Chapter Four: The Upset Demon
Emotionally, she was planning on challenging the 16 paintings through the night, but she was stopped by John in less than an hour.
“No, it is cold here. We should return to our rooms now.”
Saying that, he forcibly took Riz out of the Room of Peace.
“Wait, I heard that believers come to worship in the morning. If that’s the case, then we can only check these at night.”
“If you collapse then everything will come to nothing.”
“I won’t die from just collapsing once.”
It wasn’t expressed on her face but Riz was impatient. She wanted to find the demon who killed Petron as soon as possible.
“If this continues you’ll end up being falsely charged.”
She appealed to a stubborn John as they exited the narrow corridor they passed through in the day and walked past the columns built in the center of the cathedral.
“Just give me fifteen more minutes.”
“I will not permit that. Your complexion is white.”
“That’s because of the cold.”
“It’s because it’s cold that I’m saying we should return now. You’re being an unreasonable young lady.”
“John, I want to help you. Give me that chance right now.”
A strong voice slipped out of her mouth. John stopped and turned around as if surprised. The moment the sound of their shoes stopped the silence suddenly pressed in. Riz grabbed his hand tightly.
“I’ve always spent my days needing someone’s help. I know this is allowed because of my status, and that I also have a duty I must fulfill. But, just once, out of my own will, I want to fulfill a wish I won’t yield to anyone with this one life I have.”
“… Is gaining my innocence important to the point of being your one and only wish in life?”
“I realize that for you, John, being suspected of murder really is no skin off your nose.”
Unlike Riz, he wasn’t impatient at all. He also didn’t act as if he had all the time in the world. There was just a feeling of mere displeasure. He probably wouldn’t even care if things ended like this without his charge being cleared.
John wasn’t a human. He was a demon. If it came down to it he could throw away the name “John Smith”, slaughter everyone who came for him, and escape far away. It was just like that.
“You’re this desperate even while knowing I couldn’t care less?”
He showed an odd expression. He might have been ridiculing her.
“If your charge isn’t cleared then I can’t be a shut-in together with you at the art gallery, John.”
“—Is that important?”
“Extremely. That’d be equivalent to killing my heart.”
For some reason, he stirred when she vehemently argued this.
“… You have no idea what you’re saying, do you?”
“What do you mean?”
“From time to time, my lady becomes passionate.”
“I’m usually calm though.”
“Don’t lie. Your eyes are dead, but you’re quite an emotional one.”
John had said this to her before, but she felt like his common sense was off a bit.
“If you didn’t have the Holy Eyes, you would surely be healthy and you would smile every day in a way that would make everyone fall in love.”
“That wouldn’t be me. The person who is called the Maiden of Stars is this dead-eyed me.”
A smile that would match a cheerful her would be a fake.
John stared at Riz with a bemused appearance. But then he suddenly grabbed Riz’s body and yanked her into him.
Riz nearly screamed when she was flung into his chest. She was relieved when the lamp that was dangling from her other hand didn’t drop. Right after that, behind her, there was the echoing sound of something extremely heavy that fell down. Following that, she also heard the noise of something shattering. It was all right where Riz had stood.
Turning around, there were fragments of a statue scattered on the stone floor.
It was a small statue that decorated the upper parts of one of the columns. It seemed to have fallen.
—Coincidence? But it wouldn’t have suddenly fell like that.
John took off his cloak and grabbed a pocket watch that hung from his jacket.
The moment he opened the lid small parts such as gears and screws floated up. They revolved through the air like a swarm of fish and then, the second they swirled together like a whirlpool, there was the sound of parts sticking to each other. Before long, a machine-like skeleton knight was created. There were gears of differing sizes fitted in its left and right eye sockets.
The instant John ordered that, a black shadow darted between the aisle and nave of the church.
It looked like a human shape. But it was impossible to think of that quick movement as human.
The skeleton knight ran to the back of the nave, joints creaking. A thick darkness covered that area. It was late at this point, but Riz realized that the candles on the altar which had been lit when they came in were all blown out. Within seconds, she heard the short howl of a beast and metal being broken. Then, when that ended, she heard a noise like small stones rolling.
Something small bumped into the tip of her shoe. Riz hesitantly looked down at her feet and saw that a bent gear had rolled to her. It was the gear that had been fitted in the skeleton knight’s eye socket.
Suddenly, a chill ran down her neck. She unconsciously raised her gaze and in the depths of the darkness damp bloodshot eyes, like a grape with its skin removed, floated there.
It stared relentlessly and resentfully over here.
There should have been a lot of distance between them but she had the illusion that it was right in front of her. It felt like she could even hear its breathing. John’s words abruptly crossed her mind again. Optical illusion. A painting that mislead the eyes. Was it actually close or far?
John squeezed out. He also seemed to have noticed those eerie wet eyes. Riz tilted her head, not understanding the meaning behind his words “Found you”, but then immediately understood this was the demon who killed Petron that he had been searching for all this time.
John took a step towards it, as if possessed. But she grabbed his arm at once.
He tried to violently shake off Riz but, halfway, he looked down at her like he woke from a dream and stopped moving. His expression couldn’t hide his irritation and confusion.
Riz wondered if her words would reach him right now? If she wished for him not to go, she felt like it wouldn’t be granted.
She suddenly felt alone. Riz tightened the hand that was holding onto his arm. The brightness of the lamp in her other hand shook greatly and a thick shadow fell on John’s face.
“Wait. Your skeleton knight hasn’t come back.”
John didn’t respond and looked in the direction where those wet eyes appeared. They were already gone.
John pulled Riz off of him with calm movements and headed towards the darkness.
This time Riz also didn’t stop him. She followed after him and they approached the place where those wet eyes emerged.
In John’s stead, as he stood still with a severe expression, she shone the lamp around their surroundings. There was no alarming presence anywhere anymore.
What about deeper in? Thinking that, she took a few more steps, but then she stepped on something hard. She shone the lamp towards the floor.
There, pieces of a pocket watch were scattered all over.
She tried to pick them up but was stopped by John’s eyes. He clenched his hand around the pocket watch that kept all these pieces and when he did this there was a cracking sound, like thin glass, before it shattered and disappeared in a faint shimmer. Simultaneously, the pieces on the ground disappeared without a sound.
“My familiar has been killed. It has more power than I expected…”
“John, what we just saw, was that what killed—“
“It’s definitely the demon I’ve been searching for. It seems it really has made this church its base.”
“But now that it’s been discovered won’t it run away?”
“No, it appears to enjoy this place a lot. Despite not having revealed its hideout, it approached us on its own. Does it wish to eliminate us rather than escape?”
Riz stiffened upon hearing the word “eliminate”.
