Chapter Five: The Hollow Saint
Over the next few days, Riz and John checked the paintings and statues in the painting studio and church.
However, they couldn’t find a single suspicious distorted painting. The demon who killed Petron also hadn’t been seen ever since that night.
Riz and John were on their way back after sneaking into the storage building beside the studio at midnight to check the paintings stored there. John muttered with a complicated look, “Should we return to the capital for the time being?”.
“We can’t go back yet. We haven’t found anything, not the distorted painting, the demon, or the contractor.”
Riz looked at John, who was leading her by the hand, and shook her head.
“However, it will be difficult to stay here any longer. Because we have the backing of the Milton family no one is saying anything on the surface, but even the priests are beginning to suspect whether or not we came here for a different purpose.”
She hadn’t thought it would be this difficult.
They only needed the demon— if she could just find the distorted painting the demon lived in then everything would be resolved. It was easy to say that though and reality was different. Due to the location being in the church, their time to search was limited. There were many people coming and going and there were many people who suspected them. Once they got one piece of information, they needed even more information. Riz’s physical endurance was a burden too.
As long as there were humans, their emotions would intersect by the number of people there, and like a spider web complicated relationships would be created. For Riz, who was a lazy shut-in young miss, this place was extremely dizzying.
John looked up at the night sky where a clear half-moon floated.
“I’d like to ask you, just in case, but if we were to provisionally withdraw from the search for the demon is there an artist you would like to bring back from the standpoint of an art gallery owner?”
Riz was troubled at how to answer. Her eyes inadvertently looked down at her feet.
“… If we’re talking about a painter who could draw interesting works if their skill could catch up a little to their passion then there’s one.”
The other artists were outraged that he gained a reputation outside of his skills. It was certainly a large side to him, but Riz didn’t think he was just that. However—.
Her heart hurt. Right at this stage, he wasn’t at the point where she’d want to urge him into a contract no matter what.
If she stayed long then she’d just cause needless chaos. It wasn’t a good thing.
Riz knew that but her priority was John. She came here with the resolve to be hated on by others.
“It’s not that the other artists have nothing to look at either. Each and every one of their works has a sparkle somewhere.”
“But the potential seeds are small?”
“Much smaller than the fresh painters I already have at the art gallery.”
The moment Riz willed her gaze up from the ground John murmured that in a strained voice.
“That is if talent is something that can be be collected.”
“It is like making a flower basket. Even though it doesn’t look like much when there’s a single one, after collecting a hundred then it becomes gorgeous.”
“A collection of artistic talent?”
Riz wondered if he was possibly trying to cheer her up? It was an interesting expression. Riz smiled.
Right after that, she blinked. A collection of artists.
Unbeknownst to her, she stopped moving.
Riz stared at the bonfires which were placed at regular intervals. Her conscious was elsewhere though.
There were 16 religious paintings decorating the Room of Peace. Each one had a motif based on an apostle who appeared in the Bible. If one was to speak of a connection between them then that was it. It wasn’t like the 16 pieces told a single story or were designed to show a larger picture if they were arranged properly like puzzle pieces. However…
“Hey, I heard this from Father Greco before, but if you interpret distorted paintings in a broader sense then they could be statues or hymns— John?”
Partway through her question she realized that John was also standing still as if his attention was caught by something.
“There’s been a sweet smell from a while ago.”
He looked around suspiciously.
“Like the smell of fruits or pastries?”
No, John seemed to say as he gave a small shake of his head.
It was the appearance of someone whose mind wasn’t here, maybe because he was concentrating on finding out the source of the smell.
“For something to smell sweet to me… Is this the smell of human blood?”
Riz’s face froze at that dangerous word.
The time was about one past midnight, a time where the priests were asleep. There were bonfires lit around the church and studio in order to ward off wolves, but this area was a bit far from the town on the highlands and so the darkness was deep.
“My lady, do not leave my side.”
Riz squeezed his hand. If they were like this, then she wouldn’t lose sight of him even in the dark.
John showed a bit of surprise and looked at their connected hands and Riz’s face in turn, but he eventually gave a wry smile.
Riz ran her eyes around the area while firmly holding his hand.
“Do you know where the smell is coming from?”
When she asked him this, the corner of his lips curled with some irritation.
“Regrettably, I cannot pinpoint it.”
Did demons not have a good sense of smell? They were somewhat like dogs though.
“Right now, you thought something rude, didn’t you?”
“Not at all.”
“I’ll say this: this is a problem of the terrain. The land has small hills and the side with the town is higher in general. Because of this, the direction of the wind is easily disturbed.”
John glared at her and pushed up his glasses with a hand.
He was quite prideful and it seemed like it was frustrating if he was thought of as being unable to do something. Before, after she rated the tea he brewed as being awful, he immediately began to study it passionately.
He had a cute side. Riz moved forward while grinning at her inner thought.
