Author Note: Well… at least I only waited two years between chapters this time! Thank you to all of my readers for your continued support. I love writing this piece, and I hope I can give you the story that you deserve! As always, thank you for your reviews, and enjoy this chapter.

The Malevolent Masquerade

Prior to any formal event, it is important to spend a little extra time to look one's best. Of course, as you grow older and are invited to more and more banquets and birthday parties, you will learn that some guests will take more time to get ready than others. In fact, a former colleague of mine spent two hours selecting the best pendant to wear to a neighbor's holiday dinner, and I once spent several months preparing myself for the wedding of the woman I loved.

Many will take the time to choose the right hairstyle, clothing and shoes, but very few took as much time as Carmelita did on the night of the first royal ball.

"Cakesniffer, straighten out these curls!" Carmelita shrieked, pulling at her tightly curled locks. Violet had just rearranged Carmelita's hair for what felt like the hundredth time that day, and couldn't bear to do it again.

"Carmelita, darling, there isn't time," Esmé said softly, squeezing her daughter's cheeks for color. "Our carriage is outside waiting, and so is your prince!"

"I suppose this will do," Carmelita muttered, narrowing her eyes at Violet. She stood up from her chair and twirled around in her red polka dot dress. "I already know I'll be the prettiest girl there." She slapped on her matching mask.

"Yes, you will," Olaf agreed as he appeared in the doorway. He extended out both hands – one to Carmelita and one to Esmé – to lead them out of the room. Violet followed closely behind. "Orphan, I trust you and your brother will clean up this mess while we're gone," he added.

"Of course she will!" Esmé cackled as they made their way downstairs. "It's not as though she has a royal ball to attend!"

Violet gritted her teeth. "Have a lovely evening," she said without really meaning it. She ran ahead of her stepfamily and opened the front door for them. "Safe travels!"

"Thanks for nothing, cakesniffer!" Carmelita yelled back, and with that, Violet shut the door.

Isadora, Duncan and Klaus emerged from the servants' quarters, where they had been able to hide from Carmelita's beauty routines.

"That girl is insufferable!" exclaimed Isadora, using a word which here means unbelievably rude and obnoxious at all times. "We could hear her screaming at you all the way from back here!"

Violet shook her head. "I feel like I could use a nap now, after all of that," she admitted.

"Oh no, you don't!" Duncan cut in, taking Violet gently by the shoulders and steering her toward the servants' quarters. "We still have to get you ready for the ball."

When they entered the room, Isadora pulled out the pink gown she had altered for Violet. What was once frilly and resembling a pastry was now sleek and elegant, and when Violet put the dress on and looked in the mirror, she couldn't believe what she saw.

"Beautiful, Vi," Klaus told her, as Isadora arranged her hair in a simple updo.

"Remember, tonight you aren't Violet," Duncan said, pulling out his notebook and flipping through his notes. "Tonight, you are Duchess Veronique Fortunella of Dagmar."

Violet laughed. "Remind me again why I can't use my own identity? Or, at the very least, why I have to have such an elaborate name?"

"We don't want Olaf and Esmé to catch wind of this!" Klaus replied. "Besides, Veronique Fortunella of Dagmar is a long enough name that most people won't think to question it."

"Fair enough," Violet said, running a hand through her hair. "I just hope I can remember it!"

"Another thing." Isadora fastened the matching pink mask over the upper half of Violet's face. "Quigley will be heavily guarded at this type of event, so you can't mention Duncan and me tonight or you will be escorted out. You need to gain Quigley's trust first, so that eventually you can get him alone and away from the guards. That won't happen tonight."

Violet bit her lip, a habit that one might display when nervous. "I'm not so sure about this," she confessed, turning away from the mirror. "How do you know that this will work?"

"We don't," Duncan said softly, "but it's our only chance."

Klaus pat his sister on the shoulder. "We should leave soon," he told her, leading her out of the room. "Duncan and Isadora will begin working on tomorrow's gown while you're gone, and I'll do some research as well. Shall we?"

Violet smiled. "Thank you all for your help tonight," she said sincerely. "I will do my best."

The royal siblings wished her luck as Klaus escorted her out the door.

A little while later, Klaus and Violet arrived outside the palace. Klaus, who drove the carriage Violet had built, helped her down and squeezed her hand in support. "You will be great," he told her. "I know you will."

Violet took a deep breath. "I just hope everything turns out all right in the end," she said, not realizing that in life, nothing ever truly does.

"Don't forget, I'll be here at midnight to pick you up," her brother reminded her. "That should give us plenty of time to get back before Olaf and Esmé do."

Klaus bid Violet adieu, and the lovely inventor approached the palace.

"Name?" the guard asked, holding the door for her.

