2021-01-16 - Ohtori Masquerade Ball

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Ohtori Masquerade Ball

Masks are worn -- and torn away -- at the fancy social event of the Halloween season. Gold Star League boys use their anonymity to make bold advances. The mystery of the Moonlight Knight deepens as he's seen in the same room as amnesiac Mamoru Chiba. Saito Araki collects his niece.


Rei Hino, Shizuru Fujino, Kasagami Araki, Setsuna Meioh, Ai Yamamoto, Usagi Tsukino, Nori Ankou, Fuu Hououji, Haruka Tenoh, Mamoru Chiba, Saito Araki

GM: Pink Moon Stick


Reception Hall, Southern Cross Island

OOC - IC Date:

1/16/2021 - 10-25-15

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.
<SoundTracker> A Sky Full Of Stars - Vitamin String Quartet - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTecK6IZIZA

The height of October; a beautiful, clear night, with much more darkness than Moon; much more chill than warmth, but delightfully rather than unbearably so; what better a time could there be to slip on a mask and join the dance at the Ohtori Student Council's Masquerade Ball?

It is in possession of a singularly elegant spookiness. There are no spiderwebs here, let alone any plastic spiders; no ghouls or ghasts are in attendance. No gravestones; no gummy worms; no B-movie practical effects of any kind.

What there IS is a ballroom, in all the most fantastic meanings of the word. A floor inlaid with a complex pattern. High walls arching into a vast, almost endless ceiling; curling, gold-leafed molding everywhere. At one end, a grand staircase which converges on itself from both sides to descend centrally. At the other, floor-to-ceiling glass, inset with doors that lead onto a garden's almost equally grand terrace.

All electronics have been banished. Shadows pool in every corner, cast by what must be a thousand candles, some in wall sconces, some on the tables along the sides of the great chamber, some in the splendid, massive chandeliers. Mixed among them, suspended from the ceiling on wires so slender as to be invisible, are a scattering of luminous crystal orbs, which reflect, refract, and amplify the candlelight. There's enough motion in the air for these orbs to be constantly stirring, which means that the lighting they create -- swaths of blue or green or violet or crimson -- are evershifting.

Besides dancing across the attendees (who are, to be sure, the primary decoration of the evening), these jewel tones softly illuminate numerous floral arrangements, all of which were probably white originally, the better to temporarily wear each and all of these other hues as they flit past. They exude a gentle perfume, the air itself complicit in the seduction of the evening. Tall vases in corners; hanging baskets above doors; centerpieces on tables; flowers everywhere... hydrangeas and daffodils; double tulips and sweet peas; peonies and gardenias; lilac and orchids; and, of course, since it IS an Ohtori production, whole trellises of roses. There are however no lilies on display.

The real garden, of course, is on the dance floor. This event is formal but not technically a period piece, but it seems quite popular to go in that direction; modern and classical attire mingles freely and naturally, as though the classes of 2015 and 1715 might be celebrating together, along with everyone in between. Masks -- strictly spelled 'masques' on the invitation -- are mandatory, and also run the fashion gamut. Vast headdresses of feathers and pearls attached to complex paper creations are worn alongside simple dominos. Some evoke a specific characterization, like birds and flowers, suns and moons, foxes and rabbits. Others are more abstract. All outfits, however, are expected to at least make the attempt at disguising the identity of the wearer; with the strange lighting, it's surprisingly feasible. Unearthly beauty might be the goal of any masqued ball and this one has achieved it. There is a liminal feeling, as though everyone dances on the border of ordinary and extraordinary. Anyone could be anything on a night where anything, everything, is possible...

(Including sneaking in, which is exceptionally easy under the circumstances, for anyone insufficiently exclusive to have received an actual invitation.)

That is probably not LITERALLY the Vitamin String Quartet providing the evening's entertainment, but it's not impossible, especially considering the rumor that Ohtori's courting attention from some Western schools. They are, in any case, very talented, and a chamber like this was designed to carry the strains of their instruments without any amplification. As with the costuming, they play a mix of truly classical and very modern music. All of it is marvelous; the dance floor is never empty, yet it's soft enough on the sidelines that it's possible to have a decent -- though not very private -- conversation.

In perhaps the singular nod to Halloween affectations, someone may have supplied some dry ice, because streamers of exceedingly light and delicate mist weave among the dancers, especially their feet. Then again -- maybe it isn't anything like a fog machine. Southern Cross Island has been extraordinarily misty this season; perhaps the island itself has bestowed a gift upon this, its crown jewel of balls... a translucent, sparkling embrace of sky and sea.

<Pose Tracker> Scarlet Masque [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

In the hall, there is a girl.

She is dressed all in red. What would be a striking neckline is made modest by red lace; it is this same lace which makes up her sleeves, given structure by red crushed-velvet strips running longways all the way to her wrists. These same strips join the silk of her dress, curving in a V which meets in the front at her waistline; at the back it trails down, further, long strips of fabric which give an extra texture and trail to the folds of her skirt. That skirt ends near her ankles, with generous folds; black low-cut heels add a dark splash of colour, matching her dark hair, above. That hair - and there surely must be a lot of it - has been wrapped about and about, with exquisite and gentle care, into a bun at the back of her head. Like those velvet strips which hang down from her waist, there are a few long locks of hair which have been allowed to fall free from the arrangement, each element a mirror of another.

But who is she? This is a question obscured by a black mask; long horns like the flight-feathers of spread wings sweep outwards from her eyes, obscuring her temples. Her cheeks are veiled by a line of scarlet lace to match her arms, trimming the bottom of the mask. In the shifting aura of a dozen lights, it is almost as if there is a permanent blush about her cheeks, in a soft and generous expression of girlhood innocence.

A Western-old style of fan hangs from her fingers, all silk and red lace; this is another obsfucation to her, as she speaks with the other jewels of the evening, hiding red lips which would otherwise still be perfectly visible to the world.

She did not have to sneak in; she is here by invitation. Takashi Hino attends the Diet, and his daughter ought not be forgotten... by her peerage in Ohtori, at least. But, by implication, does that not make this girl --

"How lovely," Rei says, before she breaks away from one group of elegant ladies. It's her same tone of voice -- at least, the one she uses in the Academy. Perhaps a touch haughty; certainly refined; still, indelibly, a little loud. She belongs, in the very deliberate and structured way one does, in an event which can define one's quality of life for months to come in the halls and classrooms.

But she doesn't have to worry about her hair.

She just has to worry about...

<Pose Tracker> Masque Serpent [Ohtori Academy (U)] has posed.

A beautiful, clear night; light delicately placed. And a chill to merit the fabrics. One young woman here is in beautiful purple, shades of it over white skirts that make up a notable silhouette, a lovely dress that wouldn't be out of place in some grand story. Her dress is more modern than classical, a v-neckline bearing elements of both, layers of fabric draped about her, but without sleeves. For her arms instead she has snowy white gloves, contrasting the darker fabrics of her dress. Her long, brown hair is carefully done... But there is indeed something in the way of determining exactly who she is.

An elaborate mask covers her eyes and most of her nose, along with much of her face with its elaborations. Amethyst tones and gold mix into an almost mesmerizing snake pattern.

On her arm, of course, is the most essential of fashion accessories.

And at the moment she is walking past a beautiful arrangement of lilacs, inhaling its perfume and glancing just a moment at their loveliness in passing. Her eyes cast out over the others here, a thousand mysteries all on display as she looks over dresses and masks, people who are easier and harder to guess at, without really trying. It would ruin some of the fun, after all, to know who everyone was, at a time like this. There's a certain life to the mystery, and if there is spookiness in the air then it is a kind of spookiness that she revels in in her quiet, composed way.

After all, her mouth is visible, and on it a small smile. Who would worry at such a gentle expression?

<Pose Tracker> Crimson Feathered-Masque [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The Crimson Feathered-Masque, given her financial issues, can't exactly just spin up her own dress worthy of such an occasion as this. Thus she leaned on the Fashion Club to secretly do their worst. And what an outfit! It's a long affair, reaching almost to the floor on the tall young woman, the upper portion strapless and daring with blacks and reds in a vague flowery pattern upon the front, descending into increasing amounts of ruffles with a side-tie of crimson and ending near the bottom with even breezier bits of fabric. Opera gloves encase her arms almost to the shoulder, while a fuzzy white shawl wraps about neck and shoulders. She even has, clearly in an attempt to disguise herself, deigned to wear proper ball shoes. They're almost flats, as Kassie is hardly one with skill in ankle-breaking shoes, and shined up to lightly sparkle in candle-light.


And it wouldn't be a Masque without an accompanying piece of headwear! A simple looking half-masque sits upon the young woman's face, obscuring her with what appear to be actual Black Falcon feathers rather than mere imitations. Being a part of the Falconry Club has it's perks! For once she's let her hair go naturally, not falling into it's normal ponytail, though her bangs certainly obscure her from the front slightly amidst feathered masque!

And so after taking her time descending the staircase from a beautiful view of candle-lit mist below, the young woman sighs in contentment as she looks for interesting mysteries to investigate of the people kind! For all her troubles, the opportunity to mingle and dance and maybe puzzle out a few properly disguised personalities she might know makes her heart warm in anticipation.

What a spooky, yet appropriately Ohtori night!

<Pose Tracker> Spangled Masque [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

A tall, dark, and mysterious young woman glides more than walks at the side of a handsome blonde. She wears stiletto heels with the confidence of someone who possesses their stature wholly; she conceals her dark garnet eyes with a silk domino mask to match, and it is elegant rather than simple in the way of beautiful things which are far too expensive. There is something about her which requires no mask for an air of mystery.

Her gown is a darkly brilliant column, with a high collar and full sleeves. It is black beneath the silver studs spangling it in rich geometric patterns, and the whole thing catches those orb-cast colors as she moves across the floor. A fall of evergreen hair trails like a cloak behind her.


Setsuna murmurs, loudly enough that her companion can hear her, "Halloween again." She's reflective, by her tone. This was her first terrestrial holiday in the Tokyo of Here and Now. "There were not so many flowers, last year." Her eyes roam the gathered, rather than lingering on her company.

<Pose Tracker> Cream Masque [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

At one point, the closest Cream Masque would have got to receiving an invite to a ball like this, would have been seeing it in a movie that she downloaded or borrowed from one of her friends at her old school. Somehow the rural girl was lucky to recieve an invitation to the event. Maybe it was because of her athletic abilities, or maybe because on paper she owns a company that she can't do anything legally with. Or maybe she just got lucky.

Thankfully, after begging and pleading with her uncle that now operates her father's company, she was able to get a dress as a business expense. After all, there's a chance to meet important people, which might mean future business oportunities in her uncle's eyes.

She nervously toys with her pale blue cuffs of her sleeves, and double checks the buttons to make certain nothing has fallen off or got dirty, before adjusting the half-masque that she wears, which takes on the appearance of a cat face.


She carefully follows along behind the other girls, being mindful of the unfamiliar heels that she's wearing. She pauses at the sight of the ballroom, her breath catching in awe of the room.

"Oh wow!" the call girl mutters to herself. The tall blonde pauses and reaches back to toy with her long blonde hair, which is now neatly done up in a bun and braids.

<Pose Tracker> Princess Masque [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Another girl enters.

After handing off her coat, she's wearing a partially backless and completely strapless pink gown with a sweetheart neckline, a bow that's darker pink settled at the small of her back. The skirt swishing near her knee, with a hint of a modern white petticoat beneath it.

The mask she wears matches the color of the bow at her back, it's angles soft and rounded at all but the top, where it is bejeweled loops crown her masque in a way that's reminiscent of a tiara.

Each foot is sporting a white short heel. And each ear a circular pink gem with a crescent of silver on the outside of each. Her makeup lightly applied with a more expert touch than usual - still offering that innocent look to her expression.

Her identity is a complete and total mystery...

... yes absolutely noone knows the identity of that Masqued girl.

"Wowww-!" Who is currently turning a spin of unrestrained delight, her long hair swishing around her in that indistinct hairstyle of odangos and twintails..

"-how wonderful! Being here is like being in a foreign movie!" Princess Masque exclaims. She didn't have to sneak in either. Sometimes it's who you know. And in this case whom she knows but isn't supposed to know she knows, is another dazzling figure at the Masque...

It's not impossible that Scarlet Masque saw her first given that she was just twirling in place for a moment, before spying her and waving... then moving towards her. "Rei-chan!" She calls when she's near her... as she breaks the etiquette the very first time she greets someone.

Before putting a hand delicately to her lips and instead, "Ah-um-I mean..." She then leans in, cupping a hand over her mouth, and whispers a question in a way that feels like the antithesis of surreptitious, "...Rei-chan I forgot. Were you supposed to be Crow Masque or Carmine Masque again?"

<Pose Tracker> Glass-and-Raven Masque [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

There is a young woman here, glittering in the darkness.

She can be spotted by her mask, of course, which is a dark domino with violet silk that has been decorated with a single curlicue on the right hand side, where a beauty mark might be. Most of the mask is on the left side, braced discreetly. Raven feathers, thirteen of them, in a long turning pattern, with pieces of mirror-glass in between them, half veiled and glinting (and, if closely examined, covered with lacquer enough to not be jagged to the touch unless one is truly uncautious.) Beneath them are deep blue eyes and full lips, painted a violet that turns interesting shades in the unusual lighting.

The mask takes up much of the ornament that one can get away with and remain within the bounds of Taste. The dress itself is an A-line form with a long, long skirt that started at tulip and never stopped. The main body is a rich vivid silk with a steadily deepening gradient down to deep crimson in the train that pools and clings to the floor. The right shoulder is clasped and decorated with silver spangles and several green jewels (and a single deep yellow-orange, purely for contrast). The left shoulder is left bare, as is the neck, and the arms, beyond a single thin silver chain bracelet on the right wrist.

Between all of this, as well as a languid way of motion and a near-complete disguise of the legs, an eerie impression of height and languor is created. Helped by the nearly bare back, trailed along by loose, but heavy-laying, almost limp black hair, combed and glossed and parted in the middle, trailing down to hip height.

"Cawmine," says this figure, passing directly behind the Princess Masque on her way to run her fingers over flower petals. (Secretl, the bearer of this gown has been circulating, not yet daring the dance floor. Perhaps for fear of ruining her dress's train?)

<Pose Tracker> Masqued Sky Princess [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

"Wow, you got invited to the Ohtori masquerade? That's awesome!"

"EHeheh ... thank you. I'm not really sure yet, though."

"Oh, come on. You *have* to go. They invited you specifically - what's the problem?"

"You know I have ... bad luck ... at Ohtori social events."

"So? The whole point of being masked - excuse me, 'masqued' - is to hide your identity. Nobody's going to single you out if you're mingling hard enough."

"I guess you're right. So I need a masque for the occasion -"

"And a new dress. If you wear something you've worn before, why bother hiding your face?"

A soft sigh, "True. So a masque and a dress ... hmm. Something that I wouldn't wear normally, I guess."

"There you go. You're halfway to having fun there already!"

It took some hunting, and more advice than usual from friends and family, but a (temporary) princess from Infinity has graced the Ohtori Student Council's Masquerade Ball. The masque adorning her upper face seems almost gossamer, but with enough layers to properly conceal her visage; the lenses over her eyes are slightly tinted, leaving shoulder-length blonde hair the only clue to her identity. And even that won't be an easy clue; what would normally be ringlets have been teased straighter - a characteristic hairstyle sacrificed to comply with the exigencies of the ball.

