Mask 01

She could remember the fanfare that had heralded the arrival of the messenger from planet Alazne. Her nanny had come running, the heavy set woman panting heavily as she lurched into the royal bed chamber. Her eyes had been lit up with excitement, her face slightly flushed from exertion, the woman gasping as she tried to speak. It had taken a glass of water, and several minutes of silence before Nanny had been able to form the words, and all the while she grabbed at Allura’s hands, trying to drag her from the bedroom.

Allura had moved willingly enough, curious as to what had her Nanny in such a state. She refused to be hurried though, walking at a sedate pace as the woman filled her in, Allura’s eyes widening as she learned Prince Tristan of planet Alazne had contacted them. Coran was already in the conference room with the messenger, making nervous small talk when the two women arrived.

The messenger had been all gracious bows, and praise worthy talk as he greeted the princess of Arus. With him came an ornately carved piece of birch wood, the silver embossed lid lifting up to reveal a beautiful mask. It was a work of art, a predominately deep purple color, with midnight blue sequins sewn in around the eyes. Pearl white outlined the edge of the mask, with an array of colorful feathers of pale shades of purple and blue on the sides.

Allura had still been staring at the mask, when the messenger explained it was to be part of her costume. That had gotten her to look away from the mask, surprised to learn she had been invited to prince Tristan’s masquerade ball. She had been less than pleased by the invite, her mind already working as she tried to think of a way to turn down the invitation without being rude.

But before she could open her mouth, her Nanny had stepped forward, seizing the birch wood box from the young man. She was already making promises to the messenger, assuring him Allura would be there, and that she would find a gown to match the beautiful mask prince Tristan had gifted her with. Allura had tried to protest, but Coran was already ushering the man out of the room, telling him if he would just wait but a few days, he could accompany Allura back to planet Alazne.

Always the diplomat, Allura had waited until the messenger was out of sight before she turned on her nanny and advisor. She demanded to know what they had been thinking, and had been met with two contrite faces. They weren’t repentant for long, voices hurrying out as they began explaining just what a catch prince Tristan was. They talked about his wealth, his power, his reputation for doing good, and the fact that his planet had managed to avoid becoming part of the Doom Empire AND the Galaxy Alliance. They practically had stars in their eyes as they stressed prince Tristan was single, and recently on the market looking for a bride.

“That could be you Allura!” Nanny had said, giddy with glee as she dug into the birch wood box, finding the stiff cardboard invitation hidden beneath the mask. The writing on the paper has been written in gold cursive, the words foreign and unintelligible except for her name. Nanny had waved the invitation in Allura’s face, pointing out how expensive it was to be printed in gold. Allura had never been one to eye another’s fortune, hardly believing it as Nanny talked on and on about what planet Alazne’s wealth could do for Arus.

Coran had agreed, and though he didn’t outright tell Allura to throw herself at the prince, he did stress the importance of coming away from the ball recognized as a close ally of the planet’s royal family. Just like that, it had been decided for her, Nanny and Coran eager to ship her off with the messenger to the planet Alazne. Nanny had flown into action, inviting several local seamstresses from nearby villages to come to the castle with their wares. Dresses were found in Allura’s size, needing only a few modifications to fit her curvaceous frame.

Ultimately, a dress was chosen for it’s white satin, the seamstresses dying it pale lavender color. It had sat for almost two nights soaking in the vat of purple dye, but at last it was ready, looking far more sexy than anything Allura had ever worn before. It molded to her waist, almost like a second skin that tapered down to her hips where it flared out into wide skirts. The hem brushed the bottom of the floor, and covered not only her shoes, but the white crinoline petticoats. As for the cleavage, it was dangerously low cut, Allura had to remind herself not to take too deep a breath for fear of spilling out of her top.

No doubt about it, Nanny had her dressed to kill, determined Allura would be the belle of the ball. She had fretted over the unfortunateness of the mask, thinking Allura’s expressive face, with her soft pouty lips, and beautiful blue eyes shouldn’t be covered. “You’ll just have to use your feminine wiles to ensnare his attention.” Nanny had hmped, leaving the princess to stare wide eyed in shock at her.

Of course the boys had teased her when they learned Allura was going on a husband hunting mission. Keith hadn’t said much, merely offering a stoic good luck, but Lance, Pidge and Hunk had been merciless in their speculation. They were sure if she couldn’t land prince Tristan, she’d come back with a duke, or an emperor, and that was before they saw her in her new dress.

They had wanted to accompany her to planet Alazne, but the messenger had been strict in saying only Allura was invited to the party. No one but those of noble birth could attend the ball, not even Nanny could come along as her chaperone. Allura would be on her own, to sink or swim among strangers. Oddly enough that hadn’t left her feeling nervous, the exact opposite was true, the princess looking forward to the chance to escape the watchful eyes of her care givers.

