Epilogue: Desired Days
Riz and John gathered their luggage and headed to the highland town.
Upon reaching it, they went to the trade union and arranged for a carriage.
However, because it was in the night, it took some time to prepare. During this time, Riz and the others waited inside the trade union’s lounge. Incidentally, John’s wings were washed at a well.
Julius, who had come with them up to here, received the wine they ordered from an employee of the trade union.
“Please have some, you two.”
Riz accepted one, took a drink, and looked at him.
“By the way, Mr. Julius, how do you feel about drawing paintings at my art gallery?”
His talent was still a bud and whether it can bloom or not was unknowable at this stage. But Riz thought about it again. Perhaps it could improve dramatically.
Julis fell silent with a complicated look. Riz waited patiently for his answer and John also didn’t open his mouth.
“… I apologize, Miss Riz, but I am inexperienced.”
“I intend to polish that inexperience.”
His doubt disappeared and he smiled. It was an expression as if a burden had been placed down.
“I am a painter. I will continue to paint in the future, so these hands do not need to hold a brush no matter what. I want to draw paintings of hope for Ella, who is hurt, and for people who need saving. That is the sort of painter I am aiming for.”
“—Yes, I’m certain you will draw many holy paintings. God is nestled in your heart.”
“Thank you very much. I hope you two are blessed.”
Julius laughed after he glanced at John and then left at a relaxed pace.
“How regrettable. He is someone who can become a saint.”
John said this in a mutter.
In that case, she would leave Julius alone. This was what Riz thought. It was better for a saint to be near those who needed him.
A short while after Julius left a familiar man appeared.
It was the Sūpan priest, Greco.
John’s face twisted the instant he saw him.
“Yo, Miss Riz, John. You two weren’t sending any progress reports, so I came here out of worry.”
John said without a delay.
“Even if you say that now… I really can’t wait for you two anymore.”
His gentle tone didn’t change, but Riz’s cheeks tensed.
“I see, then take this thing,” John roughly shoved a pocket watch onto Greco. It was the watch with the sealed demon who killed Petron.
Greco stared at the watch in surprise and felt the lid with his fingertips. Soon, he chuckled.
“… Alright. I’ve certainly received it.”
“John, you’re always scathing towards me. You always were since Father Petron was around.”
“It’s because you’re slimy despite being a priest.”
“You’re just jealous of me being the best disciple, right? My looks and personality are good, and in addition— I have talent with painting. Unlike you.”
John looked at him with eyes that burned.
“Father Petron thought it was such a shame. If only there was talent in your hands, he would say.”
John silently tried to throw out Greco from the trade union. Greco hurriedly escaped his hands and approached Riz.
“O’ pitiful Maiden of Stars. How about I exorcise this demon and liberate you? You may be aware already, but Sūpan priests are allowed to marry. I’m quite a catch in the category of ‘good men’—“
“I told you to go home. Don’t ever show your face again.”
“I’ll always accept your request to exorcise a demon!”
Greco waved his hand while he was pushed by an angry John towards the door. Riz also waved her hand back.
“Oh, yes, I’ve sent a gift to you as a thank you for this matter. Please look forward to it.”
What could it be?
Riz tilted her head as she watched Greco be driven out. She tried to call him back to ask him about it but— her vision suddenly spun.
In her fading consciousness, she realized she ran out of energy. Someone supported her body but she wasn’t able to ascertain who that was. Riz lost consciousness like that.
To be honest, even if she died, she wouldn’t have any complaints.
—When she woke, she was back at the mansion in the royal capital.
She was put to sleep in her bedroom’s bed. Riz stared up at the canopy of her bed and sighed.
Everything felt like a long dream. She took over the art gallery of her uncle, Hine, and was half-threatened into making a contract with a demon. Later, she met her fiancé, helped him elope with a servant girl, and transformed a demon into an angel at a certain church. It was this sort of astounding and dramatic dream, full of ups and downs.
If this was reality then didn’t she surprisingly lead a fulfilling life?
She slowly raised her body up from the bed.
How long did she sleep for? Just that movement alone put exhaustion onto her shoulders.
Riz turned her eyes to the small table beside her bed, where a water pitcher was placed.
Feeling thirsty, she stretched out her hand but then noticed that a letter was put on top of the small table.