Her dress is the deep deep blue of a clear summer sky, leavened by a shawl and sash of white; the shawl is held in place at her left shoulder by a clasp designed to resemble a miniature phoenix, while the sash is tied in a bow that's been drawn out to suggest wings. The bodice fits snugly enough to show off a fairly generous (for high school) figure, although the shawl about her shoulders lends both warmth and modesty, while the skirts swirl just above the height of her ankles, propped up by a pair of high-heeled black pumps. (She may not *like* wearing heels, but the ability to walk - or dance - in them has its uses, even in the modern era.) In addition, she's wearing sky-blue opera gloves, hiding her hands and arms almost all the way to the puffed-shoulder sleeves of her ballgown.

This child of the sky has (grudgingly) surrendered her phone on the way in, and now descends the staircase, her fingers trailing lightly along one bannister rather than holding it firmly. That descent gives her a moment to take in the dance floor, searching out features and people of potential interest. A corner of her mind, ever analytical, may be trying to match hidden faces to the masques which cover them - but really, even if she *does* identify anyone here ... why should she test those deductions? The point is to be anonymous, and to have fun at the same time.

<Pose Tracker> Scarlet Masque [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Absolutely no-one knows the identity of Princess Masque. ... except, perhaps, for the girl who saw that mask put on securely.

("You mustn't let your mask fall away during the ball," went her warning, hours prior. "Be careful of kind gestures which reach for the ties.")

Princess Masque twirls, and Scarlet Masque flicks her fan out in front of her face, perhaps to hide the way she smiles. The angular slits of her domino masque can't quite hide the way her eyes roll, though, as she spies her in the crowd.

"Shh," Scarlet Masque says, stepping up on those tak-tak heels. "Here, I am the --"


"Scarlet Masque," Rei corrects Glass-and-Raven, a hint of her natural pique peeking through beyond the stately exterior. "And you are known as..?"

If she knows enough to make that joke, she's probably not dangerous, but one can never tell in the ever-shifting lights of an Ohtori social function.

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Shallow - VSQ - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvrGOkaXI_I

The most essential of fashion accessories is, of course, a date.

The snake-masked lady's purple gown might well have been chosen in compliment, or perhaps it's the other way around, to that of her partner's; subtle hints of violet adorn his jet black tuxedo, most notably at the lapel and the ribbon at his collar, though it terminates in a bow thoroughly white tie.

The eyes framed by a slender white domino mask might be a little purple too, their dazzling sapphire deepened by the pleasure of present company.

Perhaps the top hat and cape were left with the doorman, but the figure that this fine young man cuts is not in any way, in any sense, generic. He is, unmistakably, loudly, OBVIOUSLY, the ally of justice Tuxedo Mask, who hasn't been seen since the confrontation at the North Pole years ago. Which is reasonable, since he died at the time.

Or perhaps, given the circumstances of the evening, he's better known as Tuxedo Masque. This must be the best day of his life as well as possibly the first, given his previously-deceased status. At all other times he was something of an absurd presence -- not alone in this given the vagaries of magical girl fashion, but certainly a little EXTRA extra. But tonight... everyone else looks just like HIM.

There are numerous young men at the ball without partners, and in any case at an event like this it is perfectly customary to dance, formally or informally, with many different people. It's a great night to NOT be in a black tuxedo and so some bold fashion statements are being made alongside the more conservative; seemingly every color of the rainbow is on display, plumage appropriately matching their own various-themed masques.

A cluster of stags are gathering next to the drinks table, which has a lot of presumptively non-alcoholic sparkling glasses ready to be claimed. These are among the most dashing of their kind. Notables include:

  • Emerald Masque, extraordinarily tall, his green suit shimmering with every color of the forest, his masque a simple study in black
  • Horned Masque, at a more normal height, clad in red with a particularly notable masque that has the very stag horns this metaphor implied, possibly made of real ivory
  • Golden Masque, somewhere in between, in a white tuxedo with a full-face golden masque that is half-sun and half-moon.

Over drinks, they seem to be reading the room, admiring the costumes, and so forth.

"That one's stunning," Emerald murmurs.

"Too tall," Horned scoffs in an undertone. "Well, maybe not for you."

"It really is quite a show," Golden chimes in merrily. "Anyone care for a wager?"

To return to the original Tuxedo Masque, his lips are a little tight. Nerves? Nevertheless, he and his spotless white gloves handle his partner gently, and mostly silently. The perfect escort.

"Would you like to dance?" Mamoru asks Shizuru lightly, as the music comes around to a new song. It's hard to know, from the tone of his voice, which answer he's hoping for. Aloofness, ambivalence, these too are the most essential of fashion accessories of the creme de la creme.

But there's something about him that's the slightest bit melancholy, also...

<Pose Tracker> Crimson Feathered-Masque [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The Crimson Feathered-Masque hasn't yet sought out the mysterious stars in the room, instead first her gaze falls upon a Princess! One of many in this crowd it seems, and with her sister-in-red occupied with another feather admirer, the not-Duelist tags a fluted drink to occupy one hand with while a grin devours the half of her face that isn't bedecked with a masque.

Stalking up from behind like a shark-bird, the crimson one lets out a warm laugh. "The question is, what kind of movie is it from!? Could it be from a high society romance where two star-crossed lovers meet among the masqued ball despite their families' eternal venom for each other? A movie about political intrigue?" And then she makes slashing motions with one hand.

"Or a horror movie where the killer hides amongst the masqued partygoers, picking off the cast in ironic ways when their guard's down?"

Eyes sparkle with mischief. "I love the ear-rings!"

<Pose Tracker> Masque Serpent [Ohtori Academy (U)] has posed.

Some things are mysteries. Some things are double mysteries. The snake-masqued lady looks over the room with a broad look, and her gaze moves across a Spangled Masque in particular for one, a Princess, and redness... before naturally she looks right back to her date. She stands smoothly, having glided across the floor thus far in her heels.

It's a nice atmosphere, some might say.

Shizuru smiles faintly at him for a moment, just a restrained expression. Perhaps it's nerves. Perhaps it's not. It's interesting, to consider what he might hope for--

...But the best view of the party is like to be from the dance floor regardless.

"Yes," she answers. "That would be lovely."

She shows no such signs of melancholy, though certainly she notices it in him. But the Serpent Masque keeps her attention on him for the moment. Though she might have to wonder if they'll pass one of the others in particular...

<Pose Tracker> Cream Masque [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Slowly the tall blonde starts to make her way towards the stairs, and then down them. The entire time being mindful of trailing fabric and trains of the dresses of other girls in attendance. While it mightn't bode well for her social standing to trip someone up, she's no doubt thankful that her own dress isn't so fancy in design or as eye catching.

She breaths a sigh of relief when she realises that if she does something foolish by accident, that there's a good chance it won't be noticed. That thought alone helps to relax the blonde girl as she tries to get used to a setting that's alien to her.

She holds a hand up to her mouth as she looks anxiously around the room. If there was a familiar face in the room, Cream Masque wouldn't know with the masques that everyone is wearing. She carefully moves again, this time trying to figure out where to stand so that she's not in the way of anyone.

<Pose Tracker> Masqued Sky Princess [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Fortunately for the tall blonde in the cream-colored masque, not all of the dresses being worn here have trains. The Sky Princess, in particular, whose skirts are no longer in back than they are in front - and which are lifted in a curtsey as the Sky Princess greets her fellow arrival.

"Fair evening to you, my friend," says the shorter blonde in a gentle, friendly-yet-polite voice. "I would not presume to invite a dance of you just yet, but shall we roam the ball together for now? Or is there one in particular with whom you hope to meet tonight?"

<Pose Tracker> Fox Masque [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

The blond at Spangled Masque's side is wearing a dark burgundy tuxedo, the better to amplify the bygone charms of the evening. He may be more commonly recognized as 'she' nowadays, but for tonight he is too tall, too broad of shoulder, too lean and heroically built, and most of all, too faceless, and so the evening is a throwback, to times when even those who knew the blond often misunderstood.

But what is there to misunderstand, really? A masquerade is a painting not yet dried, a rich and colorful world so shallow your fingernail cuts right to the canvas. The facile nature of the deception is the point; the thinner the gauze that severs you away from the reality of the everyday, the lighter you float. We have all this world and we spend half of it between the forehead and the nose.

The masque is of a fox, autumn-orange, mischief-orange, the orange that flickers at the edge of the woods when you spy, too late, the hole in the chickenwire.

Fox Masque smiles knowingly at his thoughtful companion. "They scarcely bloomed before we reunited. You. I. And she." There is a fourth, of whom Fox does not speak. If a flower awaits her, it will be long in its bud. Cut, at last, for the funeral.

"I like to get out to Ohtori parties," Fox tells Spangled, more lightly. "Luxury gets boring if it's not a little depraved now and then. And the illusion really benefits from the participation of people who haven't been outside it. Ah, no offense to the woman your eyes are so obviously roaming about to find. I'm sure she's floating above it all." He smiles winningly at Spangled. "Like a lily." Fox takes a look around for the would-be King himself, sky-blue eyes moving along the crowd, lingering appreciatively here and there on a decoration, an hors d'ouevres, or a dress.

"Terrible, terrible, terrible," he sighs contentedly. He seems, partly, to be selling the event to Spangled Masque. He makes note of Shizuru, whose mysterious tale he has some familiarity with, sans its ending or any hint of it. But abruptly his eyes cross long blonde twintails, and make a related inference to a proximate, raven-haired beauty. What youthful and innocent plumage, both. Consciously, the tone of his voice shifts.

"Terrible," he changes his mind. "Terrible party."

<Pose Tracker> Princess Masque [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.


Princess Masque looks mildly puzzled by the interjection. Then just lets out this audible snerk as she finally gets it. Then looks behind herself and waves at the Glass-and-Raven.

(Perhaps her identity is a mystery! But she sounds familiar! So Princess Masque waves at her like she knows her.)

"Right. Scarlet Masque." Princess Masque repeats, then she gives the Scarlet Masque a long look and whispers, "... Rei-chan you know who I a-Oh!"

...before straightening and attempting to switch to a more formal air. "How... do you do." As she puts a hand at each side of her skirt and tries to bend at the knees in an inexpert Western curtsey. "I am, Princess Masque."

And then abruptly, from that position, a shape passes by. And by some instinct that goes deeper behind the senses, she looks, reflexively. And Princess Masque's blue eyes shine behind the mask, as she lets out an audible gasp. She looks distressed in an instant, like she might just cry to Scarlet Masque's vision, which might draw her attention to - to whom she's watching.

... my Serenity. I will always...

Tuxedo Mask - or Masque perhaps, on the arm of the elegant Serpent Masque. The whole of her body feeling petrified, save for her eyes... her breath... her heartbeat. For the longest time, she just stands there and stares.

Keep that beautiful faith...

Her lip quivers just subtly, those blue eyes shimmering with her powerful tears.

... and we will meet again...

Her heart feels so mixed up. Dizzy as she's torn between the feeling of him, versus the Moonlight Knight, versus the Masked Tuxedo. She doesn't know how she feels, because she can't sort out which is which. Only that she feels strongly when she's in the presence of each of them. "Um..." With a glance towards Scarlet Masque, she sniffs and makes an attempt at an excuse, "...I have to..."

And then she's trying to thread the crowd. Slipping through each that separates them, en route to him and his date. Only to hear him ask...

'Would you like to dance?'


... is what she doesn't say, the word wholly imagined but not spoken from her lips. Because he wasn't asking her. And thus, someone else says it first.

"Um... excuse..." Is what she manages instead, the faintest whisper, perhaps just off from his periphery. "... excuse me." It is impossible to say whether it is interruption or retreat.

Perhaps even she doesn't know.

Yet with hands clasped together, fingers wringing in each other, she looks at the pair, the woman he's with prettier, more elegant, more mature than she is...

... together the two make a beautiful couple. Perhaps more lovely even than destiny.

<Pose Tracker> Glass-and-Raven Masque [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"As mystery," the glass-and-raven figure answers Scarlet Masque, "and as threat, but also as promise... I suppose you can call me... Raven."

Obscurely, the girl behind the mask feels as if she has joined a sisterhood with these words.

She smiles sidewise at the Crimson and the Princess alike, and murmurs, "I think that I need to have a bit to drink," before walking towards those glittering jewels of liquid refreshment that shine so subtly and coolly over near those figures, standing as if they were three guardians, or the three heads of a singular form.

The raven-feathered masque walks with a steady and careful gait that does not disturb the front of the gown, leaving it trailing behind her; it is not swift, but it presents quite clearly the impression of simply... floating, disturbing only the stray tendrils of mist.

Glass-and-raven touches her collarbone as she comes within speaking distance. "My fair fellows," she asks, "what would you recommend...?"

<Pose Tracker> Cream Masque [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Cream Masque glances towards the Sky Princess, and tilts her head a little to the side when she speaks. She offers a broad smile at the invitation and nods her head in agreement. She once again toys with the cuff on her sleeve and nods her head a second time.

"I-I think roaming would be fun," she replies anxiously in a heavy rural accent to the Sky Princess. "I-I don't think anyone I know is here. But I never asked any of my friends, and I know my cousin isn't here." She pauses for a moment and looks around again as she moves closer to the shorter blonde. "No, she's not here. It's too quiet. If she was here, she's most likely be causing problems by now."

She takes another deep breath, and a step closer to the unknown girl. "I-I'm... I'm Cream," offers as the tall girl in the cat masque.

<Pose Tracker> Scarlet Masque [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"What a lovely title," Scarlet Masque says, behind her fan, "and exquisite plumage." A look, aside, to Crimson Feathered Masque, and her smile grows sly: "Oh, but I see some of us are much blunter in our metaphors. A horror story..? Ohtori would never suffer such a scandal in its halls."

Scarlet Masque lets slide the fact that Ohtori's halls have seen all sorts of scandals, up to and including duels with very real and sharp swords.

But there's something which catches her eye, as she plays the game. A shift in eyes, behind a pink mask. A gasp.

"Of course," she says, and Princess Masque will find someone stepping with her, who knows better, perhaps, the way to make a crowd part. It's all in the presence. Does she realise so many young men are watching..?

But it is the woman like a serpent who will find her attention commanded, with a snap of a fan as it closes. "Your dress is stunning," says Scarlet Masque, stepping in. Engaging conversation - with the person wearing Tuxedo Masque. This is who she has to worry about, right now. "Astonishingly modern... what is the make, I wonder?"

What is her plan..?

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Senorita - VSQ - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkqhjPQekrU

Tuxedo Masque beaus Masque Serpent onto the dance floor, and spins her there skillfully but maybe a little bit distractedly. The thing about ballroom is that it can be very emotive; he cannot hide his feelings easily, it is not a useful disguise. And he's definitely got something going on.

"I feel strangely nostalgic," he murmurs to Shizuru, between steps. "Is this something we did... before the... accident?"

Scarlet Masque addresses his partner and he pauses, obligingly at the end of a long-armed extension, so she might answer. Mamoru himself shows no particular sign of recognition, beyond any interactions they've had since his reappearance. His smile matches his mood though, as it appears: wistful in some strange way.

The trio by the drinks, approached by Glass-and-raven, grin at her. Well, two of them do. Golden Masque's lips aren't showing. But there's a smile in his voice as he dares to try to fill her hand not with a glass, but with his own.

"I recommend a dance," he says warmly, "If you would do me the honor."