But then there was a sweet smell— no, a raw iron-like smell that suddenly floated over. A light flickered at the edge of her vision at the same time.
“…? John, that building there.”
Her mouth was blocked halfway through her sentence by him and Riz stiffened.
He half-carried Riz closer to this building where small tools and statues used for sketches were placed. All the buildings connected to the studio were built somewhat the same. They had domed roofs and were one story tall. Both the ceiling and the walls were made of stone.
When they came to the wall of the building they could see that a part of the round stained glass window was broken. Light was spilling out from there. John brought his face close to the missing part and peered inside.
For an instant he froze. Then he immediately withdrew from the broken window and, as if nothing happened, told her with his eyes, “Now then, let’s return back to our rooms”.
Riz also asked him with her eyes, “Did you see something suspicious?”. John shook his head nonchalantly as if to say, “Nothing in particular”, and tried to pull Riz away. Incidentally, this entire time, he was still covering her mouth with a hand.
He was clearly trying to hide something. Riz pulled his hand off of her mouth and turned back to the stained glass window.
John grabbed her arm right away in a panic to keep her away, but he was too late. She saw what was happening inside. Riz muttered, “Blood ritual?”.
John pressed his hand over Riz’s mouth again in a hurried motion.
It was an abnormal sight. Candles were arranged in a circle and, inside that, there was a crowd of beautiful women around a large chair with strings of pearls layered and fastened to the backrest.
The women only had thin cloths wrapped around their genitals; they were basically naked. They looked like the goddesses drawn in religious paintings. A sense of holiness was felt moreso than lewdness.
They bled from a single part on their body. It looked like a part of their flesh had been gouged out.
Beside them, there were men wearing red hats like they were officials overseeing the proceedings. These men were the studio’s artists. Drake and Director Knox were also there. Riz felt like she didn’t see Julius.
The men held a knife used for oil painting in their hands. Her heart raced. It didn’t look like a wholesome gathering.
Riz peeked through the stained glass window once more.
Drake picked one of the beautiful women and took her arm. It was the red-headed prostitute, Ella.
Drake sat her in the pearl chair and a little above her chest— he pressed the knife to the part of her flesh which had been gouged out. From there, red blood dripped down like a crushed fruit. Knox caught that with a silver cup.
Ella was shivering and crying. It looked like she was crying more out of fear than pain, and yet she didn’t try to run. She stayed still like she was trying to endure some sort of trial.
She wiped her tears with one hand and, by chance, met Riz’s eyes. Riz backed her face away from the stained glass window.
John pulled Riz’s arm and tried to leave this place again.
However, he stiffened abruptly. The moment he changed the direction of his feet he seemed to have lightly kicked a small type of tool placed at the wall to be discarded. The moment he kicked it some sort of cylinder thing fell over with a clank.
What he kicked was the lid of a copper can.
With the lid gone, small stone fragments flew out from inside.
Riz searched her mind all of a sudden. It was a familiar copper can; she believed these were in the painting studio, and they contained painting tools. She also saw something similar on another day.
She remembered! It was the can with herbal tea. Drake had brought it as a refreshment and that one was a smaller size. If she remembered correctly, Drake said it had been prepared by Navi.
This reminded her that, even in the painting studio, Navi seemed to be the one cleaning the medium-sized copper cans.
“These are pieces of the statue the demon broke.”
John picked up a fragment and said this in a quiet voice.
“There’s no mistake. This is a part of the flute the statue of the apostle was holding. The olive pattern is identical.”
The moment Riz turned her gaze to the copper can on the ground—
“Madam? What are you doing over there?”
A cheery voice, ill-matched to the dark of the night, echoed.
Riz and John turned around quickly.
There stood Navi with a curious expression and a lamp raised in one hand. His other hand held a round basket with hard bread and packed with small copper cans.
The young boy looked at them strangely and then, as if a realization came to him, he made a smile.
“Oh, were you praying at night? But wolves come out around this time so it’s danger—“
Riz hurriedly put her index finger to her mouth, hushing him. John rebuked him at the same time in a quiet voice, “Shut up”.
But it looked like it was too late. Navi’s voice seemed to reach the interior of the building since it suddenly became noisy.
Drake and the others ran outside before Riz and John could escape.
“Madam… why are you here!?”
Drake asked this in a panic. Then, seeming to realize he was still holding the blood-covered knife, he dropped it immediately.
John stared at him and moved Riz to stand behind him.
“Riz, step back.”
Drake realized John was wary of them so he waved both hands.
“M-Mister, you’re misunderstanding. We’re carrying out a holy ritual.”
“A bloody ritual is holy?”
John continued to stare at Drake and the others without lowering his guard and, with one hand, signed at Riz to “run away”. Riz slowly stepped back as instructed, trying not to stimulate the artists. The sight of Drake pressing the knife to Ella’s wound was burned into her eyes.
