A ball-party was being held in the courtyard of the imperial palace – one in honor of the Shinsu.
Spread out against the backdrop of the luxurious palace, the space looked more like a plaza than a courtyard.
It was clear that a party was being held here, demonstrating the Emperor’s power; that meant that he valued this ball, and that the relationship between the Shinsu and the humans would become close in the future.
“A guest has arrived.”
Belinda calmly passed between the officers holding up flags, wearing a mask with painted roses.
The endless garden opened up to her, with a splendid table placed between elegant statues.
Water soared out of the fountain sculpture with a refreshing sound. Warm yellow sunlight caught on people’s masks.
As long as she wore her mask, she was no longer Princess Belinda. She wasn’t the only one, either: the Shinsu chief, the prince, the Emperor and everyone in between was wearing a mask.
Humans and Shinsu unknowingly mixed, making easy conversation.
The reason for the masquerade ball was clear – it would stop prejudice and make everyone get along naturally.
However, even with the masks, everyone roughly knew the others’ identities.The Shinsu could pick out humans by smell and humans recognized voices and gestures. In the first place, it was a ball which only the highest-ranking nobles were invited to.
However, they pretended to not recognize each other and enjoyed the evening. Belinda did the same.
“Why do you always smell this good?”
The voice was too cheerful, and Belinda easily recognized it. Clearly Shanti.
“I don’t know. Why could it be?”
Going back and forth with him, she looked at the three people sitting under a statue in the distance.
All of them wore masks, two of them having blond hair, and one, black. Seeing the latter, wearing a blue mask, Belinda took a sip of her drink happily.
Although his face was thoroughly covered, with his mask reaching under his nose, it was impossible not to recognize his wide, firm shoulders and loose position leaning against the fountain. It was definitely Aymon.
One of the blondes was Lart, recognizable by his behavior, and the other was the Emperor, her father, with a straight back. He was smiling under his mask.
Are those three normally that close?
When had they grown together so much? How on earth could that happen with the leopard always lying around in her palace?
She wondered what they were talking about, but her attention was soon drawn back to Shanti, who was still talking to her.
He wouldn’t leave her alone.
“…That’s why I’m curious. If a human and a Shinsu had a child, would it be a human or a Shinsu?”
“I can’t imagine what that would look like. Can you hurry up and have a kid already? The curiosity is killing me.”
Shanti was suddenly urging Belinda to have Aymon’s child.
“I don’t know who you are, but I’m ashamed to hear that.”
Belinda tried to change the subject. Even though they knew each other’s identities, she tried to avoid his questions by leaning on the masks.
Shanti had been very insistent since earlier. No person with an ounce of common sense would casually bring up such a sensitive topic, but Shanti had none of that, apart from being a beast and not a person.
It seemed like a conversation like this meant nothing to a beast.
Belinda avoided his gaze, embarrassed. She hadn’t done anything with Aymon that would allow her to answer the questions.
“What the hell are you doing, still not imprinted?”
“My partner is pregnant. That’s why I’m so curious. What kind of kid would you and Aym- Ouch!”
Shanti’s excited questions were cut off by a sudden yank on his ear. Halla had left the group she was in to come closer.
The pregnant partner he’d mentioned began to scold him.
“You’re talking nonsense again, aren’t you?”
“I didn’t! I’d never!”
“Can’t you see the shock this human’s in? What did you say?”
“I was just asking, what if she had a kid with Ay-”
“Aish, you idiot!”
Halla started yelling at him before he could even finish his sentence. She didn’t need to hear it all to tell that he was just embarrassing himself.
She greeted Belinda before dragging Shanti away.
“Ow! That hurts! Honey, it hurts!”
Shanti’s voice rang behind them. Of course, halla pretended not to hear him, plopping him down at a corner table before picking the scolding back up. She warned him to keep some of his dignity.
Shanti looked around and asked a question out of the blue, trying to change the subject.
“How come O’Malley’s not here?”
“He must have gone on another trip.”
“Really? But today’s an important day.”
“Well, he likes to be alone.”
Agreeing with her answer, Shanti grinned. Topic changed.
The O’Malley that he’d asked about was a prisoner that Joseph and Count Otoman secretly saw a few days ago.
The leopard was known to be a personal and unpredictable beast, so no one questioned his absence, thinking he’d gone on a trip.
