༺ Ball (3) ༻
There was a heavy silence that made it hard to believe it was a space with so many people.
However, even in the midst of that, there were presences reaching three digits in the hall. The moment Renee felt nervous at that…
That was the beginning. A commotion spread through the hall, and hundreds of voices began to let out their admiration in a manner that even a bird would fall silent to that awe-inspiring sound.
It was a reaction caused by the appearance of Renee as she entered from the entrance and a man with a firm impression who stood by her.
It was due to their presence that overwhelmed the room just by being present.
There was beauty.
It was such a beauty that could be felt more clearly because the nobles of the Empire were more obsessed with beauty than any other group on the continent.
There was also a disparate atmosphere.
Despite being clearly human, it felt like they were encountering ethereal beings that belonged to a completely different dimension, coming from a higher realm.
The atmosphere changed in an instant.
Amidst it all, Crown Prince Maximilian awakened them from the chaotic scene from the highest seat of the cluttered landscape.
He clapped his hands once, and the startled band started playing music again.
The sound of music filled the space, bringing the nobles to their senses.
Those who had been momentarily dazed began to do their own things with familiar movements, polished through a lifetime of etiquette.
It was as if nothing had happened, as if that strange atmosphere just before was a lie. Some danced, while others strolled around and chatted with others.
Now, the only way to prove that the momentary silence was not a lie was through the occasional glances at the two.
Only then did Renee relax her body and followed Vera’s guidance towards a corner of the hall.
“Woah. I was so nervous I thought I was going to die. Is the ball usually like this?”
It was a question that she uttered in a hushed tone. Vera responded to it.
“I believe that it’s not usually like this. It’s probably…”
Because the Saint is such a beauty that they were very surprised.
Vera was about to say that but found the combination of words somewhat embarrassing, so he couldn’t bear himself to say it and added something else instead.
“…Because they were surprised since it’s rare to see the Apostles of the Holy Kingdom in public. That’s the speculation I have.”
Renee smiled at Vera’s response, her face noticeably more at ease.
As Vera looked at her face, he suddenly felt a passing recollection of something from the past.
It was Renee’s self-praise of her own appearance in the slums during the last moments of his previous life.
‘It wasn’t mere nonsense.’
A smirk escaped Vera’s lips.
It was a laugh coming out from the realization that, despite being a rather nasty woman back then, she hadn’t been wrong in any of the things she had said.
As his thoughts continued, Renee posed another question.
“But what should we do now?”
“There is no need to do anything in particular. You’re free to enjoy it however you like.”
“Hm, is that so?”
Renee tilted her head. Even though they had finally arrived at the ball, she hadn’t really thought about what she should do here. Simply attending the ball with Vera had been significant enough for her.
Observing Renee’s expression, Vera looked around for a while before speaking up.
“Would you like something to eat? Since this is a banquet hosted by the Imperial Family, there are many dishes that you can’t easily find elsewhere.”
“Ah, shall we do so?”
“Is there anything you would like to eat in particular?”
“Then the most stimulating one, please.”
Vera’s body flinched. His gaze began to scan Renee with a worried expression.
Is it really okay like this? Such thoughts continued to linger in his head.
Renee ate the food bit by bit with a satisfied face and let out an exclamation.
“The seafood is really delicious!”
It was an exclamation that arose because the seafood that she had never tasted before was very delicious and perfectly suited to her taste.
Vera also nodded with a satisfied face.
“Yes, it must have been very difficult to keep them fresh all the way to the center of the continent, but the seafood is definitely in good condition.”
“Ah, have you eaten it before, Vera?”
“I have been to the seaside before.”
An exclamation escaped from Renee’s lips. Then, a question popped up.
“What is the sea like?”
Having lived in Remeo all her life and only recently stepped out into the world for the first time from the Holy Kingdom, it was a question that naturally arose in Renee’s curious mind.
Vera pondered. It was always challenging to describe the scenery in a way that Renee could understand and relate to.
“…First of all, the air is salty. Due to the strong wind, that salty air constantly brushes against your face. Initially, it feels good, but it can become irritating as time goes on. There is a long stretch of sandy beach, and beyond that, the sea shimmering in a deep blue color along the horizon. The area where the sandy beach meets the sea forms a foamy, bright white color. I remember staring at that foam when I went to the sea.”