She didn’t know what they would do right now.
“We were only imitating The Last Supper in the Bible! Our blood is the wine and our flesh the bread!”
Drake pleaded to them with a heartwrenching look, and the others nodded with desperate faces. John didn’t release his caution and cornered them with a cold tone.
“I see. So you were offering up the blood and flesh of these women to the fake god who granted ‘miracles’ to your paintings.”
Everyone stared at John. Riz included. Fake god? Who was he pointing at?
“T-they’re not a fake god…!”
“What else should I call a demon who pretends to be a god to obtain flesh and blood?”
Saying that, John slowly directed his gaze to “him”.
Navi jumped when he was suddenly named. Riz was also struck with surprise. Navi was a fake?
“There’s the smell of blood from your mouth. You’ve drunk the blood of these women, haven’t you?”
John grabbed the head of the taken aback Navi with one hand and shoved him down violently. Before the young boy could come back to himself and struggle his left arm was twisted off. There was no hesitation or compassion in that action.
Navi’s face twisted and he let out a horrible scream. Large amounts of blood gushed from the place that was twisted off. Riz didn’t know what she was looking at. The conversation up to now also flew out of her mind. John raised his hand against a human—
“What have you done to Saint Walham…”
“Are you trying to defile the resurrected saint!?”
“W-what’s going on? He ripped off an arm with his bare hands!”
Drake and the others, who were shuddering and frozen, cried out in hoarse voices.
Riz repeated the word “Saint Walhalm” as she vacantly reflected this unnatural scene in her eyes.
Why did Drake and the others look at Navi and call him “Saint Walhalm”?
That was the name of the church. It was named after the beekeeper, Bille Walham.
—Navi was the resurrected Saint Walhalm?
But John called him a fake. Reason gradually returned to her together with a sense of heat. John wouldn’t hurt a human without meaning.
In that case, the true identity of Navi was…
Riz looked at the screaming Navi and murmured this.
It must have been drowned out by Drake and the others’ screams, but Navi suddenly stopped crying and turned around. There was no anger or fear on the young boy’s face. It was like he lost his soul and turned into a doll.
From the part of the arm that was twisted off a black lump, dripping blood, thrust out. That lump was the face of a wolf.
Drake raised his voice in shock and collapsed on the spot like he lost all strength. The women, who were timidly looking out from the building, opened their eyes wide and screamed one after another.
The skin on Navi’s body split like cracks running down a pillar. The women screamed even louder.
A blood-covered wolf flung off “Navi’s torn skin” and landed lightly on the ground.
The wolf glared at Riz and howled, “Calamity befalls the heretic.”
Then, flashing gleaming fangs covered in saliva, it leapt in her direction.
Riz couldn’t move. Although she was used to seeing strange things more than the normal person thanks to John, it wasn’t like she could fight with weapons.
As she stood there frozen, unable to even close her eyes, her vision was suddenly blocked by a black wall.
No, it wasn’t a wall but black wings.
Her body became weightless. John quickly lifted Riz up and floated into the air, dodging the wolf’s attack. He retreated to a distance and placed down Riz.
Riz stared at the things that grew on John’s back— at the black wings.
Liar. It wasn’t four wings, it was two wings… No, when she looked closer, there seemed to be two more wings like long tail feathers? She was confused to the point where she tried to escape reality by thinking about something like this.
The wolf snarled and rushed at them again. This time John didn’t escape; he turned his body nimbly and kicked the wolf’s flank. Then, as the wolf somersaulted through the air and hit the ground, John knocked over a nearby bonfire on top of it. He grabbed one leg of the broken bonfire basket and stabbed it through the head of the wolf which tried to get up.
The wolf gave a dying scream and then disappeared. No more than a few seconds had passed since being attacked to the conclusion. It was an aggressive offensive to the point of beauty.
—Wasn’t John a little too strong?
John’s lack of mercy, Navi’s true identity, and Drake and the others’ ritual. Because she witnessed shocking events in succesion, she was pretty much absentminded. It was only her heart that was racing to the point of bursting.
“This is a familiar… Is the main body still hiding in the distorted painting?”
John dusted off his hands as if he had finished one task.
Drake, who was dazed like Riz, suddenly pointed at John and shouted.
John tilted his head at that accusation. It was a strange look as if he was saying he saved Drake, so what was he going on about? Riz gingerly walked up to John and pointed at his back in silence.
No matter how one looked at it those were the wings of a demon. Pitch black.
“… Oh, this? This is problematic. They appeared unconsciously.”
John flapped his black wings and fixed the position of his glasses with a serious expression. His wings disappeared quietly and it seemed like he was feeling slightly disordered.
Riz was about to call out to him but then she heard footsteps running over here.
“What were those screams just now!?”
