Shang adjusted his uncomfortable tie and mask as he walked into the splendid ballroom, crowded with dancing people in fancy clothing. It, like most of the castle it was in, was a rare place of peace amidst the orc attacks. Shang would much rather be at the front lines fighting to get into the orc stronghold--they were in eyesight by this point--than here at this ball. Alas, it was an annual masquerade ball that signified the new crop and was traditionally mandatory that the royal family attended.
“Father,” Shang said as he bowed in front of who must have been his father, the emperor, with his expensive robes and long, white beard. His father bowed back.
“Good to see you in good health,” his father said calmly, as emotional as he could in this public setting. The emperor had to be seen as superior, and couldn’t be distracted by anything, not even his own heir, “How are the front lines?”
“Brutal,” Shang responded diplomatically. “But, we are making headway. We are but miles away, I could see the stronghold for the battlefield.”
“I am glad,” his father replied, “they have, after all, the best general in the land.” Shang beamed at the compliment. He had always sought his father’s approval. “Now, go and dance, find an empress.”
“Father, you know I’m not looking for a--” Shang started, but was stopped by the look the emperor gave him. A look of hope, of pleading. They had both known that Shang wasn’t actually looking for a bride, but it was customary for the heir to dance and at least try to find a bride, no matter how much effort was put in. That was part of the celebration the ball was - a new start for the kingdom with a new heiress. It was the reason for the masks - to take away any pre-existing judgments on beauty and focus on whether the to-be bride was a good Empress.
Shang sighed as he made his way to the dancefloor, where a circular formation of dancers was put in place. The females, in their giant, billowing dresses, twirled with a male for a minute or so, then would twist to the next. Shang groaned as he grabbed a random lady outside the circle, and led her to the dancefloor, beginning his half-hearted attempt to find a bride. As he danced with each woman, he prayed to the gods that none of them would touch the gun in his back pocket.
A few hours later and Shang was exhausted. How many girls could talk for that long? He finally managed to break out of the circle. Out of the hundreds of women he danced with, only three stuck with him. One nice and shy one in a yellow, summery dress and butterfly mask, a sarcastic one in a pink dress and swan mask, and… well, only two stuck with him. Shang made his way to the refreshments table, in need of water.
As he got a glass of water from one of the pitchers, he noticed a man in a suit and flame mask sitting on a bench engraved into the stone walls of the ballroom. His hair, like Shang’s, was tied up in a neat bun. He walked over and sat down next to him.
“Hey, you tired too?” The man looked startled as if he had just noticed that Shang was there. Shang laughed. “Me, too.” The other man tried to stutter out something, but it was just incoherent. “I’m Shang, by the way,” Shang said holding out his hand, “what’s your name?”
It took a moment for the other man to speak, but when he did, his voice was much higher than anyone else he had met, which only intrigued Shang more. “Ping, my name is Ping.”