Curiosity intensified across Renee’s face.
“I can’t quite understand how the air can be ‘salty’.”
“Literally, it smells salty when you breathe.”
After saying that, Vera looked at Renee’s complexion for a moment but was taken aback by Renee, who had leaned over and resumed speaking.
“…Would you like to go there after visiting the Academy? Coincidentally, there’s a beach not far from the Academy.”
“Ah, sounds good!”
Renee’s face brightened, and Vera felt a tight sensation in his chest.
That smile caught everyone’s attention, and he couldn’t sense anything else in his surroundings—a strange sensation.
Even when he tried to compose himself, his irrational emotions which consistently defied logic, continued to be directed towards her.
He let out a long breath.
Considering his emotions to be somewhat distorted, Vera tried to suppress the tremor within himself, but at that moment, someone approached the two of them.
“Are you enjoying the banquet?”
It was Maximilian.
With a cocktail in one hand, he spoke in the most dignified tone she had ever heard. Renee responded with a smile.
“Yes, the seafood is really delicious.”
“It’s the best work of this year. Coincidentally, the freezer that we operated for a trial run performed excellently. Thanks to that, we were able to bring seafood all the way inland while maintaining its freshness.”
“Freez… Ah, is it a magical engineering product?”
“Exactly. Although, it will still take a few more years before it can be commercialized.”
Renee burst out a ‘pfft’ at Maximilian’s words. It was because the pride that could be felt in his words was so evident.
“I see, Your Highness the Crown Prince is very interested in magic engineering.”
“Of course. They are objects that affect the level of civilization of the entire country. So, isn’t it natural to drool at them from a ruler’s perspective? No matter how much it is said that it is the nobles who lead the Empire, the nation’s power eventually comes from its population. The means to secure the labor force are…”
At that moment, Maximilian, who had been talking for a long time, abruptly stopped and cleared his throat before apologizing.
“…I’m sorry. I tend to get carried away whenever I talk about this.”
“No, I think it’s great. You always do your best in your work.”
“Thanks for your understanding.”
A warm atmosphere ensued. It seemed Renee was happy to have eaten seafood for the first time in her life, and more fundamentally, a peaceful time with Vera continued. On the other hand, Maximilian seemed happy to have safely completed his brother’s coming-of-age ceremony.
“Thank you so much for the coming-of-age ceremony. I never imagined that the Saint would use such a trick.”
“Your power, I mean. Didn’t you stake my brother the fate of a guardian? Thanks to that, there’s less noise. While there were still people who said my brother should be the Crown Prince, the blessing put an end to that discussion, allowing us to eliminate all the noise related to the throne.”
“Hm? Wasn’t that your intention?”
Renee’s body twitched.
‘I just said whatever came to mind.’
…The thought that saying those words seemed somewhat awkward crossed her mind.
In the end, she managed to say something vague.
Fortunately, Maximilian didn’t catch onto anything and nodded his head.
“Well then, I’ll take my leave. I hope I haven’t detained you for too long.”
“Take your time and enjoy yourselves before leaving.”
Maximilian walked away.
Only then did Renee let out a breath, then scratched her cheek as if troubled.
“Hm, I hadn’t thought of that again.”
“As politics is done through words, there are those who take them sensitively. It’s nothing to be concerned about. After all, it’s an internal matter of the Empire.”
Renee, who was about to resume eating, paused her hand at a sudden thought and turned her head towards Vera, speaking in a playful tone.
“But in the end, it wasn’t excessive.”
“Using my power. It’s a statement based on the outcome, but it helped resolve things better, right?”
She was talking about what Vera had said right after the coming-of-age ceremony, that it was too much to also use her power.
Vera shut his mouth at that.
“Vera is wrong this time.”
He felt pissed off at her words accompanied by giggles. Vera refuted in a very blunt tone.
“…It could have been right. If only the content of the blessing had changed a little.”
“But what can you do? The content has already been determined.”
“The second time is unpredictable. When using that power, one must always be cautious…”
“But Vera seems to make an oath for everything. Even for a trivial thing, ‘I’ll make an oath’. And also ‘If you can’t believe me, I’ll make an oath’, like that. That’s not something Vera should say.”
Why is she so aggressive?
