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Perception

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"You want me to attend a ball?" Kaylin yelped. "At the palace? In a week?" There were so many problems with what the Arkon had just said, Kaylin didn't even know where to begin. Which he must have realized since he looked very uncomfortable sitting in her parlour. As he bloody well should. If Kaylin didn't know it was impossible, she would have thought had gone mad in his old age.

"It has been decided that attending a ball at the palace will be a way to judge how you conduct yourself among influential people before being formally introduced to the Emperor." The only mercy was that it was the Arkon imparting the information. Not, say, Diarmat at his most uptight.

"Since when," Bellusdeo cut in cooly, "have dragons held balls?" She wrinkled her nose in clear distaste; this was obviously a Barrani activity. The Arkon would have sighed if Kaylin had asked the question. As it was Bellusdeo, he turned gold eyes on her and answered her barely veiled criticism.

"Dancing is a way to socialize without restricting yourself to a single conversation partner," the Arkon explained - to Bellusdeo. "At a formal dinner, your conversation partners are determined by the seating arrangements and the number of guests. A ball allows greater flexibility in social interactions, and limits their duration." Kaylin would have bet money - her own - that the Arkon had never danced, even if he had felt obliged to attend a ball at some point in his long life.

"I can't dance," Kaylin told him. Because that seemed like something he should know.

"Neither can I," Bellusdeo volunteered. Given her opinion of dancing, that was hardly a surprise.

"The mortals you ruled did not dance?" The Arkon appeared genuinely surprised by the news.

"No," Bellusdeo replied evenly, "they were too occupied protecting their world from Shadow for such a pastime."

"Forgive me," the Arkon said, bowing slightly. "We have arranged a suitable teacher for you," he assured her. Kaylin always struggled with being openly ignored, but tried to hold it in. What the Emperor had told her over dinner about becoming tools or enemies of the powerful had encouraged her to hold her tongue. Or to try, which she felt should count for something.

"Who?" Bellusdeo asked, not appearing any more sold on the idea than Kaylin.

"Lord Emmerian. He is, I believe, waiting for you at the palace." Bellusdeo considered the matter in silence before nodding.

"I suppose he and I can survive each other for a while. He lacks the stuffiness other members of our race have embraced."

"Like me?" The Arkon asked, raising a brow. Bellusdeo laughed openly.

"You have always been stuffy, Lannagaros." The words, from Bellusdeo, did not seem to cause offence; the Arkon's eyes remained gold. Kaylin felt a small pang and wondered if she were powerful if she would be able to get away with saying things like that. She felt, given her incurable status as a human, that the answer was probably no. "What of Kaylin?"

"I believe there is a Barrani presently in her home who could be motivated to teach her to dance."

"There are currently two Barrani staying here," Kaylin commented, "and I think Nightshade is visiting his brother at the moment." As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she knew who the Arkon expected her to asked. "You want me to ask Nightshade," she said morosely. Well, the thought of asking Mandoran to teach her was a little appalling. As far as she knew, he was stuck in a wall again. And under house arrest.

"Dancing is, as Bellusdeo has made clear, a primarily Barrani pastime. As long as you continue interacting with the Barrani High Court, you will be at some point required to attend one of their balls." Kaylin froze. Dancing in the middle of the Barrani High Court was the stuff of nightmares.

"Surely, Kaylin and I could take our lessons together?" Bellusdeo intervened. Kaylin felt a rush of gratitude towards to gold dragon.

"Your status, and therefore the expectations attending you, are dramatically different from the private's." The Arkon rebutted. Bellusdeo stiffened, and raised her inner eyelids to mute the orange of her eyes.

"My status," Bellusdeo repeated firmly, "should be non-existent."

"The dance is being held in your honour," the Arkon explained, looking like he would like to be anywhere else. Kaylin didn't blame him; Bellusdeo's eyes had shaded to a dark orange.