It was a letter from the Seventh Church.
Riz moistened her throat and then, after a small break, she opened the letter.
The continuation of her dream was written there. It mentioned the replacement of the priests at St. Walhalm’s Church. It mentioned that, due to “John Smith” and Riz’s activities, the priests and cardinals of the Third Church, who had their hands stained in evil, were swept out. It mentioned how “John Smith” would continue to live peacefully as Petron’s foster son after this. Lastly, it also mentioned giving Riz a small reward.
One card was inside this letter.
It was a beautiful certificate with the emblem of the country depicted on it.
Appraiser Riz Milton.
That was what was written on it.
Riz stared at it for a while.
“I don’t need this ‘small reward’. I’ll grab the title of appraiser some day with my own knowledge and efforts.”
Smiling, she tore the card up.
It seemed like Riz had fallen asleep for several days after she collapsed at the trade union.
John had brought her back to the capital’s mansion but she remained unconscious. Because of that, the mansion fell into an uproar.
Virma had fainted, her sister, Grace, had burst into tears, and her brother, Daniel, had grabbed a sword from the decorative arms in the entrance and tried to cut down John.
“… So then you were barred from entering this mansion, right?”
“Yes, which is why I came in from the window. It’ll be bad if I am discovered.”
Riz looked at John, who sat at the edge of her bed.
Once she woke up, whenever she tried to leave her room Virma would tear up.
Riz also felt apologetic for making her worry, so she planned to stay quiet and obedient for a while.
“On another note, your room is becoming buried in gifts by the day.”
John said in disgust.
Riz didn’t know where they heard about it, but sympathy gifts were delivered to the mansion one after another. The majority of them were gifted with respect to her father’s reputation. They had the ambition that, if things went well, their names would be remembered and they could obtain a chance to climb up the social ladder.
There were also letters and gifts sincerely wishing for her recovery.
In the near future, she would try to invite these people to a personal tea party. Meeting people one could trust in the world of aristocrats was, in some ways, more difficult than obtaining prestige.
“There seems to be many who don’t know of your personality.”
John picked up one of the gifts that was stacked on the ground and opened the lid. Inside was an exquisitely made coral brooch.
“Instead of accessories, you would rather receive art supplies and art books, yes?”
Riz gently pressed a hand to her chest as she agreed.
Ever since they acted like a married couple, John had continued to call her by name, and each time he did th at her heart felt like it shook and she couldn’t calm down.
Panic grew in her because she didn’t want to treat him as a special person. He was a demon, so he would only be around for as long as the contract lasted. But one day she would marry.
He was someone she couldn’t let her heart flip over and think about wanting to stare at for an entire day. Love was even more absurd.
Riz pressed on her forehead this time. Why was the word love surfacing within her?
She was a gloomy, shut-in, lazy young lady with dead eyes and such a bright word didn’t suit her.
This fervor in her heart must be make-believe. Riz straightened her back.
“John, I’ve decided.”
“That I’d use this chance to try and leave you.”
“Saying such nonsense, do you have a fever?”
“It’s not nonsense.”
“Don’t think about anything pointless. You just need to do your best to live thinking about paintings and me.”
“Not just paintings but also you, John?”
This was a problem. Her make-believe wasn’t staying make-believe.
“Speaking of paintings, you ripped up the appraiser certificate sent by Greco.”
“Why? You wished to become an appraiser.”
John asked this curiously while fixing Riz’s dressing gown which was about to slip from her shoulders.
“I want to grab that certificate with my own hands, not to be given it by someone… I know this is a childish thought though.”
“I think it’s good.”
“I am instructing you, and so eventually you will become an appraiser on your own merit.”
Riz furrowed her eyebrows.
What was with this man?
He shook her heart without warning over and over and over again.
In order to avert her awareness, she changed the topic.
Ever since she woke up she had been curious about what happened after the demon who killed Petron was caught and St. Walhalm’s Church.
She knew about the general circumstances from Greco’s letter, but she wanted to know in a bit more detail.
“John… will the demon you handed over to Father Greco be judged by the Church?”
“Yes. However, it involves problems which cannot be made public and so the cardinals will resolve it within themselves.”
Riz wanted to ask if he didn’t want to kill it with his own hands, but it was somewhat inconsiderate. Still, she did want to hear his true thoughts.
