Chapter 896 896: Even More Questions
"Are you curious about the man I was with in the painting? He was my husband before I eventually remarried and had Erikson."
Riley had never really felt those kinds of feelings before, he had only heard of them. But from all the definitions and examples he had seen in his life, he was sure that he was experiencing them right now, at this very moment he finds himself in.
He and Irene were alone in her chambers, and the only thing he could really focus on was the walls. Of course, Riley does not really mind this weird feeling, as there are a lot of things to see on Irene's wall. There were paintings, perhaps more than a hundred of them; each carrying a different part of her life.
"I am only interested in you, Lady Irene," Riley breathed out as he continued to scan all the portraits, "Or rather your possible connection with Aerith."
"This Aerith, does she truly hold that much of a resemblance to me, or rather the younger me?" Irene turned to look at one of her younger portraits.
"Yes — only your hair is brighter," Riley nodded, "You told me you might know who I am, Lady Irene. May I ask from where?"
"I would wager that you are not the only one who was perplexed upon seeing a familiar face, Lord Riley," Lady Irene let out a tiny chuckle as she started walking toward one of her many cabinets. She then tried to reach for the top-most shelf, only for her hand to be several inches short — unfortunately for her, forcing her old body to move as she wished offered little to no benefits, and most of the time, harmful.
Like in this instance, she found her legs turning weak and stumbling backward.
She immediately closed her eyes and gritted her teeth for the pain that was about to come, but the only thing she felt was a sort of warmth catching her from behind.
"Oh… oh my," Irene opened her eyes, only to see Riley, who was on the other side of the room, now just gently holding her and making sure she didn't fall, "You have to be very careful, Lord Riley — if I was any younger, something else might actually happen in this very room we find ourselves alone in."
"You also have to be very careful, Lady Irene," Riley just nodded as he started reaching for the shelf Irene was previously reaching for, "Is this what you were trying to get?"
"Ah, yes. Please," Irene quickly grabbed the unusually large book away from Riley's hand before he could even offer it to her. She then quickly walked toward her desk, like the book was not heavy at all and like her old legs did not just previously give in on her, "Lord Riley, come."
"..." Riley did not really mind Irene ordering her around, as he just did as she told and approached her.
"I think it was somewhere here," Irene did not also seem to mind that Riley was standing awfully close to her; with his breath just ever so slightly tickling her neck. But of course, Irene removed anything that could be considered romantic in her mind as she was already too old for that. She just focused on turning the pages of the old book before she caught a glimpse of something. And it wasn't only her, even Riley quickly noticed what it was she was trying to show him,
"This… does he not resemble you, Lord Riley?"
It was a portrait of a man who looked eerily similar to Riley. A little older, perhaps… with an air of maturity around him that one could just not find around Riley just yet.
"Do you know who wrote this book, Lady Irene?" Riley quickly snatched the book from Irene's hand and started scanning the book for any names — but there weren't any. There were only drawings and sketches of scenery and creatures… as well as other people Riley does not recognize.
"No," Lady Irene let out a small but very deep sigh as she moved away from her desk and started walking back to the wall filled with paintings, "That book has been in my family for generations, no one could really trace its origins. But one thing I do know is that book you are holding was not always a book."
"..." Riley gently placed the book back on the desk before following Irene again and looking at where she was pointing, only to see a portrait with a knight carrying a shield… that looked similar to the cover of the book.
"I think the family used to think it was some sort of shield due to its sturdy and heavy nature. But during the time of my great-grandmother, the lock keeping it closed suddenly opened and revealed all the drawings inside," Irene closed her eyes, "I still remember my grandmother telling me all sorts of stories about it—none really made sense. And the only explanation we could think of is that the book is from the gods."
"That is… very interesting," Riley placed his hand on his chin, "A book with no origin."
"I apologize if I was not able to give you the answer you are looking for," Irene glanced at Riley, "I even added more questions."
"That is my story, Lady Irene," Riley shook his head, "A lot of questions that are answered by even more questions."
"But perhaps I can give you a better question, Lord Riley," Irene's finger traced across the portraits until she reached a painting that had almost lost all of its details and color; the canvas it was drawn on, seemingly fragile to the point that if one were to just move it a single millimeter, it would all just turn into dust,
"That is the oldest portrait one could find in this manor, and like the book, I am not aware of its origins other than it is old."
Riley tilted his head as he focused on the aged portrait, only for his eyes to completely widen as he finally made out the picture it held.
It was another portrait of someone who looked like Aerith. And Riley doesn't know whether or not it was just a result of its age… but her skin and her hair were painted completely white, her lips slightly wider.
"I do not know who she truly is…
…but my grandmother told me that she was supposed to be the matriarch of our family."
"Hm…" Riley stared at the portrait,
"...This is a better question indeed, Lady Irene."