“It also appears to have wisdom. It destroyed my familiar, but maybe it knows that causing a large commotion will be disadvantageous and so it readily withdrew. It’s making light of us for being unable to guess its hideout— in other words, we’re being laughed at.”
John said this with a voice full of irritation and, grabbing Riz’s arm, started walking.
He picked up the cloak he had thrown away earlier and cut through the silent nave.
“I shall escort you to your room.”
Riz looked up at his face as he headed to the front door while being cautious.
“Listen, do not come out of your room until the day breaks.”
“… What are you going to do, John?”
“I am going to chase that demon.”
“Then I’ll go with you.”
“No. Stay in your room.”
His eyes looked in her direction but he wasn’t seeing Riz. It was just her reflection that was being reflected. His words about her staying in her room wasn’t to keep her safe either. It was because she was a bother—.
“This is my problem. There’s nothing you can do, my lady.”
He probably wanted to start searching for the demon soon and declared that in a restless tone.
This was the first time a line had been drawn like this. Riz couldn’t say anything back.
Riz wasn’t in a state where she could sleep at all, but her shoes were forced off by John, her cloak was ripped off, and she was pushed into bed.
“Do not ever leave the room. Don’t get up.”
John warned her as he lit a candlestick on the shelf. She didn’t reply and, when she looked down and held a pillow, she felt him start to leave the room. Footsteps went towards the door. She strained her ears. The door opening and shutting was heard. He went out and left her here.
The instant her head shot up she met eyes with John who had remained there. Riz froze. Come to think of it, after the sound of the door opening and shutting she didn’t hear footsteps.
“My lady, you are thinking about chasing after me, are you not?”
Her cheeks turned red when this was pointed out. John sighed and then returned to the bed. He removed a pocket watch from his vest and placed it beside the candlestick on the shelf.
“I will leave this protection here, so that you will be safe… If you’re in a safe place then I can chase after the demon without worries.”
Riz didn’t feel like responding to him. She hid underneath her blanket in a depressed mood.
John patted her head from above the blanket and then, this time, he left.
“… I can’t be without worries because you’re going alone into danger, John.”
Of course, this mutter tucked in the blanket wouldn’t reach John’s ears.
For a while she remained still. Her body demanded rest, but her mind was clear.
It was like there was an anxious fog in her heart. If she sighed, would the fog come out of her mouth as well? Lying there unable to sleep and despondent, she heard a small vibration from the shelf. What was that? Pushing the blanket aside quietly she looked at the shelf.
She got out of bed while staring hard over there. Because her bare feet touched the cold stone floor directly, a shiver ran through her body. Still, her gaze was pinned on the shelf.
John’s pocket watch, which was placed beside the candlestick, vibrated. He said it was protection. She imagined it was probably connected to John. Did it act as a warning like this when danger was close?
She looked around the room, her entire body tense. But there was nothing abnormal. Then, why?
She daringly grabbed the pocket watch on the shelf. She probably shouldn’t open the lid without permission, right?
—Could this mean that danger was close to John and not her?
The moment she thought that she felt her heart squeeze tight.
It hurt to breathe. She clenched both hands around the pocket watch and passed through the shock.
Suddenly, the vibration of the pocket watch stopped. What was happening now?
“John, are you safe?”
The pocket watch didn’t react or speak.
Seriously, what was going on? It wasn’t warning her about danger descending on her— or the nearness of a demon, or that John was in danger?
Gripping the watch, she wandered around her small room. Then she picked up the candlestick on the shelf. She wasn’t going to leave the room; she was just going to open the door and check the hallway.
Riz was careful not to make a sound as she slowly opened the door.
The hallway was pitch black and silent. The cold froze the darknesss and it even seemed like time itself had stopped. She held her breath and peered into the darkness for a while, but nothing happened.
Riz went to close the door but she suddenly blinked. For a second, she stepped out of her room and looked at her door from the hallway.
“If thou believes then thou shalt be saved. If thou disbelieves then a calamity shalt befall thee.”
Dark letters were scribbled on the outside of the door. The moment she tried to get a better look the letters disappeared without a trace. Riz was shocked. No matter how many times she checked, she couldn’t see the letters anymore.
Riz was alone and at a loss in the darkness.
Riz didn’t remember when she slept. The moment she was conscious it was morning.
She remembered up to returning the candlestick on the shelf and sitting on the edge of her bed. She had still held onto the pocket watch. It was likely her body reached its limits and she fell asleep as if she lost consciousness.
When she sat in her bed, dumbfounded, John entered the room like nothing had happened. He was holding a washbasin filled with water. Looking at his usual attitude, she almost suspected that last night’s events were a dream.
“Good morning, my lady.”
“You don’t appear to be unwell. Shall we eat at the cafeteria outside?”
He checked Riz’s health first then urged her to wash her face with the water in the washbasin. In a natural motion, he took back the pocket watch she was gripping. Then he briskly prepared a dress for her to change into.
“I would like to have you drink herbal tea but… please bear with the lack of it during our stay here.”
Saying that reluctantly, he chased Riz to the other side of a screen placed in the corner of the room. Riz took off her nightgown, feeling confused, and changed into the dress. She tightened the laces of the corset, fixed her collar, and had John finish up. He fixed the drape of her clothes and covered her shoulders with a thick cloak.
“—Regrettably, it escaped.”
John said this in a tone similar to having small talk. Riz stopped combing her hair.
“It appeared to watch from close by without returning to its hideout. Losing my familiar was quite a serious blow and, before I could catch up, I lost sight of it.”
“—Last night wasn’t a dream?”
As she spoke a hot feeling like anger welled up from the bottom of her stomach. She couldn’t forgive him.
Even though this demon said he would serve her as if he loved her, last night he left Riz in this room when she felt like she was about to be crushed under her worries and went to exterminate the demon alone.
The pocket watch on the shelf must have vibrated as a warning that danger was close to him.
“Are you still asleep, my lady— what’s wrong, does it hurt anywhere?”
John’s words became rushed halfway through.
“Does your chest hurt? Shall I loosen your corset a little?”
“I’m fine. Leave me alone.”
“Even if you say that…”
“It’s my problem, so there’s nothing you can do.”
It was after she pushed him away that she realized those words were the same as John’s yesterday.
“… I can at least wipe away my lady’s tears.”
Riz was shocked when this was pointed out.
—She was crying?
John reached out his hand when she was dazed. But she drew back immediately.
“Don’t wipe it.”
“Don’t be headstrong. It’s not like you.”
“You don’t know what’s like me and what’s not like me. Besides, my tears belong to me.”
“No, I believe they belong to me?”
Riz turned to the side. She didn’t feel like joking with him.
“… My lady, don’t turn away.”
When she didn’t respond, her face was peered at by this hateful demon.
He graciously said. But what was this apology for?
In any case, wasn’t he just apologizing to calm her agitation?