The person who appeared out of breath was Julius. It appeared he had been working in the painting studio; his hand was gripping a brush and he had an apron wrapped around his waist which was stained with paint.
He seemed to have noticed Drake and the others’ screams and quickly came running.
However, how were they to explain this chaotic situation? Riz was at a loss and then abruptly looked Julius up and down. Did he know about Navi’s true identity? Or…
“What on earth is everyone doing—?”
Drake raised his voice as if to cover Julius’ question.
“Everyone saw it too, right!? This demon killed Saint Walhalm!”
—What did they mean?
Certainly, John was a demon and he killed the person they called “Walhalm”, but she couldn’t overlook the way Drake said that. Riz tried to step out but John stopped her. He looked at Drake, crossed his arms, and then looked disappointed.
“You must have noticed that thing wasn’t Walhalm, no? Of course, it wasn’t the boy called Navi either.”
“W-what are you saying when you killed the saint…!”
“I understand your wish to push the responsibility onto me. After all, the existence you believed and obeyed was actually a wicked demon who used you.”
The expressions of Drake and the others became severe. But John didn’t stop.
“A demon has settled down in the paintings you all have painted. It should have led people astray and called down disasters, but those have been misunderstood as ‘God’s messages’ by devout believers.”
It was similar to interpreting a painting. Depending on the awareness of the appraiser, the painting could be a masterpiece or a waste.
“Owing to these miraculous paintings informing you beforehand of coming disasters, you were able to avoid them— that is what you all believed. The demon took advantage of that psychology.”
“John, rather than took advantage… isn’t it more like it got caught up in being worshiped?”
When Riz inadvertently interrupted, John raised an eyebrow and looked at her.
“There were those words written on the door to my room. I was thinking, wasn’t that a threat to worship it as a God?”
After Riz experienced the danger of a falling statue, a threat came to recognize the demon as a God if she wanted to protect herself from disasters. That was why it didn’t kill Riz.
It also gained strength, having contracted with someone, and didn’t need to run away from John anymore. Rather, wasn’t it thinking about killing John’s familiar, breaking his desire for revenge, and then enslaving John?
“Ah, you mean it was living decadently, feeling good from being adored by humans? How foolish.”
John gave a small chuckle and returned his gaze to Drake and the others who were shivering.
“You said you were imitating The Last Supper? Were you likening the flesh and blood of these women as bread and wine and peeling them little by little? Did you hear sweet whispers about how if you offered sacrifices to this God then you would be bestowed revelations and granted glories?”
John, saying things too clearly wasn’t good.
Despite thinking this, Riz couldn’t scold him because she was curious about where he was going with his words.
“However, the demon kneaded the gathered flesh and blood of these women like it truly was bread and stretched it, creating ‘Navi’. It outlined a plot such as the resurrection of Saint Walhalm, who conveyed the words of a great God. Aah, if more flesh and blood was sacrificed then it might have completed an adult instead of a young boy. If its foundation was human flesh and blood then it’s not strange I didn’t notice its smell.”
John showed a cruel smile befitting that of a demon.
“It means all of you here have made a contract with the demon. No wonder its powers also enlarged.”
There was a thumping sound. The women who had pressed together all sat down hard on the floor.
“Mr. Drake and the others said that if we cooperated with their ritual then our living conditions would improve… they said they would give us donations and our fathers medicine.”
Ella murmured this in a voice that was close to disappearing.
Julius, who was dumbfounded, threw his brush and ran over to her.
“Ritual…!? Ella, what exactly did you do? I was under the impression you gave your body to them for money to buy medicine— wait, you’re hurt!?”
Ella clung onto Julius’ extended arm and lowered her head.
“We gave our blood to a demon instead of a messenger? Julius, if I had listened to what you said and stopped—“
No, Drake shouted out she was wrong with a stiff face.
“Don’t be deceived! The true demon is this man who came from the capital. Didn’t he grow black wings? It’s proof that he’s tainted!”
“T-that’s right, the demon killed Navi… it killed the resurrected Saint Walhalm.”
Knox played dumb and agreed with Drake’s words.
“Someone bring the Fathers over!!”
“Get this demon exorcised!”
Riz panicked at the words of the artists who didn’t accept this reality. Everyone was just in pain and felt like shoving all the responsibility onto John.
As if she’d let them do as they wanted! Riz grabbed John’s arm and ran.
“Riz, if you run then your body will—“
“Now’s not the time!”
First they had to escape and then come up with a plan.
Behind them, Drake and the others shouted “Don’t let them escape, chase them”.
Riz could hear footsteps chasing them right after. A convenient miracle didn’t happen and just from a little running Riz’s breaths were starting to choke.
Anger and frustration welled up at herself. She wanted to do something about this burdensome body. Couldn’t it at least let her run to the town in the highlands? Every single day she crammed expensive medicine into her body and yet it didn’t get better at all. In that case, what could she do to satisfy this body and restore her health?
