Evil spirits have come with the Devil.
They wear masks, and they have come to put a mask on you.
To put masks on everyone.
The children who laugh and sing this song mindlessly are the evil spirits.
--At the same time, they are sinners.
 Prologue: Death of the Body
According to the female witness, the masked stranger had simply been standing there. It was precisely because they were just standing there that the scene was not only terrible, but also beautiful...
Lotto Valentino, Italy, 1705: an island under the command of both Napolean's army and the jurisdiction of Spain. It was the beginning of the eighteenth century, the time during which west Europe prepared to begin its reformations. It was at this time that disputes over inheritance erupted into the War of the Spanish Succession, a war that roped nearly all of Europe into the fight. The new century started off with this massive struggle, and the great European powers all caught wind of the revolution. <p>From the perspective of the cultural arts, this period of time was a turning point in history.
Although this was a period of high tension for the European countries because of the war, the development of cultural arts flourished, and the arts of this time became increasingly rich and colorful.
It was during this vibrant time that an incident occurred in a certain city.
The first person who witnessed the scene later said that he saw everything from an artistic perspective.
During this time period, the Baroque style of architecture quickly transformed, and all interior decorating began to be done in the unique Rococo style of decoration. Brilliant colors splashed onto canvases, which was the distinctive painting style of the Rococo Era, made people feel warm and lively. When compared to Baroque art, however, Rococo art seemed almost too extravagant, too gaudy.
Even though the new form of art became popular, the intricate and magnificent beauty of the old Baroque style never showed any signs of falling from grace. It brought about new changes in interior decorating; rooms and furniture became more spacious, and everything was painted with an ample abundance of beauty.
However—this particular ‘work of art’ was something seemingly inconceivable, something unreal. It was because ‘it’ was so alien that it caught the attention of all sorts of people, and exemplified further by how different ‘it’ was from its surroundings. After saying all of this, the male witness remained silent for a long time. People around him had begun to point and whisper about him before he finally admitted to being a man of strange interests.
In reality, what he believed to be this ‘great work of art’ was really just a young woman lying spread-eagled underneath a light, staring blankly at the ceiling and covered in blood.
The tragedy that occurred in this small city with a population of less than 50,000 people didn’t cause almost any turmoil amongst the townspeople at all. Newspapers had first been printed in England roughly three years back, but in this small town, any important happenings would at most be printed on woodblock-print newspapers.
If one asked a newspaper whether or not they had any raw information on this devastating murder case, they would not get much; in actuality, there was hardly anything in any of the papers about the case. Most of the one-piece woodblock-print newspapers had the majority of their surfaces dedicated to the continuous updates on the army embezzlement case that had recently captured headlines. Because of this, the murder of the young woman received very little attention from the media.
No, the newspapers never had any detailed articles about the murder from the beginning, and most people had no interest in it, anyway. Those who did read the paper usually just quickly skimmed over the contents of the articles about the murder.
She had been stabbed in the chest, but no one knew if she had put up a struggle before her death or if her killer had been swift and clean with the knife. The girl’s blood hadn’t splattered all over the place; she had been found lying stark still in a pool of it with her glassy eyes fixed on the ceiling tiles above her. The only clue left behind at the scene of the crime was a mask.
It was the kind of mask used at masquerade balls, or the type of mask often worn at celebrations at the Vatican: a white mask that would cover the entire face. That one eyewitness said that, with a face wiped clean of emotion while wearing a mask bearing even less expression, the young woman’s corpse appeared to be just like a fine piece of art.
Another strange event also occurred at the crime scene: the appearance of an obscure person with a similar mask, loose hair, and a mysterious aura.
People had said that this person, wearing the pure-white mask, often appeared at murder scenes. Whether this person was a man or woman was unclear, but the shadow wearing a mask identical to the one on the young female victim was only ever half-visible in the darkness. The Metropolitan Police, in charge of Lotto Valentino’s public safety, named the masked stranger as a criminal suspect and began a manhunt for this person. This hunt was most what was reported on in the newspaper coverage concerning this murder.
In this city, the Metropolitan Police joined forces with the Spanish Gendarme, the military police force dominant in Naples, when it came to public security and effort to catch the killer. As such, the new regulations created for public security in the town were different from those of the rest of the country. It wasn’t clear how the feudal lords had set up the original security systems, but these systems which had been in existence for several decades were no longer in place in Lotto Valentino. In this city, when the first of the string of murders happened, it could have been said that the event led all of the people in the town to force themselves to put complete trust in the police.
A challenge to the police.
And a mysterious mask.
Despite these murders spreading through grapevines and gossip mills like wildfire, the newspaper still decided to dedicate their headlines to the case of military embezzlement. However, the civilians had already grown tired of this story. Their fear of not being protected by the police hadn’t subsided very much, but the only thing that garnered interest was an article announcing the capture of a criminal, or something of the like. Otherwise, no one bothered to read the paper.
This was because, at the time this young woman was murdered, the “Masked Murderer” had already killed 27 others. After over half a year of serial killings, the people had grown used to this kind of thing. That is, this sort of happening was no longer big news.
Logically, what turned into a wild hunt for the killer should have been recorded into history, since not doing so would have just been abnormal—but it wasn’t. Only the citizens of Lotto Valentino began a commotion over this; these events did not even turn many heads in the neighboring city of Naples, let alone anywhere overseas. It was only in Lotto Valentino that people’s hearts were consumed with fear. A single, nameless block-print paper continued to write in detail about the murders. Real events turned into rumors; rumors that made what actually happened a great deal more frightening, and the fear that grew from this became part and parcel of the people of Lotto Valentino. Slowly, slowly, the fear corroded their hearts—
Those who died continued to die after their deaths.
The people of Lotto Valentino felt like they would soon be killed, too.
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