Oh no, Violet thought, realizing that she had already forgotten her new pseudonym, which here means fake name. "Er…" she hesitated for a moment. "Duchess… Ella of Dagmar…" she finally pieced together. She knew that wasn't correct, but she couldn't do much to change it now.

And as she entered the ballroom, the guard called out, "Presenting Duchess Ella of Dagmar!"

In your life, you will experience a few key moments in which you suddenly feel like the most admired person in the room. For Violet, who descended the royal staircase with all eyes on her, this was one of those moments. Guests turned and chattered with one another in awe, wondering who this beautiful duchess truly was, and why they had never seen her before.

Somewhere across the room, Carmelita was not amused. "She's not that special!" she hissed, rolling her eyes at Esmé and Count Olaf. "Why aren't they looking at me anymore?"

Esmé and Olaf exchanged glances. "Who is that girl?" Olaf wondered aloud, trying to figure out where he had seen her before. Had she been a member of his acting troupe?

"Does it matter, though?" Esmé placed a hand on her hip. "The color pink is no longer 'in' anyway."

Violet offered a timid smile to the other guests as she passed through. A bald man with a long nose approached her and held out his hand. "Honor me with a dance?"

Unsure of what to do, Violet shrugged. The bald man took her hands in his and spun her around quite suddenly. "What a stunning creature you are," he said, his beady eyes glowing. Violet backed away.

"Thank you, my lord," she responded with a curtsy, unsure of whom she had shared a dance with. "Please excuse me."

Violet hurried through the ballroom, dodging several waltzing couples as she made her way outside to the balcony. What am I doing here? she asked herself, feeling uncomfortable with her fake title and stolen gown.

"I didn't realize this was a sad occasion," said a voice behind her.

Violet turned around to see Prince Quigley, standing before her in all of his sapphire glory. He was more handsome than she remembered him, even in a mask, and Violet couldn't help but smile.

"Your Highness," she replied shyly, curtsying.

Quigley bowed. "Of course, if you think about it, it is a sad occasion," he continued. "My entire family passed away, and because of that, I've been ordered to fall in love and choose a wife over the next three days. It's strange how our kingdom operates, isn't it?"

Violet sighed, wishing she could tell him the truth. But when she noticed two palace guards in the doorway, she knew it wasn't the right time. "I am sorry for your loss," she told him, stepping in a bit closer. "I recently lost my own parents, and it was the worst feeling I could ever imagine."

Quigley's features softened. "Then I am sorry for your loss, too," he said. "I'm sorry, what did you say your name was?"

"I didn't," Violet said, trying again to remember what name she was using at the ball. "I'm… Ella. Just call me Ella."

"Ella," Quigley repeated. He furrowed his brow. "Ella, have we met before?"

Violet bit her lip, growing nervous once again. "I don't believe we have," she lied.

"Strange," Quigley said. "There's just something about you…" He paused, disappointed that he couldn't seem to place her. Then he reached out his hand. "Care to dance?"

Violet nodded, slipping her hand into his. She swallowed.

"I've heard you're a cartographer," she blurted out, unsure of the best topic of conversation. "Have you been interested in maps for long?"

Quigley smiled. "It's nice to meet a girl at one of these events who wants to talk about something real for a change," he laughed. "To answer your question, I have been drawing maps ever since I could hold a quill. When I was younger, I used to create my own lands to escape to." He spun her around. "What about you? Are you a fellow cartographer?"

Violet giggled and shook her head. "An inventor," she corrected him. "I like to build and fix things in my spare time, and try to figure out new uses for old tools."

"I'm impressed!" Quigley exclaimed. "You know, I once knew a girl who was an inventor. She fixed the drawing room window in the palace a long time ago." He hesitated for a moment, then looked at her again. "You actually remind me quite a bit of her. Do you have a cousin that I might have met?"

He remembers me? Violet's heart began to pound. She hoped he wouldn't discover her identity on that first night. "No," she told him, "I have no cousins."

Quigley shrugged. "Funny coincidence, then," he said, and he held her closer. "So, Ella, tell me more about yourself."

And for quite a while, they talked about inventions and Briny Beach and maps and loss. They talked until a blonde young woman peeked outside and requested a dance with the young prince.

"Meet me out here tomorrow?" Quigley whispered as he broke away from Violet and began to walk inside.

Violet smiled and nodded. "Of course," she agreed, glancing at the grandfather clock. It was almost midnight, anyway – time for her to meet Klaus.

And for the first time since that fateful day at Briny Beach, Violet felt like things had begun to turn up.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to the following readers for your kind reviews… Cinereal, Invisi The Royal Platypus, Lizzmeister yo, Second daughter of Eve, Lady Badger, , HowObjectionable, Bookwormluver998, Vacurai78, XxRin-sanxX, Bri, shaylove, Luna Baudelaire, book lover, sweethearttart, and blueice2449. Hope you enjoy Chapter 10!