I was the one to tear my eyes off first. I felt his eyes linger on me for a while, pricking my skin with a strange sensation that I’d never felt before. A small sigh of relief escaped my lips when I finally felt him look away.
I looked back at the Balcony to see him conversing with the Royal Couple. They seemed to be talking about something very serious, paying undivided attention to the conversation.
As the evening grew older, I’d feel his eyes on me now and then while I spent my time with the three of them. I had to fight the urge to look at him all the while. There was this unknown force inside me, compelling me to look towards him. It did make me look at him a couple of times, locking my eyes with his brown ones afar before I’d be the first one to look away again.
My body grew tense whenever I’d feel his gaze lingering on me, scorching my skin with his intense gaze. I wanted to leave already and disappear in my wing and spend my time with Pax but the dinner hadn’t even started, unfortunately.
I knew it was going to be the most intense part of the night because all of us would be sitting at the long table, together. Just thinking about it made me even more nervous. My wolf was pacing inside me as well, sharing my anxiousness.
We didn’t know what to expect. The tension in the air was too dense, the night seemed too long.
“What happened?” Regulus asked me when he noticed that I’d grown unnecessarily quiet and wasn’t participating in Ares and Augustus’ bickering.
“Er… nothing,” I mumbled, downing another glass of drink. I welcomed the alcohol, waiting for its effect to steal my anxiousness but it didn’t. To add more to the tension, I felt his eyes on me again.
I fought the strong urge to look his way as soon as his gaze lingered on me. On the other hand, Regulus didn’t seem satisfied with my response.
“Are you alright?” He pressed.
“Yeah,” I told him, my voice coming out breathily, “I’m fine. I just want this to be over soon. I want to go back to my wing and sleep,” I told him honestly.
“Yeah, today was tiring. Especially the training,” He didn’t ask me more questions next and I was grateful for that.
My heart was digging into my chest and my stomach churned in my abdomen when the dinner was finally announced. The other guests took to small tables around the room while the ministers and their families sat on the long table with the Royal Couple and the main guest.
I sat down between my father and Regulus. The Royal couple was sitting just a few chairs away from me. He sat just beside the Royal couple. I didn’t miss how his gaze lingered on Regulus for a second longer before it shifted to me.
He must have noticed that I was talking more to Regulus. Although I didn’t dare glance at him throughout the dinner. It didn’t help when my father was involved in the conversation with him most of the time.
Augustus was right, Ezekiel was here for more military cooperation. This dinner was all about it. It further added to the already existing tension overall in the room throughout the dinner.
The delicately prepared food seemed like sand as I ate it. I wanted to leave the place because, at one point, it seemed just too much for me to take. His constant stares, the tension, the conversation, the food, the people… everything seemed wrong at that moment.
“Who’s going to succeed you?” Ezekiel asked my father at one point. It was around when the dinner was about to end.
“My daughter, Celeste,” My father answered, nodding towards me. Our eyes locked for the second time over dinner, this time more intentionally. A cold expression hung on his face but I saw something swirl in his eyes.
“A female?” He asked in a condescending way, “As a general?”
His words only fed the pre-existing tension in the air. It escalated quickly. I didn’t know I’d been holding the glass with too much force until it cracked. Some of the people, especially the woman sitting at the table gasped slightly at this.
“Why? What’s wrong with that?” I snapped before anyone else could say anything. I didn’t look away this time. I held his gaze in a challenging way. My lips were pressed in a thin line, and my teeth clenched. My whole body was tensed and I could feel my father sharing the same tension.
It wasn’t the first time when something like this had happened- someone questioning my abilities just because I was a female. I’d dealt with it countless times and I was very immune to it by now but hearing it from my mate just made it slightly worse on my nerves.
The intensity in his eyes and the tension in the air only rose before Arles tried to cut it but Ezekiel interrupted him right away, “I wouldn’t trust a woman… especially in a position as important as a General. I’m afraid you might want to find another successor,”
“She’d be the General. It’s decided. Being a female doesn’t make her any less capable of being the General,” My father spoke up this time, sounding very stern and almost challenging. Ezekiel cocked an eyebrow at my father in response.
“The future cooperation would suffer,” Ezekiel commented, in the same condescending way.
“Then it’s your problem,” My father returned very smoothly. He was grim but polite at the same time. The tension persisted to exit over the dinner as it proceeded towards its end.
I was counting seconds in my head, ready to leap as soon as the dinner would be over before disappearing into my wing. I’d had enough tonight and I didn’t think I’d be able to stand him or his daunting presence anymore.
I felt his intense lingering eyes on me as soon as the dinner was over. I instantly excused myself and left the crowded place and darted towards my room. I finally took a breath of relief when I was back into my wing. My shoulders were still tightly tensed but I didn’t care.
I was home… with my leopard. I walked to my bedroom to see Pax. I always searched for him when I needed any kind of comfort. He brought a strange sense of relief and safety to me which couldn’t be put into words.
Maybe it was because he was there from the very beginning, even before I was born, when I was just a beating heart inside my mother’s womb. His deep purrs were something I’d always remember, even in my afterlife.
“Pax! I’m back!” I called out for him as I opened my bedroom door and walked in. A frown climbed on my face when I didn’t hear any noise in response. I rushed towards my bedroom to find it empty, there was no sign of Pax.
I couldn’t help but shuffle on my feet anxious as I looked around the room for him but there was no him. His scent very faintly lingered in the air, hinting that he’d be long gone.
“Pax!” I called for him with panic laced in my voice.
Where was he?
I exited my bedroom and went to his playroom, he wasn’t there as well. I looked into my study, my training room, everywhere. He just wasn’t anywhere to seen.
I couldn’t help but panic. What if he was outside for a run? I kept repeating this to myself to calm myself down but I couldn’t shake the gut feeling that was telling me that something was wrong with him.
I stayed up all night waiting for him, but he didn’t show up. I paced around in my wing and in the early hours of the morning, I went for a run to look for him. I combed all the places where he could be but he just wasn’t anywhere to be found.
I was very panicked in the morning. This had never happened before. Pax never disappeared like this and it was stressing me out. I went to my father the first thing in the morning and told him about my leopard’s disappearance.
He was instantly concerned and sent out some wolves to look for my leopard but something in my gust told me that they’d come back without my leopard and that was what really happened.
They just couldn’t find my leopard anywhere.
“Calm down, Celeste. He’d be back. I’m going to talk to Arles about it. He’d give you your leopard back even if it had wandered into the underworld,” My father assured but I was already on the verge of tears.
After a lot of searching and still not being able to find my leopard, I returned to my wing late in the morning, exhausted and very nervous.
At first, it completely went unnoticed by me but when the crow croaked, I finally noticed it sitting outside my bedroom window. I found it very odd. I’d never seen any crows here, especially when it was heavily snowing outside but then I noticed something tied to its feet.
The crow was constantly tapping on the window with its beak as if urging me to open the window. I instantly leaped from my bed and opened the window. The crow flew away as soon as I had taken off the parchment tied to its feet.
I opened the parchment to find words scribbled with blood on it. My eyes widened as I read the bloody words-
Looking for your leopard? Go look for it in the forbidden woods after dark…
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