprotective, this person would be dead on the roadside.”
It was a declaration.
“Get my permission when you are contacting my lady. However, all meeting tims should be within thirty minutes.”
Am I a prisoner or something? Riz wanted to say that but she resisted.
“John, you don’t have to worry so much because I’ll be alright. Before I met you, I wasn’t causing that much trouble to others.”
“However, currently, you have a body which cannot live without me.”
“It hurts when you say that.”
John was too perfect. She swallowed back her sigh and stared at him.
“I can’t live without you, John, so I want to clear your charges as soon as possible.”
“You have your priorities backwards if you end up collapsing.”
“Yes, I can’t collapse safely without you. Honestly, I even want to bring you back home right now.”
He opened his mouth like he was about to say something. However, in the end, he chose silence.
“… Miss Riz, come, let us leave.”
Greco gently took Riz’s arm and prompted her. She nodded to that and turned towards the door along with him.
Right before Riz left the room she looked back. Wait, she told John without saying it out loud.
Because she would definitely free him.
John stared back at Riz as if he was seeing something a little dazzling.
As they walked on the path a choir boy approached from the front with quick steps. From the young and rosy-cheeked boy she received the message, “Virma is looking for Riz”.
She had several questions for Greco, but it seemed better to withdraw at this point today.
Riz thought this and obediently returned to Virma.
In front of Greco she feigned being calm, but inwardly that wasn’t the case. She was severely disturbed at John suddenly being restrained. Even she could tell that about herself.
She was worried about leaving John behind at the church. However, it didn’t seem like he was in a situation where his life was in danger if he wasn’t helped out of there right now.
Riz believed in that instinct of hers. Besides, there was a fear that if she caused a ruckus in that place and people gathered then the situation John was placed in would worsen.
If the situation were more urgent then even John shouldn’t be that easygoing. No doubt she wouldn’t even have been capable of meeting him.
But it was a fact that he was charged with murdering Petron.
That itself was probably why he obediently became restrained, but Riz couldn’t wipe away a sense of discomfort on that point either.
There were too many unclear points in the explanation she received from Greco. It could even be said that he was too vague. He might have been deliberately hiding information.
Riz felt like she was in front of a complicated abstract painting where multiple colors were colliding. In the end, what was Greco’s true desire? Did he seriously want to execute John, or did he not want to act himself but it pained him to abandon John and so he wanted the charges to be cleared by someone?
Or was he not interested in John’s well-being and just wanted to reveal the truth of Petron’s death? There was also the possibility that he simply found fault with Riz and wanted to steal her art gallery. She didn’t know what was right.
It displeased her to dance at the will of another and on the picture they drew, but the important thing was that John returned unharmed. First, she would explore how it was at Petron’s time of death.
If she couldn’t gasp the circumstances there then she couldn’t make the right judgment.
That being said, it was work she was reluctant to do. It was certain she’d end up touching John’s past without permission.
Leaving the church, when she had been pondering over things even in the carriage, her hand was suddenly grabbed by Virma, who must have misunderstood her to be sick.
“Riz, are you dizzy? How about we rent a room somewhere and rest?”
Virma’s eyes, as she peered into Riz’s face, seemed to be damp with fear and sadness.
Riz loved those eyes of her mother. She thought they were the eyes of the sun. Life burned and shone in their depths.
Her older sister, Grace, was the one who inherited their mother’s passion the most. Riz thought it was beautiful from the bottom of her heart. She was also envious. In contrast, she was like a ghost. Wasn’t it like half of her life was missing? That was surely why she only shined half as bright.
“—There’s no need for concern, mother. I’m healthy.”
Virma lightly sighed when Riz squeezed back.
“Really? That’s fine then… Still, where did John go?”
“It appears he met a friend of his adoptive father, Father Petron. They must have had many things to talk about, so I was asked to go back first.”
She gave the excuse she thought up beforehand. Virma looked as if she understood, but she showed an unhappy expression.
“But to have left you alone when your complexion is this bad.”
Even with Virma it seemed like John was decided to be Riz’s caretaker.
“He needs to be beside you even if you’re fine. Is there anything in this world more important than my Riz?”
Riz nearly laughed upon seeing Virma declare that with what looked like the dignity of a queen. She quickly tightened her expression.
“Oh my, Riz, why are you hiding your smile?”
“A smile doesn’t suit me.”
“Even if your smiling face looks warped like an evil witch, your mother will accept it with a broad heart.”
“Mother, you taught me before that a lady must not smile easily. She has to aim for ‘that’ moment and smile.”
“Oh, did I say such a thing? But you often smile in front of John, don’t you?”
“… Do I?”
“Yes, you do. It’s not fair. Won’t you show your mother?”
Riz stared at Virma who was puffing out her cheeks like a child.
She was at a loss and then a belated sense of embarrassment ran up her back.
“I don’t mean to smile in front of John either though…”
Virma’s eyes widened.
“My child. You don’t know just how special the expression you’re making right now is, do you?”
“Special… what do you mean?”
“It means my daughter is the most beautiful one in the world!”
This was declared with full confidence and Riz was bewildered.
“Mother, think about it realistically, isn’t it only God who knows the faces of all the humans in the world? I believe just knowing the faces of everyone living in the royal capital would be more than amazing enough. Incidentally, do you know who it is that has repeated the most heartless and cruel massacres in this world? Yes, that’s right, it is the God we believe to be merciful. Floods, epidemics, burning meteors, locust plagues… they hunt human lives with the most efficiency and without mercy. Death also hunt souls, but in the end this is due to God’s order. But, if you tell this to people, you’re guaranteed to be told that you don’t know God’s love. They preach teachings about seeing the truth, yet deny the truth. I wonder if humans love contradictions?”
“Good gracious, this child!”
“By the way, I wonder if Death, during their life, was a farmer who was a believer? The scythe carried by Death is a relic of farming tools.”
“You’re changing the subject on purpose, aren’t you? I won’t let you!”
Virma pinched Riz’s cheeks lightly and showed a gorgeous smile that was befitting a lady.
Why was she looking over here with such a happy expression?
Riz gradually became uncomfortable.
“I knew it, I need to scold John later.”
“Because he is not here.”
Riz looked around the small carriage.
Right now, if John were here…
Thinking this, Riz realized that for the first time she didn’t know what to do with the feeling of being lonely. If he was beside her, then the brightness of her lacking life would be a little better.
“—Don’t worry, mother. John will return soon.”
Maybe because she put strength into her answer, but Virma had a puzzled look.
T/N: Greco’s title, 餐司, is an interesting word because 餐 is an archiac way to say “dining”. It’s used in “The Last Supper” so I think that’s what they’re referencing with this kanji. I struggled with finding something that would sound cool as a title and ended up with “Sūpan”, which is the Old English form of the verb “sup” as in “to have supper”.