“It’s not like you to hesitate. You should just ask honestly whether I’m fine not killing that demon.”
John said, amused.
“No churchman would wish to contract with a demon who killed the previous bishop of the Seventh Church, and so that thing will be sealed forever.”
“You’re alright with that, John?”
“Petron is a target for Canonization. In order for that, a ‘tragic death’ is required.”
John re-crossed his legs and turned his face towards the window.
“Greco and the others in the Seventh Church faction intend to use that demon as a tool for Petron to obtain a seat as a saint. He was a pitiful martyr who was targeted by a demon due to his overwhelmingly pure soul— Good enough. That good-for-nothing old man did take care of me, after all. He can become a saint.”
He brought his gaze back and smiled thinly.
“Nevertheless, for an old man who was accompanied by a demon to be made into a saint… Humans truly are interesting.”
“John, there’s no doubt that Father Petron was indeed a saintly person.”
“That greedy old man?”
Riz gripped John’s hand as he stared at her dubiously.
John. He chose Petron’s posthumous honor over his own revenge.
—That was love.
His adoptive father had imparted on him the most difficult and beautiful emotion a human could possess.
It was fitting to praise a human who taught a demon to love as a “saint”.
“Greco responded the same way you did. That my old man was a saint. I don’t understand at all.”
She smiled at his confusion.
John had firmly raised the kindness and consideration which sprouted from love without letting it wither.
—That’s why she was drawn to him.
The love that a saint had dropped into this demon’s heart had spread even to Riz.
“Enough about that old man. Now, about St. Walham’s Church…”
“You recall that the faction of the Third Church is there, yes? They are at odds with the Seventh Church, and so Greco is delighted to have grasped their weakness. Using this chance, he intends to chip off the Third Church’s power. In the first place, the uproar about this case is due to the intimacy between these priests and the Third Church. They tried to stain Petron’s honor and, along the way, drive away the Milton house, who is a supporter of the Seven Church.”
“Father Greco changed a crisis into an opportunity, I see.”
“He used us. It’s quite irritating.”
Shall I kill him? John gave her a dangerous look which seemed to ask that, but she shook her head.
“Ella and the girls, and the studio craftsmen…”
“Those women were merely used and so I believe support will be offered to them. The church and studio are undergoing investigation; you don’t need to concern yourself over the fates of the artists— that Julius man didn’t participate in the demonic ritual and so he’ll be acquitted.”
“… I think I’ll ask mother that I want to support training pharmacists in the Milton house.”
“Hmm, alright, why not.”
“Also, I want to help those who don’t have any relatives.”
“There’s no need to rush. You can take your time thinking about each of these slowly.”
Riz sighed and looked down at their connected hands.
Many things happened, but she and John regained their peace.
He wasn’t able to achieve his revenge, but John found the demon who killed Petron.
Did he still need her then?
John’s eyes suddenly sharpened and he looked over at the door.
“Someone more troublesome than a demon is coming.”
He grimaced, quickly stood up, and ran over to the window to try and open it.
However, the door to Riz’s room opened before he could. John looked as if he held back from clicking his tongue and hid behind a curtain.
“Riz! You’re awake.”
The person who came in was her mother, Virma. She was carrying papers that were rolled up into a cylinder in her hands.
Riz smiled. Someone more troublesome than a demon, indeed.
“Oh my, you’re in high spirits today.”
Virma said so happily, came close, and sat in a chair that was placed beside the bed. She was still carrying the cylindrical paper. What were those? Paintings?
“Good gracious, when you were carried back by that thing I thought my heart would stop.”
Virma said this phrase every time she came to Riz’s room. That thing was John. Presently, in the Milton house, John’s name became a taboo word.
“You have such a carefree look on your face. Just to let you know, even your father rushed back from court on the day you returned.”
Riz’s smile disappeared.
She couldn’t imagine her strict father tossing his position aside to return to the mansion. Perhaps he came to confirm whether or not there were any problems that would stain the family honor?
Virma, upon seeing Riz’s expression, pressed a hand to her own cheek and sighed.
“Why can’t anyone in this family be honest? Your father, on top of being deathly awkward, is always misunderstood because of his fierce looks. It’s a shame… no, I mean he’s such a sad person.”
