Who Dares Wins: Part 2

First Blood

by Samy Merchi



DISCLAIMER: This is a non-profit work of fan-fiction involving characters created and owned by Marvel Comics Group.

ARCHIVED AT: http://mash.yok.utu.fi/corona.html

INSPIRED BY: NEW MUTANTS #49 "Ashes of the Soul"


Sebastian "BLACK KING" Shaw
Selene "BLACK QUEEN" Gallio

Tessa MacDonald
Trevor "BLACK ROOK" Fitzroy
Adrienne "WHITE QUEEN" Frost

Janet "WASP" Van Dyne Paladin

Nicole Kidman as Emma Grace Frost

CONTINUITY: This story takes place
* in my Shadows of the Future timeline
* in year +3 (three years in the future)
* on Christmas Eve, December 24th
* exactly a year after FIRST AND TEN
* about half a year after APOCALYPSO

The Hellfire Club ballroom was filled with a large crowd in formal wear dancing to the music played by the band on the stand to one end of the room, dressed in 18th-century attire and using instruments looking like they were from the same era.

Roberto Da Costa, with Amara Juliana Olivians Aquilla on his arm, walked thru the crowd towards Sebastian Shaw and Tessa MacDonald, when suddenly the music stopped and everyone stopped moving, as if someone had hit 'pause'.

Roberto turns towards you and smiles. "All right, since this is Chapter Two, let's recap, shall we." He nods to Amara who lifts up a large white board, holding it up. "This is the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club at present", he says, motioning at the board.

BLACK KING: Sebastian Shaw WHITE KING: - BLACK QUEEN: Selene WHITE QUEEN: Adrienne Frost

BLACK ROOK: Trevor Fitzroy WHITE ROOK: Roberto Da Costa BLACK BISHOP: Shinobi Shaw WHITE BISHOP: -

"As you can no doubt figure out", Roberto says, jabbing a thumb at his own entry, "this isn't the present, but about three years in the future, when Samy has made me into a complete and utter bastard and worked my way into the Inner Circle. Now, since he writes me as a complete and utter bastard, I'm hardly content with the same position my father used to hold, right? So this is the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club after tonight, if me and my bitchin' *All-New, All-Different* Upstarts have our way." He nods to Amara.

Amara drops the board and reveals another board behind it, holding it up while preening and posturing and arching her back.

BLACK KING: Shinobi Shaw WHITE KING: Roberto Da Costa BLACK QUEEN: Cordelia Frost WHITE QUEEN: Amara Aquilla

BLACK ROOK: Monet St Croix WHITE ROOK: Manuel de la Rocha BLACK BISHOP: Christopher Aaronson WHITE BISHOP: Martinique Jason

Roberto nods to Amara who drops the board and comes over to massage his shoulders as he goes on. "I and Amara, of course, are former New Mutants, and Manuel is a former Hellion. We all appeared a lot in NEW MUTANTS, and I've also had some really great and really crappy stuff happen to me over in X-FORCE. Shinobi has appeared all over the place since his *previous* attempt at trying to replace his father in X-FACTOR #68. Cordelia is Emma's sister whose main appearance is GENERATION X '95, while Monet is a long-running cast member of GENERATION X itself. Christopher Aaronson first appeared during the Age of Apocalypse in FACTOR X #1-4 as one of the Bedlam Brothers, and was later introduced in the mainstream timeline as leader of the New Hellions over in X-FORCE #87-90. Finally, Martinique Jason, Mastermind's daughter, was created and appeared in the WOLVERINE/GAMBIT: VICTIMS Limited Series, and has been all but ignored since. To lighten up this heavy exposition some, I'll tell a joke. Two cows were out on the pasture. One says, 'moo'. The other says, 'you took the words right out of my mouth'."

Amara stops massaging Roberto's shoulders and holds up a board saying 'APPLAUSE'.

"Thank you", Roberto bows and then stands straight again. "Now that you know who our evil, twisted and generally morally bankrupt protagonists are, let's get on with them trying to carry out their nefarious plot to take over the Inner Circle. Maestro, music!" he says and snaps his fingers.

