Lina Inverse was wearing a dress. She wasn't real sure how exactly she had gotten here, or where the dress had come from, but it was a beautiful thing. A flame colored silk brocade that matched her hair, embroidered with gold thread made up the bodice and over skirt. The underskirt was cloth of gold, embroidered with flame colored thread. She walked through the crowded ballroom, not recognizing anyone.

Ah, a mirror. She was wearing a mask. A golden mask, shaped like a bird of some sort. Her ruby eyes gleamed through the eyes of the mask, surrounded by what appeared to be gold filigree feathers. Her hair was caught up into an intricate chignon on top, and flowed down her back in waves beneath the tiny ruby-studded golden chains holding the chignon in place.

Why was she here? Where exactly was here? And what was up with the empty buffet tables? For some reason, these questions appeared in her mind, and then floated away without really causing alarm.

I know, Lina thought this is a dream. If this is a dream, where is my prince?

Lina looked around the ballroom. Everyone was in masks, but her eyes kept being drawn back to one man. He was only slightly taller than her own diminutive stature, but he somehow didn't appear too short. Women were clinging to him, their bright dresses showing up exquisitely against his silver embroidered black doublet and matching knee breeches. An intricate steel wolf mask covered his face, matching his slightly shorter than shoulder length hair. He seemed familiar, but Lina couldn't think who he might be.

"May I have this dance?" A tall blonde man in a midnight-blue doublet, scattered with pearls held his hand out to Lina. She wordlessly placed her gloved fingertips into the palm of his hand. He seemed familiar as well, comforting... like a well loved stuffed toy or warm fuzzy blanket. He drew her slowly onto the dance floor, swinging her into a lively brawl*. Lina laughed as she swirled around the floor, but her eyes were drawn back to the mysterious man in black. The dance came to an end, and she curtseyed to her partner, the elegant formal curtsey spreading her skirts about her in a rippling pool.

As she rose from the curtsey, another man took her hand. His dark purple waistcoat was several shades darker than his hair, bringing out his violet eyes. His grin seemed slightly forced. She smiled into his closed eyes, recognizing someone at last.

"Hello, Xellos." She smiled gently at her new partner as the pavane began. They moved slowly across the floor, pausing after each step. "Is this your doing?"

"Lina..." Xellos began, "I didn't think you would remember so quickly."

"Well, this party is rather unusual, and I certainly didn't pick out this dress."

"Do you like it?" Xellos asked, for once not teasing.

"Yes, actually I do." Lina smiled gently, "Who are you doing this for?"

Xellos was silent for a moment, letting his now open eyes travel out across the crowd. Lina followed his gaze.

"Filia looks lovely, doesn't she?" She asked the preoccupied Mazoku. He looked at her, something indefinable in his eyes. "I won't say anything... but I want to keep the dress. And you'll owe me one."

Xellos laughed, "I should have known... Lina Inverse would never pass up owning something so expensive, even if it is a dress. Why do you think I would care what you do?"

"You went to a lot of trouble for this. I don't know what the order was, but I'm fairly sure it didn't involve you having to create all this." Lina gestured around the ballroom, indicating the expensive clothes, the exquisite masks, the band and the crowd of people. "I never knew Mazoku went in for this..."

"Lina... FORGET" Xellos passed his hand across Lina's eyes as the dance came to its end.

Lina blinked at the smiling man bowing to her. She sank into a curtsey, even though she didn't remember dancing with him. As her next partner claimed her, she thought she heard him say "I'll keep the dress for you." Something important tried to make its way into her mind, but was quickly lost as her eyes were drawn back to the man in black and silver.

Lina whirled through the ball, dancing each dance with a new partner. They all seemed subtly familiar, but her thoughts kept being drawn back to one man, the man in the wolf mask. As the evening went on, the dances swirled together in her mind... until finally, a waltz was announced.

"I'm sorry..." Lina started to speak to her partner when a black-gloved hand reached out and tapped him on the shoulder. Her partner turned in surprise, and on seeing the man standing behind him, bowed deeply and murmured "My lord, I apologize... I didn't know."

Lina looked up at her new partner, it was him. The mask was ferocious up close, covering his face completely, leaving only his blue eyes visible. The bottom of the mask was cleverly jointed, allowing the wolf's mouth to open, showing his wry grin. A blush made its way slowly up her face as she realized that the one man she truly wanted to dance with was going to be her partner for the waltz. A faintly mocking smile made his eyes dance as he raised her hand to his lips to kiss.

"My dance." He said, his voice like liquid fire, causing shivers to run down her spine. Lina slipped into his arms as the waltz began.

His arm was rock solid behind her, moving her in perfect time to the music. Dancing with him was like flying. Lina had never felt so beautiful or graceful... But she kept her gaze fixed firmly on his chest, not wanting to meet his eyes...

"Lina. Look at me." His voice was incredible, smooth as velvet against bare skin. Against her will, Lina looked up. Ruby eyes met Cerulean. His fingers tightened on hers, and she began to lean towards him. Her skirt brushed over his feet as Lina moved closer. The rest of the ballroom seemed to whirl away into nothingness. There was only one point of stability in Lina's world... and he was drawing her closer.

Lina realized that they had stopped dancing in the doorway to the garden. Her body was tucked close into his, their masks almost touching. He was saying something...

The clock struck once, twice... at the fourth ring an earth shattering crash rang across the ballroom, and the world seemed to turn into a dissolving soap bubble. Dimly, Lina could feel the grip on her fingers loosening. The man in front of her was being pulled away. Their hands held as the world came crashing down. At the last moment she heard what he was saying.

"Lina... don't forget. The next waltz is mine."

"Zel?" Lina's head was screaming, the world was breaking... she put her hands up to her head, only then realizing that she had lost touch with the hand that had been clasped in her own. She looked up, but the world was swirling into nothingness...


* It's a type of dance, in case you were wondering...