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Money, money, money (IC)


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The invitation arrived to Doktor Archeville and a Ms. Eve Martel at the same time, by separate couriers, hand delivered.

Even the envelope was a work of art. Real gold leaf.


You are hereby invited to the grand Masquerade ball on 8th June at Castle Accurso

The finest minds and families of the western world and beyond have been invited to this strictly one-off event hosted by Cosmo Accurso. All expenses, including travel, have been arranged. A night never to be forgotten! A once-in a life time experience!

Dress code: Strictly Masquerade!!!!

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"Curious," Viktor Archeville said to himself as he read over the invitation, as much to the contents of the letter as to the tenacity of the courier who insisted on delivering it to the Doktor's hand. The silver-furred Butleraffe that tried to take the letter was already trundling down the hall to return to its tasks, leaving Archeville alone in the foyer.

"I've not had an invite to something like this in... in well over a year, ever since... well, ever since I went off the radar. I've been so busy trying to repair all the damage I'd... that was done, I've barley taken any time for social events, even with Mona. There are people still talking about how I was absent from last year's Oktoberfest!"

At a mental command his Gravimetric Belt activated, teleporting him to various rooms through his spacious home, "but why is Cosmo Accurso throwing such a party? He is something of a recluse, though he has made an impressive fortune in telecommunications. Quite impressive, if I recall my discussion with Katastrof correctly, he started from almost nothing ten years ago. Let me see what else I can find."

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Two hours later, Archeville leaned back on a cushion of gravitic energy, reclining and stretching his body as his mind sifted once more through all he had learned about Cosmo Accurso. "Quite a bit of circumstantial evidence for a number of shady -- or outright dark -- dealings, but not enough to stick any convictions on him, especially not with his wealth and influence. Perhaps I shall go to this event, see what I can dig up. There could well be some hard evidence on a secure, off-network computer. Or, better yet, I get him to slip up and admit to something in front of the crowd and cameras. Of course," he rolled over to 'lay' on his belly, "he'd know I'm coming, and though I'd be in costume, he'd probably try to avoid talking too much to me. So I'd have to disguise myself very well, catch him off-guard. But what? Who?"

Another mental command to his Belt, and he was teleporting again through his home, going from room to room as he sought inspiration. He went to his massive library to seek some literary character or famed author, but none felt right for the occasion. He checked his greenhouse, thinking of something inspired by the plant world, but no ideas took root in his mind. But his music room is where inspiration finally struck. When he appeared, he did so in an orientation so that he was facing his autograped Kraftwerk poster (from when they played in NY in June 1998, as part of their US tour). A musician! But which one? His eyes fell on another autographed poster, of a different artist, and a convoluted plan began to form in the mind of the German genius.

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The masquerade was indeed impressive, in part due to the people in attendance. Dominating one section of the room was Donald Steif, a paunchy man in his late 40s, making lots of bad and corny jokes in German (with a noticeable Italian accent). His costume was a sickeningly ostentatious suit of golden armor with diamond knuckles, modeled after that of the Greek hero Daedalus, with a helmet that left the lower half of his face uncovered so he could speak and eat (and eat and eat) freely.

"" the woman on his arm breathed, "" The woman, a Germanic blonde with an alluringly husky voice in a black catsuit and domino mask, was quite beautiful, but proved deadly when others tried to approach her. She was the bait that lured others into Don's circle, growing his audience which became more and more uncomfortable with his cheesy puns and corny one-liners; many guessed he must have recently come into money, to be so crass and yet able to afford to be here. They equally assumed he must be paying his companion, Vicky, a very hefty fee. They could not guess she truly saw something special in him, or the exact reason why she rarely left his side.

This is going well so far!

And getting in touch with my feminine side has been exhilarating! I'm especially proud with the dye job that nanites did.

I'm having the time of my life! This dress feels sooo good! Amazing what just a few alterations to our Labcoat can do!

And I'm enjoying how I, through the Don 'puppet,' can make all these blue-bloods so uncomfortable!

But not too badly. Most everyone here could stand to be knocked down a peg or two, but eventually the masquerade will end, so everything I saw will have consequences. Not doing this to be mean, but to teach a few lessons.

"" the Screwdriver-generate force field-backed hologram of "Don Steif" replied with a wink, "" he turned back to the crowd who were trying to back out of his boorish talk, ""

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The Masquerade ball was indeed extravagant. And so was Castle Accurso, a magnificent and well constructed Swiss fort that combined robustness with fine architecture. Outside, there were vast grounds overlooking mountains and lakes, stables, forests, and waterfalls.

Insider, the place was alive with the richest of the rich, nobility, businessman, and entertainers. Intermingled were servants, chefs, and security - all dressed up in masquerade garb. The security seemed to be the ones dressed as halbediers, but in such a dazzling array of colours and masks, who could know for sure?

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Eve had considered declining the invitation--she had a number of valid reasons to do so--but the strong desire for a simple, if brief, vacation won out. She made her own travel and accommodation arrangements and then set them on standby; while Eve had every intention of taking advantage of this Cosmo Accurso's generous offer her extra-curricular activities taught the young heiress a lesson or two about preparedness.