Meanwhile, Belinda, left alone, ate raisins, her face still burning with unexpected embarrassment.
Marriage. Children. Shanti’s words lingered in her head.
That happening between Aymon and her seemed like a far call.
Aymon’s body was so big, even though he just had his coming-of-age ceremony, and though he’d been acting a little strange recently, he was still a lovely leopard in her eyes.
Besides, wasn’t he being silly with her a few days ago? He asked her to love him forever. Making children with such a love-hungry little cat? How could she…
Belinda drank a sip of alcohol to quench her thirst.
Weirdly, her blushing didn’t go away. That strange heat kept hovering around her.
She heard the sound of a bell. The nobles all stopped talking and turned their heads.
Five or six people in masks were standing in front of the palace. They were the imperial family, with the empress and the children standing beside the Emperor.
The masked emperor lifted his glass and laughed.
“Today is a happy day. We finally have a moment to enjoy true peace. The vast Shinsu forest will embrace the Empire, and the Empire will revere them.”
As soon as he finished speaking, the duke standing behind him beckoned and everyone raised their glasses.
“Just as this garden has blossomed beautifully, the relationship between humans and Shinsu will bloom into prosperity.”
The Emperor turned towards the fountain, where a figure was sitting with folded arms. It was Aymon.
The Emperor smiled at him before continuing.
“To the wellbeing of humans and the sacredness of Shinsu! To the holy journey that we will walk towards peace!”
The nobles raised their glasses and repeated the toast.
“To the holy journey!”
Under the warm sunlight, their voices filled the courtyard. Surprised by the sudden noise, Mazetto burrowed into Aymon’s collar, flapping his wings.
“Oh my God! Why is everyone screaming out of nowhere?”
“I don’t know.”
Aymon also lifted his glass.
Harmony between Shinsu and humans. Not long ago, he would have thought it was ridiculous, but considering his relationship with belinda, nothing was impossible.
“To humans! To Shinsu!”
Humans seemed to enjoy shouting.
Belinda also lifted her glass with an overwhelmed heart. Lart laughed, putting his arm around her shoulders. Even the Empress was smiling.
Only Princess Adelai’s face was frozen. She trembled, and an angry breath came out.
The reason for her anger was simple – she was furious that she had to stand next to Belinda.
The empress and Lart were beside the Emperor in the center. Adelai could accept that; since Lart was slated to be the next emperor, she had no intention of showing her true colors to the Emperor by complaining.
The problem was the spot next to Lart. It was occupied by Belinda instead of herself. That was a big issue.
Adelai turned away with pursed lips. She could see Belinda and Lart talking.
Not knowing what I have in my grasp and your contributions end here.
She walked over to her faithful ally, Count Otoman.
“How is work progressing?”
She asked in a quiet voice so no one would hear them.
“It’s going smoothly, Princess.”
“Smoothly? What I want is a clear result. How did practicing control go with the people we kidnapped?”
Count Otoman winked at Joseph, who noticed the signal and stuttered.
“Um, it’s embarrassing to tell you myself. But my abilities are growing remarkably by the day. Previously, my water control was weak, but now, I can control it freely.”
Adelai finally put on a satisfied expression.
Recently, they had kidnapped a brown Shinsu, made possible by their solitary nature.
They practiced control on him after trapping him in a deep pit, and work was going smoothly. Joseph was also gaining confidence.
Adelai, lost in thought, asked.
“Will you use your power today, then?”
Today was their chance. The day when all the Shinsu were gathered at the imperial palace. Today, when the steps towards harmony would begin. It wasn’t a pre-arranged plan, so it wouldn’t be perfect, but the timing was perfect.
Joseph asked back, surprised.
Joseph carefully glanced at Count Otoman, who nodded. He replied carefully.
“It’s possible, Princess.”
Adelai began to whisper quietly, the corners of her mouth rising with satisfaction.
Today. The most enjoyable and peaceful day. She almost laughed out loud just imagining the terrible thing that today’s events would do to peace.
After finishing talking to Count Otoman, she walked away comfortably and approached the Emperor.
He turned around gleefully.
“Congratulations for wrapping the beasts around your finger.”
Adelai smiled brightly, meanwhile the Emperor’s face hardened for a moment. He shook his head.
“Adelai, you have to be careful of what you say and do. Our relationship with the Shinsu has changed.”
Adelai couldn’t answer, taken aback by the unexpected response.