(exerpt from a longer tale...)

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present, "The Masquerade", a Paso Doble…

.A marching dance of drama and drive, of bullfights in the Spanish arena. In which the man plays the role of the matador, and the woman can be the matador's cape, the bull, or sometimes the matador.

Commencement: the arpel. Stamping to the beat, marching in separate directions, eyes seeing stories and spelling a hundred tales. Circling each other now, like two prowling tigers, swords drawn.

(Meanwhile, a quiet tremolo, a whisper of guitar.)

Valera's hands dance tremulously around her hilt. André's eyes, usually a warm greenish tint, are now a chilling silver. Adrenaline ripples through the air.

Slam! – Valera's heavy, ornate blade, against André's lighter and flimsier one. Resistance. Sliding away, lunging at him. He steps out, lithe, narrowly misses the attack.

Flavio closes his eyes and strums away, melancholy and brooding, tremolos, so tense that it aches. Helpless.

Again and again. Running, diving, flying. Seizing the world. The eyes tell everything; there can be distractions, lies, tricks, but all that matters is the power of now. Because those are lies. This is real.

(Poof! A pack of playing cards flutter in the air.)

After all, Valera knows all the moves. A month of sparring with her Amigos has taught her everything she needs: Flavio's easy tricks, André's lithe caprices. Besting André – like catching a fly. Though he's faster, stronger, trickier, Valera's blows are accurate and better placed.

This, André wonders too, Where on earth did she learn to fight? It occurs to him that he's never asked. Of course he knows now: It's Alejandro's daughter. She's done this all her life. She's born to win.

Angel from Hell.

Valera, confused, twists. Wham! The coup de piqûe, like a lance, slamming into her shoulder; knocks her off balance and she falls, her sword sliding away.

Valera wipes her shoulder, surprised at the lack of blood.

André licks his lips.

She draws out a dagger, zips it at him. "Highwaymen killed my Da. Highwaymen shall not live!"

André barely deflects it before Valera returns in a swooping parade, circling him like a cape, sword in hand, every stroke aimed to kill.

It's like our duel, the one when he robbed me, Valera remembers as she steps sharply, markedly. I have my wish, don't I? No more pretending. No more fakes. Just the truth, El Bravado's treasure, nothing but the treasure…

If I don't kill him, he'll kill me.

Clashing chords, running arpreggios: a sky-high, full-fledged fantasia. Flavio's music, like the fight, twists and jars, exotic, bluesy, modal. Their slashes are brutal and desperate. A web of frenzy.

And, suddenly, a whisper. Valera wipes her eyes and sees – her sword has carved a curved, sleek line deep into André's waist. He falters, hands flying to his wound, and when it grips his sword again they are shiny with blood.

Valera shakes her head. No. How could she do this?

Carlos reads the emotion in her eyes. "You know what to do, Valera."

Flavio screams – and so does Valera, as she charges towards her wounded opponent, sword aimed for his heart.

(Will the bull devour the matador?)

Flick. Fwap. Still he parries her off. Her sword flies upwards, flashes an arc of light, slides away into the shadows.

(Ping! Music stops, eyes open, and the dance is done.)

And the cold, icy blade rests neatly against her throat – held by the bloodied hand that is connected to the arm connected to André.

"Go ahead," Valera says, clear and cold. "I'm done for." She forces herself to look into his eyes and admit defeat.

André tosses his weapon away.


"I can't kill you."


"You forget, Señorita. You are Valera."


And he spilled onto the ground, in a faint, or a death, no one could tell.

Carlos Vittori ran up. "Are you injured?"

Valera shook her head. Flavio frantically flung himself beside André and tried to revive him.

"Leave me alone, uncle. Please." She felt his reassuring hand on her shoulder and shook it off. "Clean 'em up, or something. Get them nice and cozy. Do something about André's wound." She reached around the highwayman's neck and took out the Ever-Unlocking Key.

"He'll probably die – we'll spare the hanging."

"I'll not have him die yet," Valera cried. "I'll not have him die!"