Green eyes narrowed behind a white vulpine mask as Eve critically surveyed her surroundings, suddenly wishing she had declined the invite. It took a measure of willpower to avoid picking at the heavy silk of her black and white cotehardie, thankful that her short stature made her easy to overlook.

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The Masquerade had been going for some time. It was possible to pick out some wealthy individuals. Some very wealthy individuals, but of course with the immense resources the invitees had - and indeed the host possessed, all the costumes and masks were quite exquisite.

In a castle full of this many ego's, everyone was enjoying guessing who was who, and such ego's could not resist slowly dropping hints and eventually their full identity. It was a delightful game, a game dating back centuries, that had slumbered in the modern era, but was being enjoyed by everyone. The rich, the famous, and the powerful - they could, a the snap of their fingers, indulge in whatever entertainment they wished. And now, they were playing a game of hide and seek, of peek a boo, of flirtation, once more. This was new. It was entertaining.

"Mmmmmm....height, build, delightful emerald eyes if I may say so, and a certain posture..."

The man was tall, dressed, of all thinks, like a jester, in bronze and gold with a beautiful dullness and colour rather than glitter. It was style - very expensive style, but not dazzle. His face was a golden mask, one half sad, one half happy. Lopsided, on his head, was a crown of base metals.

Whilst his Jesters outfit was not close fitting, the man was tall, considerably over six foot, and had a perfect physique - one could only guess at just how olympian his figure, but it was plain that at the worst, he kept himself in the very best of shape. Like his costume, his form indicated power without showing it off.

"I can only imagine you are Ms. Martel. No need to say yay, or nay" he smiled behind his mask, slightly bowing. "I understand the good Doktor Archeville was coming too, but I confess his disguise is too good for me...."

The full Orchestra struck up a new waltz, with perfect timbre and timing.

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A small smile blossomed on Vicky's lips as 'she' overheard the jester's inability to locate the good Doktor, despite the latest crudities coming from Donald involving a jackass, a honeycomb, and a brothel. These lines were of course calculated barbs -- one of the people in his little group was made up as Nick Bottom from A Midsummer Night's Dream, with donkey head, but that person was really Nicholas Dunston, a spoiled prat who was secretly planning to sell his late mother Margaret's prize horses to cover the losses he'd incurred at the racetracks and casinos.

Looks like my ruse is holding up. Though I don't think his analysis was wrong -- that does look like it could be Eve Martel! I'd hoped one of the Martel would be here; I've yet to meet one who wasn't a clever conversationalist.

Vicky laid a and on Donald's arm and batted her eyes at him, and after what looked like a quick unspoken exchange he excused himself (in his typical crass manner) to 'attend' to his date. The rest of the crowd quickly parted to let them through, as did everyone between them and the rooms they sought. As soon as he could, Archeville arranged for 'Donald' to duck into a side room, after which he clicked off the projection and slipped the Screwdriver back into Vicky's purse. Moments later, an annoyed-seeming Vicky was walking back into the ballroom, and happened to cross the fox-woman's path.

"" Vicky huffed in German at Eve's direction, "

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"" replied the Jester, his eye's penetrating "Vicky".

"" he said, a soft smile on his lips. "" he stared at "Vicky" once more.

"" he said, with a polite bow.

"" he said, tapping his chin.

So far he had spoken in flawless German. He changed to a more poetic, equally flawless French, in a more sing song, whimsical and poetic timbre.

"" he said smiling.


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The fox-masked young woman glanced between the jester and the cat burglar, her casual examination lasting a heartbeat longer on 'Vicky', and offered up a faint shrug. she remarked in her native tongue, a hint of amusement lacing her voice.

she continued, returning to the jester's original subject.

Eve smiled, a faint upturn of her lips,

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Eve smiled, a faint upturn of her lips,

"" he replied, a smile on his face, throwing open his arms wide to the audience with his final proclamation.

"Let the games commence, Ladies and Gentlemen!" he declared, now speaking in English.

The band set up a new, jovial tune. A stream of spectacular laser lights strobed this way and that, and a soft gentle dry ice wafted into the rooms.

"You have all had your guesses at who is who here, some correct, some false, all amusing!" he said "I, as you may have guessed, am your host, Cosmo Accurso! and am delighted you are all here!"

"And now, my little game! an envelope for you all, with three questions in! answer them honestly, Ladies and Gentlemen, and we shall use them as a guess who later on in the evening!"

He turned back to face the Martel Heiress, as waiters and servants started passing out little golden envelopes.

"And here is yours, Madam...." he said.

I would have liked to have given one to the Doktor himself, but alas, I cannot locate him. Perhaps you would help me there, Madam..." he said, handing another golden envelope to "Vicky" and scrutinising her for a reaction.

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The Golden Envelope...

Thank you for playing our marvellous game!

To further add mystery and suspense to the evening, we shall be asking you some questions about yourself. Please answer honestly! it is all in the spirit of fun and getting to know one another.