It was hopeless. At this rate they would be caught up to immediately.
“You’re at your limits, are you not? Stop.”
She started coughing in the middle of her answer.
“This is why I told you not to run!”
Halfway, John roughly picked her up. He checked the position of their pursuers and then ran into one of the buildings.
The smell of pigment prickled Riz’s nose. This was a warehouse where art supplies were placed; its appearance and structure was almost exactly the same as the painting studio. In the corner there was a chair where dresses were hung on.
It seemed like the women took off their clothes here and prepared for the ritual, and so there was also a single lamp placed here. Thanks to that, the interior of the room could be dimly seen.
John lowered Riz to the floor and kneeled in front of her. Riz pressed a hand to her chest while she breathed raggedly. Her head hurt violently and even now her heart felt like it was about to leap out.
John pressed the palm of his hand to Riz’s forehead and his expression darkened.
“You’re sweating a lot. You mustn’t stay here and you need to rest your body immediately.”
“… John, enough about me, go somewhere, safe.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’ll, trick them well.”
“Are you an idiot? You’re sacrificing yourself to save me?”
John spoke in a stiff voice.
“Please do not look down on me. I can protect myself without you sacrificing yourself. I only need to kill everyone.”
“I don’t, intend, on being a sacrifice.”
“… Stop talking. Come lean over here.”
Riz borrowed John’s arm and waited for the ringing in her ears to settle. She wanted to stand up soon but her body wouldn’t listen to her. Her eyes blurred and her consciousness distorted like melting paint.
“It’ll be alright, Riz. Exhale slowly.”
Sweat rolled down her forehead. She couldn’t breathe. Her body expanded and there was a terrifying feeling that she would burst apart.
When she closed her eyes and endured the pain assaulting her body she heard the voices of Drake and the others from outside the building. Multiple people approached. “Fathers! Over here!” “The demon kidnapped the madam” “We need to exterminate it quickly—“. Her mind was urged forward at their voices. She had to at least get John to move. If he stayed he would be discovered right away.
Riz tried to push John’s arm, but he didn’t move.
“… In any case, I just need to be given to them so that, at the least, your status will not be judged.”
She shook her head and he stroked it as if to soothe her.
Riz knocked awake her consciousness, which was about to get swallowed by darkness, and desperately thought.
She didn’t feel like giving John to anyone.
Moreover, she didn’t really plan on sacrificing herself.
Either choice would lead to unhappiness.
She didn’t want such a future.
Riz would live as herself and John would live as “John Smith”. She would shut herself up in the art gallery and immerse herself in the world of paintings while occasionally being played around with by her mother, Virma. She loved that sort of unexciting and peaceful days. She didn’t want to let that go.
—So what could she do in order to protect those days?
Now that things were like this, they couldn’t just catch the demon who killed Petron and hand it over to Greco.
She had to do something about Drake and the others who were trying to lay the blame on John. They would try to catch John by all means to hide their own mistakes.
—O’ Lord, she would continue to go to church in the future too, regardless of searching for a good man, so please let her move her body, even just one more hour was fine.
“Don’t speak. Wait here for just a moment… I will drive away those irritating creatures.”
She grabbed John’s sleeve when he tried to get up. She couldn’t let him go. She felt like he really intended to kill Drake and everyone. Contrary to his appearance, this demon was surprisingly extreme on some points.
“Riz, you don’t need to think about anything.”
The moment her hand was gently removed her dizziness became more intense and she pitched forward like that, almost hitting her head on the ground. It was like her head was being stabbed by countless needles.
“Can you not be obedient!?”
John hurriedly supported Riz’s body and leaned her against the wall behind her.
“Don’t do anything and hide somewhere.”
“You’re being fussy, my lady.”
“I am, the master. Listen to what I say.”
“Don’t get cocky thinking you’re the master. Enough, rest. The next time you open your mouth uselessly I will pick you up and fly around above them.”
The difference between his words, which were spat out, and his gentle hand as he stroked her cheek was cruel.
“I, want you to stay, as the appraiser, ‘John Smith’. I want to be together with you, John. So, no matter what…”
“I told you not to open your mouth. Do you wish to fly in the sky that much?”
“If only John was my husband. I etched that wish in my heart over and over again.”
“If that was the case, then I’m sure you would touch my cheeks every day, right? Every night, I could sleep while hearing your good night—“
John’s eyes widened and he drew his hand back from Riz.
The instant she pressed her hand to the floor, so that her upper body wouldn’t fall, her fingertips touched something. It was a round container. There were similar shaped objects lined up.
A pungent smell drifted around over there. For a second, she forgot her breathlessness and stared at those containers.
Was this… paint?
There were colors stuck to the lids. The closest one to her was red and beside that was blue. Beyond those was a white one. Riz blinked her eyes. There were lots of paint placed there.