Emerald Masque and Horned Masque aren't sticking around to watch this display; they have split, mingling smoothly through the crowd until they find two unpartnered maidens by the stairs: Masqued Sky Princess and Cream Masque.

"You look luminous tonight," Emerald tells Cream. "Shall we go be luminous together?"

Horned Masque has a good command of the space he occupies, because he sinks a deep bow in front of Masqued Sky Princess with a little extra distance. That way nobody gets stabbed. And honestly, the way those points move though the air with such self-assurance is rather impressive.

"Tch," he remarks at Emerald, "And leave this lovely lady alone? I cannot allow it. If you'd do me the pleasure."

They offer their hands.

<Pose Tracker> Crimson Feathered-Masque [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Someone gets it! The Crimson Feathered-Masque winks a bit to the Scarlet one, seemingly proud of her weaponization of language in such a forceful manner.

"The spirit of halloween is the frightening, the unusual, and the out of the ordinary. Why, what better time than to spread scandal and discord amongst the student body than on the month when ghosts walk the earth!" Grin! She turns that same look to the Glass-and-Raven Masque in passing, but it's the Princess and her seeming distraction, whatever mischief in her gaze bleeding out a bit. What scandal is going on there? Eyes narrow when the Princess heads off.

"...Is the party too much for her?" Wonders the Crimson one to herself, as she watches Scarlet head off like a woman on a mission. Hmm!

And so she starts a slow circle of the various groups forming, the Duelist taking in the collective work of the Council for the evening. She can't help but feel a little proud. No matter her problems, how she rankles at her current station, at least she's here. That taste of power that she craves is joyful to the young woman, and her gaze is cast about again in search for her next mingling target!

<Pose Tracker> Masque Serpent [Ohtori Academy (U)] has posed.

Definitely distractedly. But Masque Serpent, while she can enjoy a good dance, is not ultimately dancing for the art itself at the moment. That emotive quality is part of what draws her, and to her, at least, her performance is technically excellent--she shows a warm if muted sort of feeling. But this...

"I see," she answers, and that does put a finger on it. "You did always like formalwear."

True, but not the whole truth. Shizuru smiles back, though she is not wistful. She is mild. And she absolutely sees Princess Masque, in all her beautiful conflict. It's an exquisite sort of sight, really. Shizuru does not betray her curiousity in the next moment--but she does say, "Ah, it would appear we're rather popular at the moment, wouldn't it?" she says to Mamoru as they pause.

"Thank you," she answers Scarlet. "Sometimes a touch of the modern is desirable. I admire the rich color of your mask, too. It rather suits you." A beat, as she twirls back in. Unless Rei calls on her, it's possible she intends to move on with her date...

...Without looking overtly at a certain Princess.

<Pose Tracker> Masqued Sky Princess [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

"Well met, Cream-san," the Sky Princess smiles, bowing her head briefly. "And I imagine you might know more people than you think - but that *is* why it's a masquerade ball, is it not?"

She doesn't quite have time to introduce herself before they have company; the Sky Princess is ready to edge back from those horns, but thankfully, Horned Masque is conscientious enough to provide the extra distance on his own side. What can she do in reply to such a gallant greeting except to curtsey in return to that bow?

"You are most generous to invite me to dance," says the Sky Princess as she straightens from her curtsey, and accepts the offered hand, slipping her gloved fingers into his. "If Cream-san has no objections, then I shall gratefully accept."

If she's hesitant at all about this, she doesn't let it show in voice or motion; yes, he's a stranger, but so is *everyone* here (at least in theory). Besides, acting like she normally wouldn't *is* part of the plan - so why not go along with the invitation?

<Pose Tracker> Cream Masque [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"I might, but I've never been to one before," Cream admits to Sky Princess with a soft frown. "It's kind of unnerving, but at the same time, a bit exciting."

With the two boys that approach Cream Masque and the Sky Princess, Cream Masque finds herself watching them curiously. She then kind of stops and stares at the hand that is offered towards her by the rather tall boy. Her cheeks turn red at the offer, and she glances towards the dance floor and raises a hand up to her mouth in shock. After all, it's not every day that she's asked to dance by a boy that's taller than her. Or even asked to dance at all.

She also looks surprised when the boy with horns offers the Sky Princess a formal bow, too.

She glances back towards the Sky Princess and offers a bright smile. "I have no objections at all!: as she lowers her hand and reaches out to accept Emerald's hand. "That sounds like it would be a lot of fun, and I accept your proposal!" she offers, as she tries to offer her best curtsy with one hand.

Her own anxiety has given way to excitement at the moment, and it's easily found in both her body language and voice.

<Pose Tracker> Princess Masque [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Scrlet Masque comes with her, which is something she certainly appreciates. As she feels barely qualified to offer words. And Princess Masque tries to balance her weight on one side, as if to lean and catch Tuxedo Masque's eye... but he's already escorting Masque Serpent to the dance floor. She tries to follow his gaze, but it's as if it were only for... her.

It's more cowardice, than dignity, that she would not follow them onto the dance floor.

Something about Masque'd Serpent's comment gives her an almost cross eyed look... about his like of 'formalwear'. Even before she says that they're rather popular.

This causes Princess Masque to raise her fingers and... wave them her way, shyly... obviously a bit embarrassed.

"S-Small... wonder." Princess Masque says, the tiny girl sounding rather diminutive herself at the idea that the two are popular.

And yet, as they linger. It's like she's trying to find the courage, as her pose shifts and she raises a finger and moves her weight forward on her toes... as if she were on the cusp of doing something to try and attract his attention. And the hand just drops, the weight just shifts back without saying anything.

Then just doesn't.

It's like seeing Haruka and Michiru together. Even when she wants to speak to Haruka, she doesn't dare try to take her attention wholly away from Michiru - unless Michiru allows it on her own. There's a certain power in seeing two people together like that. As if it were a barrier she can't - or doesn't have the right to overcome.

Scarlet Masque might notice the forlorn look on her expression, as the two walk away... but she doesn't ask for help. There's no grand scheme, no plot, no girlish drama she's trying to stage.

She just thought... she'd see him. And the rest would happen naturally.

And now with him as a fashion accessory on Masque Serpent's arm, she has no idea what to do.

<Pose Tracker> Spangled Masque [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

"We," the Spangled Masque agrees with the Fox, simply: a word which can encompass three or four.

Her smile comes after that assessment of the party; it is knowing, too. "I would not gainsay an expert on such matters." It is left unspoken whether she means luxury, depravity, or both. She's been a third wheel enough times with those two... "Are you saying I should look upward to find her? I should have guessed so many would wear red."

It's that change in the repetition of 'terrible' which brings her gaze from the ceiling, where she'd cast it in quiet play, back down to follow the Fox's, and then, that inference. The extra context from that reaction doesn't hurt. "Ah, it is not so terrible," she says, both because it is a gentle jibe and because her own reaction is gentler in tone.

Then she's catching a glimpse of someone who's joined Masques Princess and Crimson. "That shade, though..." She could mean the red of the side-tie trailing around a black skirt, or the particular shine of long glossy hair beneath the lights; even Setsuna is unsure, and there is a gravity drawing her to find out. Turning to her gallant companion, she inclines her head. "By your leave..."

And she follows that gravity as it draws her to follow a slowly circling glory of black-and-crimson-and-feathers, with the crowd between allowing her only glimpses. There's a magic to a masquerade, and Setsuna feels it for the first time in her long, long life as she moves between dancers and minglers in their finery.

From behind the Crimson Feathered-Masque she finds her breath, unwinded by search so much as by sight, and says, "Your pardon..."

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.

Emerald Masque leads Cream Masque onto the dance floor, and, not far away, Horned Masque does the same with Masqued Sky Princess.

It transpires that these young men are excellent individual dancers. Their confidence and training makes up for any lack thereof in those they whirl across the floor. They are not, however, excellent ROMANTIC dancers; both girls can FEEL that gap between them and their partner, rather than being made to feel the most lovely creatures on Earth, which a more empathetic partner might be able to convey. Whether that's intentional or not is an open question.

Both are chatty, slyly trying to uncover their partner's identity. That isn't unusual tonight; there's a fair amount of that game going around.

"You have spectacular wrists," Horned Masque observes over Masqued Sky Princess', when he raises one of them to his lips to pass a no-contact kiss over it mid-turn. "Are you on Ohtori's fencing team?"

Emerald Masque, by dint of his height, tends to engulf his dance partners, and Cream is no exception. His arms, legs and mass are like a (handsome, pleasant) fortress. It could be a high castle protecting her, or a prison, depending on whether or not she likes being held so close by someone she doesn't know.

He bends down to murmur in her ear. "Who are you wearing?" he asks curiously. "It's a very unusual dress."

<Pose Tracker> Glass-and-Raven Masque [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

It is the golden masque that turns to her, without promise of kiss or a revelation of word, and it is nonetheless gold that issues her that offer. Glass and Raven lets out the faintest little gasp, as if Moved - or perhaps Shocked - at the request, before she extends her hand in reply. "A refreshment of a different sort," Glass-and-Raven replies. But from the proffered hand, bare and with glossy iridiscent polish upon the manicured nails: That means 'yes, let's'.

<Pose Tracker> Scarlet Masque [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Tuxedo Masque looks... not quite sad, but...

... Rei's been trying to keep track of him, but he's always so close to...

... oh. Oh, no.

Surely she can see it. The way her smile falters, a little, before that fan snaps back out to cover her lips. She doesn't know, of course, but she has her baseless conjecture, the essential part of any party. Is this a horror story? Maybe the Crimson-Feathered Masque wasn't wrong.

"Why thank you," she says, of the compliment, and to her credit keeps her composure in the telling. Off she twirls, with nary a peep from Princess Masque.

Nary a peep, but that look in her eyes...

Scarlet Masque has enough grand schemes for the both of them. They are, as they always were, created entirely off the cuff. The Serpent and Tuxedo Masque dance, and Scarlet and her Princess, left to the side.

"Well," Scarlet says, reaching out a hand to Princess Masque, "you heard her. A touch of the modern is desirable. Shall we dance?"

More quietly: "Follow my lead." Not just on the dance floor, apparently. "When the time comes, he'll be dancing with you."

Because Scarlet Masque's lead will take them right towards Serpent Masque and her crown jewel.

But can she intercept with such an astoundingly modern dance pairing..?

<Pose Tracker> Masqued Sky Princess [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

"Your guess flatters me," the Sky Princess replies good-naturedly, "but no, I am no fencer." She shakes her head slightly during the next twirl, appreciative of her partner's technical skill - and keenly aware that this dance seems more for Horned Masque's benefit than her own. The dance itself is pleasant enough, true, but even with a stranger, there should be at least a semblance of warmth and nearness, an openness of heart - and instead, there is only distance.

Combine that with his question about if she's on the Ohtori fencing team, and the Sky Princess is pretty sure Horned Masque is trying to winnow out her identity. Not that she can call him on it, exactly; she's been looking for clues along similar lines, after all. But it's a side interest for her, and she has no compunctions about letting someone's identity elude her. For him ...

Who knows?

But nothing says she has to make it *easier* for Horned Masque, or anyone else, to realize whose true face the 'Sky Princess' wears behind her mask. "Ohtori's fencing team does have many fans, though," she continues, smiling gently as the dance brings her closer to her partner. Let him be cold and closed and distant; maybe a show of warmth will get him to open up further. (Or maybe it won't.) "I'm among those fans myself - and well have they earned such a following."

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.

Golden Masque is no lesser dancer than his fellows, and when his offer is accepted in such an elegant manner his shoulders straighten; pleased as punch, he is. He gamely scoops up Glass-and-Raven Masque's enormous train, wearing it over one arm like a shawl, loosely enough that her legs are uninhibited and there's no danger of indecent exposure, tightly enough that she's now at the end of a gauzy fabric rope.

"If I had lips," he pants at her through his full-face mask, as they cross the floor sleekly, "I would try to kiss that curli-cue your masque makes. It's spectacular. Or maybe that's just you."

The music is getting hotter, and so is he; one of his thumbs draws back-and-forth stripes on her bare shoulder, while the hand with the train, which is behind her, has lowered several inches. And then another few. Nori can feel the warmth of imminent contact below the base of her spine.

Tuxedo Masque, on the other hand, handles his actual fiancee with much less intimacy than this fellow does a perfect stranger.

"Hm," he says, which means saying nothing at all, as to her explanation as to his mood. And he continues to hold his peace through Shizuru and Rei's exchange.

Does he see Princess Masque at all? Their eyes do not meet; there is no magical connection. There is a glimpse of an awkward, lovely maiden too embarrassed to wave properly, and not a clear sense of who she was even waving AT. Surely not him. They've never met. But the mystery tugs at him, and moreso as Scarlet Masque determinedly waltzes the two of them into his orbit.

The Earth and the Moon circle endlessly, never touching, and this is no different. He avoids any attempts at making contact in a totally disinterested, no-drama way -- just honestly kind of keeping anyone from stepping on his dance partner. For her part, Serpent Masque can tell that his palms are getting clammy. There's even a sheen of sweat at his upper lip, in lieu of a moustache.

A gentleman never complains.

Not even of the headache that wants to split his in twain.

"We do seem popular," he manages to grit out. A smile mangles his lips with its sheer effort. "Was it always like THIS, too... before?"

<Pose Tracker> Cream Masque [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

It's certainly a learning experience for Cream Masque to be with such as a skilled dancer as Emerald Masque, and she's aware of how lacking her own abilities are. Though she does let the more experienced dancer take the lead, and occasionally peeping up towards him. The looks on her face might be wondering if this is how the shorter girls feel when dancing with boys of her height.

The boy she's dancing with might be chatty, but she often trails off into a laugh or silence when there's attempts of prying.

She tilts her head to the side, and pulls her head back a little at the murmured question about what brand she is wearing. She purses her lips and tilts her head to the side. "Well, I did look at some Aohime stuff, and some Akai Mirai stuff," she admits. "I.... I can't remember who I went with. It might have been another company. I know I spent some time at the seamstress getting it all just right." She purses her lips. "It would be a shame to only wear it once and never use it again. Or only keep it for balls."

<Pose Tracker> Masque Serpent [Ohtori Academy (U)] has posed.

Formalwear, among other things.

Shizuru watches the Princess start, and try, and stop again. She is tiny, from here, that's true, and the Masque Serpent takes up so much more space by her mere presence, though the the outfit is certainly part of it. But she does not linger overlong at first.

She's a little busy, after all.

But when no magical connection happens, she is content to move on. Whatever might have happened appears not to have happened. She focuses again on Mamoru, instead.

She decides not to press. She instead is happy to be led for the moment, at least physically. For the duration of a song or two, at least. But she doesn't have to be attuned to people to notice his discomfort. ...Maybe it actually bothers her, his pain. It certainly looks that way from the expression she makes after his question.

"No," Shizuru answers him this time, more directly. "It rather wasn't. This is something new."

She doesn't so much as look at Scarlet or the Princess. "Maybe we should get away from the crowd a moment." She's allowed to show a little concern.


<Pose Tracker> Fox Masque [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

"Oh no," Fox disagrees with Spangled, as if surprised by her suggestion of looking upward. "Laterally, at best." With a sweep of long legs, Fox steps in front of Spangled, lifts both hands, and delicately tweaks her mask to straighten in.

"You definitely float," Fox says warmly. He gives Spangled a little nod, as if approving. Proud, perhaps. "Have fun, Setcchan. If you need me..." Having taken his brotherly liberty with the mask, the Fox is already on his way off, but he gives Spangled a last grin.