“—Last evening, I was too worked up. I don’t find my lady to be a burden.”
Oh, so he knew what she was hurt by then? Riz said this in her mind. Her chest felt more and more blocked.
“…… May I wipe your tears?”
“Right now I’m not the Maiden of Stars, I’m the Maiden of Obstinacy.”
She wiped at her eyes violently with both hands and made herself sad that she was a woman who lacked charm. John must be thinking this and feeling exasperated. She couldn’t face him.
A heavy stone-like silence spread.
If, for example, last night John had explained “Riz, you’ll become a hindrance if we’re together. I can’t bring you along because that will increase the danger” then she would have been a bit depressed, but she would have obediently accepted that. She didn’t want to bring the misfortune of him getting injured because he protected her or anything like that.
However, in that moment, John had completely shut her out of his heart. He treated her the same as he would treat an obstacle that blocked his road. To smooth over his true feelings, he used the excuse of Riz’s safety.
“I didn’t think you would cry like this. What should I do?”
Riz sighed heavily at his bewildered voice. To him, she wasn’t important.
But that didn’t mean she should also leave her own heart behind.
“Are my ‘Holy Eyes’ still of use? If you dug them out could you carry around just the eyes?”
“Two eyeballs won’t be a burden. You can hide them in your breast pocket. You can also hang them on your jacket, like your pocket watches.”
Of course, she did think that’d be creepy but last night John broke one of his three pocket watches. Maybe it was fitting.
“I want it to be possible to remove my eyes with the powers of a demon.”
“You’re thinking about something ridiculous.”
He pulled Riz’s head to his own chest with awkward actions.
“John, if I threw away my ‘one and only wish’, would you be happy?”
What would she do if even possessing her eyeballs was a burden?
“… No, don’t throw it away.”
He said this while being confused.
“It appears there has been a misunderstanding. I decided that, even without being beside my lady, you would not be fazed.”
“I wasn’t scared.”
“Is that so?”
“… I might have been a bit scared.”
“That would be natural.”
“I thought something bad might have happened to you because the pocket watch vibrated. That was much scarier.”
“What did you say? The pocket watch reacted?”
John looked down at Riz in surprise.
“That thing appeared in the room?”
“But if the pocket watch reacted— no, I didn’t notice that. Then, what does that mean? It sensed the demon was close, but it wasn’t able to perceive any danger?”
John muttered this to himself while holding Riz to his chest.
Recently, before she knew it, they would be glued together like this, but was John apathetic about that?
She quietly tried to withdraw without letting him know but, conversely, she was pressed into him more.
“The pocket watch only vibrated? Did anything else happen?”
He asked this in an impatient tone and took Riz’s chin to stare at her intently. He was close. If she was looked at from this distance she felt like her skin would burn.
“It might have been an optical illusion but there were words written on the door.”
“‘If thou believes then thou shalt be saved. If thou disbelieves then a calamity shalt befall thee.’ But it disappeared in a second. It’s possible I saw the door’s wood grains as words.”
She had considered the belief of the 16 holy paintings. However, would a demon encourage religious belief?
“At any rate, this was my mistake. I shouldn’t have left your side.”
Riz was confused at his heartfelt words of contrition.
“Weren’t you the one in danger, John?”
“My lady, you had no means of fighting.”
“Putting aside whether it’s scary or not, I’m always prepared to die. So, when it comes time, I can give up on myself but I’d like you to cherish yourself more, John.”
“What are you saying? Do you wish to die?”
“I don’t want to die.”
But death was merciless.
“Promise me, John, that you won’t sacrifice yourself for a goal.”
He stared at Riz without breathing.
“Also, in order to clear your false charge, I don’t want you to chase after that demon in a rage and kill it. Let’s find the distorted painting and hand it over to Father Greco, alright?”
“… I understand. I swore to serve you as if I loved you. I will do as my lady says.”
The words ‘as if I loved you’ were proof that he didn’t love her. Did she want to be loved by such a horrible demon? Was she so hurt because she knew she wasn’t loved?
That day Riz came down with a small fever.
Even though she said she was fine, she wasn’t allowed to get out of bed.
It was the next day. The church would accept worshipers at six in the morning.
Farmers and craftsmen would generally begin their work around this time as well.
The clergymen rose earlier than when the roosters crowed; they woke at three in the morning to finish their morning lessons, they prayed seven times throughout the day in accordance with a bell that rung every three hours, and then they slept at ten in the night. The neighboring residents roughly followed the schedule of the church too.
In the royal capital, although this was not always the case, the ringing of the bells wasn’t just for commoners and clergymen but also a marker of time passing for the aristocrats as well.
Riz woke up around four in the morning.
It was several hours earlier than she would normally wake, but she endured the cold and dressed herself up. She wanted to look at the paintings in the Room of Peace before the worshipers arrived. She hadn’t done anything yesterday.
Strengthening her resolve, she brought a small bottle of holy water and a lamp, and she would have liked to slip out of her lodging but— the moment she descended the stairs she was discovered by John. Or more like he seemed to be waiting for Riz here. Because she planned on checking the paintings in secret, the instant she found herself looked down on in silence she wanted to run back to her room. The chill of his gaze made her back shiver.
“… This is a time when the priests are already awake so I don’t think there’s any worries of being attacked by the demon. I’m also carrying holy water in the worst case that I am in danger. My health is good too.”
Riz made all her long-winded excuses without even being asked.
He suddenly exhaled and grabbed Riz’s hand.
“You’re going to the Room of Peace, yes? If I see that you are even a little tired then I will take you back to your room.”
“… John, you’re not angry.”
“Would you like me to be angry?”
“I don’t want that, but I feel like something’s a bit lacking.”
“Then, you do want me to be angry, no?”
He gave a small laugh even while he frowned.
“You will be taking a nap later due to your lack of sleep.”
“I slept too much yesterday, so I’m fine.”
“Yesterday’s portion is invalid.”
After she reluctantly nodded she noticed that he was matching her pace as they walked.
When did he start doing that? Especially when, barely any time after they exchanged a contract, he dumped her behind and went on ahead. Being an escort needn’t even be said.
Riz had a smile on her lips even though she suddenly felt sad.
He abandoned his revenge on the demon who killed Petron and chose to obey Riz’s will.
It also meant that he was acting in a way that respected human morals. By a demon’s standards, this was no doubt a circuitous and troublesome method. However, he swore again to serve her as if he loved her.
Because they have a contract, he lent his ear to Riz’s words.
“Why are you smiling, Riz?”
Her heart jumped when he said her name again. He calmly explained, “Here, everyone thinks of us as husband and wife, no? I will call my lady by name during the day when there are people around”.
Despite accepting that, Riz found herself falling further into a bog of distress.
Why did her heart clench every time he said her name?