Nanny was allowed to come with her on the shuttle to planet Alazne, the woman staying behind at the hotel that lodging had been arranged at. She had been almost teary eyed as she waved good-bye to Allura from the second floor window, the messenger ushering Allura into a grand carriage, that was painted white with gold adorning it’s frame and doors.

This is where she found herself now, seated on the velvet cushions of the carriage’s inside. The soft whinnying of the four horses that pulled her coach distracted her from the hint of butterflies in her stomach. Once again Allura found herself glancing down at the invitation, her white gloved fingertips rubbing across her gold embossed name. She wondered who else would be at this party, wondered if she would recognize anyone when it came time for the night’s unmasking.

The messenger had not followed her inside the carriage, choosing instead to sit on the outside bench next to the driver. That was all right with Allura, she didn’t mind the relatively quiet, reaching over to pull back the curtains on the window. A cool breeze wafted into the enclosed space, stirring up the thick ringlets of golden hair that escaped her ornate French twist.

The air itself was fresh, a sweet scent that held the smell of pine trees. Indeed they passed by many, pine, oak, maple, and more, ones she did not have the names for. At first they were spread out, popping up at intervals of two and three feet, buildings dispersed between them as the carriage moved down the busy main street of town. But soon they left behind the stores and apartment buildings for the country side, Allura seeing nothing but woodland for miles in either direction.

She actually slept, dozing for a while when she heard an excited cheer, and people’s voices talking, loud and jumbled together. Allura sat up, shifting closer to the window to see a crowd of people standing outside a large gated fence. Guards were ushering them to the side, forcing them to part to make way for the line of carriages that were moving at a snail’s speed through the open gate.

It would take some time for the line of coaches to get through the press of people, Allura staring over their heads to look beyond the fence. In the distant she could see a large sprawling mansion, surely that was the prince of Alazne’s summer villa. Garlands of white lights were strung out across the building’s walls, edging the roof top, and entwining around trees.

Even from this distance, Allura could make out people exiting their coaches, valets helping down women, and guiding the party attendees into the building. Allura wished she had her micro binoculars with her, eager to see just what sort of fashions the women were wearing. The princess feared she’d be woefully out of place in her plain Arusian designed gown, her fingers stiffening on the cardboard invitation in worry.

A glance away from the villa, showed the guards keeping the people away from her carriage window. The men policing the crowd looked harried, working to keep the people back, and to minimize the flash photography that was going on. Allura even saw a news camera set up in one corner, finding she was glad for her mask that kept them from broadcasting her identity all over the galaxy.

It took a few minutes more, and then her carriage cleared the gate, horses breaking into a brisk trot up the cobblestone pathway. The closer she got, the more details she could make out, seeing the bold red jackets of the valets, buttoned over crisp white shirts with steel swords at their sides. The women being ushered into the main building were all kinds of jewels, they twinkled not only at their neck and on their fingers, but in their hair, and sewn into the very bodice of their gowns!

She was still staring when her carriage slowed to a stop, a valet knocking on the door opposite her window. Allura got to her feet, walking towards the door as it opened, a black gloved hand being held out to her. “Thank you.” She said, as she carefully stepped down out of the carriage. The valet didn’t let go of her hand, the man leading her towards the glass double doors. The glass window panes were covered with a white sheet, hiding what was going on behind them, Allura straining to catch a glimpse of the mansion’s insides.

She was brought before the doors, and only then did she get an uninterrupted view of the inside building, seeing pale butter yellow walls, with gold accents along the floor and ceiling. A steep stair case, as wide as it was deep spread out before her, red velvet spilling down the steps and leading down onto the ball room’s floor. The valet guided her to the precipice of the stair case, and with a smooth bow, turned and left her to stand alone.

Allura was suddenly glad for her mask, knowing it hid her blushing cheeks from the crowd that had glanced up at her. With a hand that was shaking from nerves, she reached out for the stair’s bronze railing, her free hand holding onto her skirt, lifting her hem just high enough to uncover her toes. Allura walked sedately down the stairs, knowing that behind the mask, her blue eyes were wide with amazement. She tried not to gape, but she felt awed, staring at the people, and the wealth around her.

A crystal chandelier hung over head, tiny diamonds hanging from it’s bronze arms, twinkling as it reflected the lights of the candles perched on it’s boughs. Statues carved of ivory sat on top table cloths covered in silk, crystal bowls set around them to catch the colorful liquids that poured down their ivory sides. Drink was not the only thing offered on those tables, a fine array of food, both hot and cold was laid out, banquet tables spread among key points of the ball room. It was enough food to feed the hungry on Arus two times over, Allura giving pause to wonder just who would get the left overs of this fine feast.

She reached the bottom of the stair case, catching sight of a painting of the king of Alazne. He was a tall man, with broad shoulders, and a muscular chest. His hair was a reddish brown color. Piercing green eyes stared out of a stern face, King Xanti solemn and serious in the portrait. He hardly looked like an approachable man, seeming the opposite of the charismatic prince Tristan. Prince Tristan was always known to have a smile on his face, his eyes alight with joy, and though he wasn’t as muscular as his father, he bore the same height and build, resembling the king had he indulged in a lazier lifestyle.