“How many times have I told you not to speak?”
John said this in a strong tone and drew back before Riz could grab him and stood up.
“I’ll return soon. Do not move and wait here— Riz, what’s with those eyes. What are you trying to do? Even though your breathing is rough, for some reason your eyes are animated… wait, what is that? Paint?”
“It’s very rare paint mixed with limewash and metals. The color is vivid and opaque.”
Inspiration descended on her. Her state of pain was still there but energy returned to her body. It seemed like God had granted Riz’s wish.
“Riz? Why are you opening the lid. It’s not the time to play with paint— stop. Don’t try to carry such a heavy thing. Put it down right now.”
Despite rebuking her, for some reason John took a step back with a frightened look, as if he had a bad feeling.
He was an alert demon.
“John, I have a request. Could you bring out your wings for a bit?”
Riz smiled. She tried her best to keep it fleeting— delicate, so that she wouldn’t be refused.
He blinked, as if overwhelmed, and then materialized his wings with an extremely hesitant attitude.
“… What do you want to do looking at my wings at this time?”
“Turn around… Yes, like that. That’s nice.”
“What in the world? I don’t understand at all. Your face is terrifying.”
“Don’t worry, don’t be afraid. It won’t hurt.”
“Spread out your wings more. Yes, yes, that’s wonderful, John. If possible, could you crouch this much— ah, right there. Keep that position and don’t move. Make sure your wings are spread.”
After Riz made the uneasy John face forward and half-crouch, she lifted up the container with all of her might. This was the first time in her life lifting such a heavy object.
The color of the paint she held in both hands was white.
“Riz— you can’t possibly be…”
John said in a strained voice as if he guessed something.
“Don’t move, John.”
“Hey, wait. Please wait.”
“I can’t wait anymore.”
“No, really, wait! Stop…!”
“I want to defile you with my hands.”
And with a lot of white paint.
“RIZ! I’ll apologize for everything up to now! So, please, just not that—!!”
Riz carried out her action before he could turn around.
SPLOOSH. She forcibly dumped the pigment all over his black wings.
Exhilaration filled her body. Oh no, that actually felt really good.
In contrast to the lightened Riz, John was frozen.
“… No way… what have you… done…”
One day she would like to paint John’s expression in this moment.
If she were to use one of his expressions then, yes, his eyes had less light than that of a freshly severed sheep head.
Later Riz asked John, who had dead eyes, to pick her up and head to the cathedral while taking care not to be discovered by Drake and the others.
Perhaps it was due to doing a good job, or making a miracle from God occurred, but her breathing became much better.
Their destination was the Room of Peace.
“It took a long time but I think I’ve found the distorted painting.”
“It’s definitely a certain painting in the Room of Peace.”
“Symbols of blasphemy mean that they can be letters too. To begin with, letters are a variation of pictures.”
John didn’t respond.
His eyes were completely dead.
Riz deliberately tried not to look at his back. Well, the white was conspicuous though and entered her vision no matter what she did.
“It’s not that the distorted painting is hiding among these 16 paintings, but rather that the 16 paintings are all a distorted painting. This came to me from your words, John.”
He finally responded but his voice was low.
“You mentioned a collection of artists. Also, that Drake and everyone made a contract with the demon.”
“And what about that? Aah… my wings are stiff…”
His voice was awfully dangerous but Riz pretended she didn’t notice.
“Those 16 paintings form the words of the grimoire.”
“How? If you’re mistaken then I will cover your entire body in paint.”
“… It’s one of the verses of the grimoire. Ashiki koto ooi ni sakae yo, aoki uma yo hai to shi wo make. Evil prospers greatly, the pale horse scatters ashes and death.”
“So? Do you wish for me to throw paint on you right now?”
“… Reeds swaying under a winter sky, a man and woman standing beneath an apple tree, a maiden playing the harp, apostles speaking under a tent, workers carrying heavy baggage, a red-headed flower girl walking up a hill and a flock of geese, people suffering from a plague, angels of blessing descending on a window sill at night, animals gathered around a blue spring, a saint and old woman standing beside a pear tree, horses running through a field, monks illuminating the darkness, ashes falling on ruins, a town with its doors closed and fearing calamity, foreign merchants selling salt, and farmers sowing seeds in a field.”
“Ooh? In other words, you also want to cover Julius and the artists in paint?”
“… John, do you know about homonym drawings?”
“For example, a simple explanation would be ‘bare’ and ‘bear’ or ‘fir’ and ‘fur’… essentially drawings that can substitute for each other like that.”
John turned his eyes to the 16 paintings.
“Ashiki koto ooi ni sakae yo… ‘Ashi’ is reeds. ‘Ki’ is the tree in apple tree. ‘Koto’ is the harp. ‘Ooi’ is the covering of the tent. ‘Ni’ is the luggage.”
