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The Masquerade, non-friendlocked version

So if you read the last post, you can ignore this one.  It's basically the same, but without the pictures to protect the (non)innocent.  XD  Plus, I apparently couldn't let Krystal see this on facebook, so hopefully she can see it here.

The Masquerade
By: MemoryDragon
Disclaimer: All events described in this story are true, if slightly exaggerated.  All the music belongs to their respective bands. 
Summary: On the night of the Sky Commodore's Autumn Masquerade Ball, the Dragon walks.
Notes:  So.  This.  Yeah, totally not the best I've ever written.  But it's what we got up to at the Steam Punk Masquerade Ball.  Admittedly, I may have exaggerated a bit to tell the story, and don't even ask me where or when this is actually set, but hopefully this will still be enjoyable. 



~

A fictionalized chronicle of the Sky Commodore's Autumn Masquerade Ball

The Sky Commodore's house was a spectacular and dark place at night, candles reflecting off dull copper. Music played above the grinding of gears, as guests of the Masquerade Ball slowly filtered in. People with beautiful costumes of a lost era chatted on the dance floor, browsing the exotic venders who hawked their wares of steam powered eccentricities. Even the moon felt the spirit of intrigue and mystery, as it shown down on the intricate masks of the revelers as clouds passed by to create her own mask.

It was there that Seren Draigcwndid, neé Harper, walked in on the arm of Captain Friedrich Freiherr von Faulkner of the German Luftstreitkräfte. She looked over the room of make-believe heroes and dreamers, wondering if they knew of the darkness that can hide under such masks. They all had such childish enthusiasm for the past and the unknown, which Seren found to be a rather endearing naïveté. She sought out the candle shadows that disguised the transgressions of powerful men, willingly putting herself in the thick of it.

Because she had always had money. Her father was the wealthiest man in Boston, and her dearly departed husband hadn't been anything to overlook either. Even living the life style of a wealthy socialite, Seren had enough money to live for the rest of her life comfortably provided she had the sense to keep it, which she did.

She had everything a young widow could ask for: wealth, freedom, her estates, and wit. Not to mention her beauty, which kept her far from lacking in potential suitors of good breeding, though she certainly did not plan on tying herself down to another man again. Everything her heart desired was either at her fingertips or easily attainable, except for the one thing she craved above all else.

Seren needed excitement.

The constant parties and dresses were all well and good, but they were terribly dull after a while. She sought thrills and adventure, and she found no enjoyment in the gossiping matrons and men who only sought her dead husband's influence. The ennui alone would have sent her to join her husband if she hadn't found other outlets for her talents.

Which is how she found her current employment. Not that she needed the money, good heavens no. But she needed the thrill and rush of living life on the edge. So she entered the masquerade on the arm of one of the most dangerous (if a bit on the short side) men in all of Europe as he sported a jet pack of his own design. She wasn't interested in the jet pack, considering she had already stolen the plans for it, but a small vial of chemicals in his jacket pocket was her target tonight. The reasons it was important and potentially ground breaking went right over Seren's head, but she did know he planned to sell it to the highest bidder tonight.

Lamentably, the Captain would not be able to collect. Not if Seren had anything to say about it.

"What a beautiful night this is," Captain von Faulkner remarked, his thick, German accent hidden under a gas mask that he wore to cover his face instead of a mask.

"It is lovely," she agreed, glancing to the entourage that followed the Captain. He was a very vain man, and hired a photographer from Chicago, Jim Bowling, to trot along behind them for the sole purpose of cataloging the Captain's every move. An expensive habit, but the Captain was the one paying, not her. Plus, Seren knew she looked stunning in her red evening gown and long black gloves. She was more than willing to have her image immortalized, and by the time the night was through she would make sure the Captain would have reason to linger over her picture.

While Captain von Faulkner posed for his close up, Seren was amused to see the lens pointed more at her. She swayed her hips as her boots clicked on the floor, enjoying the attention from the lower class. Perhaps she could use this to her advantage.

Of more interest to Seren was the Lady Krystal Kamazova, a dark woman in a sharp edged military jacket. She was armed with a golden gun that gleamed at her hip and a riding crop that she held at her side. Her most striking feature was the dark eye-patch covering her right eye, a vicious scar peeking out from under it. She was the Captain's right hand woman, and Seren had heard much of her cruelty towards incompetent soldiers under her command.

