Everything was submerged deep under the water. Belinda listened to the sound of the ice breaking around her as she sank and felt a violent wave.
When she felt something wrap around her body, she lost consciousness.
“Find her right now!”
The furious emperor’s chin trembled. He shouted at the men, their heads lowered and fists tightly clenched, again.
“Look all over the sea!”
He threw a vase at the window.
After a clang, the angry wind blew in through the shattered window. The darkness of the night seemed to be flooding inside.
The Emperor’s throat dried up with his nerves. He groaned and soon sank into his seat, looking out the window with an angry face.
There was a sky-blue cape on the table. The knights who had been out searching on the ice brought it – it was the last thing Belinda had been wearing.
The Emperor knew the meaning of the cape, found in the snow by itself. He already knew his daughter’s whereabouts, though she was nowhere to be seen. He squeezed the cloth with a helpless face.
“….All of you, leave.”
Contrary to his passionate burst-out, now there was no strength left in his voice as he gave a command to the knights.
Even in his angry yelling for them to go out and search, he already knew what might be locked under the icy blue sea.
He clenched his jaw until it hurt and lowered his head.
His daughter, whom he’d taken on a trip for the first time, was now lost forever, buried deep under the sea.
Lart was also pacing around the room.
He forced himself to sit in a chair, fiddling with a teacup with his trembling hands, before leaping back to his feet. He approached the window, clenched the window frame, and stared out blankly, though nothing was visible.
Out in the darkness, there was a white field of snow – who knew how deep. It was the same cold snow that had swallowed his sister.
After a few whimpery breaths, Lart ran out of the room. He had to do something. He had to find something, even if it was a dead body. Even if that wasn’t possible, he had to do it somehow. For sure.
He felt like it would make his burning heart quiet down.
“Have a sled ready.”
“It’s dangerous, Your Highness!”
“I didn’t ask for your advice. I ordered something. Prepare it quickly.”
“Do you want to be stuck in the ice, too?”
Adelai’s voice came from behind him as he was nervously fastening up his coat.
Lart’s hand stopped, and he turned around quietly. Adelai was approaching, her face deeply shadowed.
She didn’t like the situation. Belinda wasn’t even a family member. She was only forced into the farthest corner of the palace because she couldn’t be kicked out altogether.
She was a useless princess, worth no more than a discarded hand of cards. So why was everyone so nervous?
Adelai had more anger than concern for Belinda. She was the princess that had stolen all the love from her, along with her father’s and brother’s attention, even in death.
Adelai forced Lart back into the room.
“Don’t be reckless. Wait patiently until that woman’s body comes.”
If Lart also died, she would become the emperor, so that may have been a benefit, but she didn’t want to ascend to the throne in such a cheap way.
She preferred to rise to the position through her skills and confidence while suppressing Lart and the Shinsu.
Lart stared at her and gave a hollow smile as he looked into her emotionless eyes, not containing an ounce of worry.
“We’re of the same blood. How am I supposed to wait calmly?”
“No. She’s of the Emperor’s blood, not ours.”
“She wasn’t even supposed to exist in the first place. Collect your thoughts and get your act together.”
Adelai warned him with an indifferent, cold-hearted expression. Lart could only stare at his sister as burning anger rose in his eyes.
A weak moan came through Belinda’s lips. It felt like they were covered in a thin layer of cold air.
She felt a cruel pain, making her body twist all over.
A voice seemed to be calling her name anxiously.
Belinda wanted to open her mouth and reply, but she couldn’t. Her throat was stuffy as if she was thirsty.
A large hand brushed down her exposed back, its heat patting against her frozen body.
Somehow, she softened up as it distributed warmth. Whenever the trembling hand passed over her, it left behind a slight heat. She felt the chill filling up her body slowly slip away.
Even the hard breaths hitting her seemed to be warm.
How long had it been?
Her body, shaking uncontrollably from the cold, began to stretch out, and the stiff tension began to ease.
As her fingers warmed up, Aymon kissed them.
She heard a voice that seemed to be fading away with every moment.
“Open your eyes, Breedee…. Okay?”
But Belinda couldn’t open her eyes. Her consciousness slid away, endlessly dragging down deep to the other side.
In the hazy abyss, Belinda came across a fragment of a memory hidden in her subconscious.
It was in the very distant past.
A girl strolled slowly through the forest, her blonde hair waving around.