What was to be noticed in Julius’ drawing was neither the red-headed flower girl nor the geese. The thing to look at was the hill, “saka”.
“E” was the epidemic. “Yo” was the night. Like this, it would become “sakae yo”.
There were also literal paintings. The blue spring drawing, the horse drawing, and the ashes drawing.
“Shi wo” was salt, and this was an easily understood symbol. In the Bible, salt held the meaning of death. The Dead Sea at the holy lands had a lot of salt content and no living creature existed there. That was where the association came from. There were actually a lot of religious paintings depicting towns of salt.
The last phrase, “make”, was the painting of the farmers scattering seeds.
“Homonym drawings have long been used by people who couldn’t read or write. They used pictures instead of words.”
Riz pointed at the painting of the geese.
“The paintings adorned in this Room of Peace happen to be lined up in order of the grimoire’s phrase. Going clockwise— Ashiki koto ooi ni sakae yo, aoki uma yo hai to shi wo make. Evil prospers greatly, the pale horse scatters ashes and death.”
It happened the moment she said all that.
The maiden, angels, and animals inside the paintings glared hatefully at Riz. Ash fell down, the farms withered, and the old woman screamed and scratched at her hair. The plague struck hard, the harp made discordant sounds, the apples withered, the pear exploded with bugs, and the spring became muddied. The horses neighed, spit flying, and the foreign merchants became skeletons. Then the light from the monks disappeared and they spat out curses. “Death comes” they intoned in a flat voice.
“Aah, it’s you. There’s no mistake. The demon who killed Petron.”
“I’ve wanted to meet you.”
The monks inside the painting rolled their eyes back into their heads.
Then there were eyes like a peeled grape. It was wet and veins ran through it…
“It doesn’t matter why you killed him. There’s no meaning behind demons killing humans.”
John suddenly changed completely from before and showed a quiet expression.
“However, that good-for-nothing old man was my foster father. He fastidiously pounded manners into me, gave me knowledge, and made me drink disgusting soup. What will you do about how I cannot drink that old man’s disgusting soup ever again?”
Riz’s eyes widened at John’s words. Her entire body was paralyzed. It was like she received a divine revelation and she understood the truth now.
In this instant, she saw John’s heart.
There was certainly a fragment of love and sadness.
“—Incidentally, right now, I’m in an unprecedented horrible mood. Poor you.”
John looked at the bee demon, which was about the size of a lion, that broke out of a painting, and smiled with the utmost pleasure.
Riz, while trembling, quietly averted her gaze.
John displayed a brutal fight becoming of a demon, just as he stated.
It was likely one minute hadn’t even passed.
As she stood there stiffly there were alarming and agonizing screams with the sound of things tearing, plopping down, thrown about, and splattering. Eventually, it became quiet.
“… Riz, it’s over.”
She fearfully turned around and saw John standing there with a pocket watch in hand and a refreshed look on his face. She definitely didn’t look at the white wings, which were stiff from the dried paint.
“Did you kill it?”
“No, I ripped it somewhat into little pieces and closed it within a watch. Ah, when a demon is at the brink of death, it can revive itself so long as a single piece of bone is left. One day.”
She only heard disturbing words in there but he probably meant to say it was successfully captured. She would take an optimistic outlook. For now, Riz was relieved.
If John killed it then they wouldn’t be able to hand it over to Greco.
She thought he restrained himself well.
“If I take this thing to the capital then the charges on me will be dropped and I will be able to continue spending a cooped up life with you again.”
“You’ll become a shut-in together with me?”
“Except for me, who else could take care of a dangerous woman who would splash paint on a demon?”
“You’re right… Yes, there’s no one apart from you.”
“Right?…… My wings are heavy. Haven’t they hardened because of the paint? If I don’t wash them I won’t be able to withdraw them.”
Riz nearly burst out laughing at John’s soliloquy which overflowed with grief.
Just as she desperately held it back she noticed many footsteps approaching them.
It was Drake and the priests.
—John did his best. Now, it was her turn.
The stage was set; she would display the acting skills she learned directly from her mother.
Riz threw off her cloak and pinched her cheeks as hard as she could, making her eyes water.
John, who was fiddling sadly with his wings, looked over at her in surprise.
“I saw the demon entering here.”
“Father Mile, please drive out that thing.”
The voices of the men sounded and then, following that, the door to the Room of Peace was banged open.
“There it is, the demon!!”
Drake shouted with excitement. Those gathered were Drake, Knox, and the artists who participated in the earlier ritual. Then there were several priests, including Mile. Everyone had weapons or holy tools in their hands.
“Madam, are you unharmed—“
“Aah! Thank you so much, angel!!”
Riz interrupted Drake, who was about to run over, and declared this loudly.
She clasped both hands in front of her chest and, opening her eyes wide, drifted down to kneel at John’s feet.
“You protected me from the demon lurking in this church.”