“John, what do you think? Do you think these ‘miracle paintings’ are real?”
John declared this while examining the paintings displayed in the Room of Peace.
“Even just from listening to Navi’s stories, you can tell these miracles are counterfeit… This is assuming the boy’s stories are true.”
He glanced over at her.
“Riz, you also know the reason, do you not?”
Asked like this, she couldn’t help but answer.
“Every one of Navi’s stories presupposes ‘impending disaster’. At first glance, it seems like God’s message through these paintings are protecting the people from misfortune, but that’s wrong.”
“Yes. Instead, these messages are the invitation ‘Come, disaster’.”
It was like the grimoire which said that it is evil who prospers. Riz sighed, lamenting.
“The people looking at the paintings are just conveniently interpreting it to be God’s salvation, right?”
“Most likely. By nature, those who come to church to pray are wishing for ‘salvation’. Even if it was only the wind that opened a window, they would be under the impression that an angel passed through.”
John’s example was biting, but it couldn’t be denied. Interpretations could change greatly due to the values and emotions at the time. That was precisely why it was forbidden to idol worship despite loving the arts in this country. The reason being that God didn’t stray. They were an immutable being. They couldn’t be something that would change by human interpretation.
“—But if this is the case, then things have become a bit trickier.”
John also showed an unhappy expression at Riz’s words.
“You mean to say there may be someone using this while knowing it is a false revelation.”
John pressed a hand to his temple and glared at the paintings on the wall with distaste.
“There’s one more troublesome possibility.”
“I have been chasing the demon who killed Petron up to now, and every time I come close it escapes and changes its hideout. However, this is the only time it has not tried to run away.”
“It likes this place, so it’s decided to erase us, right?”
“That’s what I thought,” John said this, looked at her, and approached her. It seemed like the collar of Riz’s cloak was disheveled. He continued to talk while fixing that.
“There is a simpler answer. Perhaps it has made a contract with someone here.”
Riz blinked and then drew back a little.
“What are you surprised about? After all, I’m contracted with you, am I not?”
She hadn’t thought about that.
“Demons love contracts.”
John nonchalantly said.
“Contracts can raise a demon’s powers. I can see that its powers have increased from the death of my familiar.”
“So these false revelations might be the work of the contract and demon?”
“It’s possible. Rather, the possibility is high. If I had to give proof then— even though a statue in the nave was destroyed, no one made a fuss about that.”
“Ah, someone secretly cleaned up the fragments then.”
Riz and John returned to their lodging without cleaning up the broken statue. She had been distracted by the discovery of the demon who killed Petron and forgot to clean up. More specifically, with Riz’s status, she didn’t have much of a sense of cleaning things up herself.
“I thought the priests would cause a ruckus about the fragments being the harbinger of a disaster if I left them. Actually, I wanted to see that.”
It appeared that in John’s case he left it like that on purpose.
“But even if the fragments were cleaned up, wouldn’t the priests notice right away that one statue disappeared?”
“Yesterday, I went to ascertain the state of the nave. A different statue was placed there.”
“Did you look into who put it there?”
“That’s what is interesting. I asked several priests, but everyone gave a different name. Their reasons were varied as well. One said that it was cracked and dangerous so they had the head priest change it, while another said it was sent to the craftsmen for repairs.”
“Every one of them was hearsay?”
“It seems that someone has complicated the information.”
“Can you trace it to the start?”
“If we search around too much, we would be suspected of having caused that problem instead.”
The church was a unique place. If they were suspicious, they might be driven out of the place.
“Speaking of people who could benefit from these false revelations… could they be artists seeking fame? I feel like we can’t exclude the head priest who might want to raise the church’s status too.”
“I wonder about the head priest. Rather, too much commotion would make the inquiry commission board move and that would be a problem.”
Riz didn’t want to think this, but was it possible Greco sensed how much trouble this would be and pushed it onto Riz and John to settle? She had a bad feeling.
“If we brought out all the paintings in this church then we could solve this. If all of them is too much, then just the 16 paintings.”
“I understand your feelings to a painful degree, but we cannot do that.”
“I thought so.”
He was right. It was certain that a demon was hiding here, and that the 16 paintings were extremely suspicious. It was likely one of them was its dwelling. Then, even if she couldn’t specify which one, she just needed to bring back all 16 of them. However, that was where it was difficult with the church.
Even if she was an aristocrat, there were procedures to moving religious paintings exhibited in a church. She couldn’t carry them out without a reason. For example, even if she explained about the danger of a demon dwelling here, the result would be wrong. The church would be harshly judged for being a demon’s dwelling and it would become a huge problem. It was because of this that John wanted the “Holy Eyes”. But, first, if she didn’t uncover the symbols then there would be no point.
“We can only investigate steadily. I will go into the town to confirm whether or not Navi’s stories are the truth.”
“Then I’ll look into the artists here.”
“My lady is to take a nap.”
“I’m going to look into the arti—“
She was pressed down by his intimidation, but faced him in a hurry.
“John, I’m your master, aren’t I?”
“And what about that? I am your demon, am I not?”
“… From a standpoint view, I’m on top.”
“Don’t oppose me when you are merely just a master. Or are you trying to say something else?”
She was thinking it’d be nicer if he was a bit kinder, but she didn’t even have to think about how devoted he was to taking care of her. She couldn’t complain. This demon was terrifying.
“More importantly, can you not find a symbol in these paintings?”
Riz became depressed when she was asked this.
“I can’t seem to see any.”
Riz faltered. She checked them with her eyes wide like plates but these 16 paintings, although they had strange areas, had no signs of blasphemy. She didn’t know what she was missing.
“… If it made a contract with someone, then it doesn’t need to live in a distorted painting anymore, right?”
“There are cases where demons leave their houses after a contract, but this time there’s the issue of the ‘false revelations’.”
Riz mouthed the word “revelation” again. Judging from a chronological order, the demon who killed Petron settled in a distorted painting and then tried to invite disaster to the people around it.
The person who noticed that changed the demon’s disasters into the messages of God.
That being the case, were the words that appeared on the door of the room Riz was borrowing drawn there by the person who contracted the demon with the goal of threatening her?
The stories about the “miracle paintings” were large enough to reach Greco’s ears in the royal capital, and it was said that there were some cardinals who secretly contracted demons too. Because Greco knew that, he suspected that, with respect to the “miracle paintings”, someone was borrowing the power of a demon to set up fake revelations. He had long been searching for the demon who killed Petron, so perhaps he was even more suspicious about things here.
Concurrently, at this period, Riz’s fiancé, Emil, died a suspicious death. So, because the timing was perfect, did Greco push this annoying task onto Riz and John to settle?
It was right when Riz was organizing the information in her head.
John suddenly turned around, ran to the door, and threw it open with force.
