City of Sin

Book 1, Chapter 24A

A Summer Like Winter

Erin’s sudden change covered Richard’s vast summer sky with haze. Her teary face and bitter smile appeared within his mind every break he got, and he couldn’t rid himself of it no matter what he did. His heart was filled up by her image, and his gifts of wisdom and truth ensured that every word, every laugh, every move of hers had been recorded in his mind without any discrepancies. This included detailed images of every part of her body, including the mysterious bit he hadn’t uncovered completely yet.

The mind was always subject to changes. Just days ago every memory of Erin brought Richard warmth, joy and anticipation that had him looking forward to the next day. Now, as those memories grew day by day, those heartwarming moments became a scalding iron that branded his young heart, leaving a thin trace beside the gaping scar already present.

Richard knew that Erin had changed greatly, and also that something was bothering her, but he didn’t know the exact cause. She didn’t even reply whenever he asked her what it was.

It was only now that he realised he didn’t have a single friend in the Deepblue beside Erin. Even as Sharon’s apprentice he only saw her three times so far in the entire year he’d been studying, and outside of the grand mages who taught him now most of his time was spent with the girl.

The heartache grew even more vivid whenever he was alone, and sometimes it hurt so badly it felt like the raging flames that haunted his deepest nightmares. The only way he gained peace was by devoting himself to the vast world of magic and knowledge, putting all his focus into complex formulae, graphs, mana, and foreign creatures.

This summer, as far as Richard was concerned, was just as cold as winter. His performance was excellent in every aspect of his study, the standard of his works leaving even the experienced grand mages speechless regularly. The only thing they could do was praise the wisdom of Her Excellency, unable to comment further. His mana growth had doubled this summer, and he would likely become a level 2 mage by the end of it.

Even outside magic his performance was shocking. Philosophy, history, politics, economics, the young man was like a thirsty desert as he absorbed every single drop of knowledge sent his way.

One day, even the picky maestro who taught him art was sent into silence for a long while. Richard had turned in an image of a girl holding a huge thermos box, her back turned as she walked briskly towards a dark tunnel. That frozen silhouette completely brought across her depression, panic, and worry, the edge of the magic robe seemed to continue swinging with the wind. He wasn’t sure why, but the maestro felt like the thermos box was the central theme of the art, the strokes used for it different from those used for the girl. Although the girl seemed to be alive, the box actually seemed to be in motion, a heavy rock that dragged the viewer’s heart down. The colouring was simple and plain, everything drawn by a magic quill, but the numerous lines of varying depths made this piece of art breathtaking.

Even after an hour staring at it the artist found it hard to make a comment. He finally let out a sudden heave, telling the assistant by his side, “Even a depiction of reality, once it surpasses the limit, can become art. This is but a moment he caught in time, but it will be engraved in eternity!”

The assistant was left in great shock. Never had he expected that such a simple sketch would earn such great comments from the maestro, someone who was one of the few at the peak of the Sacred Alliance in terms of art. Something with such high appraisal from him would easily sell for millions in other worlds, the only restriction to the price being that Richard was still alive and would likely continue to be for a long time. But even then, the boy would perhaps not create something like this again in a long time.

The Maestro had mixed feelings. He shook his head heavily after a long while, waving to his assistant to leave before he sat down before the easel to stare at the work. Time passed, but as dusk arrived a mass of mana lights came into being around the maestro to add another source of illumination to the dim room. The dim light made the sketch seem even more infectious, having the viewer feel like they were in that dark, cold tunnel that was vast and endless.

“How long has it been since I last saw art like this? This kid… His heart must have been twisting as he drew her…” he murmured to himself. He was once young as well, and the peak of his own artistic career came in the midst of his worst devastation. He hadn’t been able to find the same passion and impulse he’d once possessed once fame and accomplishment came his way… He seemed to see Richard himself through this piece of art, a beautiful quiet boy who hid a wild passion within him.

The maestro felt a sudden urge of panic, unable to sit still as he stood up and paced to and fro. It took him an entire hour to make what seemed like a hard decision in his heart, and he eventually turned to look at a corner of the art room.

There was a delicate machine there that stood out from the casual surroundings. It was used to activate a month’s bill, and he was supposed to find a place to put it, but as someone who was easygoing he’d just let the expensive machine lie in the corner of the art room, only fishing it out of the scrap papers whenever it was needed. The sight of it naturally brought the monthly bills to mind, and Sharon’s Delight.

The legendary mage hadn’t been delighted with him in months…

This piece of art… it was far too realistic for him to pretend it didn’t come from a place of truth. This was an exception, and one that Her Excellency had explicitly told him to report if he saw it. Even if he only thought with his feet he’d know that a failure to report would garner the legendary mage’s anger. As an artist he would struggle a little to choose between his conscience and Sharon’s Delight, but there was no question about the choice between his conscience and Sharon’s Rage.

Full of misery, the Maestro took down the sketch, wrapped it up carefully, and left the art room in a hurry.

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