"Roberto. We were wondering where you were", Sebastian Shaw said as he extended his hand and shook Roberto's in greeting. "It is approaching midnight, and it is traditional for all of the Inner Circle watch the clock strike twelve from the balcony."

"Yes, I read the memo", Roberto nodded in understanding and then glanced at his Rolex briefly before returning his eyes to Sebastian. "I apologize for my lateness, I had some last-minute business arrangements to take care of. But at least I'm here now. Shall we?" he asked, nodding up towards the balcony overlooking the ballroom.

Sebastian nodded wordlessly, and the two couples headed for the stairs leading up to the balcony.


"Hang on, Adrienne", Cordelia said and hesitantly bit her lip as she placed a hand onto the shoulder of her older sister who was heading for the door out of her study. "There's...something else I have to tell you before you go to meet the rest of the Inner Circle..."

"Cordelia, it's getting close to midnight", Adrienne said with a bit of exasperation, rolling her glasses around in her fingers as stress relief. "I have to be at the balcony soon. Sebastian is giving me enough trouble as it is, I'll be in even more trouble than I am now if I don't --"

"It won't take long, I promise", Cordelia said with her Big Pleading Eyes (TM), giving a weak smile. "Adrienne -- I -- I --" She took a deep breath and steadied herself. "I'm pregnant."

Adrienne stopped dead in her tracks and looked over her shoulder at Cordelia. She closed her eyes for a moment and pinched the bridge of her nose as she drew a slow, deep breath of air into her lungs, and then let it out with equal slowness. "Is it Shinobi's?"

"...no", Cordelia said, a little blush rising onto her cheeks.

"Thank god", Adrienne sighed in relief as her shoulders relaxed a bit. Then, she turned fully towards Cordelia and frowned thoughtfully as she lightly tapped the stem of her glasses against her lower lip. "Whose is it?"

Cordelia bit her lip nervously and shuffled her feet a bit, looking down to the floor in embarrassment, while saying, in a mousey voice, "His father's."

Adrienne's eyes widened slightly, and then narrowed in thought. She took the stem of her glasses between her teeth and chewed thoughtfully on it.

Cordelia's body tensed up and a wide smile, hidden by the fact that she was still looking downwards, came to her lips.

"OW!" Adrienne suddenly gasped, and pulled the stem of her glasses from her mouth, a small trickle of blood running down the middle of her bottom lip. She blinked in confusion for a moment, and then lifted a hand to her temple, suddenly feeling dizzy. "What --?" she started, and then stumbled to the side, managing to catch herself against a wall, leaning against it for support as she looked at Cordelia in disbelief.

Cordelia grinned as she raised her eyes from the floor and onto her older sister. "Razor-sharp stem coated with a synthetic derivative of curare and blowfish toxin, combining the best aspects of both: paralyzation and pain."

Adrienne's knees buckled underneath her and she slumped down to the floor, desperation starting to fill her eyes. She tried to swallow, but found that her throat didn't respond to her commands, numb and paralyzed. She tried to say something, but nothing came out.

"Why?" Cordelia asked as she kneeled beside Adrienne's form, holding her purse in her lap as she smiled sweetly at the poisoned White Queen. "It's simple, sis. Power. As long as I can remember, you and Emma have flaunted it over me, how you're the older and better ones, in control of all the family money and influence, and I'm just this no-good black sheep who doesn't belong anywhere and would've been better off if I hadn't even been born." She smiled and ran a fingertip gently over Adrienne's cheek. "It's nothing personal, sis. I'd have done this just the same even if it had been Joan Jett in the White Queen's seat. You just happened to be in the way."

A powerful spasm blasted thru Adrienne's body, causing her back to arch and a constricted whimper to escape her throat. Her neck jerked in agony as the poison started burning up her veins and a small droplet of moisture flowed from her left eye and down her cheek.

"Hurts, doesn't it?" Cordelia whispered as she sat down cross-legged on the floor beside Adrienne's slumped form. She reached into her purse and pulled out a shiny ornate dagger with a golden handle. "One quick slash could end all your pain. Kill you quickly, instead of ebbing away for minutes seeming like hours." She smiled sweetly and caressed Adrienne's cheek with her hand. "You *are* my sister", she said affectionately, and then put the knife back in her purse. "Good thing these rooms are soundproofed, huh?" she grinned.