Seren considered the two of them as she walked forward to greet some of their fellow revelers. She needed allies in case things got too complicated for her to handle alone, and there was something very satisfying about turning the Captain's own people against him.

The Captain presented her to a couple dressed as mimes and a dark man hidden under a top hat and dark mask who kissed her hand. "Enchantée, Lady..."

"This is Fraulein Seren Draigcwndid, my companion for this evening," the Captain boasted, glancing across the room as if in search of someone else.

Seren ignored the slight and smiled charmingly up at the man. "Enchanté, Monsieur. Have you known the Captain long?" she asked with a demure smile.

"Long enough to know that you are far too lovely to accompany him," he responded.

"Then I'm sure you won't mind keeping her while the Lady Krystal and I take care of some business," the Captain said, somehow managing to convey his glare through the gas mask.

"Don't worry on my account, my Captain." Seren smiled coyly at him now, rolling his title off her tongue as if it pleased her. "I'm sure I can amuse myself while you are gone. This house is full of wonderful artifacts of flying that are trés intéressants. I'm sure it will all go right over my head, but I'd love to see the engines the Sky Commodore is so proud of." Not to mention it was valuable information that she could take back to her employers. Planes were still relatively new technology, and the Sky Commodore was one of the top men in the field.

"Be careful, my lady," the dark man said before kissing her hand again. "I hear the Dragon walks tonight. I would hate for you to be captured by it, as I would be most pleased to see you at my own ball I'm hosting next month."

"Pah! Superstitious nonsense," the Captain said, raising his hand so that Mr. Bowling could get a clear picture of his glove. "The thief is just as human as you or I, good sir. He will be caught with time. Should he come to Germany, we will catch him before he even gets past the first safe!"

Seren kept her eyes lowered as she smiled knowingly. "I'm sure I have nothing to worry about here with so many strong men about," she said, eyeing the Captain's gun. She slipped away before the conversation could pick up again so she could make her rounds without a tag-along.

The Captain and Lady Krystal walked off to conduct their 'business,' no doubt a meeting to discuss prices on the vial. Seren had no fear of him giving it away too early though, since he would hold out for the highest price at the end of the night. The Captain might act foolishly, but he wasn't a bad business man. So she watched them walk away, still sure of her ability to obtain it by the end of the night.

From her purse, Seren drew a small camera of her own as she toured the exhibits. Her camera wasn't as professional as Mr. Bowling's, but it was enough to photograph some of the engines and new diesel-powered machines that were hidden among the celebration of steam.

She walked through the Sky Commodore's exhibits, only open to the public for tonight's event before closing his doors to all but the cream of European society. That in mind, she took many discreet pictures of the new aerodynamic suspension system on display, before moving on to some of the less modern exhibits where she wouldn't stand out as much. It was there that she found her companions again.

"Enjoying the exhibits, Fraulein?" the Captain asked. He appeared to be getting very hot under the gas mask, if all the sweat along his brow was anything to go by. Yet still, he kept it on in a fit of stubbornness Seren was quite astounded by.

"I'm afraid all these machines are too impressive for me to understand.," Seren lied, batting her eyes prettily. It worked on Mr. Bowling, though the gas mask was much harder to get a read on. "There were some exhibits of old military uniforms over on the other side that I wanted to see though. The fashions I can at least understand! If you would accompany me, mon Capitan..."

She could see the interest in both the Captain and Lady Krystal at the mention of the uniform, and interest in accompanying her in Mr. Bowling. "It would be most agreeable, Fraulein Seren," Captain von Faulkner said.

They walked across the dance floor as the band continued to play, browsing the uniforms of ages passed. Seren hung back to walk with Lady Krystal, trying to gauge her loyalty to the German captain. "Those uniforms," Seren murmured softly, barely heard over the noise of the band. "They would look good on a man. It is easy to see a handsome young man filling that out."

"Indeed, Fraulein," Krystal replied, her one eye looking through her glasses at the lines of the uniform from the Great War. "I imagine a man would fill it out quite nicely."