“… I see.”
“You don’t believe me. That person loves you, Riz.”
“Thank you very much.”
“Good gracious! If he didn’t love you then he wouldn’t have carefully folded a drawing you did when you were 5 years old and hid it in his breast pocket, right?”
“Um, this is the first time I’ve heard of this…”
“It’s the first time I’ve said it.”
Her mother had a nonchalant expression.
Sorry, but Riz was put off.
“Mother, I’m grateful for your concern but please tell more credible lies.”
“It’s not a lie! Incidentally, he also carries Grace’s and Daniel’s drawings next to his skin though.”
It sounded extremely suspicious. That father of hers acting like a doting parent?
“… Why are you telling me this now?”
“Because I thought you could understand it now.”
“Even if I said this to you in the past, I thought that it wouldn’t reach your heart. You’ve always had cold eyes, didn’t you? Because we, as your family, pushed you away.”
“No, I was a creepy child and that’s my own responsibility.”
She was a child who would say there were fairies over there while she looked at an empty spot.
It was natural her sisters would be scared.
“Yes, everyone thought it was frightening. Beautiful and sickly, you would whisper happily that you could see spirits. It was as if you were a heaven-sent child of God, and that is why we were frightened you would be summoned back into heaven soon.”
“But you lived. How adorable you are when you laugh! It’s like a light in the darkness.”
“Our Riz, we love you, and in the future a lot of people will love you.”
Riz’s words became stuck in her throat. Virma’s smile deepened, seeming to envelop Riz.
“Now, you can only get married right away! This time it will be decided!”
“You’ve spoiled an emotionally touching moment, mother.”
How cruel. Her tears were sucked back in.
“Now, Riz! Here are two paintings.”
Virma triumphantly stuck out the two rolled up papers to her.
“This can’t be…”
“Choose whichever one you like!”
Riz was feeling a lot of déjà vu.
—She knew. Mother, these were paintings to decide her marriage partner, weren’t they?
Last time there were five choices, but were there only two this time?
Virma wasn’t John, but she really was a mother who was more troublesome than a demon.
Riz spread open a painting with empty eyes.
It was a painting she had seen somewhere.
Or more like, there was no way she would forget such a poor painting.
It was certainly the one she had seen in the art gallery.
It was a dubious painting that was hard to judge, like some sort of abstract painting yet not. She thought it was probably a drawing of a snow leopard.
She unrolled the other one while feeling puzzled.
This one was also familiar.
It was an unbelievably unskilled painting of a ghost.
“Mother… these paintings…”
“That’s creepy, mother.”
She was showing a vulgar smile unbecoming of a lady.
“What do you think about these two, Riz?”
“Yes, I think they’re wonderful works.”
Riz answered, aware of the curtains over there.
The air that was flowing over from there was somewhat heavy.
“Your true thoughts?”
Pfff, Virma burst out laughing. She was grinning like a villainess.
“Ohoho, what do you think these paintings are about?”
“A snow leopard and ghost?”
“Oh my, oh my oh my, OHOHOHOHO!!”
Most of her “Ohoho” became “Gyahaha”.
Virma laughed to the point where tears were spilling from the corners of her eyes. Riz also wanted to laugh, but she felt a murderous intent from behind the curtains.
“Riz… that’s so sad, no matter how favorably you view this, it’s a ghost because it’s so hopelessly bad it shouldn’t even be seen.”
“I didn’t go so far as to say that though.”
“Your true thoughts?”
“I think I agree.”
She felt like the curtains shook.
Virma laughed her head off with a face that couldn’t be seen by anyone.
“Take a close look. What do these two pieces have in common?”
“Their bodies are covered in spikes like a hedgehog.”
“Pffhah… that’s not it. What are the other characteristics!”
“The white chestnut-looking things…?”
“Close! You’re close!”
Riz stared at the paintings again.
No, wait, silver? The moment she noticed that her skin broke out in goosebumps.
“This isn’t a snow leopard and ghost— it’s me?”
Riz unconsciously asked this.
Those spike-looking things were… hair?
Was it to show the glimmer of her hair?
“Wait a moment, this… aren’t both of these John’s paintings?”
Virma turned her face from a villainess into a holy mother.
“Both of them are John…”
These were paintings to choose her marriage partner. And both of them were John’s works?