Allura supposed he was attractive enough, though looking at his holographs never sent her cheeks flushing the way a certain prince from the planet Doom did. Not that she would ever admit to anyone that she found Prince Lotor to be a handsome if conceited man! She tore her eyes away from the portrait, sweeping past the waiters who hurried to and fro with silver trays that held meat and drink on them.

Some of the party attendees were still watching her, women standing in groups, voices loud whispers as they looked Allura over. Masked men were also staring at her, open admiration in what little of their eyes she could see. It brought her blushing, Allura looking away, wondering where she should stand. No one had yet to approach her, and she felt funny to intrude on another’s conversation, feeling unwanted by the women, and too stared at by the men.

Uncertain she gravitated towards one of the banquet tables, maneuvering her way around the colorful clothed guests. Music was piped in through overhead speakers, Allura looking around and noticing alcoves that had curtains drawn over them for privacy. Occasionally a couple would disappear behind the curtain, the music and chatter of the party attendees drowning out whatever they were doing. But they couldn’t hide the movement that shook the curtains, Allura’s eyes growing even wider in shock. Right then and there she made a vehement vow to not be lured into one of those alcoves, knowing she had a reputation to uphold.

Still turning her head every which way, trying to catch a view of all the many splendid sights of the ball room, she didn’t notice when a tall man stepped into her pathway. He was too busy talking, his masked face turned to look at his companions, unmindful of the girl heading straight towards him. Together they walked into each other, bumping chests, the man just narrowly missing spilling his clear colored drink on her.

“OH!! I’m so sorry!” Allura began, turning to look at the man before her. Her apologies died down in her throat, her voice rasping out in a low gasp as she stared at the high cheekbones, and blue colored skin of the man before her.

He turned to look at her, his lips parting as he began to issue out a nasty reprimand. “Watch where you’re…..oh….” She could see the gold of his eyes, a stark contrast against the black satin of his mask, widening as he looked her over. “Pardon me.” He purred, dropping to a low bow that put his eyes level with her cleavage. “I should have watched where I was going.”

She was still gaping at him, noticing the pointed ears in which the elastic of his mask slid behind, seeing his long white hair tied back with a black ribbon. The hair and the skin was too much of a coincidence, Allura finding her mouth was dry with fright. Her fear only increased when two more blue skinned men crowded in close around her, all three wearing large grins that flashed pearl white fangs at her. Of the two that had joined them, only one had dark hair, the other having a dirty white color that couldn’t compete with the purity of white of the one she had bumped into.

“Oh look.” The dark haired Drule purred. “You’ve stolen her tongue away with your drunken antics.”

The first Drule straightened, never taking his eyes off of Allura. “I do apologize miss. I would never be so uncouth as to purposely bump into the path of a lady.”

“It’s…’s all right.” She said, tongue coming out to nervously lick at her bottom lip. “I should have been watching where I was going.”

“Ah but if you had, then perhaps I would never have made your acquaintance.” The white haired Drule quickly responded. That was something Allura felt she could have lived without, her heart beating so frantically in her chest she was sure the three Drules could hear it.

“Tell me miss, are you here all alone?” The dark haired Drule asked, leaning in closer to sniff at her hair. It all but made her jump in place, Allura’s fingers curling into fists so that she dug her nails into her palms hard enough to hurt.

“No…I….I’m here with someone. I’m just…just looking for a chance to powder my nose.” Allura lied, moving to the side and closer to the banquet table. “Now if you’ll excuse me…I really should be returning to my…to my date.”

To her relief, the first Drule she had encountered stepped out of her way, Allura squeezing past him. But not before the side of her body brushed up against his, the touch of their bodies electric, and making her skin break out into goose bumps. As she hurried away, she heard one of them speak, a question being whispered not so quietly.

“Since when does one attend these type of parties with a date?”

It was a curious question, almost as curious as the thought towards why Drules had been invited to this party. Allura stumbled and pushed her way through the crowd, no longer quite as polite in her effort to put distance between her and that blue skinned trio. Her heart was still beating frantically, Allura knowing for a second there she had thought she had run into none other than Prince Lotor himself.

~But that’s silly.~ Allura thought to herself. After all, no one, not even the dimmest of light bulbs, would be dumb enough to invite Lotor and Allura to the same party. Not if they didn’t want disaster to follow in their wake! She tried to reassure herself that it was mere coincidence, after all Lotor was not the only Drule that had white hair. Still it was troubling to see those men here at the party, Allura making a mental note to ask prince Tristan just what he had been thinking in inviting them to the same party as her. Planet Alazne may be a free one, but inviting even one member of Doom to your doorstep was just asking for trouble.

~I’ll just have to do my best to avoid those three.~ Allura vowed to herself, never suspecting that the tallest one, the Drule she had bumped into was still standing by the table, head turned to track her movements through the crowd….

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