A young boy called out in a panic— Navi tumbled into the room. He stumbled, but he didn’t fall over and was relieved.
Riz was astounded. Could he have been pressing his ear to the door to eavesdrop?
“Ah, M-Madam… I’m sorry, um, good morning!”
Navi straightened his back and greeted her with a clearly suspicious manner.
“Pardon my intrusion!… Eh, Mister— OW!”
Navi tried to run away but John captured him quickly and twisted his arm.
“Were you eavesdropping?”
“Owowow, no, I only came here to clean— it hurts, it hurts, I’m sorry! But the door was thick and I didn’t hear anything, really!! My arm’s gonna break!”
Navi yelled out with teary eyes.
Riz sent John a glance, asking him to loosen his strength because Navi was pitiful, but it was ignored too.
“Madam, save me! I’m going to be killed by the Mister!”
“… Navi, were you sent to watch us?”
“No way. Madam is pretty so I just ended up following— uwah, Mister, please let me go! I wasn’t following her out of a wicked heart, because I was asked to watch over Madam and Mister— ah, no, wait, I didn’t say anything!”
“Asked? By who?”
Navi turned pale but didn’t say anything further.
“I’m allowed to tear off one of his arms, yes?”
John said this indifferently. Navi’s face became even whiter, and beads of sweat appeared on his forehead.
“P-please stop. Madam, please stop the Mister!”
“John, you can’t hurt him.”
She didn’t want to hurt a child and she didn’t want John to do such a thing.
It happened the moment she was about to ask him to release Navi.
“—Mr. John, please release that child.”
The voice of a third party resounded and Riz and the others turned their heads at the same time to the door.
There stood the artist Julius.
“Mr. Julius!? Why’re you here?”
Navi, with his arm gripped by John, asked this with round eyes.
Julius didn’t answer and looked at Riz and John in order with a stiff expression.
“I am the one who ordered that child to watch over you two. Please, I ask that you do not punish that child, but punish me.”
John glanced at him and released Navi. Navi looked at everyone and then ran over to Julius, stumbling in his speed.
“Be quiet, Navi.”
Julius looked at Navi with a stern eye. The atmosphere around the two was indeed strange. Navi shrunk back with a guilty look and Julius was very nervous.
But they didn’t have the air of people flustered at being discovered by Riz and John.
“Mr. Julius, why did you order for us to be monitored?’
Julius and Navi exchanged looks at Riz’s question.
“I sincerely apologize, but you two do not look like mere art dealers. I thought that perhaps you were here for another reason… such as being people from the inquiry.”
Julius averted his gaze and casually placed a hand on Navi’s shoulder, moving Navi behind him.
“Did the two of you not arrive here to investigate after learning the rumors of this church? Suspecting that this church is manipulating human nature by spreading miraculous lies.”
“And, because it’d be a problem if proof was found, you ordered Navi to monitor us?”
John’s tone was a bit messy.
Riz’s demon was always polite at the beginning, but before long he seemed to find it annoying and would return to a rough attitude.
Navi came forward and shouted.
“It wasn’t Mr. Julius. It was Director Knox who asked me— ah!”
It appeared that this simple boy was terrible at hiding things. The culprit’s name was spilled out just like that.
Julius looked down at the boy, making a grimace.
“Why did the director ask you?”
John asked in a cold voice. Navi answered while trembling.
“He asked me to find out if the Madam was planning on enticing anyone back to the royal capital…”
Riz and John tilted their heads at the same time. Enticing?
“He said that even though he was one of the people who drew a miracle painting, it was always Mr. Julius, the young one, who was focused on! This time too, Julius is the only one favored and, eventually, he might become a court painter. If the Madam was going to choose his works then… um, I was told to spread bad rumors about Mr. Julius.”
After confessing Navi waved both hands in a panic.
“I wasn’t going to talk bad about Mr. Julius! If Mr. Julius was chosen then I was going to reveal everything to Madam and ask for help!”
Riz lost her words at this unexpected development. Her attention was stolen by the demon, but for people who were uninvolved there was no doubt they were in a restless state of wondering if someone would become an aristocrat’s painter.
It looked like John also didn’t expect this development and was at a loss. Julius too, learning about the true feelings of his friend Knox in this shape, must have received a shock.
Just when everyone fell silent, the bell announcing that it was six in the morning ran. Everyone raised their heads quickly as if they were struck.
“… Riz, you should return to your room. It’s time for the worshipers to arrive.”
John said this and pulled Riz into him by the shoulder with a caring action. Navi took a few steps closer to them and timidly looked up at John.
“Um… Mister, about this…”
“I’ll act as if I did not hear anything.”
Navi showed a relieved expression at John’s response.
Still, could it be said that they gained something from this conversation with Navi and Julius? She felt like she peeked into the darkness of another person’s heart, who she didn’t even know. Fatigue suddenly pressed in on her.
It might be better to rest for a bit. She was about to leave the Room of Peace with John when she was called to a stop by Julius with “Lady Riz”. Turning around, after a slight hesitation, he sent her a strong look.
“—I’d like to request for you to tell me one thing.”
“What is it?”
“Is my painting really worth the blessing of God?”
She was asked this in a serious voice. Riz also thought about it seriously. Did he want to check to see if he was going to be taken back to the royal capital? Or did he purely want to know whether or not his work was a “masterpiece” and worthy of being considered a “sacred painting”?
This answer came along with a great responsibility. How should she answer?
If she judged him in terms of skills then, to be honest, she’d sum it up with just the word “inexperienced”.
He wasn’t unskilled. However, he didn’t even reach the feet of a court painter with his brush technique or emotions.
Technique and talent. Passion. Patience, youth, luck, endurance, assets, status, and gender. Only those who had all of these approved would be a court painter, and these people faced their canvases daily in a place where talent gathered. Painting was also a battle with one’s heart. As a woman, Riz could never become a court painter. She had assets and passion, however she was hindered by her gender. The Fine Arts Agency wouldn’t open their doors to those who weren’t qualified.
However, if it was God…
Riz stared into his eyes and answered.
“I believe that what God sees is not the results of a painting, but the earnest heart of the painter placed in there.”
Julius looked back at Riz, startling as if he came to a sudden realization.
Riz curtsied to him and then left the room with John.
In the afternoon, Riz rested obediently after being warned by John, who went to gather information, “Please do not try to leave the room”. She was also given the pocket watch that acted as protection as usual.
This time she was also left behind to watch the room, but unlike before she wasn’t worried. It was daytime and, besides, John was properly caring for Riz.
Because the bed was positioned right up against the wall, she rested her back against it with a pillow behind her.
Thanks to John’s devoted care, she had successive healthy days but she might have moved around too much this time. She felt a heavy sluggishness, as if the blood flowing through her body was muddled and stagnant.