"Look down."

As the ears of the Fox masque bob above the mill and undertow of opulent partygoers, they leave a platter one champagne flute lighter, and a Spangled Masque unchaperoned.

His passage across the room slows a little as he watches the momentum leave Princess Masque. From behind, it ought to be difficult to read her, but this is a girl who wears her heart not just on her sleeve, but on every other part of her body as well. Her bare shoulders are expressive. The Fox looks from them, to the glamorous couple whose aura has repelled her. The situation does not dissatisfy him. The situation with Mamoru is at best one that seems ill-suited to resolution at such a venue, and the 'at worst' is vague and confusing. His body language... Fox knows not what to make of it. For Princess Masque, going home unhappy is still going home.

But Scarlet Masque is not so quick to quit the field. Cute, if inconvenient. Fox gives the other dancers a quick glance-over, identifying one particular pair that suits his needs. His eyes unsharpen as he settles into waiting. It won't be long, no doubt.

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.

Horned Masque is determined, as he puts Masqued Sky Princess through her paces, to follow-up on his suspicions. "Aren't we all," he agrees, as to Fencing Club fandom. "But you can't pretend to just be a fan. My eyes do not deceive me, and I see an athlete under that dress." Among other things, he does not say out loud, but the hazily sultry look in his eyes adds very loudly indeed. To improve his interrogative position, he dips her somewhat improperly far back at the next opportunity, though she's well-supported by his arm.

"So what is it?" he asks, into her neck as much as her ear. "Not Ohtori Kendo, surely. Ohtori Softball? Ohtori Tennis?"

Emerald Masque doesn't bother hiding the fact that he's starting to get a little bit bored. He doesn't interrupt Cream Masque as she reveals her interest in a student brand, nor how special the dress is to her, but... clearly she's said enough.

"Cool, cool cool," he murmurs, distractedly. It is very easy for him to look over her shoulder for a new dance partner, but it would have been very easy, too, for him to be a little more subtle about it. A thought crosses his mind that makes him smile a little and look down at her again properly. "Wait, does that make me your first?" A beat. "First dance partner at your first ball?" he elaborates, grin widening.

<Pose Tracker> Crimson Feathered-Masque [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The Crimson-Feathered Masque turns as a voice first touches her, and then a vision of beauty utterly distracts her from the mystery of the forlorn Princess and her Scarlet compatriot. She's all but blinded by the Spangled Masque's dazzling dress and the sight of so much evergreen is telling. Garnet eyes are met with delight, and she can't help but curl her lips into a genuine smile of delight.

It's the night of a masque ball, and Kassie is going to revel in this particular excuse to play the stranger.

"Good evening, oh lady of the dazzling brilliance. It's a wonder I didn't spy you when I first entered. You look absolutely radiant in that dress. Are you seeking to not only blind any who look on you, but to also steal the hearts of half the ballroom with your manners?" Comes the Crimson one with just enough volume to be teasingly heard by people nearby.

"What should I call you, my mysterious shining acquaintance?" This time she withholds that grin so desperately trying to leak out onto her features.

<Pose Tracker> Glass-and-Raven Masque [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The golden mask moves nearer to her, and she lets out a little noise - subtly pleased, somewhere near a gasp - when her train is drawn up, baring pale and otherwise unornamented legs, and feet resting in comfortable flats. But this is hardly an exposure of anything embarrassing, and so she laughs softly, leaning nearer, feathers and reflected gold shining as she smiles, hearing that panting and they slide across the floor.

It feels elegant and triumphant; to know that she has evoked some warmth. "Hm, hm~... Would you kiss it if I were to take off this mask and hold it to you, with my face turned away? Or..."

He moves, and he moves forwards. A thumb runs along her bare shoulder, and that feels warm - the ray of gold on a pale stretch of flesh that rarely sees the sun unguarded. However, the hand is moving nearer, and the warmth against the cool skin there is somehow --

It feels too much. Too much sun, too much warmth. Nori feels her skin tighten and her posture stiffens, a step half-missed, her head turning away as her jaw tightens. She feels a quivering anxiety in the pit of her stomach, on the edge of discomfort, layers of interleaved emotion too flickering to be named concisely making the blade ever sharper. "-- a little - hasty, aren't you?" she says, though there is little joy or bravada in the terms.

And he's got the train of my dress, Nori thinks, which makes the skin-crawling feeling amplify all the faster.

<Pose Tracker> Princess Masque [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Princess Masque is still looking forward when Scarlet Masque reaches out a hand. First she looks at it. Then back forward.

Then abruptly back at the hand. "Eh?" With this look of incomprehension and confusion whiplashing off of her prior sadness.

"... dance?" She still looks utterly confused, "... you... me?" though it's like a lightbulb goes on when she says that he'll be dancing with you.

"Ohhh!" And her eyes light up again. Because now it really does feel like one of those foreign movies. Though apparently she does have some sense of caution as she leans in and whispers.

"Are you sure Rei-chan? There could be one of those girls who calls you Rei-sama watching..."

As she proves that while she's rather innocent to Ohtori politics, she can at least pay attention to concerns in Rei's orbit.

She's only half certain that one of them wouldn't take it upon themselves to knife her with a stiletto heel.

Nevertheless, Princess Masque does go along with it, because plan 'vaguely come near him and let destiny do the rest' was an utter failure... and she has not the initiative to do anything else. Taking Scarlet's hand, she follows her out on the dance floor, only half paying attention, which may cause a certain hazard for Rei's feet. With each turn, and twirl... her eyes pass over the Tuxedo Masque'd figure as if they have their own gravitational pull within this orbit. The dance is fun, yet she has such trouble concentrating right now over the tempest of her own feelings. Still... it is not long before she softly forward asks Scarlet Masque.

"Uh." She clears her throat, before gently asking her, "Ah. So what's the plan... are you going to ask them to... switch partners?"

She doesn't notice yet, how the pair of dancers might be planning to quit the field... nor the wily fox's gaze. The fox is too canny a predator to be noticed by a bunny when the bunny is distracted... even if that bunny is a Princess tonight.

<Pose Tracker> Cream Masque [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Cream Masque might not be the best in social situations. She might even freeze up occasionally when there's too many people are around, or she's overwhelmed, but she can still read body language and picks up on Emerald Masque starting to get bored dancing with her.

Though, she doesn't blame him at all. She might be the same swimming competitively alongside people who only know the basics of swimming and usually do it only when they're made to.

She glances away when she realises that Emerald is looking for another partner, though still smiling to herself at the dance. At his question, she looks back up towards him and looks surprised at the comment of being her first.

There's almost a look of disgust until he adds on about being her first dance partner at her first ball. "Y-yes. You are my first dance partner at my first ball. So, uh, thank you for the first time." She then dips her head down for a moment. "It was a lot of fun, and I'm sorry if I was a disappointment. You're really good, and you should find a partner that's at your level!"

<Pose Tracker> Masqued Sky Princess [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Behind the Sky Princess's gauzy mask, one eyebrow is briefly raised at her partner's words - although that dip into the edges of impropriety gives her a different reason to be surprised. Horned Masque had best make the most of this dance with her, because he's going to need to find a new partner shortly - and not just because he's being so pushy.

Still ... he's convinced that she's an Ohtori student. Which probably, even likely, means that *he's* an Ohtori student - even if she can't narrow it down much further than that.

"Neither kendo nor tennis, I'm afraid," she replies, her voice 'quiet' rather than 'soft,' her legs ready for when he draws her back to her feet ... and one arm ready in case she needs to break her own fall, as stunningly improper as THAT would be. "Say merely that I know the value of a sound body, to house a sound mind. And if you are so determined to know my sport - what little do you know of archery?"

Clearly he's not going to give up until he gets *that* much out of her, and between his ... extremely *technical* dancing, combined with his laser focus, the 'game' is beginning to tire her enough that the Sky Princess shall permit him that answer.

<Pose Tracker> Scarlet Masque [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"They don't know who I am," Scarlet Masque replies to her dance partner's concerns, "so don't worry about it." This may not be ENTIRELY correct, given the way Princess Masque was calling Rei-chan, Rei-chan, but a girl can hope.

And they whirl. They are one part in a grand, working continuity of gears; the dance floor is possessed of so many dancers, locked in joyous or dangerous step. Rei is an apt enough dancer; she might step on the edge of Usagi's feet, now and then, but she corrects quickly enough.

"That's the plan," she says, and speaks with more freedom now everyone is distracted in their own plays. "He can't keep avoiding everyone - he can't keep avoiding you! I'm not about to let him slip away from you again when he's right there!" He doesn't even seem to be enjoying himself, from the glances she can catch of him, between the glorious plumage of a dozen dancers.

Does he feel bad?

He should feel bad, she adds, to herself, with a fiery frown that innocent masque can't quite cover.

Unfortunately, Scarlet Masque and Princess Masque are a striking pair, on the dance floor. It's hard for her to wend them through unnoticed, given that. And Serpent Masque only seems to be taking her prize further and further away, to Scarlet's pique.

Scarlet Masque twirls her partner, and scowls to herself, with an audible: "Think, think..." If only there weren't so many dancers out today, she thinks, and thanks to her lack of concentration --

-- may well send Princess Masque spinning right into the intimate arc of Golden Masque and Glass-and-Raven.

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Girls Like You - VSQ - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ab2NulEEaLE

The best-laid plans are no match for Shizuru's read on Mamoru, which has them leaving the dance floor sooner rather than later. The concern on her face was not so easy for him to read in turn, but that expression on a lady on the dance floor is the simplest of symbols.

They're over by the terrace doors in a twinkling, which is the least crowded part of the room and also that with the freshest air by far.

Tuxedo Masque might be down but he isn't out; eager to match favor to favor, he offers, immediately, to get his lady a drink. "I think I saw some actual champagne amongst the ciders," he suggests, still wincing a little but unwilling to bend that stiff upper lip any more than his retreat already has. "We could toast to the success of the Fujino Group."


It's almost as though Golden Masque feels Glass-and-Raven Masque's maidenly heart all aflutter; she, in turn, feels his interest intensify, from its current generalized broadside to a much more targeted and dangerous thing, as his heat increases a dozenfold on the spot.

He adjusts his grip on her train, bringing it close enough that now it's a bustle in truth.

"Hasty," he repeats, with a foreigner's consideration; he has to place the word. "Ah. Fast. Well, I do have a certain reputation to uphold. But if you're uncomfortable..."

He takes a step towards the crowd. It is a step they both must take, connected as they are. "We could find a more private place, and you can set all the pace you want, baby."

Nearby, Emerald Masque doesn't have to be told twice, letting Cream Masque go as soon as the song ends. He's obviously amused by her near-disgust, the twinkle in his eyes a naughty one. But he doesn't much care for everything she's said. "You Japanese apologize too much," he says, a little too honest perhaps, and not too concerned for her opinion. "Uh, congrats on your first dance."

Spotting the unnecessarily girl-on-girl waltzing going on with Scarlet and Princess Masques over the heads of the crowd in between them, he heads that direction, and is joined by Horned Masque, who almost dropped Sky Princess Masque mid-dip when he heard that she does ARCHERY.

"Oh god," he said, "That thing you people call archery here? Pass."

At least he got her back on her feet before he totally bailed, without even thanking her for the dance. Cream and Sky Princess Masques are left much as they began, in one another's company.

The two boys, meanwhile, close in at just the right time to prevent a collision. (They exchanged a look when they saw their bro doing so well with his babe, and decided to prevent any unseemly interruption.) Princess Masque is spun into an intimate arc indeed, but it's one with Emerald Masque at its end. He catches her effortlessly in his giant's arms. Together they are perhaps the very tallest and the very shortest on the floor and when Usagi feels like her feet aren't touching the ground it's LITERAL at first, until he adjusts when they're half a dance floor away.

"Well, look at you," he rumbles with open affection. "You're the cutest one here. I didn't know high school girls came pint-sized..." For what it's worth, he seems to mean it as a compliment; his expression is genuinely charmed.

Scarlet Masque won't have an easy time of pursuit, if she even wants to. Horned Masque is squarely in her way, looking over her attire, which aligns beautifully with his, with approving eyes. "I'd say we're well-matched, wouldn't you?" He can't bow over her hand to kiss it without poking her eye out, but he obviously wants to. Something about this one pings his 'actual high society' sensor and he cleans up his manners accordingly. "Would you do me the honor of the next dance?"

<Pose Tracker> Spangled Masque [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

That masquerade magic fair swirls about her -- about them -- as the other girl turns, and their gazes touch through the playful mystery of their masks. Her own eyes sparkle like the gemstones their depths have ever alluded to, like they've caught the attention of some bright flame.

"I am not much of a thief. In fact, I believe you might be in possession of something of mine. I lost it the moment you turned around," her silvered arm glitters as she places a hand over her own heart. "And smiled that smile. The greatest mystery of this grand tribute to mystery is how the arm of someone so charming is not occupied. If I have so affected your vision, may I make amends by offering you mine?"

And her hand drops so she might better offer an elegant elbow-loop for the taking.

A moment of thought ends with a smile of her own, right after. "You may call me Lady Garnet," she suggests. "When I better catch my breath, what shall I call you?" That last bit is part playful affectation -- she's clearly capable of speech -- and partly not, by the happy rapidity of her pulse.

<Pose Tracker> Masqued Sky Princess [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

So ... *not* an actual Ohtori student, if he refers to archery in those terms. And not even the masque she wears can hide the Sky Princess's nettled reaction. Neglecting to thank her for the dance ... actually sits *just fine* with her; she's not inclined to thank *him* for it, either.

But she smiles at his retreating back anyway, particularly as she spots him zeroing in on another young woman. "May you find a greater appreciation for Japanese archery before you return to your homeland," she bids Horned Masque a none-too-fond parting, then turns her gaze to Cream Masque, realizing the cat-masqued girl is that close at hand.

"I suppose we should be prepared for a few people attempting to pass themselves off as gentlemen," the Sky Princess says - her tone still acerbic, mostly at odds with the chill smile she wears below her own masque. "Perhaps a drink while we steel ourselves, and search for better company?"

<Pose Tracker> Masque Serpent [Ohtori Academy (U)] has posed.

Yes. Clearly, Scarlet Masque's identity is a complete secret. Clearly.

But back with her partner, Shizuru doesn't project strong emotion much. She isn't, here--but her intention is simple, and seems to get across. Shortly they are far from that place and admittedly...

It is preferable; she relaxes very slightly. "That," Shizuru answers, "Would be excellent."

She's not going to turn down a drink at a party like this, and perhaps the air and the champagne will actually do him good. The moment alone to compose herself she won't mind, either.

"Out here in the relative quiet," she finishes.

<Pose Tracker> Cream Masque [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"I'm sorry you feel that way for my apologising. But I'd prefer to be polite than rude," Cream Masque retort with a cheerfully bright smile as the two split up. In a way she even looks relieved that he's moved on for another partner.

Finding herself back near Sky Princess again, she offers a laugh. "A drink is tempting, but he was a bit... Ugh," she admits to the other girl. "If this is what balls are like, I think I'll just go hang out with my cousin for the next one. Or fishing." A laugh, and a shrug of her shoulders.

She purses her lips and looks thoughtful. "If it's still early, the tide should be coming in..." she muses to herself. "Well, actually, I think I'll join you for a drink, then I'm getting out of here." With that said, she joins the other girl to get a drink, and ends up getting distracted by finding company, and not sneaking out to go fishing.

