[Title from the Rossetti painting. Internal quotes are from the Ciardi translation. Also, the game writes out the name "Higure" with two different kanji that both refer to the color red.]
Anghel lay on his back in the top bunk, painting the ceiling blue to look like the summer sky. He wished he could go outside, but he'd been told the quarantine period was necessary to protect the human student at St. Pigeonation's from being accidentally infected with any exotic diseases.
He'd never met a real human girl before. Did she look more like the blue and white statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Heart, or did she have the exquisite dark face of the Black Madonna of Einsiedeln? Both of those were in his collection of devotional figurines, set up in the religious niche he'd created in the bottom bunk. He said his prayers before them every night, since he couldn't leave this underground quarantine dormitory to go attend Mass.
Dr. Iwamine brought him everything else he needed: books, food, or art supplies. And he was interested in Anghel's art, always asking to see it during the regular visits for inoculations. Anghel liked anyone who liked his art.
The quarantine period was just for forty days and forty nights, just like Noah's Ark. After that, he could join the homeroom he'd already been assigned to, and meet his classmates. Maybe even the girl.
Anghel wiped a drop of blue paint from his beak and decided this was enough for now. He flipped back onto his feet, stretched his cramped wings, and flew down to the floor. Maybe he would go back to La Divina Commedia until bedtime.
He'd only started reading this translation earlier today, so he hadn't gotten very far yet. It wasn't as obviously poetic as some of the other versions he knew, but it was easier to follow- almost like reading prose. And the story of Francesca da Rimini was always beautiful no matter what.
"...I called, 'O wearied souls!
if none forbid it, come and speak to us.'
As mating doves that love calls to their nest
glide through the air with motionless raised wings
borne by the sweet desire that fills each breast-
Just so those spirits turned on the torn sky..."
Anghel sighed, trying to envision it. The endless whirlpool of the winds of hell, with two lovers still desperately clinging together through damnation... he wished he could paint the wind. He wished he would feel it in his feathers again, and soar up into the sunlight.
Noah's Ark, he told himself. Forty days and forty nights. After that, the dove would be free to fly out and see the rest of the new world.
Dr. Iwamine's notebook-
Subject: Akagi Yoshio (nickname/baptismal name "Anghel")
Origin: Overseas student on art scholarship. Submission portfolio showed clear depictions of virus capsules and other organisms in unusual contexts (e.g. as exotic flowers, carved gems etc.). On interview, student denied any formal knowledge or study of microbiology, and simply said that he'd made those paintings when he was ill.
Hypothesis: Student has anomalously detailed awareness of infectious organisms on exposure. Need to test with further exposures and observation of artwork.
Preliminary notes: The artwork frequently uses religious themes from his upbringing. Student has expressed deep gratitude for his scholarship grant. If needed, guilt should be a useful psychological lever.
Day 6: Hypothesis seems correct so far. Subject still seems unaware of his abilities. After administration, each infectious agent is drawn in enough detail to identify the specific strain.
Appended image: Photocopied artwork of a battle scene; central figures are reminiscent of the Four Vultures of the Apocalypse- Pestilence? Each vulture is wielding a mace or morning star whose spiked/knobbed head can be identified as C. psittaci, polyoma, avipox, or West Nile virus.
Day 11: Subject has constant low-level fever induced by multiple exposures, slightly impairing cognition. Artistic abilities seem unaffected. Continuing the experiment as planned.
The entire dorm ceiling was blue now, except for unpainted white streaks that'd been left around the fluorescent fixtures to make them look more like bright clouds. Anghel nestled in his top bunk, reading.
Everyone always said that the "Inferno" was the best part of Dante, but Anghel liked the "Purgatorio" and the "Paradiso" too. But before he could start on those, he had to finish travelling through hell. He'd reached the last pit of the Eighth Circle, so he was most of the way there.
"...that time when such malignance rode the air
that every beast down to the smallest worm
shriveled and died..."
Anghel shivered. He'd been raised with stories of the terrible plague, and of the holy nuns who came out from their teaching hospitals and nursed everyone through their sickness, human and bird alike. It was his duty to help Dr. Iwamine improve medical science, so this would never happen again.
The thought reminded him that he needed to finish his painting for today. Awkwardly, he flopped down to the floor. His left wing hurt from all the injections, but not enough to stop painting. It was an image of Francesca da Rimini, her blue gown swirling like a tattered banner in the wind. Blue, the color of hope. The hope for salvation, the hope for freedom. The hope for release from pain.
Day 17: In an attempt to combat listlessness, subject's diet was supplemented with a mild stimulant. Extraordinarily unexpected consequences. More detailed notes later, after comparison to reference images.
Marginal doodle: a rough sketch by Dr. Iwamine of leucocytes and antibody receptors, from memory.
Day 21: It appears my visualization is limited to his own perception. However, with proper encouragement, I can cause him to focus on particular areas of interest, including pathogens outside his body: Petri dish cultures, free-floating mold spores etc. Increasing his stimulant dosage.
Anghel's eyes were as red and burning as the feathers on his breast. The dry filtered air and the paint fumes made his head hurt.