Fortunately, most of the rooms down on the ground floor were similarly soundproofed, in order to allow club members to conduct their affairs discreetly. Otherwise, the horrible scream erupting from Monet St Croix's throat would certainly have brought someone to the pool room.

As it was, Emma Frost stood over the black woman's downed form, her hands clenched into fists, an expression on her face that was a mixture of disgust and fury, as she telepathically stimulated Monet's pain centers.


Her head snapped around to glance towards the entrance into the room, and her eyes fixed onto the man dressed in black standing there. "Shinobi."

"I wonder if it would be too much to ask for you not to manhandle my guests?" Shinobi Shaw said in a weary tone that didn't seem to really care what the answer would be as he took a sip from the wine glass in his hand.

Emma's eyes narrowed suspiciously for a moment. "*Your* guests?" she said slowly, and took a few steps away from Monet, circling the pool table as she kept her eyes on Shinobi. "Aaronson was here from your invitation as well. You've brought three powerful mutants into the Club." She lowered her chin slightly, shadows taking over her face as she looked at the Black Bishop from underneath her eyebrows. "Why?"

"Four, actually", Shinobi said with a shrug and walked over to a recliner, sitting down and placing the glass of wine onto the table beside the seat. "Mastermind's daughter is one as well. As for why? None of your business", he smiled confidently.

"That's where you're wrong", Emma snapped with eyes still burning with her hatred for Monet. "White Queen or not, Hellfire Club business is of great personal significance to me. And I *will* know what is going on, Shinobi!"

Suddenly, Shinobi's body tensed, and his back arched, his face constricting in agony as he tried to fight back the mental assault. But Emma Grace Frost was one of the most powerful telepaths in the world, and Shinobi, unfortunately, had had far too little training in fighting off psionic attacks. "UNGH!" he gasped, as a shudder ran thru his body, and then he fell limp onto the chair, breathing shallowly.

Emma's eyes widened as an expression of shock took over her face. "Dear lord."


"Roberto", Selene smiled widely as she extended her hand for him to kiss. "As always, it is a pleasure to witness your presence among us", she said as his lips touched the back of her hand, and then turned her eyes onto the woman beside him. "And you could not have chosen a better date. How are you, Amara? It has been *far* too long since we last met."

"Not long enough, Selene", Amara Aquilla replied sharply, feeling the heat of fury boil inside her, building towards an explosive release that she had to contain. She slowly drew in a silent breath thru clenched teeth as her eyes watched the moon goddess with smoldering anger.

"My my", Selene grinned at the reaction. "Don't tell me you are still sore about that whole 'Allison Crestmere' thing?"

"Yes", Amara said flatly.

"Ahem", Roberto cleared his throat slightly and then gave Amara a sweet smile. "Why don't you go get me a drink, darling. You can do a little tour at the same time and see if you can spot Shinobi or Adrienne anywhere. It's getting close to midnight."

Amara gave Roberto a slightly tense nod. "As you wish", she said, and slipped her arm from around his, raising her chin and starting to head down the stairs from the balcony to the ballroom with a perfect posture and dignified expression as if she owned the whole building. A princess is a princess, whether at home or not.

"She truly is magnificent, Roberto", Selene smiled, lightly placing her hand onto the Brazilian's shoulder and caressing him almost teasingly -- or maybe tauntingly, like a pet? "A true daughter of Nova Roma. A far better mate for one of your upbringing than that savage you dallied w--"

A faint red energy flare lit up Roberto's eyes as they narrowed and he turned to look over his shoulder into Selene's eyes.

Selene wasn't so stupid she didn't realize when she had poked at a nerve. She also was arrogant enough not to really care. "How is Danielle?" she said, her smile only widening. "I don't think I have seen her since that debacle with the Externals."

"I haven't heard from her in months", Roberto said tensely, and then went for a counterstrike. "But I am not the only one who has experienced a heavy loss this year... How are you yourself dealing with your reduced power levels, my Queen?" he said in an off-handed tone.

