Joseph thought of Adelai as he walked through the waist-high grass – the sweet voice that whispered in his ear and the brilliant jewel that she left on his collar.
“What is it? Are you afraid of having the jewel in your stomach?”
So the rumor he heard about being selected as her servant, for no apparent reason, was true; the jewel would be planted in his stomach, connected to Adelai’s own life.
The truth was that Adelai could always die or weigh down his life like he was a fly. However, there was also the imposing reality of being able to control the Shinsu.
Adelai’s smile only got brighter as he nodded with a fearful face.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of if you listen to me obediently.”
Joseph looked down at the red jewel and swallowed it.
The sudden offer had disoriented him. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. The malicious greed in his shiny eyes was the only thing to be seen.
“Make the beasts move, Joseph. Once you kill them all, I’ll have a lot to offer you.”
As he took a breath, Adelai raised his chin and whispered to him.
“When you finish, you’ll have all kinds of riches. You won’t have to worry about the jewel anymore, either.”
Just trust me.
Her languid whisper was poisonously sweet.
He’d now arrived at the forest, following her orders. It was the Shinsu forest, which humans weren’t allowed entry into, and Joseph looked around nervously before continuing.
He’d put powder on himself to get rid of his human smell, but his fingertips still trembled out of fear of the dangerous beasts.
It was strange. He’d lived as a bandit in a forest his whole life, yet when he entered the Shinsu forest, he felt like he was going into one for the first time.
It gave him an uncanny feeling – it was just a green forest without a sly atmosphere, but he felt like it was swallowing him up.
The fearful, unpleasant numbness rose in his fingertips.
After Count Otoman’s order, Joseph picked up the pace again.
There were also four knights with giant spears following behind him with nervous faces. They had bows and arrows on their backs, as a minimum amount of backup just in case.
At first glance, they seemed like they were going hunting, but their intentions were of course different.
Those lads will have to prove their valor today.
Count Otoman treaded through the grass, assessing the route with his cold eyes.
They were heading to the mansion closest to the forest boundary, to the Shinsu who ruled over the forest.
Joseph’s heart was pounding incessantly. He saw a Shinsu with brown spots in the distance, lying on a branch and wagging its tail.
A butterfly quietly fluttered by them, like a petal.
Luckily, the Shinsu was relaxed, not having any natural enemies to be wary of, but if it had paid a little attention, they clearly would’ve been caught.
Count Otoman grunted quietly. Joseph took a breath and focused his attention onto the leopard, which looked like a dot in the distance.
If he failed, he would have no gold, silver, or treasures. If he failed, the jewel in his stomach would devour him.
Even when he was so nervous, he thought of a rosy future.
Joseph’s fingertips and toes began to heat up. As he mustered all his strength, the color of his eyes faded from the usual gold that shined like the sun to sparkly silver moons.
Just like Belinda’s eyes.
It was at that moment when the brown Shinsu’s pupils also expanded. It stopped wagging its tail.
A silent scream broke out from Joseph.
I did it! I did it!
Panting with joy, he looked at Count Otoman, his face filled with excitement. However, all he got was a cold-blooded command.
Joseph nodded and looked back at the leopard. It jumped down from the tree and looked at the butterfly, resting on a flower bush.
Without hesitation, it struck down and killed it.
At that moment, the leopard’s eyes changed back.
It looked down at its front paw, not understanding what it had just done.
Count Otoman and Joseph had already left their posts as soon as they were caught. There was joy in between their quick steps.
“Why did you stop there?”
The count asked, clearly revealing his agitation.
“That was the limit.”
The answer came in a cautious, yet prideful, voice. Now that they had started, they could develop the skill gradually.
Count Otoman put on a rarely seen smile.
“I’ll go see Princess Adelai right now. I’ll tell her the good news and come back here so the Shinsu-”
He spoke in a fervent voice. Joseph nodded along with anticipation.
The faces of the two men had a bad energy to them. Even in the lush green forest, every one of their steps was followed by a dark shadow.