"Your wing seems to be bleeding."
Anghel nodded jerkily, not looking up from his sketchpad. "Yes, sir." He couldn't stop drawing, even to greet the doctor to whom he owed so much. His art scholarship, his opportunity to help science and the world, everything in this enclosed underground world was there thanks to Dr. Iwamine. "My pen nib snapped last night. I had to make myself a new one."
"I see... so you pulled out your own primary wingfeathers to cut some fresh quill pens?" Dr. Iwamine was meticulously writing in his own notebook.
"Yes." It had hurt. It still hurt. He didn't care. He had to keep drawing. "The bleeding doesn't matter. It's like stigmata. The stigmata of the holy saints. I pray to them for inspiration."
The partridge finished writing, but contemplatively tapped his pen a few times on his notebook before putting it away. "Perhaps you've had enough inspiration for now, Akagi. You need a more varied diet- more berries and dried mealworms, not just bitter black beans."
"There's a particular specimen I want you to examine for me, but I think you need to rest first. Take a break from drawing for a few days. Try reading or something else until then."
"Yes sir. I will do whatever you say." It hurt to stop drawing, but the doctor had told him to stop. So he had to obey. He climbed back into his top bunkbed and stared at the painted sky.
He'd finished reading the "Inferno" days ago, but he was still drawing scenes from it. The very ending, with Satan entombed upright in ice at the very center of hell. The Ninth Circle of Hell, with its four concentric pits for the traitorous and ungrateful. Caina, for the betrayers of their own families. Antenora, for traitors to their countries. Ptolomea, for those who would break the sacred laws of hospitality. And the lowest and worst, Judecca, for those who betrayed their benefactors and masters.
If Anghel disobeyed the doctor, he would suffer eternal damnation to the ice pits of Judecca. And he would deserve it.
The painting of Francesca da Rimini sat on the easel. It was nearly finished. Her blue gown was now obscured by ashy gusts, the color of hope eclipsing into despair.
Day 24: Subject seems to have recovered from overstimulation. Will bring him a biopsy sample of the Charon Virus tomorrow.
Anghel felt calmer now. After sleeping for an entire day, he'd finished reading most of the "Purgatorio" and finally reached the introduction of Beatrice. Beatrice, the divine intermediary for Dante, almost like Our Lady's blessed dove... maybe he could paint Beatrice next. Dante said she was wearing a green gown, but Anghel liked blue better.
He crouched in front of the little figurines. He wished he had real flowers to put in front of them, but origami was the best he could do for now. He placed a tiny folded edelweiss at the feet of the Black Madonna of Einsiedeln, and whispered a prayer. He hoped she would like the edelweiss. It was supposed to be from Switzerland, like her.
When he turned around, Dr. Iwamine was already there with his silent, unreadable smile. The glass dish on the table held a small, translucent flake like a flower petal, with an irregular splotch in the middle. The beaker beside it was filled with black steaming liquid. "Good morning, Akagi. This is a microtome sample," the doctor said. "I want you to swallow it, followed by this cup of espresso. And then let's see what happens."
Day 25: Subject responded poorly to sample ingestion. Instead of providing information about the Charon virus, he experienced (and projected) vivid hallucinations of being enveloped in flame. Most unpleasant. Probable memetic contamination from the surrounding tissue sample.
Clearly, it would have been preferable to separate the Charon virus from the tissue matrix and administer it cleanly, but it will not culture on its own. The virus quickly self-destructs without a host; it does sporulate for airborne transmission, but only in a small radius of infection.
The subject has been placed in restraints for now, having injured his own eye in an attempt to stop seeing/experiencing Fujishiro's death.
Day 26: Although the stimulant has cleared from the subject's bloodstream, his hallucinations continue. I am keeping him in isolation, as it seems inadvisable to enter his range of effective projection.
Day 30: Subject appears severely compromised. He has a violent negative response to the name "Akagi Yoshio", instead referring himself in quasi-religious terminology as the "Crimson Angel of Judecca". When released from restraints, he resumes his attempts at self-injury.
White. White gauze bandages, everywhere. White for faith, but Anghel has lost his faith. He is no longer worthy to wear white.
His wings are bound together, and his claws, so he cannot tear off the white gauze. He cannot cling to the feet of Our Lady of the Immaculate Heart and pray to her for salvation from this torment of eternal flame. He cannot pray to the Black Madonna of Einsiedeln at all anymore, because her dark face reminds him too much of those other faces he sees- humans clawing at their throats, choking and dying. A young mourning dove at a polished steel door, watching its own reflection blacken and burn.
Anghel lies on the floor, a small bound bird with only one bright, mad eye showing beneath the bandages. He looks up at the painted clouds, and he desperately wishes for a blue-robed woman to descend through it to heal him with soft hands, to say kind words to him and love him.
It is all his fault. Akagi Yoshio's fault. He is useless to the doctor, and he cannot paint anymore, and he has utterly failed in all of his obligations to others and to himself. He has betrayed everyone, and he is already burning in hell