"I prefer to think them less as 'reduced' and more as 'original'", Selene replied, her smile fading into a more serious expression. "Since resurrecting the Externals by returning to them the power I once stole from them, I am once more possessed of only my own abilities, but those abilities have served me well and true over millennia. They have helped me survive as long as I have, and they will continue to be adequate for my purposes." Then, slowly, the smile returned to grace her lips. "But thank you for asking, Roberto. It is gracious of you to care."

"Naturally", Roberto just nodded in acknowledgement before placing his hands onto the railing of the balcony and looking down to the ballroom spreading out underneath. "Perhaps I should pop by Adrienne's chambers and remind her of the time."

"No", Sebastian replied. "If she can't keep minor appointments such as this, it will just be more proof of her incompetence. If she wants to show that she is trustworthy, she will be here before midnight. No assistance given."

"I for one can't wait to be rid of the frigid witch", Trevor Fitzroy smirked. "We should replace her with someone more --"

"-- willing to have sex with you, Trevor?" Tessa MacDonald smiled faintly, restraining the urge to wrinkle her nose. "I suspect the definition of a person you'd characterize as 'frigid' would be something along the lines of 'anyone who'd avoid you'..."

"Which would make 'frigid' a compliment on one's intelligence, I suppose", Roberto commented.

"Shut up, Da Costa", Trevor snapped, clenching his hands into fists.

"Or *what*?" Roberto smirked. "You'll hammer my fist with your face?"

"He does have a point, pet", Selene smiled as she placed a hand onto Trevor's shoulder. "As does Tessa. You can't really blame them for stating the truth."

Trevor grumbled and stuffed his hands in his pockets.


Amara's eyes met with those of Christopher Aaronson momentarily as she walked into the lounge off the ballroom. She gave an almost imperceptible nod, before continuing off towards the door to the pool room.

"Something wrong", Martinique Jason said, her as she and Christopher exited the lounge and headed towards the buffet tables in the ballroom. "She's not supposed to go there."

"There must have been a change in plans", Christopher answered as he picked up an apple from a tray as they passed. "Situations change. So do plans." He chomped a bit off the apple and glanced up towards the balcony, catching Roberto's eyes for a moment and giving a little nod, then looking back to Martinique. "We should have a while before anything happens. Dance?"

Martinique smiled and extended her hand to Christopher. "I'd be delighted."


"Hello, Amara", Emma Frost said as she opened the pool room door a fraction of a second before Amara lowered her fingers onto the handle. "They are inside." With that, she walked past Amara and disappeared into the crowd of the lounge.

Amara blinked in momentary confusion, then glanced into the pool room where Monet, Manuel and Shinobi were all slowly and shakily getting up onto their feet, the latter two rubbing their temples. She glanced back over her shoulder into the lounge, then back at Shinobi. She frowned in thought for a moment, then stepped into the pool room and closed the door behind her. "Should I go after Emma?" she asked warily.

"No", Manuel said, leaning against the pool table for support as he rubbed the back of his head with one hand. "She's *Emma Frost*. If she doesn't want to be found, she *won't* be found."

"Manuel is correct", Monet said as she stood straight and smoothed over her dress. "We *can't* find her in this crowd. Not without devoting a significant amount of our resources to the search. And we can't afford that without dismantling our entire plan. We should continue on our present course, and deal with her if she becomes a relevant problem."

Yes, whatever", Shinobi sighed and straightened his jacket. "It's almost midnight. I need to go to the balcony. But before that..." he said, and lifted the golden collar-stud to his lips. "Cordelia, report."


"I'm fine, Shinobi", Cordelia replied after taking a tube of lipstick from her purse and unscrewing it, speaking into the tip. "Just playing."

A periodic gurgle came from Adrienne's throat, halted every now and then by a spasming of her lungs. A trickle of drool flowed from the side of her mouth down her cheek to the carpet upon which her head rested at an uncomfortable angle.