“Get me more of this.”
At Aymon’s command, the maid left to bring green grapes.
Lucy, who was playing ball with Mazetto, stared at Aymon with a thoughtful face.
Lying on the sofa, resting his chin, he looked like the most lonesome, bored person in the world.
He was so elegant and graceful, yet so headstrong. As if the only thing he could do was observe Belinda.
“Lucy! I’m passing the ball!”
Mazetto came running with a chirp. Lucy carefully spoke to Aymon after rolling the ball back.
He replied slowly, still staring at Belinda as she read a book.
“Do you know court etiquette?”
“Yes. Table manners, dancing and such.”
Soon, a ball would be held at the palace with the Shinsu.
Of course, they had always visited the palace once a year, but that wasn’t out of free will, just a reluctant act for the sake of their agreement.
However, this time, it was different. All Shinsu were invited, and the Emperor would welcome them happily.
The goal of promoting harmony between humans and Shinsu made the event even more important.
Of course, “harmony” wasn’t the only reason for the ball.
But that was a secret for now.
Aymon answered Lucy with a straight face.
“No, I don’t. So I have to?”
Holding the knife with both hands, having to wait before eating meat… Aymon took the plate of grapes from the maid.
He ate them while staring at Lucy, who stared back.
Because of his good looks, even the slight gesture of picking up a grape stood out…
But the social world wasn’t easy. It was an elegant jungle, a silent battlefield. A place where one could dig into anyone’s weak points with a smile. A place where the smallest flaw could result in an elegant banishment.
It wouldn’t be any different for a Shinsu. If he acted out at the ball, the blame might end up falling on Belinda.
Everyone knew that Aymon and Belinda were close.
Lucy recalled the DeHill siblings’ words.
“Natural nobility cannot be imitated. Without it, you’ll only get ridiculed.”
An aristocrat would spot the tiniest crack.
“Aymon! You should learn from the Princess!”
He had to learn everything from how to hold a knife, to how to dance at a ball, down to sitting on a chair.
Aymon nodded with a serious face.
“Should I? There’s a lot of things she needs to teach me, and a lot of things I need to teach her too.”
His serious face had a hint of slyness in it.
“…Aymon, I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I was talking about court etiquette.”
Aymon laughed lazily, indicating his disinterest. Lucy massaged her temples.
“Why aren’t you throwing me the ball?”
Lucy rolled the ball back when Mazetto started to complain.
Two days later, Aymon was eating a tart. Belinda grabbed his arm and hit him on the back, standing next to him, like she was straightening bent iron with a hammer.
“Straighten up. Never put your elbows on the table.”
“Because it’s bad manners.”
With a look of discontent, though still obeying her, Aymon asked again.
“Why is it bad manners?”
“Humans have rules. If you don’t keep them, they will think you’re impolite and gossip about you.”
That was also the reason she learned it when she was young. As he listened to her muttering, Aymon unhappily folded his arms.
“So the reason I have to learn this is so humans won’t criticize me?”
“Well, isn’t it?”
“Because of what humans think of me? Me? Why? Why would I do that?”
Belinda was left speechless.
Come to think of it, Aymon wasn’t someone that needed to give a good impression.
Even if he were to lie onto the table to eat or buried his face in the plate in his leopard form, no one could say a word.
After all, he was the greatest, most powerful Shinsu.
Belinda’s triumphant spirit quickly subsided.
“Is that true? It must be? Aymon can do whatever he wants… He doesn’t have to learn…”
She lost confidence in her teachings, mumbling.
At that point, Lucy, who had been watching them, had no choice but to step in.
This couldn’t be. She knew the princess was getting tangled up with Aymon, but she had to draw the line somewhere.
Lucy stood in front of Aymon, her back against Belinda.
Aymon got some tart filling on his chin again. Belinda’s teaching seemed to be in vain.
Lucy just winked at him instead of speaking. Aymon answered with his eyes.