Looking at Renee’s complexion with such a thought in mind, Vera let out a grumbling sound at her face full of mischief and expressed his will to surrender.
“…Yes, the Saint is right.”
It was a declaration of defeat that couldn’t completely hide the traces of his anger. That eventually caused Renee to burst into laughter.
The awkwardness and embarrassment that lingered before entering the ballroom had already disappeared.
The lively atmosphere, being able to taste seafood for the first time in her life, and the brief conversation with Maximilian had a positive effect.
Now that she could finally face Vera with a little more ease and with a reliable suit that covered her flimsy dress, Renee spoke with a broad smile.
“Vera is generous with himself, while being strict with others.”
Vera felt troubled for the first time in a long time.
It was a feeling that arose because Renee, who had responded positively to most things, was joking around like this.
She had changed recently.
Did the events in the Empire bring about a change in her?
When he thought about that, he felt sad yet proud for some reason at her gradually changing appearance… but the most prominent emotion right now was the bitterness of being stabbed like this.
“…I will correct it.”
“Are you making an oath for that, too?”
Vera’s voice sharpened a little.
For some reason, Renee felt a pleasant feeling arising from that nuance.
Perhaps she was carried away by the atmosphere.
A different place than usual. People. And herself.
Amidst it all, she felt a sense of pride in herself for not feeling ashamed, unlike Annie’s concerns.
In addition, Vera, who didn’t change in the midst of this, was lovely… Such shameful thoughts also come to her mind.
The heat rose.
It’s probably because we’re indoors. Since the air is hot, my body is also getting hot. That must be it.
Renee sat down, moistening her lips to alleviate the rising heat.
Just like that, some time passed.
“…The music has changed.”
A slightly slow and low-pitched melody tickled their ears.
In line with the soft rhythm, the footsteps that had been audible until just a moment ago began to take on a slightly relaxed form.
Laughter echoed in their ears.
Watching people dancing in the middle of the ballroom, Vera unintentionally blurted out such words.
“Would you like to dance to a song?”
Only after speaking did his body tremble, and a look of dismay arose along with it. It was because of the thought that he spoke out of emotion.
“Hm… I would like to, but I can’t dance. I can’t even learn.”
Perhaps it should be considered fortunate for Vera, because Renee was delighted by his suggestion.
Just the act of suggesting to do something together was already enough to bring happiness to her.
It didn’t occur to her that it was rude to ask a blind woman to dance. She was well aware of what kind of person Vera was.
Vera was someone who didn’t let her blindness define his judgment of other aspects.
He was someone who saw her as Renee, not a blind woman.
He was someone who looked at what was inside, not the flawed body.
…And that’s why Renee liked him.
“Hm, this is a bit of a pity.”
As she uttered these words with a chuckle, Vera’s expression became clouded.
Vera wanted Renee to experience more things and be happier.
Wasn’t his oath for that? The oath he made in the hopes that her life would be full of happiness and that the light that awakened him from his darkest moments, from his evil self, would never fade.
Therefore, Vera didn’t want her to vent her regret over something she couldn’t do.
For that reason, he opened his mouth.
If there’s something she couldn’t do, he would make it possible for her.
He would do everything she wanted so that even the word ‘if’ could become a funny joke.
He would live for that purpose.
Since he had already promised her in Remeo.
Vera spoke in a quiet tone.
“You can dance.”
“It’s possible as long as I take the lead. Luckily, it’s slow-tempo music. If you follow my lead, you will be able to dance safely.”
Vera rose from his seat and gently helped Renee up. Renee asked with a bewildered expression.
“W-Will it be alright? What if I step on your foot…?”
Vera dismissed Renee’s concerns as if they were insignificant.
“After all, dancing is about using the body. And I’m confident that I can do it better than anyone else in the world when it comes to using my body.”
Since he had something he was confident in more than anything else, Vera was not worried.
The two slowly headed towards the center. One hand interlocked, and the other wrapped around each other’s shoulder and waist.
With careful movements, Vera led Renee.
As the two moved, people cleared the way. They had gazes full of curiosity and pleasure.
In the middle of the ballroom, Vera tapped his foot, creating a distinct ‘tap’ sound, and opened his lips.
“Slowly, let’s turn clockwise first.”
In a distance where their breaths entangled with each other…
Renee nodded, feeling the heat that had been within her all along turn into an inferno.