"This was the Emperor's idea, wasn't it?" The Arkon's silence was a loud yes. To Kaylin's great surprise, Bellusdeo let the matter drop. Or at least shifted it. "Kaylin is Chosen. She should honoured, as well."

"As you say," the Arkon agreed; Kaylin felt it was the concession of a man who simply wasn't interested in reopening a longstanding debate. "It is, however, Kaylin who would be the most bothered were the significance of her marks to become publicly known." Kaylin grimaced. Having recently seen the complete change in the way the Aerian Hawks treated Moran, Kaylin knew the Arkon was right. She had no idea how Moran could handle it.

"What about Severn?" She asked. Because if she was stuck learning how to dance, he should be, too.

"You Corporal will not be attending," was the completely unexpected response.

"What?" Kaylin gaped at the Arkon.

"He has other matters to attend to. You will see that he has been removed from the duty roster for the foreseeable future." Which meant Wolf business. Kaylin felt her stomach drop.

"The duty roster isn't here," Kaylin pointed out. It couldn't be since they were sitting in one of the parlours Helen insisted were for 'informal social interactions'. Whatever that meant.

"Ah, no, but that is what it will say if you make the effort to check." Like she was going to go all the way to the Halls of Law on a rare day off to check Severn's schedule. So far, except for the Arkon's unexpected visit, she hadn't had a single disaster. It was - had been - amazing.

"So you honestly want me to ask Nightshade to teach me how to dance?"

"Given the mark he has placed upon you, I do not believe he will be unwilling." Was the measured reply. Kaylin flushed and after a moment, the Arkon filled the silence. "I assure you, despite Bellusdeo's obvious concerns, that our balls, which are largely attended by mortals, are far less formal than the balls of the Barrani High Court." Anything would be far less formal than the Barrani High Court. Kaylin sighed in defeat.

"I'll ask."

"I'd best be going, too," Bellusdeo said, rising gracefully to her feet, "if Lord Emmerian is waiting. Will you be my escort?" Normally, Bellusdeo would have argued about needing an escort, but if it was the Arkon, well, that was obviously different. Kaylin snorted, earning herself a very flat look from Bellusdeo.

"I would like to return to my hoard," the Arkon acknowledged, because short of potentially world ending catastrophes, he made an effort not to leave. Kaylin wondered idly how he had ended up the messenger. It was possible they figured Bellusdeo would cause the least amount of fuss if he was the one who brought the idea to her. If so, Kaylin agreed.

"He's in the large parlour with his brother, dear," Helen said as Kaylin left the room. Kaylin had no idea why she needed multiple parlours - she hadn't had one, before - but Helen insisted they were necessary, and Kaylin didn't push. It was Helen's decision, after all.

"...Are they talking?" Because you could usually hear them when they did. No matter what Bellusdeo thought, they did sound like dragons, even if officially they had reached a compromise. Kaylin felt the Barrani definition of compromise needed refinement.

"Not at present, no." Kaylin sighed.

"What happened? I thought they had worked things out."

"I believe it would be best for you to hear things from them," Helen informed her, sounding almost unsure. Kaylin glanced at the Avatar in surprise, but before she could press the issue, Helen opened the door, and Kaylin was faced with two pairs of midnight blue eyes. Great.

"What's going on?" Kaylin asked, glancing between them. She figured as long as Nightshade wasn't in her mind, he wouldn't know that she was stalling.

"That's what I'd like to know," he replied cooly. So much for that, Kaylin thought.

"I need to learn to dance, and the Arkon thinks you're my best bet as a teacher." The words that fell out her mouth did nothing to ease the tension in the room.

"Why do you need to learn to dance, Kaylin?" Nightshade inquired pointedly, gliding towards her.

"There's a ball being held in Bellusdeo's honour at the palace, and they want me to come." Annarion moved as well, stepping between them. Nightshade shifted so he could continue to hold Kaylin's eyes without acknowledging the obstacle his brother had become.