"It's a pity we don't have more fine examples of our military at this masquerade." The two women smiled at each other before looking back to the green uniform again. There was nothing better for women to bond over than a man in uniform, and Seren could tell she had gained an ally. Now she just had to get the vial.

Before she could start contemplating the logistics of getting it from the Captain's pocket, the first band ended their set to be replaced by a new one. "Ah!" the Captain exclaimed. "The Steam Powered Giraffe. I have long looked forward to their performance!"

Steam Powered Giraffe? Well, at least they sounded interesting. The Captain hurried off to listen, but the noise was too loud for Seren to get that close. With a sigh, Seren considered her options as she took one of the seats that settled along the sides of the ballroom.

Mr. Bowling, who insisted she call him Jim (obviously of the lower class), stood beside her. "It's the way they set up their system that makes it too loud. They haven't got the gears in the right alignment," he told her.

"Do you know much about such things?" she asked, only half-interested. She was much more intrigued by what she could discover of Mr. Bowling's allegiances while waiting for the Captain to return.

"I work on lots of machines, Miss," Mr. Bowling replied. "Photography is my hobby, but my day job is to set up and fix the gears on the university's technology when things go astray." He continued on in this vein for quite some time, most of the technical information going over her head. Since the manner to make the sound systems louder wasn't of importance to any of her clients, Seren didn't bother to try.

He was mid-sentence when the Captain appeared before her, giddy as a child and not acting particularly villainous. "Fraulein Seren, the band is about to play my favorite song. Would you do me the honor of giving me this dance?"

This could be her chance! "I would love to, Captain von Faulkner," she said, once again taking great pleasure in saying his title. She completely ignored Mr. Bowling since her goal was finally in sight. She took the Captain's offered hand, and stood gracefully as she followed him to the dance floor.

Seren loved to dance ever since she was a little girl, so she was looking forward to the dance as well as lifting the vial from the Captain's pockets. She realized the error of her assumptions when the Captain pulled her into hold. His left arm was slack and his leading hand not much better. Her heart sank.

"Do you dance often, Captain?" she asked, dreading the answer.

"Not much at all, my dear," the small man said, not looking the least bit repentant through the gas mask. "But I shall learn."

'Not soon enough,' thought Seren, but she smiled charmingly at him, and batted her eyes as they swayed from side to side.

"I'm afraid I don't know much else," the Captain admitted.

Seren had noticed. "You could try spinning me?"

"A capital idea!" He raised his hand for her to duck under, nearly tipping her hat off.

"Maybe next you'll learn how to lead!" Seren said, after fixing her hat.

Surprisingly enough, the man manged to make his displeasure known as he glowered at her through the gas mask. Seren merely smiled innocently and looked up through her lashes, which was a lot more difficult than it seemed due to the Captain's short statue and Seren's heels.

They danced a while longer, and Seren tried to slip her hand into the Captain's pocket. Every time she got close, however, he spun her out. Once she brushed the top of the vial with her fingers just before she was forced to spin, but alas, she wasn't quick enough.

Seren sighed internally as she smiled again and thanked him politely for the dance. Right then. It was time to get serious.

He lead her back to her seat, happy to find both Mr. Bowling and Lady Krystal sitting there as well. Time to test the strength of their affections for Captain von Faulkner!

Mr. Bowling insisted on giving up his seat for her, which revised her opinion of him slightly. Only slightly, because he was still working class, but at least he knew his place.

Once she had taken her seat, she let her eyes wander over to Lady Krystal, delighted by what she saw. "What a beautiful weapon you carry, Lady Krystal. Might I see it?"

Lady Krystal raised her good eyebrow at Seren, but she handed over the weapon with care. She was still armed with her riding crop after all. "It is also very deadly, Fraulein," Lady Krystal said dryly.

"Yes, I would imagine so" Seren ran her gloved fingers along the long nozzle of the gold, toying with the wires and toggles. She made sure to look like she was randomly setting things, while recalibrating the gun to her own specifications.

"You do realize you're fondling that gun, right?" Mr. Bowling asked.

Seren took it back. He was crass and rude, just like all lower class. "Mr. Bowling, I do protest your language." He shrugged, and Seren turned away in a huff.