Maybe it was because of the cold too. Her room was of much higher quality than that of an inn, but it didn’t have a hearth. It was just packed baked salt placed inside her blanket, and that wasn’t able to warm up the entire room.
The moment she sighed her door was suddenly knocked on. It shouldn’t be John; he knocked much quieter.
“Madam, are you available?”
She was confused at the unfamiliar male voice.
“I’m Drake, one of the studio’s craftsmen that you met at the church a few days ago… I brought some herbal tea for you, Madam. I got it from Navi.”
Drake. He was one of the artists whose painting decorated the Room of Peace.
After some consideration Riz got off the bed and opened the door. A man in his thirties stood there with a nervous expression and carried a copper can with a handle. He had dark blond hair, blue eyes, and a nose that was slightly flat and crushed.
Indeed, he was one of the men who were together with Julius and the others in the nave.
“Please have this,” he said and offered the copper can. The hot air and fragrance of herbal tea drifted over.
She didn’t know why she was being given a refreshment, but she thanked him and accepted it. He showed some embarrassment.
“Even in this season it’s as cold as midwinter because the cold air is pushed back to here from the town.”
He probably didn’t come to make small talk. Riz stared at Drake, feeling inwardly suspicious.
His face suddenly turned red when he met Riz’s eyes straight on.
“Um, should I bring more blankets? We have some made from the skins of tigers.”
“No, I’m fine.”
“How about some charcoal? It’ll be warmer than baked salt.”
He was oddly friendly. But, generally, friendliness from a stranger came with desires.
“Is there something you needed from me?”
“No, um… I was just thinking that I’d love to be able to speak with Madam.”
Drake answered in a disordered way. Belatedly, Riz realized the reason he came here.
He must have come to ask her to take him to her gallery. Maybe she should ask him what he thought about “God’s revelation”. Riz immediately asked this question.
“I saw the paintings adorning the Room of Peace. They’re all very interesting pieces.”
“Really!? I got, I mean, I was assigned the painting of the blue spring and friars lighting up the darkness!”
“Ah… they are wonderful paintings.”
“I think they’re masterpieces, if I say so myself. I likened the small fire of the candles to be faith. People’s hearts shake easily in the winds of worldly temptation, but if you keep your faith without failing to pray, then you can light up the darkness. That’s the theme I put into it.”
“So that’s why the candlestick was drawn much more colorfully.”
He gave a broad smile.
“Then, have your prayers reached God, Drake?”
“Worshipers praise these paintings as having God’s will.”
Drake’s pleased face stiffened a little.
“Navi told me about it; that the paintings moved, such as the reeds swaying or the angels pointing to the well.”
“… My paintings have a ‘divine message’ too. There’s a lot of people who say they see the flames flickering. And yet…”
“Is there a problem?”
An emotion like anger and jealousy flashed through Drake’s eyes.
“The fuss is only around Julius. Sure, he used to be a baron’s son and his looks aren’t bad, but I’ve been working years longer than him. I joined the studio in my teens, you know?”
Talent was not proportional to age, but Riz chose to be silent.
“The director’s probably the one who’s most frustrated though.”
He pasted on a smile as if to hide his true feelings.
“It was the director who suggested at the start to use the notes of the Bible’s apostles.”
“Yes. He was asked by the priests to complete some works to decorate the Room of Peace. So then we all finished them in a year, throwing ourselves into it and forgetting to eat and sleep. It was a matter of honor, you see.”
“But, in the end, the only one getting attention is Julius.”
Apparently, Drake seemed to think that all the credit was being hogged by Julius alone.
Then, while he was simmering like this, Riz appeared as an art gallery owner from the royal capital. This time he decided to stand his ground and come over to sell himself. It looked like he accepted God’s message from the “miracle paintings” but Riz got the impression that religious faith came second to him. Above that, he paid more attention to his own success.
Drake, who seemed to have forgotten he was standing in front of Riz, continued to express his displeasure about Julius.
“In the first place, how is that guy like a saint? What does giving to the poor do? Painters should just think about painting. If you paint with heart and soul then God will respond, and yet that person doesn’t put in any effort and even refused to act like an apostle—“
“Act like an apostle?”
Maybe he became calm after he was asked, but Drake showed an “oh crap” expression.
Riz was inwardly vexed too. She should have kept her mouth closed and let him spit things out to the end.
“N-nevermind! It’s nothing you need to think about, Madam.”
“Ah, I have to head to town to buy some minerals for pigments. Excuse me.”
He forcibly tied up the conversation and left in a hurry. Riz wanted to dig deeper, but it could be said that their conversation just now provided more than enough of a result.
—However, Drake’s visit was only the beginning.
A little while later, after that, artists visited her room one after another.
The majority of them were the same as Drake, selling themselves and showing dissatisfaction towards Julius.
To sum up their talks, it seemed like they expected the “revelations” to make their opportunities leap. However, the most complete work among 16 pieces— Julius’ painting burned into the awareness of viewers.
In addition, the appearance of the person himself was excellent, on his holidays he helped out with the church’s fields, he’d take on repairing broken bridges, and he had a spirit of compassion and honest poverty. Naturally, people’s evaluation of him rose.
After speaking to the last person, Riz drank her completely cool herbal tea. It was bitter and there was also a slight taste of rust.
She sighed; the feud between artists wasn’t unusual.
Talents clashed and, in a sense, this was more ingrained than ordinary relationships between men and women. Sometimes differences in the direction of a work could lead to people killing each other too. Art was like a naked blade.
But, Riz thought, if a work was rated by itself and omitted the artist’s personality then Julius’ painting would not reach the level of a “masterpiece”. It was likely that, without “God’s revelation”, the worshiper’s hearts wouldn’t be drawn to this extent. In unreserved terms, the revelation is what raised all their works to becoming sacred paintings.
These circumstances were undoubtedly a demon’s favorite situation. People’s emotions were jumbled together and chaotic.
Drake, Julius, and Knox. The other artists. The priests. It wouldn’t be odd at all for any one of them to have made a contract with the demon who killed Petron.
Maybe she had been affected by the desires of the artists, but Riz felt even more listless.
She wanted to rest her body but if she stayed in her room then it felt like another person would come. She was starting to feel a bit of fear at their visits. On the surface, they were gentlemen but there were also some who’d indirectly ask to enter her room. In short, they were offering that they’d like to be her lover and they couldn’t help but be angry at the result of her refusing.
Riz covered herself with a cloak and left the room. It’d be safer to be in a place with people.
Deciding to go to the church now that she was outside, she started heading there.
There were churches that also acted as poorhouses. This seemed to be the case here too, since there were many orphans and prostitutes.
Riz stopped before a large tree beside the church.