“Riz, what’s with that terribly monotone voice…” John’s despairing murmur was also interrupted and Riz continued on in a high voice.
“Fathers, this angel saved Mr. Drake and the others from the demon.”
Huh!? The artists looked at each other and were intensely confused.
Even John, who should have been her ally, sent them a bewildered look, as if saying “What’s with this woman?”. He was a clueless demon.
“Oh no, such a terrible demon. Oh, I was so terrified.”
Mile and the other priests shuffled around like they wanted to say “This is different from what we expected!”.
“Please listen, fathers. This cunning demon transformed into a child called Navi in order to deceive us. However, this angel mercilessly ripped off its arm and skewer—… pierced it with a holy sword at the end of a struggle to the death and destroyed the demon.”
“M-Madam, please hold on, that’s not the tru—“
“This is the complete truth!”
Riz sealed Drake’s objection again and took one of John’s hands as he stood there dumbfounded. She pressed his hand to her cheek and cast her gaze at everyone.
“Isn’t that right, Mr. Drake and everyone? My words are not lies.”
The artists fell silent.
“Owing to your ‘holy paintings’, this angel appeared and destroyed the demon. There’s no mistake, right?”
They didn’t answer. They were at a loss as to whether or not they should take the “truth” she proposed.
Riz continued further.
“This church is protected by an angel. Father Mile, you must be pleased with that as well, yes? You definitely weren’t collecting donations and tolerating the artists’ rituals while dimly realizing they were ‘false revelations’, right?”
“There aren’t any dirty desires here at all, yes?”
“Miss Riz, w-what are you talking about?”
“Ah, I have a letter here from my brother, Daniel. Maybe I’ll ask him to come from the capital—“
Mile gave in. Seriously, Riz wondered what sort of relationship he had with her brother.
In that moment, she heard someone running over.
“Madam, are you safe!?”
The person who appeared was Julius, and he had a farming tool in his hand. It appeared he had rushed over out of worry for Riz and John.
“Huh, Mr. John, um— the things behind you…”
Covered in a tragic but brave air, Julius’ gaze stopped on John’s back and he was struck dumb.
A short silence fell on everyone.
“…… I’m an angel.”
John said in a low voice, not at all fitting of an angel. His voice only contained resentment and curses.
John pushed his glasses up with a fingertip at Julius’ astonishment and spat this out hatefully.
“No matter how you look at me, I’m an angel, am I not?”
No angel would have such a villainous face.
However, Julius was someone who could read the atmosphere. He looked quickly between Riz and John’s face and nodded awkwardly, “Uh, erm, yes, r-right, an angel…? Right”. John gave in to his despair and spoke.
“I am something like a guardian angel for Riz.”
“Don’t say something like one.”
John forcibly picked up Riz as she made a comment without thought. He probably only looked like a demon come to kidnap a woman, rather than a guardian angel.
But angels and demons were the same as paintings. They changed depending on who looked at them.
For Riz, John was equivalent to an angel. Something like one though.
John turned his clear gaze to everyone without compassion.
“I sealed the demon concealed in this church. Everyone here can clean up the rest themselves.”
The artists dropped their weapons.
Her angel had no mercy.
T/N: Who guessed the distorted painting? I actually thought the 16 paintings would form one painting, so I was so close LOL. Meanwhile, you can laugh at how I just gave up on translating the homonyms. I thought I was doing so good by replacing the examples with actual English ones, and then I hit the plot-relevant one and just… ow. Basically, the kanji is different for the words but you read them the same way.
For example, the phrase “Evil prospers greatly” is 悪しきこと大いに栄えよ (ashiki koto ooi ni sakae yo).
The eight paintings are described as:
冬空の下で揺れる葦 = the reeds swaying underneath a winter sky
林檎の木の下に立つ二人の男女 = the man and woman beneath the apple tree
竪琴を奏でる乙女 = the maiden playing the harp
天幕の下で語らう使徒たち = apostles talking underneath a tent
重い荷を運ぶ労働者 = workers carrying heavy luggage
坂道を進む赤毛の花売りと雁の群れ = red-headed flower girl walking up a hill and a flock of geese
疫病に苦しむ人々 = people suffering from an epidemic
夜の窓辺に舞い降りる祝福の天使 = angels of blessing descending on a window sill at night
The homonyms are broken down into:
悪し = 葦 (ashi)
き = 木 in 林檎の木 (ki)
こと = 琴 in 竪琴 (koto)
大い = the tent [天幕] covers [覆い] the apostles (ooi)
に = 荷 in 荷物 (ni)
栄え = 坂 in 坂道 (saka) + 疫 in 疫病 (e)
よ = 夜 (yo)
Meanwhile, YES, Riz throwing white paint on John’s wings is supposed to sound like she’s a man covering a woman in, um, you-know-what. It was extremely sexual.