“Honestly, you… Think. Why do you think your mother easily allowed you to spend nights away from home with a young man?”
Spending the night outside.
Come to think of it, John was the one who persuaded Virma.
“… Did you threaten John into marrying me?”
“The opposite, Riz.”
Virma stretched out an arm and stroked Riz’s head.
“It was impossible for me to allow you to spend the night outside. However, John kneeled in front of me. He said that it would be fine if he was bringing along his wife, right? Because he would marry you.”
“Do you love Riz? When I asked him this, he said he served you as if he loved you.”
“Such an idiot child. When I asked if he would destroy a country for you, Riz, he asked if only one was enough. He doesn’t realize his own feelings.”
Virma stood in an elegant motion.
Marriage. With John…?
—Impossible. She couldn’t.
“Mother, John… John’s true identity is—“
“The person you fell in love with, right?”
Virma smiled with a bit of sadness.
“John will keep you alive forever, without letting you suffer, without making you cry, without letting you be lonely— I believe that. He is someone approved of by Saint Petron after all.”
Riz lost her words. Could it be that Virma knew?
Suddenly, Virma’s voice lowered.
“If he were to hurt my daughter I would summon the entire world’s exorcists.”
“My goodness, my daughter has a beautiful soul like a saint. She can even enchant a demon. I’d like to steal you back, but I cannot. If I do that then the demon will take you away forever.”
Riz tried to get up, but she was stopped by Virma’s gaze.
She cleanly erased her grief and then showed a gentle smile again.
“Leave it to your mother. I will give you a lovely wedding.”
Swearing this, she left the room.
Eventually, the curtain moved.
Riz got off from the bed while holding onto the two paintings.
She stopped in front of John, who came out from behind the curtains, and looked up at him.
It was John first who sighed as if he lost.
“—I can’t see you as anything other than the Maiden of Stars anymore. From the moment you splashed white paint on my wings.”
Black wings spread open on his back.
“You cannot live an honest life. You won’t be able to remain pure either. Even salvation in your last moments will not be granted.”
John said this as quietly as usual.
“It’s impossible for the wife of a demon to meet their last moment.”
He removed his glasses with a careful gesture, stowed it away in his vest pocket, and leaned down slightly, tilting his head. Something brushed softly against her lips.
As he spoke he dropped another light kiss on her lips in an elegant move.
Riz couldn’t speak.
“Am I the person you fell in love with?”
Again, he touched her lips as if he was teasing her.
Should she say he was mistaken and try to dodge the question? Or should she present her heart?
Perhaps he saw through to her instant of indecision, because John roughly grabbed Riz’s arm. He pulled her waist into him and this time kissed her deeply.
Riz absently thought she might have fallen asleep again. Because she was at a loss about how love was this hot, this suffocating, and she was so painfully happy. Her first love would be forever.
“Very well. I shall make you fall in love.”
“If you tell me your true name, I’ll call you my husband!”
He was still saying things like that at a time like this!?
“Don’t doubt me. It’s my true name. If you read John in another way it would be Johannes.”
“Johannes? There was an apostle with the name Johannes in the Bible…”
“Correct. I was born from the ribs of the blacksmith apostle, Johannes.”
The blacksmith Johannes.
Smith meant a craftsman.
His name truly was just that. John Smith.
So it wasn’t an assumed name?
“Now, with this we are husband and wife.”
John whispered with a sweet smile that concealed his schemes.
“I shall serve you, dearly and while being in love.”
Riz hugged this demon who was sometimes an angel.
In that moment, the glimmering droplets that had fallen into her heart every day overflowed, and love blossomed like a rose.
One month later.
A painting arrived from a certain highland town. It depicted a maiden offering up prayers and an angel who extended a hand to that maiden. However, the angel’s face was so villainous it made her laugh.
Then there was one more painting.
Riz received a painting from Hine, who was in a foreign country, to celebrate her engagement.
He said that a painter, whom he had met in that land, drew it for Riz.
She displayed that painting in the art gallery.
It depicted a silver fish and a black-iron fish swimming gracefully in a dawning sky.
It was that sort of beautiful picture.
T/N: Wahoo! Another LN down! Technically, there’s still the afterword but I got excited about sharing this last chapter with you all, so here you go!