<Pose Tracker> Glass-and-Raven Masque [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

As she is drawn up closer, Glass-and-Raven Masque (she of many names, all of which are freezing up inside of her heart) trembles. There is a momentary pause as the gold-faced figure reaches for the word and in that instant she is still close. She is in the heat, and she is feeling it burn. Her lips purse together and she lets out a small breath, even as she is guided. One step, nearer to the crowd.

The crowd is a place of terror for her usually, but perhaps everything is truly upside down. Misrule applies across the board, even when you don't want it to.

Faltering, the glass and raven mask turns. (In the wrong direction, perhaps - the other direction would have brought glass and feathers into the face of her regrettable dance associate - but then, again, he has a mask of his own.) Nori says quietly, and breathlessly, lacking the mystery and grace of her usual words, "Let - go of my dress -"

<Pose Tracker> Scarlet Masque [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.


"Er --" Scarlet starts, as she accidentally sends Princess Masque into another fellow entirely. "Hey, I --"

Her protest is defeated soundly by an absolute dreamboat who is, perhaps, soured slightly by the call which comes after him, about not appreciating archery. Scarlet's first thought, of course, is for her dance partner; her second, looking up to the Horned Masque in her way, is much more expected for the venue.

That lace at her cheeks at least makes it less obvious when she's actually blushing, as much as it makes it look a little like she always is.

"I see no way I could refuse such a gentleman," she says, her own voice gearing back to Ohtori style in a sudden shift, as if it never stopped. She can't see it because she can't actually see past him, but... Princess Masque will be okay for a dance, right?

Anyway, it might be nice not to have to lead for a while, and she can't see Tuxedo Masque nearby anyway, so she has to recalculate...

Heart all a-hammer, perhaps not entirely for the reasons he'd prefer, she reaches out - hand to his shoulder in the ballroom style.

"That voice..." she ventures, "... are you a visitor, by chance?" How terribly forward. But, then, she was dancing with another girl. She must be brave.

<Pose Tracker> Princess Masque [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Rei telling her not to worry does make her worry less. Though her worry is already at a eleven out of ten, so dialing it back to about a nine point eight to know that Rei has a handle on it. "Okay. I trust you."

So instead, she tries to concentrate on not stepping on Rei's toes, as if the health of Rei's feet was an intricate part to whatever Rei is planning. As the two circle round and round. And then her brow furrows, as if she notices too that maybe he's not feeling well...

... the two twirl and then Rei launches her into her plan, spinning right at...

... well the wrong couple.

And with a gasp... she's caught. Her eyes look up, as if those blues of her were expecting to see... Tuxedo Masque. He's tall enough to be, enough that even as her chin tilts she wonders...

... whether it's Tuxedo Masque... or 'Masque'd Tuxedo. And then her bright blue eyes look upon the Emerald Masque. "Ah-ah... I'm... sorry-!" She flusters, "We just got... carried away." As if it were just some dance floor accident that sent her into his arms. Which... well it was. Even if it had premeditation behind the accident.

And yet, it's like she's floating, and the Princess Masque's lashes flutter as she realizes she's farther and farther away from her target. "Um wait... I'm getting carried away?" She states as she finally realizes that she's moving, and not necessarily by her own sense of locomotion.

"A-Ah!" His statement of her being the cutest one causes her to fluster further into this speechless stammering, until he says the pint sized words. She looks momentarily shocked, like she's going to reflexively respond to that like it were some kind of insult.

And then it's like the dissonance between that and the sadness she was feeling brings her back in the moment, as her lips tug at the corners before she giggles lightly.

It's not because it's particularly clever or anything to say that, it's just that... it brought back fond memories. Of a Christmas. And being the adorable same height sister of... someone.

"Pint sized isn't bad... but I prefer to think of myself as... strawberry shortcake." That's not the whole context of where that came from, but she has this fond look as she remembers it. Still though, she gives another glance towards that spot that Tuxedo Masque was as she's carried by the strong arms of the Emerald Masque... and he's no longer there, nor is his date... and she has no idea where they went. She has intent to pursue... but there is a more pressing matter first.

"Ah, anyhow... we're dancing?"

Princess Masque actually looks down to check her feet... as she is genuinely not certain that dancing is what's going on.

<Pose Tracker> Fox Masque [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

And there it is. It wasn't long, indeed. If anything, Haruka had not realized just how far and how obviously Golden Masque would cross Raven-and-Glass's tolerance.

With a long stride, Fox winds his way through other dancers as though they were not there, his champagne flute rocking gently to keep the liquid level with regard to the glass even when it is not level with regard to the floor. He has a simple plan:

1) Let Golden Mask jounce his elbow as he passes, but avoid spilling the drink

2) Establish camaraderie by gaily forgiving

3) Recognize his sister Glass-and-Raven, take the hand she probably has free from Golden turning to look

4) Separate the other hand by handing Glass-and-Raven the champagne

5) Possession is nine-tenths of the dance, now Golden has to fight Fox if he wants to do anything about it, instead of Fox fighting Golden

6) With Glass-and-Raven as a dance partner, go intercept Scarlet and force her to swap with Haruka or Nori instead of Mamoru--either will do, and it will seem natural

Yes, Fox is six steps ahead already. It's too clever to fail...

Unless maybe some Inners literally fall into it.

Suddenly, Fox has three problems instead of one, as various Masques spread out. Truth be told, Fox almost turns on his heel and triages Princess Masque to the front of the line; in his head Raven-and-Glass had been a means to an end. But whether he admits it or no, Fox chose Raven-and-Glass's distress over any number of available dance partners for a reason. And as Golden doubles down, turning up the heat on an already sweating girl, taking her distress as a vulnerability to sink his teeth into, Fox does not divert from his path.

But he does divert from his plan, retaining only step 4, and that largely for the sake of panache. He is Fox, after all, not Wolf.

"Hold this, please," Fox tells Raven-and-Glass, polite, but definitely not asking. The moment he appears, he's already attempting to feed the champagne flute into Raven-and-Glass's far hand. For her to take it, though, Golden will need to at least briefly remove his hand from her shoulder, which is the goal.

As for the near hand, Fox just reaches down and grabs Golden's smallest two fingers, pulling back on them the way you'd lever at a can opener to pop a stuck lid. Making a motion like a bicep curl, Fox drags those fingers to the level of Golden's ear. Fox's free hand appears to hang sedately at his side, but the sharp blue eyes in his masque holes belie that impression. Fox is keeping a dance partner free if Golden's other arm is as brave as it is frisky.

"Hard of hearing?" Fox sympathizes with Golden. "That's tough, buddy." Fox's grip feels more like Alligator's, though his voice sounds superficially understanding.

"Or... are you not?"

<Pose Tracker> Crimson Feathered-Masque [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

"Oh, my mistake then! I suppose that I have no choice then but to return it to you. Again and again, whenever our eyes meet. Not that you could ever truly lose it!" Counters the falcon-feathered crimson masque, witholding the laugh she so wants to give. Ahem! Show poise, not-Kassie, this is an Ohtori ball after all!

There is, however, an offer that the mysterious feathered lady can't refuse, and so the bestarred one gains one elbow across her own, and the two are right where they belong. "I am charmed Lady Garnet. Call me...Lady Falcon! My desire for beauty flies as high as the sky. But the stars shining upon me give me the ambition to reach out and touch them!" Declares Kassie to Setsu. She just looks so comfortable, so whole, so right.

Her eyes turn briefly, reluctantly away from Lady Garnet to the dancing floor. "I sense chaos. Just how many hearts are going to be broken tonight, egos bruised, and reputations made or tarnished? Ahhhh, I love parties." Murmurs Kassie curiously, before peering back to the masqued senshi.

"Though the mystery of what lay beneath that masque of yours is even more interesting. You wear mystery like your own skin. Are you an actor? Have I seen you on the multicolored screen?" Comes Kassie, as she leans into her own affected ignorance!

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.

Tuxedo Masque, with the best of intentions, strides off planning to absent himself from Shizuru's side only briefly. He skirts the crowded dance floor; looking at those swirling skirts and straight-legged trousers worsens his headache, so he tries to avoid it. Eventually he makes it to the drinks table, which is jammed. There's a long wait for things to clear out long enough for him to try to find the actual alcohol amongst the bottles.

While that's happening, Horned Masque and Scarlet Masque begin their dance in earnest. He happily accepts her proper ballroom style, and once again begins an experience that is as much competition as collaboration, as he seeks to gauge her identity through, among other things, the medium of dance.

Words too, of course.

"And here I was so proud of boning up on my Japanese," he laughs. "I'm afraid so. A visitor from a faraway land, over the horizon. You, on the other hand, seem local in the very best possible way. What's the term for a traditional beauty like you, a... nadeshiko?" He pronounces it awkwardly and almost certainly without full understanding of its connotations. "Someone emblematic of their country," he 'explains.' "Delicate, pale, with that amazing dark hair..."

A few couples to their left, Golden Masque smiles beneath his masque at Glass-and-Raven Masque's breathlessness. "Now now, if I drop it the crowd will walk all over it," he opines. "Let's get you to a safe distance first..."

Fox Masque makes his move. It all goes pretty much to plan; he approaches, thrusting the glass into their space. Golden Masque releases Glass-and-Raven's slender shoulder so she can take it, raising an eyebrow at the intrusion. "What do you--!"

That sentence is interrupted by a hastily swallowed yelp, as his other arm is claimed by Fox entirely. His expression is, of course, invisible, but the sound of pain was unmistakable and so is the RESULT: he drops the train, which floats innocently downwards around Nori's ankles.

"It looks like the matter has been dropped," he says coldly, pretty level through the pain; Fox has made an enemy tonight, and a tough one at that. "If you'll excuse me?" Smart enough to not try to force his fingers free, he awaits their release in stony silence.

Toward the right side of the room, Emerald Masque clicks his tongue impatiently at Princess Masque's apology, but her further commentary makes him laugh, a deep, booming sound.

"Strawberry shortcake," he repeats. "I like it. I could eat you right up."

They are, indeed, dancing. His knees are slightly bent to facilitate this, and she's pretty much on tip-toe, but it's dancing. Dancing... directionally; a few moves at a time they are steadily crossing the floor away from Horned and Golden, with no obvious destination in mind.

"Is that your favorite thing to eat?" he asks her, and it's an innocent enough question, but something about his eyes... they're too hot, like a kettle left on the stove for too long becomes too hot.

Emerging from the drinks table with a champagne glass in either hand, Tuxedo Masque stares at nothing in particular. The many dancers transfix him like a Magic Eye. His head twinges again, but not hard enough to break him out of it. Instead, striding carefully backwards, he winds up with his back against a closed window. Sighing, he lets the back of his head rest against the cool glass as well.

"What's wrong with me?" he murmurs, not sure if it was inside or out.

<Pose Tracker> Masqued Sky Princess [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

As the Sky Princess nurses a flute of ginger ale, Tuxedo Masque draws her attention - partly for the hint of out-of-place familiarity he bears, partly for the discomfort that he's trying to manage. Part of her wants to see if he needs a sympathetic stranger to talk to ... but if he wanted to talk, he wouldn't be separating himself from the rest of the attendees, would he?

And there's a more immediate set of concerns. The Masqued Sky Princess finishes her drink, setting the empty flute with other used vessels, then begins picking her away towards Glass-and-Raven Masque. Yes, she's been rescued already, thanks to Fox - but it may take a little more than just getting Golden Masque to unhand her. Then again, it may all be settled before the Sky Princess gets there ...

<Pose Tracker> Princess Masque [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Princess Masque is still smiling a bit until Emerald says he could eat her right up. And then she goes a bit cross-eyed. She's not used to dealing with this kind of flirting that has these lustful implications. And so she cringes within his grasp and titters nervously as she starts stumbling over her words, "A-Ah.. ... aha... but you know... the food is probably so fancy tonight. Do you really want to spoil your appetite by going straight for dessert?"

There's a certain hypocrisy in Usagi Tsukino saying such a thing, yet her sneaking a snack from the kitchen could never be equated to this kind of snacking.

So indeed, they're dancing. And Usagi Tsukino usually wouldn't mind dancing with a big, handsome stranger - save for the fact that she wasn't exactly asked. She was rescued into it. So she feels a certain obligation to keep going. Despite how badly she wants to see if she can catch another glimpse of Tuxedo Masque who she doesn't realize is still in the room.

One would think that his large feet would be in danger from her much tinier ones, save that she's drawn up so high by his arms that en pointe shoes would likely be better dancing shoes right now. And so the small volume of her toes never actually stabs down onto his much larger ones, despite her clumsiness. The way he's moving her around is like he's always one step ahead of that disaster.

"Um." A look at his eyes. The way he's looking at her... and she glances sidelong, kind of shyly. She's... really not used to someone staring at her that way. Like indeed, she might be eaten up.

Haruka once called herself a hound, but despite that insistence this is the first time anyone has ever made her actually feel like a piece of meat. "I mean... k-kinda. Though when I'm given a choice between tasty treats... my preference is usually... 'all of the above'?"

She says it like it's an amusing, stream of consciousness anecdote. Immediately after though she regrets those words, because she gets the feeling that perhaps... she's not the only person in the room with such a taste.

"Um.. s-so! Are we... headed to the buffet?" She prompts, realizing they're moving farther and farther away...

... she doesn't actually know if there's a buffet.

<Pose Tracker> Scarlet Masque [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Scarlet Masque is a good enough dancer; better, perhaps, following than leading. (That's how she would have learned, after all.) She has strong arms which are not all the way matched by her legs, as if all her athleticism is honed to one particular point; she has purple eyes a domino can't quite hide, which pierce right through to the holes in his own mask.

The wings of her mask hide much of the way her brow raises, at his helpful explanation of something she knows much better. The first response is the suspicious lack of a response, one-two-three count to ten. "Is that so?" She asks after that, smiling. "Well, clearly you've done your research."

She whirls, and does not speak in the turning. (This is, in fact, to stop her tripping over anyone.) "I am very traditional," she says, still smiling. "It is wonderfully pleasant to sip tea, or to honour the gods. Or, as a learned boy like you would know..."

A moment to mind her footwork, and make sure they're both on the ground.

"... practicing my art with the bow, as was typical of the noble court from the Edo period." Her smile is as pleasant as it was a moment prior; she is not so inexperienced at the game as to play her hand with a more demanding expression. "So nice of you to notice how delicate I am."

<Pose Tracker> Fox Masque [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

Fox makes lots of enemies. Most of Fox's friends are enemies too.

"No reason we can't skirt the issue, then," Fox agrees, and if Golden feels like his wordplay is being mocked more than it is being reciprocated, he is not wrong. But Fox's voice is light. Not carefree, but careless. Wit's hubris can be as dangerous as strength's pride, but in the moment, they dazzle.

And Raven-and-Glass is so near to the light.

Just a beat. Fox does not bother with the provocation of holding on long enough to say, 'I'm releasing you because I want to.' He does not make a point of a short hesitation to intimidate, or to humiliate. The pause before he lets go is just long enough to show comprehension of this physical discussion they are having. To acknowledge Golden's choice. To let him know he is understood.

Fox splays his fingers wide, like a magician revealing a disappeared handkerchief. The little smile beneath his mask is game. This is the sort of world Fox lives in. Events like this don't ruin a party.

"I will," Fox concedes knowingly. It's a very cordial interaction.

It isn't until Golden is gone--and in a party, that takes just a few meters--that Fox's mouth loses its whimsy. "You're all right?" he asks Raven-and-Glass.