"What do you think? Here or here?" Cordelia grinned at her sister, and then shrugged. "This one looks better, let's put it here." She drew a circle onto a piece of paper where were several three by three grids filled with x's and o's. Then she sighed and shook her head. "Tsk tsk tsk. Looks like you lose again, sis. Tough luck", she said sympathetically as she drew an x in the remaining empty spot on the grid, and then circled a row of three x's created by her latest insertion.

"HNGH!" Adrienne gasped, and her back arched spastically, her eyes going wide, with a terrified look in them for a moment, before she collapsed limply onto the carpet, her eyes remaining open but the light in them fading quickly away.

Cordelia watched and bit her bottom lip nervously, her eyes widening as she stared into Adrienne's. Her fingers tightened on her purse and she squeezed it tightly for several moments, as a bit of moisture appeared in her eyes.

Then, her older sister just lay still.

Cordelia swallowed and noticed she was breathing quickly thru her nose and her heart was racing. She closed her eyes for a moment, and parted her lips, taking a few deep breaths and forcing her breathing to calm down. Then, she opened her eyes.

Adrienne's eyes were still open.

A shudder ran thru Cordelia's spine and made her almost jump from shock. She took another few shaky breaths, and reached for her sister, putting her fingers over Adrienne's eyes, and closing the lids with a tender touch.

"D-damn", Cordelia whispered. "I did it. I r-really did it, for real..."

She stood up slowly, and felt slightly dizzy, so she leaned against the desk for support. She inhaled slow and deep, then let the air go and glanced nervously towards the door leading out of the study. Then, she brought the lipstick to her lips. "Th-this is Cordelia... Phase one is c-complete..."


"Shinobi. How surprisingly punctual of you", Sebastian said as his son walked up the stairs to the balcony, a thoughtful frown on his face. "Is everything all right?"

"Oh, just thinking about Cordelia", Shinobi said, flashing a faint smile at his father before giving Tessa, standing beside Sebastian as ever, a little glance. "You women do have the most annoying habit to keep constantly going off to powder your noses."

"I believe they use it as an opportunity to gossip without the presence of the men who undoubtedly serve as the topic of those very conversations", Sebastian answered as he took a sip from his champagne. "Speaking of which, your date seems to still be among the missing as well, Roberto."

"I did notice, Sebastian", Roberto nodded graciously and glanced towards Shinobi. "You didn't happen to see Amara wandering around anywhere down there?"

Shinobi gave a little nod as he took a drink from a tray held by one of the french maids up on the balcony with the Inner Circle. "I saw her briefly in the pool room. She told me to tell you she would be rejoining us shortly."

"Magnificent", Selene smiled, lowering her chalice from her lips, her tongue flicking briefly against her upper lip to lick off a little droplet of red liquid, even as the heavy gong of the clock on the wall above the foyer doors rang. "It seems poor Adrienne will miss the stroke of midnight."

"I'm not going to spill any tears over her absence", Trevor smirked as he joined the Shaws and Selene by taking a glass of wine from one of the maids.

Roberto took a drink as well, the last member of the Inner Circle without one, and let his eyes linger on Trevor for a while, a faint smile on his lips as the clock slowly rang out its gongs towards midnight. "Let's not hold it against her. I'm sure she would be here if she could", he said and his grin widened slightly, as the gongs proceeded towards the last one, only a few remaining.

"I'm sure she would be", a cool, level voice spoke, as a white-gloved hand extended towards one of the trays and picked up a long, thin champagne flute. "Whatever is holding her up must be of *grave* importance." Emma Frost let her eyes linger on Shinobi with a faint smile. "Matters of life and death, surely."

Both Roberto and Shinobi tensed up slightly as the former White Queen had dropped her psionic invisibility and let the Inner Circle notice her presence. Shinobi loosened his collar a bit in slight nervousness, while Roberto just narrowed her eyes, watching the newcomer.

"Emma", Sebastian smiled just as the last gong rang out and cheers and applause exploded into being down in the ballroom. He waited half a minute or so for the noise to die out, all the while his eyes locked with Frost's. Then, his smile just widened and he lifted his glass up into a toast. "Merry Christmas, Inner Circle."

"Merry Christmas!" everyone else said, meeting Sebastian's glass with their own in the toast.