"Meaning your attendance is mandatory, and you need to avoid embarrassing yourself by dancing poorly." Kaylin clenched her teeth. Nobody wanted to be told that they were a social disaster, even if it was true.

"...Yes."

"I can teach you how to dance, Lord Kaylin," Annarion offered, joining the conversation for the first time. Nightshade froze at the words. Kaylin felt that if his eyes could have gotten any darker, they would have.

You know I won't hurt your brother, right? Kaylin asked, surprised to find that Helen allowed them to speak this way. As far as she could tell, Helen's decisions in this regard were totally random. He's important to Teela, Kaylin continued. And she liked him, but she didn't want to get into that. Nightshade felt it regardless. He always did, when they spoke like this.

I know that you would not deliberately hurt him, yes, Nightshade agreed, which wasn't quite the same thing.

"There is no need," he assured his brother coldly, "I have no reason to refuse Lord Kaylin's request."

"You are no doubt a busy man," Annarion rebutted before Kaylin could speak, "and I'm certain there are many responsibilities which have a greater claim on your time than instructing Lord Kaylin in dance." Considering the bulk of their heated arguments had been about Nightshade's duty - or more specifically, his willingness to abandon it to find his brother - Kaylin flinched at the words.

"Spending time with my Erenne takes precedence over any trivialities which might otherwise occupy my time." And since Annarion was pissed that Nightshade had marked her as Erenne, this reply was guaranteed to stir things up. Predictably, Annarion stiffened.

"If you do not take steps to fulfill your side of our agreement, Lord Nightshade, I have very little motivation to fulfill mine," he pointed out.

"What's the agreement?" Kaylin interrupted, profoundly curious. She had been trying to keep the question to herself, but if it involved her, well, that was different. The brothers both fell silent.

"That is not relevant here," Nightshade replied. Kaylin had to physically bite her tongue not to argue the point. Annarion had just said that it was. "And I will not go back on my word to you, Annarion." Annarion looked torn, clearly wanting to believe his brother, but uncertain if he could.

"Nightshade won't break a promise he made to you," Kaylin assured him. He looked at her in surprise.

"You trust him?" Annarion, on the other hand, seemed profoundly doubtful.

"I trust him when it comes to you," Kaylin replied, because she wasn't stupid, after all. Annarion glanced between them, then, making a decision, bowed and left them alone in the room. Kaylin was certain her eyebrows had climbed into her hair; since when was Annarion willing to leave them alone? Before she could ask, Nightshade filled the silence Annarion had left.

"The lessons will be held at my Castle," he told her, ignoring her grimace, "and you will wear appropriate clothing."

"You want me to wear a dress? Into the fiefs?" If there was a better way to paint a target on your back, Kaylin didn't know it. Except maybe wearing jewelry, which anyone on the wrong side of the river would spot.

"I'll ensure you are escorted from the bridge." Kaylin cringed. If anyone found out she'd been escorted, she would never live it down.

"We can't just skip the dress?" Kaylin wasn't very hopeful; Nightshade could be impossibly stuffy about these things.

"No. Clothing impacts both the way you move and the way you behave." It did, and that was what she hated about it. No matter what the situation was, wearing formal clothing always made her feel like a fraud; she could never get used to it. Fancy clothes were for other people - usually ones she didn't like. "You could wear your own clothes to the Castle and then change into a dress there," Nightshade offered. Kaylin considered this, knowing it was as much of a compromise as she was likely to get from the fieflord. It had always unnerved her that Nightshade had produced clothing for her, but Barrani clothing tended to be practical, which was more than could be said of human formal wear. And the white dress she did own didn't have sleeves.

"I'll change there," Kaylin yielded.

"I believe you are off today?" Nightshade confirmed, barely waiting for her nod before continuing. "We should begin shortly then. I am content to have you stay the night," Kaylin flushed at the implication, "but believe that you would like to return before dark." Kaylin nodded jerkily. "I will go make the preparations," count on Nightshade to have preparations to make for dance classes, "and see you shortly."