"Strawberry shortcake," Emerald Masque repeats. "I like it. I could eat you right up."

Fox is suddenly grimacing. To be annoyed is a small bit of madness, is it not? Just a light fraying, transient.

That's... Fox's pet name for Princess.

Son of a...! Fox tries not to grind his teeth in front of the possibly-upset Raven-and-Glass.

And they're headed off the other way. Dancing together. Touching. Fox can't just chase after them and punch Emerald in the head or anything, he hasn't DONE anything and well, hypothetically Princess is allowed to dance with boys. But he has a bad feeling about this one. If nothing else, he wingmanned for Golden.

Scarlet is lingering closer, at least Fox can keep eyes on her. But not if he goes after Emerald. Scarlet looks perhaps better able to handle herself, but it's not about formidability, is it?

So, the next move is...

Fox is briefly distracted, glancing at Raven-and-Glass. "I know you, don't I?" he realizes.

<Pose Tracker> Glass-and-Raven Masque [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The world seems to be shrinking into something that feels confining, uncomfortable, too hot, too damp, too congested. Mystery and cool air are gone. All that is left is this sense that she is sweating and he is sweating and it's like a train car that's always shrinking and -

hold this, please -

at least she has a glass to take with her.

The glass-and-raven masque freezes up for a moment, not in the sense of her previous agitation and discomfort, but in the sense of complete, crystal-clear confusion. Like a great lake of perfect transparency showing every single detail of the bottom, the masqued girl looks at the glass in her hand. It is gold, and so was he, and then the fox is moving and -

Nori Ankou just throws back the entire glass, swallowing it in a single firm and emphatic gulp while her eyes turn, like a whale's or a dubious dog's, towards the Golden Masque. Her train is released, and she is left for a moment on the same sort of edge she was before, but at least now she sees a place, a space, a room to escape.

"Good evening to you, then," she says tonelessly to the Golden Masque.

The night spreads its wings again, if still shaky, and as her shoulders slump, the glass-and-raven masque says to the fox in a soft and subtly weak way, "Thank you..."

She breathes deep, breathes out, breathes deep again. Her face stays tilted down, her eyes in shadow as she remains near the Fox. She feels, in the moment, clammy and revealed, like a molted crab perhaps. She wants to hide in the lee of this rough fox until she can regain herself, find herself steady again. Or at least until she feels once more cool and sleek, but -

Raven-and-glass twirls the glass in her fingers, not looking up. The chaos inside of her head reaches a momentary lull, like a crowd spontaneously becoming silent, the passing of an angel.

"Perhaps you do," she says, her voice lower, steadier. "I owe you, for that, quite a bit."

Now she lifts her head. "... may I help you, now? A fox will do well, in the cover of night."

<Pose Tracker> Masque Serpent [Ohtori Academy (U)] has posed.

Serpent Masque gets that alone time. She takes the time to do little more than the barest essential of keeping on her face at the moment; her expression is mild, as she waits for Tuxedo Masque, but there is little in it. Little needs to be in it, anyway. She will wait for the drinks, and wonders, briefly, if she should have asked him to stay, instead.

It's too late to change her mind on that regardless.

Shizuru looks at the flowers for a little while, and thinks of someone who isn't here, while she waits.

<Pose Tracker> Spangled Masque [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

The dark-gowned young woman still smiles, and now that they are close and thus linked, the extra centimeters afforded by stiletto heels accentuate their existing small height difference. She is smiling down to Kassie, from beneath lowered lids thanks to the angle. The newness of the angle only complements their fanciful disacquaintance, to her mind.

"You know, some of those shining lights in the night sky are planets that only look like stars. It is because they are so very distant." She tilts her head thoughtfully, and behind the garnet domino the gesture is very Setsuna. "If anyone can reach that high and that far, it must be you." The most distant planet would know.

She watches Kasagami watch the crowd, and that warm regard waits when the other girl turns back. "Lucky planets. Lucky stars. Mm, perhaps I am a falconer with you on my arm, little falcon." They're both very tall girls, but that won't keep Setsuna from the tease, considering her heels.

Then her garnet eyes catch some movement in the crowd and, for the span of a moment, show their hard facets more clearly than their sparkle. She relaxes immediately, though, as can be felt through their contact. "You are not the only one here who loves a party, I think," she says, having caught a glimpse of Fox Masque in conflict, quickly resolved.

"And you, with your ambition and that majestic black hair... you must be someone very important."

Setsuna Meioh is a woman of impressive forbearance, and thus does not wink.

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Royals - VSQ - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2Bi9AwwtNA

Across the room, Tuxedo Masque continues his deep contemplation of the middle distance. A vast, troubled furrow has ploughed his brow near-fatally.

...why does it bother me so much...?

Green and pink, the colors of spring, are falling away, then further away. The further they get, the better he feels. The further they get, the more distraught he is. It's impossible for him to lose sight of them completely. They cut through the visual noise of the crowd like a shorn rose cleanly through the ai--

--like a hot knife through butter--

...why do I want to DO something...?

In the periphery of his vision, he sees something familiarly purple, and turns towards it, towards Shizuru; now the glass kisses his cheek instead of his pate. Its coolness is the only thing that feels real.


Horned Masque pulls a wry face at Scarlet Masque's rightful rebuke. "A very formidable woman," he amends, as he's taken to task for how he treated the other archer. "Wow, I'm two for two with archers... do all Japanese girls practice the sport? You might have misunderstood me if you were eavesdropping before... I have plenty of respect for Olympic archery. But the way the bow is held here... it's just so awkward..."

He shakes his head, briefly holding Scarlet Masque at a straightarmed distance with both arms, as though he were gripping a bow at her shoulder and waist. "Perhaps," it occurs to him, stepping into the space he created to continue the dance, "You could find the time to educate me on the proper method...?"


Princess Masque is so shy, so nervous. Emerald Masque becomes friendlier, and friendlier, and... friendlier.

"All of the above," he repeats again. Her words sound funny in his mouth. Powerful, in a different way. And he's smiling so widely.

In the end there's only one POSSIBLE destination, if you travel long enough in a straight line, one endless foxtrot instead of a circular waltz: the right-side wall of the ballroom. Windows interspersed with flower arrangements, basically. There are no drinks on this side, and no food; certainly no buffet.

Emerald Masque is backing Princess Masque steadily towards it. What, exactly, will happen once they reach it -- once her spine feels its pressure, once his arms, already emphatically wider than she is at her navel, descend to either side like crossing guards -- is unknown, but the railroad alarm is starting to blare anyway. The train is coming. It will be here soon.

...and then...it never arrives.

"May I cut in?"

It's Mamoru.

Mamoru's voice...

...and a glowing white arm, which descends into their midst, separating the 'dancers', then curls to sweep her away. It happens so quickly and gracefully -- so naturally injected into the dance, a curve where a line was being drawn -- that Emerald Masque is left partnerless, left speechless, left behind.

The world falls away. No electronics are permitted but it's like the Moonlight Knight bribed someone to shine a personal spotlight down on them from the ceiling. His Mideast getup is extraordinarily out of place, EXTRA extra, in an actual COSTUME costume rather than something ballroom-appropriate.

It does not seem to matter, in a world that only has the two of them in it. THIS, at last, is the partnership that the other dancers abhored; she is at once afloat in his arms and firmly on solid ground, in total control, held as lightly as a paper doll; she could tear away at any moment, if she wishes.

But the sapphire eyes that gaze at her from over the cowl wish that she would not. They wish that very much.

"Princess," he whispers. Intensity makes it feel like a shout. "Are you all right?"


Tuxedo Masque, in clear view of anyone who cares to look at him, shakes his head slightly. He notices, in the nick of time, the way his grip on the glasses has loosened to the point of precarity. Half-scooping the liquid out of the air and back into the stemware midfall, he reclaims his hold on them -- on reality -- and remembers what's important.

Shizuru. He's left her alone for too long...

...and, with only slightly unsteady strides, closes the distance between them.

"Penny for your thoughts?" he asks her, on arrival. "Only I don't have a penny. Drink for your thoughts?"

He offers the champagne.

<Pose Tracker> Masqued Sky Princess [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Perhaps she didn't need to worry; Glass-and-Raven still has Fox's company after Golden Masque's withdrawal. She's also close enough to hear Scarlet Masque dressing Horned Masque down - and most effectively, from the sound of things. He's taking it better than Sky Princess expected he might - but still, points in Scarlet's column.

For now, though, Glass-and-Raven (and secondarily Fox) remain her concern. "Is everything all right ... ?" she asks quietly, from a polite couple of paces away. She's not going to impose her presence further than necessary, if she's unwelcome at this moment - but she *does* want to make sure before moving off again.

<Pose Tracker> Scarlet Masque [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"Is it?" Scarlet Masque asks, smiling. At a distance, but he's not stepping away, and another of her master plans is going awry. The way that other girl called after him, she was sure he'd abandoned her, but maybe she assumed wrong..? Surely this is the point where he's meant to drop her and go find another partner.

(So Rei can find Usagi, who she has not forgotten, never for a moment forgot.)

Instead he steps in, and Scarlet Masque hums thoughtfully through her smiling lips, perhaps pressed together a shade too forcefully. "Perhaps I could," she answers, grace at least in her wit, "if not for the nature of the ball... it would ruin the mystery were you to see below my mask, don't you think?"

Maybe not just the mystery. Part of why Rei can be so brave here is the obsfucation, after all.

"But I am sure you will experience many new and wonderful things in Japan," she assures him, a glance across the dancefloor. There's a twitch at those purple eyes, seeing Princess Masque being whisked away. Back to Horned Masque, smiling as she tries to figure out how to segue. Even if she unceremoneously dropped him, she'd have to deal with more boys on the dancefloor whose waltzes were ending. How could she let herself get distracted and lose Princess Masque like that?! Maybe if they were competing, it would be different, but she's not trying to prove she's the cutest right now..!

Tuxedo Masque is right there, with the Serpent, off to the side with the champagne. Scarlet glances to them, a knot in her stomach. If she'd just gotten Usagi over there... it wouldn't have even been hard to convince her, it's fancy...

"You are a wonderful dancer," the outside-world Scarlet Masque says, and her brain would have come up with something else to say, if not for what she sees when next she glances to find


Here's the upshot: Princess Masque is not in dire trouble, any more. The Moonlight Knight shines almost as much as she does, as they glide across the dancefloor.

Except - and Horned Masque has a wonderful view of the way - her head whips back to Serpent and her accessory, and then back to those two new dancers. The way her eyes get very very wide, the way her mouth finally finds an honest syllable of "oh," like she's just been shot in the belly by one of those elegant arrows.

He's in her space, so he's the one who gets to see it first, the way she stumbles right into him as if the motion has made her dizzy.

"I don't..." she starts and trails off, a vulnerability to the words, as she forgets for a moment what world she is in. In this moment she is in another world entirely, a liminal space.

The Moonlight Knight is Tuxedo Masque... but, Tuxedo Masque is... then... who's with Usagi..?

<Pose Tracker> Princess Masque [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

The Princess does not know anyone has a desire to do anything, but Emerald Masque cannot discern the internal conflict of Tuxedo Masque who she believes has never cast a single look her way this night. As the Emerald Masqued figure says that, the Princess feels positively green herself. "Aha... ha..."

It's like everything she says gets distorted, despite being an echo of them.

"Right? I mean... why choose? Sometimes it's also my t-test taking approach." She says, uncomfortably, babbling really just to avoid silence. Talking at least makes her feel like she has some dwindling sense of control. Not much, just more than zero.

It's necessary, because her back is literally growing closer, and closer to a wall. She's squirming lightly within his grasp, not enough to be resisting... just... with this growing sense of dread of what happens once they reach the destination.

And just when her anxiety reaches its zenith, when that arm is descending. A question is asked, and her eyes grow wide.

Because it's certainly not the first time she's heard it. Not even in this lifetime. They are akin to words imprinted upon her soul.

"Mamo-ch...!" The enthusiastic emphasis on the name, the recognize, the familiarity is cut short by the sight of the color of that arm. Such that she doesn't even continue trying to speak right away, as she's swept away out of it into a magical world where it feels like there's nobody else at all. The two of them, held together in a dance. Her steps light as air. Her lack of skill not mattering within this fantasy.

He asks a question, and it's like her whole being is just smiling so radiantly. His presence seems to solve the mystery for her... it doesn't. Yet for now she isn't so concerned about the mystery, "I am now..." She whispers, as she turns her head, and leans against him as she's swept away for just a few long moments. No thoughts of drawing away... for compared to where she was a few short seconds ago, and now. She just feels so safe. "... Moonlight Knight-sama..." She whispers... "You were here all... along..."

Something glistens in her eyes, yet it's not a sad look... as she turns her chin again, and looks up. "... I believed... I'd see you again."

Her initial impression was that it had to be Mamoru's voice, yet the longer this goes on, she only becomes reasonably certain. The mystery intensifies, yet she's not searching the crowd to see if she sees Tuxedo Masque... or to pick out whether Haruka is here tonight after all in the sea of elegant masques that feel like more shadowy shapes out of focus of this dream-like moment...

"... and now it's like, you were never gone at all."

So happy in the moment, she doesn't ask him who he is. So happy in the moment, she doesn't ask him to stay. She just dances, and let's herself have this happiness tonight.

<Pose Tracker> Fox Masque [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

Fox shakes his head, when thanked. "We can refill that if you want," he notes of the glass. "But... just once would be good, I think." Glass-and-Raven tossed that thing back in what looked like a single gulp.

Glancing askance, Fox watches Princess and Emerald disappear fully, and his shoulders tense. His eyes dart back to Raven, somewhat surprised. This might have been his plan, but that was before Golden went from brushing the line to punching through it. There was a reason Fox hadn't immediately asked if he could taken Golden's place. In fact, when Sky Princess shows up, Fox seems ready to all but bolt, grateful for her assistance. But his eyes flick between Sky Princess and Raven-and-Glass, and he makes a decision swiftly.

"You are very perceptive, Miss Raven," he notes. "It's not strictly necessary now, but... it would help. So, would you dance with me?"

His eyes are already dancing.

"In deference to your recent situation, it will be unusually respectful, and in deference to mine, it will be unusually... linear. That direction, specifically."

Turning to Sky Princess, Fox bows shallowly at her. "Sorry to cut and run... I hate to discourage you from showing up right when I need you again in the future." Taking Raven-and-Glass by the shoulder and hand, Fox floats her onto the floor. He does not race across the room, but their progress is neverthless rather direct, sashaying back and forth but mostly forth, in pursuit of Emerald and Princess.

"You understand, I hope, your own metaphor," Fox says pointedly. "If it is the cover of night that conceals my travel... the night is your beauty, specifically." Fox gives Raven-and-Glass a twirl's time to consider that. "Like Lord Byron. Right? No one will look at us and question why I'd dance with you." There is nothing of distraction in Fox's voice now during this gentle flirtation. He is the sort of person who can enjoy a five minute break between sets on stage with Michiru the way he'd enjoy a lazy afternoon.

"So you can consider any debt you feel you owe fully--"

That distraction Fox had so amiably avoided before comes back with a vengeance as he catches sight of Emerald literally backing Princess against a wall. He watches now anxiously, disliking that big smile, and the smallness of Princess. Glass-and-Raven feels the hand in hers lighten like a bird about to take wing.

"Sorry," Fox says. "I need to--"

As it turns out, he doesn't need to do a thing.