"Long may you reign", Emma added with a sweet smile, addressing her words to no one in particular as she lowered her glass and brought it to her lips.


Cordelia took a deep breath, and concentrated for a few moments. Then, she yanked open the door leading out of the study. "Paladin, come quickly!" she cried out with tears running down her cheeks. "There's something *wrong* with Adrienne!!"

Paladin jumped up from the couch where he had been sitting, reading a newspaper, and dashed for the door to the study, stopping in his tracks at the sight of Adrienne lying down on the floor, slumped against the wall and her eyes closed. "Adrienne!" he gasped, and took a few steps towards her.


"Ow", Paladin said, rubbing the back of his head with a hand. "That hurt", he said, glancing over his shoulder at Cordelia.

"Heh", Cordelia grinned nervously as she quickly hid the bronze statue of a satyr she had smacked against the back of Paladin's head, behind her back. "That always works in the movies..."

"What did you do to her?" Paladin growled and grabbed the front of Cordelia's dress, slamming her back against a wall. "What happened here??"

"Um...would you believe two guys in Starfleet uniforms beamed down, zapped her with a phaser, and then spontaneously combusted before they could have their way with her?"


"Me neither", Cordelia grinned nervously and then gave a little shrug. "I kindasorta poisoned her. Don't be mad?" she cooed, fluttering her eyelashes and giving her best 'poor li'l ol' vulnerable me' expression.

"Where's the antidote?" Paladin said sharply.

"Umm...in my coat pocket?"

"Where's your coat?" Paladin growled and moved threateningly closer.

"SUCKER CITY, FRANCE!" Cordelia shouted as she brought her knee up between Paladin's legs.

"ARGH!" Paladin gasped as he crumpled down to the floor with an agonized expression, hands between his legs.

Cordelia instantly made a break for it, hopping over Paladin and running for the door.


"Not...so fast..." Paladin grunted as his arm swung around quickly and he grabbed Cordelia's ankle.

"Unf!" Cordelia wheezed as she fell headlong onto the floor. "Damn!" she mumbled with a pouty expression. "I broke a fingernail!"

"A lot more's going to be broken if you don't tell me where the antidote is --" Paladin hissed as he stood up, looming over Cordelia with an angry expression.


Cordelia blinked as a pair of hands shot up thru the floor and grabbed Paladin's ankles.

"Hey --!" Paladin gasped a moment before he was yanked down and thru the floor with a loud crashing sound.


The sound of an impact, and then Paladin made another hole in the floor as he blasted up thru it several feet away from the spot where he had gone down. He ricocheted off the ceiling, and then crashed down onto Adrienne's desk, demolishing the dignified oaken construct.

Cordelia looked at the unconscious Paladin and blinked in confusion.

"You should have called for backup", Monet St Croix said as she flew up thru the first hole Paladin had made, and landed on the study floor beside Cordelia. "Fortunately for you, Shinobi was aware of Paladin's presence and was able to anticipate the consequences of your overconfidence. Hence, he sent me to assist you."

"Thanks", Cordelia said while sitting on her butt on the floor and inspecting her broken fingernail with a pouty lip. "But did you have to trash the floor of my new study?"

"There was no inconspicuous route upstairs from the ground floor", Monet answered as she walked over to the remains of the desk and Paladin atop them. "I was forced to either try to get past security by guile or by force, or to use a shortcut. If it means that much to you, I can naturally reimburse you for the damages." She picked Paladin up by his neck and looked to Cordelia. "Should I kill him?"

Cordelia didn't answer right away, instead peeking curiously down one of the holes in the floor and then wrinkling her nose. "Gross! There's a bathroom underneath my study? I don't want these chambers anymore. Wonder if Amy'd like to trade --" Suddenly, she blinked and looked to Monet with a frown. "How'd Shinobi know Paladin was here? *I* didn't know until I got here..."


"Speaking of 'that Allison Crestmere thing', take a look at who your date is consorting with, Roberto", Selene said with an amused smile as she watched the events down in the ballroom.

Roberto quirked an eyebrow, and moved over to the edge of the balcony, glancing in the direction Selene was looking in, his eyes settling on Manuel de la Rocha chatting with Amara in a corner of the ballroom.