She yawned, bored. It was a beautiful forest that she owned, but it seemed like even something so pleasant was bound to get boring at some point.
Were the seasons changing? Green leaves were sprouting like smudges of paint.
It was when she walked along the path with its green grasses, cutting through the hanging trees, at the spot where the ice had melted.
It was the cry of a wounded animal.
The girl stopped walking. Even at first impression, she could tell it came from a beast.
A wooded forest was just the right place for dangerous beasts to emerge. She should have turned around and run immediately, but there was no trace of fear in the girl’s silver-grey eyes.
She passed through a bush and slowly stepped inside.
[Hmmm…. It’s you.]
The girl tilted her head and stared at the crouching beast.
A black leopard the size of the house silently stared back. There was blood on its front feet – the girl wasn’t sure if it was another beast’s or its own.
Another threatening sound came from the leopard, but the girl still didn’t show any sign of fear.
She approached the black leopard as it showed its claws at her.
Sticking out its fangs, it tried to attack violently.
The girl quietly raised her hand and patted the leopard’s forehead as it was just about to run at her.
It suddenly stopped, standing tall. As if it was bound by an unknown force, it couldn’t move a single toe.
In the forest, no, on the continent, there was no beast stronger than it.
Its large purple eyes glistened under the sunlight filtering through the leaves.
The girl rubbed the bridge of the beast’s nose.
[I’ve never seen black fur like this. It’s pretty.]
She continued, stroking it as if it were a child.
[I’ve heard rumors about you. Considering you were born like this… It looks like you’re influenced by the power of my forest.]
[Are you well off by yourself? If you see everyone as your enemy, you’ll only get hurt. Look, you’re bleeding.]
The leopard’s eyes were filled with wild violence. As its nose trembled, the girl tapped its forehead as if she’d just realized something.
[I forgot you couldn’t speak. Is that good enough?]
Even though the leopard was angry, it couldn’t rush towards her.
[Who do you think you are?]
He just growled with a voice that made it clear he wanted to sink his fangs into her neck.
The girl pointed at herself.
[Me? Who I am?]
She replied gently, staring into the leopard’s threatening eyes.
[The light and protector of the continent, your —. You cute cat.]
The leopard’s arrogant eyes were now filled with feeble reverence.
Small leaves swirled around them in gusts.
She heard the sound of a crackling fireplace. It was a night where she held back both her tears and her breath. Belinda opened her eyes wide.
She felt like she’d had a dream… Not exactly a dream, but rather something strangely memory-like. However, as soon as she woke up, everything lost color like an old painting again.
There was fog-like faint darkness and a flash of red somewhere.
Where could she be? She had just been in a forest.
As she fumbled through her dim dream, Belinda’s fingertips winced. Instead of the scent of fresh grass, and the smell of heavy ash permeated her nose.
But clearer than that came the familiar smell of Aymon, one that made her feel comfortable wherever she came across it.
She blinked and closed her eyes slowly before waking up. Someone’s forearm was hugging her so hard that her back hurt.
As if it had been cooled down, her body was now swirling with heat.
The two bodies were in perfect contact, a slight heat flowing through the blanket wrapping both of them.
The person’s chest was firm against her cheek, and she felt a slow heartbeat.
It was obviously a man hugging her with his whole body, though it somehow felt like he was hanging onto her. A stranger.
But Belinda wasn’t surprised. She looked up at him, relaxed.
The scent and body temperature were obviously Aymon’s. It was her big cat hugging her.
Was this heaven? A hallucination bestowed by God so she could have her happiest memory before she died?
She wouldn’t have minded even if it was one. At this moment, the reality of facing Aymon was more important.
Every time I think of him as I’m about to die, I really do meet him. What kind of magic is this?
First in the woods, facing the bear, and now after falling into an icy river.
Aymon opened his eyes to her voice.
He wondered if he’d really heard her voice. He gulped, and his emotionless face slowly distorted.
A dark shadow lay under his eyes, which reddened with his overwhelming emotions.
There was a desperate fear in his voice as he struggled to spit the name out.
I thought I was going to lose you. I thought you were dead. You weren’t opening your eyes, so…
What couldn’t come out of his mouth was boiling hot in his chest. Aymon’s eyes grew hotter and hotter because of his overpowering emotions.
Belinda slowly raised her hand and touched his face.
There was a deep shadow under his eyes that looked at her. It was as if he was about to shed all his hidden tears.