Moonlight Knight... he slides in so swiftly that confusion never even takes place in between Fox's worry and a more complex antagonism. In truth Fox almost forgets Emerald existed within a few seconds, the threat of an evening now feeling like a natural lead-up to the true problem. Nothing, in Fox's experience, is ever so convenient and yet so inexplicable as Moonlight Knight. The fact that others do not react as Fox does alternates between inconsequential and galling. He feels like the only guard who has a problem with a clown unicycling into the royal vault from time to time and juggling the crown with his comedically large pockets wide open.

The trouble is, of course, that Moonlight Knight is nothing of a clown. Princess's bare shoulders are as eloquent now as they were before, and they proclaim a tender joy so pure and intense that it's heartbreaking.

With nimble footwork, Fox swaps positions with Glass-and-Raven as part of the dance, so that he can look over her shoulder at the romantic couple.

"Do you see the girl with the scarlet masque?" he asks Glass-and-Raven, multitasking. "How's she doing?"

<Pose Tracker> Masque Serpent [Ohtori Academy (U)] has posed.

Shizuru isn't looking back at the party when the Moonlight Knight appears. She is no longer thinking of the Princess or Scarlet Masques at all. She is looking at the flowers. They are not roses, though perhaps they could be, here in Ohtori. She stares into them, and says nothing for a while, her posture still perfect, her mask catching the light out here.

The clear air brings her his steps before his words.

"Hmm," she answers, welcoming him back with a look as she takes the glass. "I'd rather have the drink," she answers lightly, and now she is looking at him, instead.

"I was thinking of the flowers. How they bloom their best for the time they can."

Something of sincerity. Maybe.

"Welcome back."

<Pose Tracker> Crimson Feathered-Masque [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The crimson one seems to try to stand taller, more proudly, more ambitiously against her taller not-attached, the young woman feeling the limits of flat shoes that aren't boots. Once again she considers this height difference and finds the flaws of footwear that aren't all shiney and black and boot very manifest. She must, sadly, rely on ego.

"Ahhh, but what if one of these faux-stars that masquerade so is already in my sights? I'd hate to pass up the most graceful and wise of all of those planets when just a bit more striving...a bit more reaching and believing in both myself and that planet could let me dance amidst the void with her? As much as I'd love to tour the stars, I think I'll simply rocket my way to my goals with everything that I have! Color me impatient." A brow rises, though one can't see it through the mask.

And so Kasagami-falcon leans against her love, whispering right back. "You could prove it. Just a little meat on the lead, toss it out, and I'll fly. Of course, for the right planet, I'd fly however far she asked. Because that's just how rare and precious that planet is to me. A skilled falconer knows how to tame the savage hunter, through a partnership, understanding, and the occasional spoiling of the wings!"

And much like a tiny falcon, she puffs up herself and her feathery outfit and frilly dress as her ego is so neatly stroked. She may feel about three inches taller as she takes in those words.

"I am as important as royalty. Like a King, one might say! I stare out upon the lands that I shall rule one day." Offers Kassie cheekily.

And then she looks back to the dancers, particularly the Princess and the Knight dancing with her. Though mostly ignorant of the situation, seeing the two dance like that? Well, she smiles lightly. "It looks like at least some people are enjoying their time out on the dance floor. Maybe we should make our way over?" Suggests the young woman lightly with a grin.

But it isn't to be as footsteps can be heard.

The music and mood of the ball gets interrupted when a man's voice cuts through the din of conversation and dancing like a whip. It's not exactly loud, but it carries with the kind of authority that a mid-level manager wields like a ruthless cudgel against his underpaid overworked subordinates tinged with a sort of frigid familial disregard that speaks of almost-estrangement. The speaker's voice is creeping towards 'old', though not quite there. Walking briskly down the stairway towards the ball area is what can only be described as a painfully everyman salaryman with salt peppered black hair, with his only distinguishing feature being the dull steely grey eyes so common to the Araki family lineage.

"Kasagami-kun! Kasagami Araki-kun, where are you!?" Comes that voice, and it doesn't take long for steel eyes to meet steel-and-white. Kasagami stares hard in shock at the pure audacity of this visually unstunning man picks her out and starts heading her way. Anger replaces that shock when he's in talking distance, and it shows in gaze and her now far more aggressive stance.

He's ruining the magic of the night. No outfit. Not even a masque. Coming in and shattering the beauty of the party with his dullness! "Uncle Saito!? What are you doing he..." Starts the Duelist, her disguise broken by her Uncle's sudden approach.

The man cuts her off immediately without any subtlety or grace. "No, Kasagami-kun. What are YOU doing wasting your time in this garish, worthless gathering!? Mingling like the irresponsible child that you are! Didn't you get my voicemail? You have more important places to be than here, dancing the night away!" Accuses the man, reaching out and roughly grabbing Kassie's hand. He tugs, and the usually light-on-her-feet young woman stumbles forward. Her cheeks flush lightly in embarrassment, she looks around at so many people who can see this family drama play out.

Where Setsuna can see it play out. Rage burns right back into her gaze even as she's being chastised.

"What are you talking about Uncle? I belong here! I'm on the Student Counci..."

Once again she's shut down, as Saito Araki somehow manages to stare hard enough and talk directly over her enough that Kassie's outrage is drowned out more than cut off this time.

"I don't care what afterschool games you're interested in. A young woman your age should be worried about her future! Her prospects! And you're squandering any potential you have. You need to FOCUS instead of running your mouth so loudly, learn to listen then speak! That's how you got into your...mess in the first place!" His voice falters at the end, the man finally showing some sense of time and place as he looks over to the many, many eyes. Even he won't let out her secret that she's tried so hard to keep from Ohtori's vicious rumor mill.

For once, Kassie is speechless. Her heart hammers, her head hurts, and she feels like a little girl being yelled at by a parent. Only without any consideration.

The humiliation is clear in her voice. "Focus on what!? If you're referring to meeting with that tasteless little tanuki of a man you call your boss so that I can be an intern in some mid-tier company? I'm DELIGHTED for the offer, old man, but I think I'm going to pass! Because unlike him, I have actual desire for more out of life than a corner office and a faux-gold nameplate with a mis-spelled last name! I'm going to be like my father. BETTER than my Father!" Comes Kassie, sarcastically and angry with spitting venom.

"Why aren't you doing his job anyway?"

Saito's eyes go wide.

~A Few Hours Earlier~

Champagne flows easy in the office building , and there's a festive atmosphere as Saito's now-former boss wraps an arm around an equally tanuki-like in stature young man, laughing merrily. Executives and co-workers mingle in the gathering for a successful middling company that one Saito Araki is employed by for so much of his life. He's the only one not smiling. He clutches a manilla envelope in his hands, opened long ago, where his rejection letter sits. His evaluation? 'Loyal and meets expectations'. Instead of him, this spitting image of his boss in a younger form celebrates his rise. The office that he had so coveted for so long. It should be his by right! He's been here for years! And yet that upstart came and took everything out from under him!

So what if that young man was in the office every night. Saito crumples and tosses away the envelope, and sighs as he takes a sip of lukewarm alcohol, depression and envy setting in. Something falls from his pocket. A wallet, opening to a picture of his niece.

He scowls, and pulls his former boss aside.


The man reaches over with his other hand, and shoves her towards the exit. This, too, comes as a shock to the girl's system. She looks back to Setsuna, to all the eyes on her, apologetic to her love and trying to show some dignity to everyone else. Her pride is cracking.

Saito's voice is more chill than the arctic. "Be concerned with yourself, Kasagami, and get your head out of the clouds with unreasonable dreams! You don't even have a college career path worked out! How can you start a family like that!? I will no longer let you waste your talents by dallying. I am going to show you how to be an adult, a respectable, normal young woman! Now do as I say!"

He all but cuffs her on the back of the head in his haste to force her from this shrine to unreasonable decadence, to tear her away from the Spangled Masque, towards his idea of adult ambitions in all it's dullness. And yet, as he eyes the finery and the sheer beauty of it all? Envy. He stares with envy at everything.

And perhaps even levels that same look at his niece.

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.

It's just like a nightmare.

The party stops, Saito's rant its record scratch, the string quartet gamely playing a few more bars through the first section, then... giving up and falling apart... when it's obvious that the tirade is going to go on, and on, and on.

Everyone's staring.

Tuxedo Masque stares.

Horned Masque, who might otherwise have taken advantage of his dance partner's momentary vulnerability, stares.

Emerald Masque, who had been staring at Princess Masque and her unlikely partner, adjusts his stare to the new center of the room.

Moonlight Knight doesn't stare. When Usagi inevitably looks towards the commotion, the next time she looks back, he's gone, as fleeting as a dream. He had danced her towards the vicinity of Fox Masque and Glass-and-raven Masque, at least, those two opposite poles approaching like magnets. They're much closer to her than her green-clad 'suitor'.

The whole room stares.

You could hear a pin drop.

What happens next will probably depend on what happens FIRST.

<Pose Tracker> Masqued Sky Princess [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

It's not as if the dance had been going *that* well, at least for some people. The Masqued Sky Princess's only dance so far was with a boorish cad who insulted her sport of choice, and by extension, not only her, but also her teammates and their rivals from other schools' teams. And while he was rebuked by someone far better with words, that didn't entirely make up for the sting. Besides that, Horned Masque and his apparent cohorts have been a less than pleasant presence - as evidenced by how Fox just had to wrangle Golden Masque away from Glass-and-Raven ...

But what just happened makes *all* of that pale to near-irrelevance.

An outsider barging into the venue would have been bad enough, but a matter for security more than for the attendees. That said outsider called out Kasagami - a legitimate member of the Ohtori Student Council, and a friend to the girl behind the Sky Princess's masque - not just openly, but LOUDLY, and laying hands on her in the process ...

She shouldn't be the one to call him out. Just coming to Kasagami's defense has every possibility of making things worse for her, when she's away from her friends. But to let it *happen*, in front of students from Ohtori and Infinity and probably Juuban as well -

"Araki-san. You owe apologies to those present. These may be dreams to you ... but dreams are a powerful force, even though you may have forgotten your own."

The Masqued Sky Princess looks icily at Saito, her left hand flexing not quite unconsciously by her hip. "And yet, perhaps we should thank you. Had you possessed the patience to do this privately, we would not have known ..."

<Pose Tracker> Glass-and-Raven Masque [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"Oh, yes, of course--" breathes Glass and Raven, her eyes turning towards the sky princess with a smile that has a certain wanness to it, but does not have force behind it. Fox speaks well enough for all of the thoughts in her head. She even raises her free hand, veiling her lips with the crooked pale flesh of her wrist, suggesting a laugh even if one doesn't quite reach her.

Some part of Glass-and-Raven feels a tickle of pique when she intuits that Fox is watching for others. It is only a tickle, for now; for she has something else to clasp firmly onto. A Mission. The Mission is as yet unknown but a Mission will keep her afloat until she reaches a place and a time of safety. It is like holding onto a rail.

Hopefully nothing will come roaring down that rail.

"Hm, hm~. You're flattering me... or is it just an honest receitation of the truth? I don't like to boast of things; my humility is part of my charm," Glass-and-Raven replies, before she takes in a breath and she attempts to intuit where it is that Fox is looking. (Fox is in fact between her and a good view of the Princess, although it doesn't help that she is looking in the other direction.)

The crimson mask. "I think the color is -- is, cawmine," says the Glass-and-raven Masque, forcing out the moment of levity. "She seems... afraid. Or shaken... I do not think she is comf...or...t...a...."

This trail off comes as someone arrives, an alien breaching the sacred space, something unwelcome and profane coming in and beginning to speak about responsibility and dedication and other such useless and pointless things. The man in the golden masque made her feel small and afraid and anxious and complicated, and so it is that she could not escape.

Though the thought does not come to her in quite those terms, it occurs to the Glass-and-raven Masque that perhaps this is the feeling that moved the Fox to rescue her from her peril. That the feelings may not be exact, but that perhaps they rhyme.

The Fox can feel the muscles in that pale shoulder touching. The tension inside of the hand that the Fox holds. A rippling thing, like the tide coming out and then going in. "I remember Lord Byron - I think I heard about him in history - or was it English literature...? He fought for the Greek people, right?"

Those pale hands disentangle from the Fox's. "I will be glad to be the night, for you," she murmurs to the Fox. And then she takes a deep breath again, two more in rapid succession, and reaches up with one hand as if to adjust her mask. And after THAT:

"yyyyyyyoouuUUU leave our PRECIOUS SECRETARY ALONE!"

The Glass-and-Raven Masque throws the champagne flute that she was handed moments ago to the ground for emphasis and begins to stomp forwards, the trailing of her gown behind her nonetheless staying intact (runway practice tells, even when she is doing this - this being, for the most part, glowering incredibly hard, as well as--) while she strides towards the man speaking so cruelly to the crimson-feathered masque.

"The student council is the glamorous flower of our school! You have no right to march in here and treat a member of it so callously, whoever you are! You don't even know if you're talking to the right person!! This is a masqued ball, or was, before you tromped in here! Did you even take off your shoes?? You should turn about on your heel and march back there, but I don't think you should turn your back on someone before you apologize for what you've done!!"

Somehow this is terrifying, Nori thinks, even as she raises her hands upwards above her head. Everyone is going to look. They're hearing this. Someone will record it. Why should I do this for her, after -

- because -

"GET OUT!" she shrieks, her face turning red behind the mask. "Get OUT of here! GO! Get out!"

- because nobody deserves a treatment like that, thinks Nori Ankou(?) even as the anxiety crawls directly up the back of her throat. She chokes momentarily before repeating herself, "get OUT!" in the same high dudgeon, her eyes wet behind the mask.

<Pose Tracker> Scarlet Masque [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Scarlet Masque catches herself on her dance partner; there, against him, she is left to struggle with the instants of horror which crash through her mind. Perhaps not who -- but WHAT.

... somewhere, somehow, a single digit of a monkey's paw folds down, as Rei wishes for time to figure out what dangers lie at Usagi's feet, what dangers Usagi has given her heart.

Because she is not there against his chest for more than a moment before --

It isn't fair. The dress was quintessentially Kasagami, but no one was supposed to say her name. Scarlet Masque shrinks against Horned Masque, as Saito begins to scream; it's just one vulnerability over another. If she hadn't just seen Mamoru in two places at once, maybe she would have joined Kasagami in yelling back at him. If she wasn't already reeling --

It's useless to talk about what could have been, when what is is naked shock. Rei is more than familiar with the ways loving families scream at each other; it's much more an even playing field than this. She can hear the humiliation in Kasagami's voice. She can see how roughly he treats her.

A sharp breath inward, as his hand comes up.

"Sorry--" all a sudden she remembers herself and straightens up, takes a step back. "A little light headed -- excuse me --"

It's a step back from Horned Masque, but a step towards Uncle Saito.

Swallow, swallow. It's like a deep breath, all gulped in like water. The moments tick down like a bomb. At least Usagi is still here. Still whole.

The fan she had somehow kept in sleight of hand throughout that whole dance cracks, now, in her grip. She drops it, useless. She can't hide herself. "Kasagami-san understands the adult world very well," she finds her voice, finally: "this is networking! The most powerful people of tomorrow are gathered here in this room - and the ones clever enough to slip in regardless. How do you expect her to start a family when you are scuttling her chances to meet a respectable partner?!"

She's playing the game. Not just this game; THE game. The game she hates more than anything else.