"Oh, don't worry", Selene said with a teasing smile. "I am certain their torrid affair has been completely forgotten by the two of them. Certainly she wouldn't choose him over --"

"I'm *sure*", Roberto said sharply, tensing up and wrinkling his nose.


"Dance?" Manuel yawned boredly as he leaned against the wall, watching the crowd resume dancing on the ballroom floor as the midnight furor was over and done with.

"If you touch me, Manuel, I will separate the offending limb from your body, peel the flesh off it and leave it to rot under the sun while feeding the remaining bones to a pack of rabid wild dogs", Amara smiled, placing an olive between her lips, sucking out the filling, and then chewing down the olive itself.

Manuel watched Amara for a moment and then asked, "Should I take that as a 'no'?"


"One can only wonder what is being said", Selene smiled as her eyes lingered on the same pair as Roberto's. "Perhaps they are discussing the weather."

A little 'crack' sound came from the bannister Roberto's hands were on.

"Uh, Roberto?" Shinobi said, hesitantly coming to stand beside the Brazilian. "We should go now. Father has an hour or so to listen to your proposal about the Shaw-Da Costa lunar colony project..."

Roberto didn't seem to notice Shinobi.

"We *really* need to go, Roberto", Shinobi said and sighed a bit. "*Forget* about her! We have more important things to take care of!"

"It's all right, Shinobi", Sebastian said, coming up and placing a hand onto Roberto's shoulder. "A man, if he is any kind of man, should always protect his rights to his property. One must *never* appear weak and unable to devote attention to everything in other peoples' eyes." He finished his drink and put the empty glass onto a tray. "We can discuss the project some other time."

Shinobi tensed up a bit. "Roberto...?"

"No, Shinobi is right", Roberto said with a frown, forcing his fingers to let go of the bannister as he turned towards Sebastian. "A man must also learn to delegate." He relaxed, regaining control over himself, and waved his hand dismissively. "Trevor. Go make sure de la Rocha does not make advances on Amara."

"What??" Trevor bristled angrily. "What do you think I am, Da Costa? Your errand boy??"

"No, actually I think you're an incompetent moron, Trevor, why do you ask?" Roberto replied off-handedly as he started heading off to a corridor with Sebastian, Tessa and Shinobi. "Do as I say. And if you touch Amara yourself, I will kill you."

"Sebastian", Emma said, placing a hand onto the Black King's arm as he was about to head off. She looked seriously into his eyes for a few moments, and could feel the tension her actions created in Roberto and Shinobi. Slowly, she placed a gloved hand onto Sebastian's cheek, caressing it lightly. Then, she swallowed a bit, took a deep breath, and said, "Goodbye."

"Are you going?" Sebastian asked, quirking a curious eyebrow at Emma's slightly out-of-ordinary demeanor as he looked back into her eyes.

Emma stayed silent for a moment, and then gave a slow nod. "Soon, Sebastian." Then, a little smile came to her lips. "I'm sure I'll see you again sooner or later."

"I'm sure", Sebastian smirked, and then nodded to Tessa, who led the way into the corridor, her black cape cascading in the air behind her as she was followed by Sebastian, and he, in turn, followed by a relieved Shinobi and a tense Roberto.

Trevor paused and waited until the quartet was well gone. Then, a smile came to his lips as he glanced down from the balcony. "What an *excellent* idea..." he murmured to himself.

Emma's eyes locked onto the back of Trevor's head and her eyes narrowed a bit.


"Exactly as we predicted. The lure was too much to resist", Christopher Aaronson murmured, turning his head a bit so his mouth was near his golden collar-stud, as he stood near a doorway leading from the ballroom into a corridor. "Fitzroy is coming down the stairs from the balcony now, with that moronic smile on his face. He's yours. We'll keep our eyes on Selene. And Emma, for that matter, since she's being gracious enough to let us watch her at the same time."


"Hello, I'm Trevor and you're gorgeous."

Amara turned her head and looked over her shoulder towards the origin of the voice. "Actually, I'm Amara", she smiled politely. "Amara Juliana Olivians Aquilla. It's a pleasure to meet you, Trevor", she said, turning towards him and extending her hand to him.