With a nod to Lady Krystal, Seren stood slowly so as not to draw attention to herself. The band started to play their last song, and Seren glanced around until she spotted the Captain. He was deep in conversation with a fellow scientist over his beloved jet pack.

"I wouldn't recommend testing that model, Sir," the older man said. "It would blow your a-" he caught sight of her and coughed politely, unable to say such unmentionables in the presence of a lady. "-blow your legs right off, and a bit more besides."

Just as the Captain turned to see who was behind him, Seren raised Lady Krystal's gun to his head. The older man took this as a sign to skedaddle. "Hello again, my dear Captain. I believe you have something I want."

"You!" the Captain said, glaring at her from under the gas mask.

"Indeed, Captain. C'est moi." Seren batted her eyes at him coyly as Lady Krystal and Mr. Bowling joined them. "You really didn't think I'd let you accompany me just because of your title, did you? You are so naïve, mon Capitan."

She had to give him credit for emoting despite his mask; she could still make out a rather powerful pout. "And do you take yourself to be a little dragon, Fraulein? The real one won't be so kind to you, should he find you've taken his treasure."

"I think you'll find it's more correct to say I am the Dragon," she responded, her coy smile turning into a smug grin. "My dearly departed husband's family was Welsh, you know. Draigcwndid means 'the Dragon's song'."

She plucked the gun the Captain carried out of its holster as he took in that information, briefly taking her attention away from the Captain to look at Lady Krystal. "Would you like to keep hold of this, Lady Krystal? I could share part of the bounty."

Lady Krystal's one eye lit up at the offer, and she took a moment to consider it. Seren pressed her advantage. "Women should stick together, you know. We could make an impressive team, you and I," Seren said, offering the weapon up to her.

Krystal smiled and accepted the gun, pointing it straight at her previous employer. "Traitor!" he cried.

This time, Seren set her sights on Jim Bowling. "And what do you say, Mr. Bowling? Join the winning side?"

"Jim only takes pictures for me!" the Captain huffed, which was more than a little precious since his faith in Lady Krystal had just been crushed to dust.

"Oh, but you'd do it for me, wouldn't you?" Seren looked up at him through her lashes, this time doing it properly as Mr. Bowling was actually taller than her.

"Don't do that. It's creepy," Mr. Bowling said.

Well. She didn't need a lower class male anyway. "Very well then, Captain von Faulkner. Hand over the vial, if you please."

"You will pay for this, Fraulein!" the Captain said, waving his gloved hand around dramatically. "I shall tell the world of your intent. I have your picture!"

"Oh, but I think I shall," Seren said smugly as he reached into his pocket and withdrew a small vial of the precious elixir. "You wouldn't want it known that you were betrayed so easily... and by two women, no less. I also don't think you want the Sky Commodore to find out that you brought a spy into his house, considering he is one of the most prestigious men in this society. I have enough pictures of my own to ruin you."

At this, the Captain mumbled something under his mask, but he handed over the vial. With a triumphant grin, Seren held the vial between her fingers, carefully checking it over before she placed it in her purse. "It was a pleasure doing business with you, Captain. I'll have to let you know what the boys back home think of it. I wouldn't like to think what secrets I'll have to release if this turned out to be a fake, after all."

"I assure you that it is the true formula," the Captain grumbled.

"We'll see, Captain." It was a pity, because she really did like his rank. He wasn't too bad, for a German. Perhaps she'll find a military man for her next husband when she got bored with espionage. He'd be gone half the time and have a good chance of dying in battle, leaving her with more money. Yes, Seren would have to look into military men! "Adieu, mon cher. I did so enjoy this little soirée."

"Ladies and gentlemen," the announcer said as the last song ended. Seren motioned for the Captain to step forward so they could hear. "The witching hour is upon us! It is time to remove our masks and discover each other's identities!"

As everyone removed their mask, the Dragon slipped hers back on.

~FINI~

Bonus!

"So why did you give yourself a fake scar if you were going to wear the gas mask all evening?" Seren asked as they swayed to the beat. Well, she swayed to the beat while the Captain tried to keep tempo.

The Captain blinked at her through the gas mask for several moments. She wondered if her words had been lost over the music, but before she could ask again, he replied, "That's a good question."