But what she hates even more in this moment - is the image of Kasagami being manhandled.

"But she's right -- I should thank you," she says, with no gratitude, a sidelong glance to the Masqued Sky Princess. "You've illustrated to me just why Kasagami-san has struggled to reach her potential." She shouldn't add, "Family arguments should be on equal ground!" Regardless, she does.

At least she is not alone in her anger, she thinks, looking to Glass-and-Raven without a scrap of condemnation.

<Pose Tracker> Spangled Masque [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

"With words like that, you will have the very most distant planet falling from the sky just to hear more. There will be no heroic flights required." She is such a steady presence to lean into. "But what if I do not want her tame? I find that the savagery is part of her beauty."

Setsuna cannot quite see who Princess Masque dances with at the moment, but it's clear there's been shuffling since she last looked that way. "Maybe we should," she replies, her heart light enough that it brightens her voice, too. She's turning back to her love when an elder male voice cracks through everything: masquerade, magic, mood.

"Kassie--?" It's a reflexive inquiry, coming just as Saito stalks up to grabbing range. No joy now, only concern, a sick dread which wells up in her core. If any shrieking youma came charging up she would step between it and Kasagami without hesitation.

But this is a family member -- Kassie's only living family member.

Setsuna has some idea how precious that relationship is, even as she knows it is strained.

She takes a step, but it is a faltering half-step forward as her girlfriend is jerked bodily away from her, the sort which follows after rather than interferes. She is not expecting Kasagami to allow herself to be pulled away so easily, and that deepens the shock, the uncertainty. Saito's yelling does not cow Setsuna for its own sake -- anger does not frighten her -- but the way each word strikes his niece...

And then Kasagami looks back and Setsuna catches that look. No, it spears her, right through her heart.

It is that which moves her feet again, entirely unconsciously. She takes a step, and then another, more quickly, until she is following after the Arakis. "It is- it is-" It is okay, Kassie? Clearly it's not, but she cannot bear that apology in grey-and-white eyes. But it is also not her place to come between them.

She knows how important family -- and appearances -- are to her love. Should she make this more of a scene than it already is?

The hurt in those eyes isn't visible any more, they're headed toward the door now, a few steps ahead, but she still sees it clear as day, feels it sharp as steel. Setsuna's measured eloquence has no place here.

But she sure can make a quiet few words carry if she wants, and load them with feeling.

"Kassie -- you can fly."

It's a declaration of belief, defiant of embarrassment.

<Pose Tracker> Masque Serpent [Ohtori Academy (U)] has posed.

Shizuru Fujino watches.

Her date is staring. Most of the room, rightfully, is staring. And to be fair, so is she. She is watching Kasagami in her mask and dress and her uncle breaking the seal of mystery over this place, calling it garish and worthless. From her position out here, she has a perfect view of the chill imagery ahead.

She looks over Kasagami, her embarrassment. She looks over Saito, his anger, and sees in him a thousand other businessmen like him.

An adult. A respectable, normal young woman. This is what he will make of her, with such a display.

But the former Vice President does not come to Kasagami's rescue. She does not stride out to smooth things over for the girl she has known all this time, all these schemes. She does absolutely nothing of the kind, save to watch over each in turn who rushes to defend her.

Perhaps once, it might have been her responsibility to end such a spectacle. Perhaps in some respects, it is.

But Shizuru Fujino just watches what happens. She does not smile.

After all, she is a very respectable, very normal young woman, herself.

<Pose Tracker> Fox Masque [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

"Sometimes I lie to girls," Fox allows to Glass-and-Raven, when she wonders after the line between flattery and truth. "But I never lie about girls."

Fox nods along to Glass-and-Raven's report on Scarlet Masque. It does sound like she might need help too. Perhaps if Fox simply brought the two girls back together, get a bit of safety in numbers going. But what had been possible with Emerald Masque is not with Moonlight Knight. Is it possible perhaps that Fox's new collaborator could handle helping Scarlet all on her own? No, not right now, not in the shaky state she is so obviously in.

Yet again, the problem facing the Fox disappears before he can get his teeth in it. Moonlight Knight disappears... and Kasagami finds herself center stage. Fox only has so many paws, and suddenly dear Spangled needs one of them as well. But when Glass-and-Raven storms forward to give Saito what feels, to Fox, like the piece of her mind that Glass-and-Raven wanted to give Golden, Fox glances back and finds that Princess is, inexplicably, alone. And the room has gotten to be a harsh place, suddenly. With Scarlet raising her voice as well, it seems only a matter of time before Princess is embroiled.

It can be difficult to do what you actually want to do, ironically, because the good reasons to do it feel like rationalizations for a misdeed. Fox says an inward apology to Spangled, and to Glass-and-Raven. But he turns and walks, at last wholly unimpeded, to the side of Princess Masque.

Interposing himself between the tiny young woman and the fracas, Fox pauses a moment. Then, reaching into his tuxedo, he pulls out and offers a small, wrapped pink mint. It's the sort you'd get from a Chinese restaurant, which melts easily in your mouth, sugar somehow turning to cream. From the outside it may look like he's feeding a pet. But Fox has come to have some understanding of Princess over the years.

He'd like to warn her, even scold her. But he can't, quite. Not now.

"Are you all right?" he asks. And then, because just for tonight he's allowed, no matter who is listening, Fox adds, "Princess."

<Pose Tracker> Princess Masque [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Princess Masque... let's out a contented sigh. The look in her eyes still hazy, as if still slightly intoxicated upon... everything that's happening.

It's only midway into the rant that she even seems to notice the commotion. She looks-

-then when she looks back, he's gone. She doesn't ask him to wait. She doesn't ask him to stay.

The moment makes it easy for her to believe she'll see him again.

And then her long lashes flutter... and she seems to start trying to follow the rant mid-conversation between Kasagami and her Uncle.

And when he nearly cuffs her... forcibly makes her leave. Usagi this sympathetic flinch.

She doesn't really get what's happening - but she understands the gyst. She's always had issues with Kasagami... but she never wanted her to be publically humiliated. She can only imagine her mother and father coming to the party and pulling her out of there, yelling at her all the while.

And that's why it doesn't feel like her place to intervene. She might argue with her mother time and time again over her grades or her irresponsibility...

... but intervening on her own behalf in private, feels different than intervening for someone else, in public.

She isn't the first to break the silence... as evidenced by Scarlet Masque, Sky Princess Masque, and Glass and Raven Masque who was right nearby her(IS THAT NORI?) converging. "Ah... phone... phone." As she pats around for a bag that isn't currently on her.

She has this vague idea of trying to call Setsuna... just, to let her know what happened, so that she can offer support to Kasagami when this has settled, not really understanding the guest list or that Setsuna is already here. She looks kind of dazed, out of it still... but nevertheless trying to do something small, in her own way. "Oh... they didn't allow phones." She realizes.

Which is then that a tall shape interposes herself, and Usagi finds herself looking up at the tall shadow that fell over her. Then looking straight at the mint.

Putting out her palm, she takes the mint. The mask is a Fox, but she certainly recognizes the voice, "Um. Haruka... san...?" Unwrapping the mint a bit mechanically, she pops it into her mouth, and working it within, she finds herself staring at the fox concealed face...

... she looked away for a second, and Moonlight Knight was gone. Now Haruka is right there. Could it be? Certainly Uranus was there that day too when the Moonlight Knight appeared, but Sailor Moon wasn't looking at Uranus during that time when the Moonlight Knight was there.

"I'm... fine. I'm... happy even." It may sound strange for her to say that despite being concerned about Kasagami, but both things can be true. She can be happy despite it all, even if she's not happy about what is going on over there.

There's this smile of retroactive relief, not that she became safe, but it's like she now believes she was never really in danger at all. "Because... you were here watching out for me."

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.

The silence is broken by several teenagers confronting a parental figure at shout volume, essentially in unison. Maybe the party would have kept going otherwise, if some quick thinker struck up the band; maybe someone would have made a joke and everyone would have laughed; maybe the silence would have just grown so awkward that eventually conversations jerkily restarted on their own. Maybe any of that would have been better and maybe it would have been worse. Regardless, the major initial reaction was rage, and this, shall we say, sets the tone.

"GET OUTTA HERE!" bellows a baritone, cracking halfway down the stairway of his register.

"YEAH, GO AIR YOUR DIRTY LAUNDRY SOMEWHERE ELSE!" resounds a defiant, irritable alto.

"ARAKI'S RUINING OUR BALL!" screeches a mezzo-soprano.

A hissing undercurrent ('shame on them' 'student council will' 'how dare they') rises, crests, and crashes over itself into wholesale booing of the family drama on display. Nobody's throwing any rotten tomatoes but it's got that kind of feeling, and it is, in no respect, the kind of mood that distinguishes between Arakis. Nori, Rei and Fuu at the forefront, the crowd glares daggers and hurls invectives at them both, uncle and niece alike.

<Pose Tracker> Crimson Feathered-Masque [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The silence is deafening, the staring like lancing bolts of fire on her skin. This kind of attention of a crowd is not the thing that Kasagami so desires. She's singled out, and all because of this foolish traditionalist bore of a man that she so unfortunately calls an uncle.

Her free hand grips into a fist. And here she thought that maybe, maybe they were coming to an understanding. From anger, that furious gaze of hers turns to her Uncle and shows something else.

Embarrassment and pain are in her eyes. Her teeth and jaw are set. She's humiliated. She's hurt. And there's a look of betrayal in her gaze as she stares at the last piece of family raking her over the coals in front of everyone whose opinions she cares about.

Saito, as he's confronted by more than one of the attendees whose night he's so rudely interrupted, first turns his gaze just as coldly upon the Sky Princess.

"What would a child know about dreams? An adult needs to set reasonable expectations for children. Now show your elder some respect by staying quiet like a good girl." Comes the man dismissively.

Glass-and-Raven is the next to get his ire, as the shrieking angry young woman going red in the face is met with the kind of disdain that only a man so mundane in thinking and set in that very thinking can manage. He looks at the masqued Nori as she screams out her wrath. Worst of all? It's like screaming at a wall. All he can hear is the yelling, not what she's saying. He's an adult that's ignoring her.

"I know who my niece is, no matter how many masks she wears. Now stop screaming, it's not proper for a young woman to be so LOUD!"

The Scarlet Masque gets a similarly dismissive scoff as she mentions networking and potential and how they should be on equal ground. Saito looks at her like she's a madwoman. "And for all those important people, where is her success to show for it? There's nothing here that can benefit my niece aside from learning how to be a supportive young woman. We can't be on equal ground. I'm her Uncle, and she should do as I say. Now drop the unsolicited advice, young woman! You're arrogant." Comes Saito, the face of hypocricy. Nor does the manhandling end. Kassie looks like she could physically overpower the man, he's not exactly spritely.

No, the shared blood in their veins is stronger than any muscle she could summon up right now, what with her pride almost visibly shattering.

Even, however, if Setsuna can't directly intervene? Those words strike the Duelist even in the grip of her Uncle, and the corners of her lips pull up. She can fly.

Some of that fire starts to return in her eyes. How can she be so meek against this man, Uncle or not!?

"Look at what you're causing, Uncle! Do you REALLY want the whole school talking about this and ruining my reputation more? So get your hands off of me before I..."

Yet that defiance is short lived, as an avalanche of poor feelings and anger rises out of the other attendees. That horrible feeling is easily felt by the young woman whose strong prideful gates are already battered by the ram of familial obligation and chastisement. Now the pure peer pressure is enough to crush even her wrath. Somehow, Kassie gains the strength to shove her Uncle away from enough to not have him gripping and physically shoving her away. Her own face is red, and she is happy for the mask that covers the tears that threaten to fall.

"Let's just get out of here. See? You've ruined the night for everyone! And it won't be you that pays for it, you selfish oaf of an Uncle! I'll meet your tanuki, just COME ON! Not that a middle manager like you would know anything about power in a place like this." She finally howls in turn at her Uncle, grabbing his wrist.

Saito finally, finally actually looks at the crowd. He sucks in a breath, glaring out, and the man stubbornly looks at every face in that sea in prideful rebuke. This mere salaryman is trying to cow these myriad voices, to no avail. And yet he still doe sit.

Some things may just run in the Araki family after all.

"...Fine. If you had just listened and done what I said, you wouldn't be in this mess." He growls at her. Yet it doesn't seem to have quite so much vim in it anymore as they're both swallowed by the gardens when they exit.

Two voices, hurt, acheing, fades away into the night as twin pairs of claws rake each others' hearts.

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.

Once the Arakis are off the floor, the crowd subsides. The band DOES start playing again. And some people do try to dance to it.

The night can, will, does continue; the magic, however, is over. The unearthly spell broken -- mundanity reigns.

And when everyone is talking at school the next day, it's not going to be about the decor...

<Pose Tracker> Scarlet Masque [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"SHAME ON YOU!" Scarlet Masque all but roars, as she wheels on the crowd. "This man is IMPUGNING OHTORI'S VERY HONOUR! How dare you--!!"

Her accusations die in her throat, as she hears Kasagami, behind her, decide to leave. Her hand tightens to a fist.

"Of course you'd take his side," she says, but quietly, through grit teeth. She's not talking about the girl she keeps trying to help onto a better path.

Rather she stalks away, grasping Glass-and-Raven's wrist in the process; the two of them can grouse about it away from the dancefloor and its many plumed boys, perhaps.

It's a good thing there's someone else here with plans to help the Princess.

If anything else is going to go wrong, it had better go wrong tomorrow.

<Pose Tracker> Masqued Sky Princess [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

As the Arakis leave, as the uproar subsides, as the ball gradually finds its footing again, the Masqued Sky Princess stays where she's standing - watching Kasagami leave, silently sending her wish that her friend will be all right in spite of the disturbance.

Eventually - sooner than it feels like, but well after the Arakis have vanished from sight and hearing, and after the music has resumed - she moves, finding her way to the restroom. Her eyes burn behind her masque, but she refuses to start crying. Not while she's where others will see or hear.

But if anyone *did* follow her to the ladies' room, they still wouldn't hear angry sobs. Just the click of a carefully latched stall door ... and then the crash of a satin-gloved fist, carrying all of Fuu's frustration and anger into the hapless door.

<Pose Tracker> Fox Masque [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

Fox pauses. It's funny how you can tell when someone has stopped, even if they weren't really going. There's no catching of breath, no tremble. It's as though there had been a breeze, and it calmed.

In some ways, Haruka Tenoh has lived a charmed life. The highest and best achievements, the most brilliant and beautiful girlfriend, and a success at the genetic lottery that must have been an armed stickup. For all that she has suffered, in this lifetime, she has known such joys. But so rarely has she ever felt contentment. She scarcely knows it well enough to crave it.

After a moment, the eyes that Princess seeks from within the darkness of the fox mask disappear, their pale blue replaced by featureless darkness. And under a small, white palm, the fox is no longer a fox. The heavy head of a steed hangs peacefully under the touch of her words, nostrils flaring slower each time, flanks settling. Its reins hang loose at last.

They never hung heavy. For the Queen at times. Never the Princess.

When the darkness of the masque lights again with the life of blue eyes, there is Fox again. A fop with a loose shuffle of bangs, a hard-limbed athlete, a cold-voiced murderer, a deceiver with many faces. She touches her mask as if she might shift it, but in the end she leaves it in place.

"Shortcake," she replies, the name perhaps intended to convey exasperation. But Fox seems so content. "Go get your friend before she starts more trouble. I'll drive you home."