Trevor smiled and bowed down briefly to kiss the back of Amara's hand. "Not as much as it is to meet you", he said and then as he stood straight, glanced briefly to Manuel before returning his eyes to Amara. "I can see you're bored. Perhaps you would like to come upstairs to see the etchings in my chambers."

Manuel's eyes narrowed a bit.

Amara smiled widely and placed a hand lightly onto her chest in a be-still-my-beating-heart gesture. "I would l--" she started in a pleasant voice, then paused for a fraction of a second in mid-word, and the smile faded quickly. "No, I don't think so", she shook her head.

"What's the matter?" Trevor quirked an eyebrow with a little offended wrinkle of his nose. "Don't think I'm good enough for --"

"Please, just leave", Amara said, closing her eyes and turning her back to Trevor coldly. "I have no desire to spend any time with you whatsoever."

"What, and you do with Da Costa?" Trevor snapped, his anger starting to rise as he was being upstaged yet again by the Brazilian. "I'm a better man than he'll ever be, in every way imag--"

"You only wish", Amara said, glancing at Trevor down her nose. "Leave, or I will call security."

"Security is at my beck and call in this building, woman", Trevor hissed to Amara's face, narrowing his angry eyes threateningly. "Now, will you come with me voluntarily, or --"

"Excuse me."

"What??" Trevor snapped, glancing over his shoulder at the new voice.

"Let me introduce myself. My name is Manuel Alfonso Rodrigo de la Rocha", Manuel smiled at Trevor. "We've met before, in particular when you slaughtered some of my friends in this very estabilishment. But don't worry", he smiled. "I don't bear a grudge. Indeed, I can be your new best friend." He grinned and picked up a glass of champagne from a passing servant.

"Oh, Trevor!" Amara gasped and grabbed the front of Fitzroy's shirt, pressing her body against his. "Take me now!"

Manuel smirked and sipped his champagne briefly before speaking again. "She's yours. For a price, of course."

"And what's the price?" Trevor asked, quirking a suspicious eyebrow.

Manuel let the question linger in the air for a moment, savoring the feeling of power, before giving his answer. "That I be allowed to join in. Let's teach the stuck-up little princess a lesson."

Trevor looked thoughtful.


"Manuel, what the hell do you think you're doing?" Christopher hissed furiously into his collar-stud as he watched from across the ballroom as Manuel, Trevor and Amara started heading towards a stairway. "This is Amara's play, you're needed back here! Let them go! What kind of an idiotic stunt are you pulling?!"

Martinique was sitting on a chair, pretending to rest her legs while her eyes kept attentively watching Emma and Selene up on the balcony. She glanced around every now and then, making sure nobody was paying any undue attention to her and Christopher. But at the latter's words, her eyes went to the stairway as well, locking onto Manuel as a dark frown came onto her face. "What does he think he's doing??" she snapped under her breath.

Manuel just shot a casual glance across the ballroom as he ascended the stairs with Trevor and Amara. His eyes locked onto Christopher's for a brief moment, pretty much saying something along the lines of, 'Fuuuck youuu, Bedlam.'


The door to the Black King's chambers thudded shut behind the quartet who had just entered. "Now, about the project, Roberto", Sebastian said as he led the group towards his study, followed by Roberto and Shinobi, and then Tessa who had taken up the rear, "I'm not sure about the viability of the tourism aspect, for one. The costs of building and maintaining a lunar colony would be astronomical, and while not out of the realm of possibility for our two companies working together, it would still represent a considerable investment and not something to be rushed into lightly." He placed his fingers onto the handle of the door to his study and glanced over his shoulder at the others.

"It really doesn't matter, Sebastian", Roberto smiled, holding Tessa's cape in his hand and keeping her upper torso from slumping down to the floor to join the rest of her unconscious body. "Shinobi has already agreed to the project."

Sebastian whirled fully around to face Roberto and Shinobi, his eyes narrowing and his hands clenching into fists. "What's the meaning of this?" he snapped.

"Quite simply, daddy dearest", Shinobi smiled, "a coup."

Part 3

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