The questions shall be available for all to see, but don't be shy, be cryptic, be poetic, in the spirit of the Masquerade!

Firstly, what is the most Romantic Thing on This Earth?

Secondly, what is the most Valuable Thing on This Earth?

Thirdly, what is the most Terrible Thing on This Earth?

Yours Sincerely,

Cosmo Accurso

With each envelope, and little card came, you guessed it, a small but perfectly crafted golden pen.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Eve wrinkled her nose behind the fox mask as she extracted the paper from the envelop with a gloved hand. The ball gown length gloves weren't that much different from those she wore for certain extracurricular activities (though the completely enclosed fingers did feel a little weird), but the young Martel was thankful to be wearing them as she detected a barely perceptible chemical odor coming from the paper.

The paper, combined with the numerous artfully concealed cameras Frenchwoman noted earlier, brought faint frown to her face. Eve wasn't sure what Accurso's game was, and perhaps it was only just a game, but she couldn't help but feel a little on edge.

"Curious," she murmured, no longer speaking in her native tongue. Fishing the pen out of the envelop she wrote next to the question of romance, in neat flowing script, Honesty.

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  • 3 months later...

Before a response could be made to the Fox-woman's earlier remark about not knowing what men prefer, Accurso had revealed himself and passed out the cards for his little game.

"Doktor Archeville will be here?," 'Vicky' breathlessly asked, a slight blush coming to her cheeks, breaking her smooth, almost icy demeanour. "I have heard much about him...." She trailed off, leaving it to the imagination what she had heard, and what she planned to do if she met him (despite -- or perhaps because of -- her boorish companion), and quickly recomposed herself.

'Vicky' looked over one nearby guest's card in order to see what it read, curioser and curioser. These questions seem innocuous enough, but will more probing ones come later in the evening?

"Well, do I get a card," she asked the jester, in a tone making it more command than question, "or are you afraid of what my answers might be?"

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"Well, do I get a card, or are you afraid of what my answers might be?"

Accurso, the jester, gave a wide smile, a cross between a shark and a drunkard. It was slow, warm, and calculated.

"You, my dear, are proving to be quite the curiosity" he replied, his voice oil and gold.

"One might almost imagine the good Doktor had sent you as a gift to sate my wits, as an apology hahah!" he laughed. It was hard to judge how genuine he was being. Possibly he was such a good actor he didn't know himself.

"Or you are a spy" he added in a snappy cold finish.

"But suffice it to say I would be delighted if you could finish the card. I love to know who I am dealing with" he added, his voice pregnant with meaning.

He straightened up.

"And now, if you would excuse me for a few moments, I have some business to attend to. Please take your time and relax...." and with an elaborate bow, full of balletic poise, he bade himself temporarily goodbye, to retreat to the upper levels of the castle.

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"No one 'sent' me, jester," 'Vicky' practically hissed as she took the card, "I am here because I desire to be." She made sure Accurso heard her before he'd danced upstairs.

And now it's just me and who I'm reasonably certain is Eve Martel, though I'm still not certain. How to find out, though? Oh, might as well just strike up a conversation, see where that leads.

'Vicky' turned back to the fox-woman, "so," she asked casually, still in English, "is there a chicken running around here with your name on her? Or... another fox?"

Next tot he first question, 'Vicky' wrote "a campfire by a moonlit lake."

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Accurso lightly stepped up to the shut off levels of his Castle, talking to an aide just as the door closed.

"Make sure my brother is well and...prepared..." he said in soft tones "I think the Martel girl is ready...set up the baseme" *click*

And then the doors shut.

The band carried on playing, an elegant slow piece that felt modern and old at the same time. The guests were alive with chatter and buzz, filling out their cards and loosening ties and corsets. Inhibitions started to drop and laughter, pleasant and infectious filled the great ballroom. Surrounding the hall, the impassive security officers and dressed up Halbediers looked on in almost impassive silence...

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  • 1 month later...

"Around here? No." Eve murmured as she watched Accurso walk away from the corner of her green eyes, the fox mask hiding her frown. When their host could no longer be seen, Eve slowly and very deliberately tore the card into pieces before catching a passing waiter and dumping the shreds of paper into a flute of champagne.

The young Martel didn't wait to gauge the waiter's reaction before she linked her arm with Vicky's and moved deeper into the press of people. "The paper is laced with chemicals," Eve whispered to the woman. "You might wish to dispose of it."

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Although the Band kept playing, the tune become more hypnotic and eerie tune. On the floor, the assorted ladies and gentlemen of wealth kept laughing, but in a drunken, soporific way, as the chemicals on the questionairre hit their brains. Perhaps the small dosage was relatively ineffective, or perhaps this was what Accurso intended: some sat, some giggled, some yawned, but none fell asleep. They just seemed to lurch, their inhibitions gone, talking non stop.

If Eve had not been aware of the drug infusion, it would have been easy to pass it off as alcohol intoxication, although to the experienced eye it was something a little different...

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