An extremely eye-catching woman stood beside the tree. It was a red-headed prostitute, and she was staring absently at the church while playing with her shoulder-length hair. Her skin was pale enough to be transparent and her unfashionable dress was the same vivid red as her hair.
The woman suddenly stopped twisting her hair and turned around. Their eyes met and she looked Riz up and down as if she was appraising her.
Then, the corner of her lips hooking up, she showed derision and joined a circle of friends who were chatting with each other a little distance away. Riz unconsciously walked closer to them.
The prostitutes were buying colorful flowers from a flower seller.
“—Foreign flowers are amazing, aren’t they?”
“I wonder if they’re magical. When I wear one in my hair, it feels like I’m less tired.”
The flower seller smiled at the prostitutes’ praises and replied with jokes like, “Yes, I’m actually a flower magician. I’ve put spells of protection onto the flowers I sell to everyone.” They had an androgynous appearance, making it hard to distinguish whether they were a man or a woman. Their grey hair was unkempt and long and thin. They seemed extremely suspicious, but the laughter of the prostitutes was bright.
Riz somewhat felt like buying those flowers and was about to call out to the self-proclaimed magician.
But then she noticed Director Knox standing beside a statue set in front of the church.
It seemed like he had been looking over here this entire time.
His eyes, which gleamed with rage, made goosebumps jump out on her skin. The incidents this morning might have made it to his ears. Riz turned around and left the place.
Her heart was pounding. Knox’s gaze reminded her of the demon’s eyes that flashed in the darkness; those wet eyes like grapes peeled of their skin. Her uneasiness expanded and her terror even more so.
It appeared that she made a mistake to move forward while looking at her feet.
Because she nearly crashed into someone. The moment she staggered she was supported by the other person’s arms.
“My lad— Riz!”
She raised her head up hurriedly at that voice and all the strength in her body slipped out of her in relief. The person who grabbed Riz’s shoulders and peered into her face was the one and only person she could believe in this place— John.
He looked down at her in mute amazement but then the corners of his eyes quickly tightened.
“Why are you walking around!?”
“Right now, even your lectures sound dear.”
“Dear!? What do you mean? Don’t dodge the question. Why did you leave your room?”
“Scold me more.”
“Are you trying to unsettle me by confusing me? —Wait, aren’t you white as a sheet? Don’t tell me you’ve been outside this entire time?”
Partway through his sentence his complexion changed. Paying no heed to people’s eyes, he picked up Riz.
“I’m an idiot. I’m a huge fool to have looked away from you.”
“Don’t give me an attitude.”
“No, I’m blaming you.”
Me? He asked this with an expression that looked like he found it hard to believe.
“You left me alone.”
Giving a short reply, Riz gritted her teeth. John’s cheeks stiffened and he started walking with large steps.
“—Did something happen?”
“Men kept barging in one after another.”
John’s steps stopped for a second and then he began to walk again.
“Which men? Did they come uninvited even while knowing you’re my wife? They have some nerve.”
She wasn’t really his wife though, Riz responded inwardly in her mind.
“John, I think you should always leave me beside you. If you can’t do that then I want you to kill me or carry me around like you are right now.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck loosely and, leaning her weight against him, closed her eyes.
Her head hurt terribly to its core, but her heart was calm and she wasn’t feeling any shortness of breath that’d make her collapse.
“… I’m an idiot.”
John said this with a sigh mixed in.
“I forgot humans were creatures who would want to try and grab the stars. Even more so if they are beautiful.”
“Riz, were you touched by anyone?”
“Then, were you hurt by their words?”
“Were you threatened by anyone?”
“Did anyone try to entice you?”
“Sort of no and sort of yes.”
Riz felt like if she answered honestly then she’d be asking for a huge incident.
“It was the artists who visited the room. They didn’t come to act inappropriately, but to indirectly ask me to take them into my art gallery.”
“Would you like me to burn down the studio? Or should I burn all those painters?”
“You’re saying scary things in a calm voice.”
“You are the one who went through a scary ordeal, no?”
“Yes? What do you want burned?”
“You don’t have to burn anything, but I realized there’s one person who fits all those earlier questions.”
John’s eyes changed. His expression became ruthless in an instant.
After she declared this, John’s gaze became sharp with a different meaning than before.
“You’re quite frivolous in a situation like this, aren’t you?”
“I’m not being frivolous. John, you touch me a lot, you belittle me, you threaten me, and you’ve also tried to seduce me.”
John was silent for a while. He must have the memories of having done that himself.
It was around the time when they left the church and her fear had faded before he said these words, sounding like he gave into despair.
“If a demon doesn’t threaten, seduce, or belittle then they would end up changing into an angel.”
“If my wings are stained white then you must take responsibility.”
“Isn’t that too much responsibility?”
It was the first time she was swept off her feet by words.
Later, they didn’t return to their lodgings right away but detoured to the area the studio was in.
On their way they passed a craftsman who held a delicious smelling pie. When Riz asked where he got it, he said it was baked at the mess hall close to the painting studio. So then she pestered John and got to head towards the mess hall.
She asked the cook for the same thing and left the mess hall with a cloth-wrapped bundle.
But it looked like it would cool before they returned to the lodging, and so she decided to sit down on a stack of wooden boxes beside a building used for storage to eat.
This was the first time in her life that she was doing the so-called eating while walking. Strictly speaking, it was different because she was sitting down but for Riz it was the same thing and, inwardly, she was deeply moved.
“John… this rabbit pie is extremely delicious.”
“Aa, you seem to be in a dream-like state. To think those eyes of yours would sparkle with light like this.”
“Can we take that cook out of their court? Can we pull them into the Milton house?”
“The reason you find this delicious is because you’re eating it here right now.”
“Yes, that is how it is.”
Did flavors change depending on the place someone ate at?
“Sometimes I am apt to forget but you are a genuine young lady, aren’t you?”
John, who was sitting beside her, looked over with gentle eyes. Riz suddenly became embarrassed and couldn’t taste what she was eating. She changed the subject to something new in order to hide the heat of her cheeks.
“So, John, you went to town to ask people questions, right? Did you get any results?”
Were the stories Navi told them about the “miracle paintings” true?
John quickly finished off his own pie and elegantly wiped his mouth with the cloth wrapping. Riz secretly sighed in admiration. He had a slender figure but, in the end, he was a man. The pie, which was a reasonable size, was completely eaten up in no time. Riz still had more than half of hers left in her hands.
“If you want to gather information then the obvious places would be the bar, the mess hall, or the trade union. I went to the trade union.”
John adjusted his crossed legs and then, propping an arm on his knee and placing his chin on his hand, he turned his head to Riz.
“It seemed to be flourishing more or less and the words of that boy can be deemed mostly true. To be precise, ‘everyone believes it to be true’.”
“Essentially, the townspeople are naive and are grateful to the church. In particular, the ones who seem to support the church are none other than the prostitutes, who are targets of derision.”
Riz tilted her head. In reality, the church struggled with how to treat prostitutes. The job of selling sex wasn’t compatible with the teachings of God; however, did the church here treat those women with kindness?
“There are some who cynically say that perhaps those women have given themselves to the priests though.”
The pie nearly got stuck in Riz’s throat. Before, John had also talked about putting a brothel in the church. When she froze, John must have mistaken it to mean that the pie in her hands was too much and he reached out from the side. Her pie was eaten before she could stop him.
“My pie… you’re so cruel.”
“…… This is the first time I’ve seen such a despairing look on you. Alright, I’ll go buy another one.”
The moment he stood from the wooden box they heard the sound of a woman and man arguing nearby.
Riz and John looked at each other before they got closer while being careful not to make a sound.
“—told you that you shouldn’t come.”
“What’s with that? Are you saying I don’t have the right to come to church?”
“That’s not it! Ella, please—“
“That’s what you meant, isn’t it!? You’re just ashamed to be seen with me.”
Riz was shocked and she unconsciously grabbed John’s cloak.
The people quarreling behind the storage building was Julius and the red-headed woman, who was called Ella.
Ella, who was about to accuse Julius even more, turned her eyes to Riz and John by chance. Her face stiffened. Julius also seemed to notice them with that reaction. A strained silence spread between them.
“—Oh my, isn’t this perfect? That young miss there, this person looks like he has something to say to you.”
It was Ella who opened her mouth first. From a distance she looked gorgeous, but close up she had a rose-like presence. It seemed like the person herself was aware of her beauty too. In fact, there was a red rose that was adorned on her chest.
“Julius, who you really want to draw is this sort of angelic woman who is pure from head to toe and knows nothing about being dirty, right?”
Ella laughed aggressively and shoved Julius’ back.
“Miss, won’t you listen to this man’s request?”
Riz looked at the two in order.
Ella divided the situation with force by saying, “We’ll be over there until you two finish talking”, and grabbed John’s arm for some reason before rapidly walking away. Riz panicked.
“Lady Riz, may I have some of your time?”
Julius stopped Riz along with a sigh. John, who was being taken away by Ella, looked back and sent a signal at Riz with his eyes. He probably meant “Let’s listen to her”— but for some reason she felt irritation at the sight of Ella wrapped around John’s arm. She wanted to chase after them as soon as possible.
“Mr. Julius, what did you want to speak to me about?”
When she asked him this rapidly, he replied with a troubled look.
“… I’d like to ask you to be a model for my painting.”
“Yes, I don’t mind. In that case, please come to my room later.”
She nodded without a thought in order to wrap up the conversation and quickly walked over to John and Ella.
“—noble in the capital, really? Would you like to come to the shop later to enjoy yourself?”
Ella placed a hand on John’s chest and smiled bewitchingly. Riz was flustered. The moment she felt her blood drain from her body, in the next instant she was set aflame.
John, who was about to say something, suddenly saw Riz. He politely distanced himself from Ella’s body and approached Riz.
“Hey, do you hate roses?”
Ella said this towards John. He looked back as he touched Riz’s shoulder.
“If I pluck a rose then I won’t be able to grab a star.”
Riz lost her mood to eat the pie. After what happened, they immediately returned to their lodgings and Riz lay down on her bed. She felt John’s confusion, but she didn’t have the composure to talk to him clearly.
Some time later there was a knock from outside her door.
John went to answer the door. The one who appeared was Julius. Riz saw him and the exchange from earlier crossed her mind; she had accepted being his model.
“Were you resting? Should I try another day?”
Julius asked this hesitantly when he saw Riz rising from her bed.
“No, don’t mind me. Please come in.”
Although it was a promise she made out of inattention, the one who accepted it was none other than herself.
John pinned Julius, who entered the room hesitantly, with a gaze full of suspicion.
“Riz, do you have something arranged with him?”
“I was asked earlier to be his model.”
For an instant John’s expression became severe at Riz’s response. His eyes clearly told her to “refuse”.
But Riz gave a small shake of her head.
Now that Julius was here, she wanted to hear things from him. He also wasn’t really longing to paint her, so he must have something he wanted to talk about and that was why he gave the model excuse.
There was a limited space to sit down because the room was small. Riz sat on the bed and Julius settled on a stool. John, who didn’t hide his displeasure, leaned against a wall and stared hard at Riz.
Julius had brought paper used for rough sketches and charcoal just in case.
For a while, the three of them were silent. There was only the sound of Julius scratching his charcoal on the paper.
“… I’m sorry for Ella.”
Julius suddenly opened his mouth. His gaze remained on the paper though.
“Mr. Julius, are you together with Ella?”
“No, we grew up together.”
He made the face of an older brother.
“Her parents died during an epidemic seven years ago. After that, Ella took over and looked after her younger brothers. She worked day and night—“
Julius said sadly and his hand stopped. But then he immediately began to move his charcoal again.
Riz chose silence. This wasn’t a story she could sympathize lightly with by saying that it must have been hard.
“After I quit being a bodyguard for merchant caravans and joined the studio, Ella also started going to church. She has a passionate temper, but she’s much more religious than I am.”
Riz wondered if God heard Ella’s prayers? It’d be nice if they did.
“That’s why, um… she definitely didn’t do what she did earlier out of malice.”
It looked like he requested Riz to be his model in order to protect Ella, who tried to seduce John in front of Riz. He must have been worried an aristocrat like Riz might punish her if Riz was angered.
“Yes, I know.”
When Riz implicitly conveyed that she didn’t plan on punishing Ella, Julius’s expression relaxed as if in relief.
“Mr. Julius, could it be that the red-headed flower girl in the painting of geese was modeled after Ella?”
“Yes, because she loves flowers… and she especially likes red roses.”
He was bashful. But then his eyes became empty right away.
“In truth, I might not believe in God somewhere in my heart. Why isn’t Ella, who is desperately living, given even a single day of rest? I find myself thinking this. —If she can be given rest, then I wouldn’t care if it was a demon.”
Riz’s breath caught at that low voice.
“There are days where I think that.”
Julius closed his mouth on that note.
The rough sketch was concluded after thirty minutes. John ended things on the basis of Riz’s health.
Riz stepped out into the hallway to see Julius out of the room and, at that moment, Drake appeared again. It must have looked like they were trying to butter up Julius.
The moment they passed each other they both showed complicated expressions.
After Julius left, Drake stared at Riz with sharp eyes and whispered this.
“Don’t be tricked. Julius uses women to raise his own value, so he often goes to the brothel.”
Riz gave him a smile.
Everyone only saw what they wanted to see and believed what they wanted to believe.