Gentleman's Masquerade

Summary: "That's the point of a masquerade, to hide your true self from the world." In the dance of life and death, the master always leads. On their most dangerous hunt for a relic from one of history's darkest eras, Ben and his family risk everything in the fight against the past that could unravel a world mystery… or end in death.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this story is mine except for the idea and the characters that I created. You will know who they are.

A/N: Welcome back, everyone! Wow, it feels weird coming back here to fanfiction and working on a different story, let me tell you. But it almost feels like I never really left these stories, especially since this is the third installment in the "Three Words" trilogy (I'm almost one hundred percent sure that it's going to remain a trilogy, though, so this will in fact truly be the last one if that's the case). This is also the part where I get all those really annoying notes about the story out of the way, so let's do that real fast. As I said in the trailer, this story is a higher rated "T" for its darkness (not "M" though). This isn't going to be a sunny walk in the park, guys. There will be a couple fluffy moments, primarily in the beginning and end, but this isn't going to be like the previous two where you knew for sure something sweet or funny was going to happen to lighten the dramatic moments. There will be a lot of things in here that make this probably my darkest story that I have written for this site to date. It'll be an emotional roller coaster. It won't be like my other ones where you are sure that everything's going to be okay or everyone we love's going to make it all the way through. I'm telling you right now that there are absolutely no guarantees. Just to warn you all now. Oh, and please, please, please read "Three Words" and "The Forgotten Heir" first if you have not already and are just now stumbling upon this story. This is the third story in the series, so there will be some things you will not understand if you haven't read those two first. I think that's about it… So, if there are any questions, please feel free to ask me. Are you ready? All right then, here we go!

Prologue

The young boy's blue eyes slowly opened when he heard the sound of soft music coming from through the floor beneath him. He sleepily sat up on his bed as he looked around his dark room in confusion, his strands of golden blond hair falling everywhere in a mess around his face. Brushing it back as best as he could, he slipped out from under the covers of his overly large bed and quietly opened the door to investigate where the music was coming from. He looked up and down the hallway to see if anyone was around to discover him, and then he snuck out of his room and ran down the curving, stone staircase.

The seven-year-old boy entered the massive entrance hall, hearing that the music was coming from behind a set of tall, ornate doors on the far wall opposite him. Knowing that it was the dance hall, he crossed the distance in a run and pushed open one of the doors with difficulty before slipping inside.

Many people dance and swirled around him as he moved slowly through the high-ceilinged room. It was dimly lit by the lanterns that were hanging on the walls and ceiling along with the dim light cast by the full moon that filtered in through the tall, many-paned windows. The dancers appeared menacing in the limited lighting as they moved effortlessly, and they also had sinister-looking masks covering their true faces, which added to the dark aura coming from them.

He panicked as he pushed his way through the crowd and ignored every time one of the masked dancers would cast a look in his direction, searching frantically for someone that he recognized. Of course, the boy knew that it would be almost impossible to do so when everyone was wearing masks like this. Right now, he knew no one. He then looked anxiously around, wanting to try to find a way to escape from the room, but he didn't even know where the doors were anymore.

Suddenly, he gasped when he saw one dancer that stood out to him was more terrifying than the others that he had already seen that night. This man's steps were graceful and flawless, fluid and quick as he pulled the woman on his hand that he instantly recognized to be his mother with him in his movements. He moved with power and determination, but also with a certain grace that made his dance more beautiful, but also more terrifying. This dance that was familiar to him since he had seen it done so many times before only belonged to one man that the boy knew, which didn't help to settle his nerves in the least. The mask that he wore was one with vampire features, and the boy watched in horror as the man with black hair slowly leaned toward the woman he was dancing with as he steps paused momentarily.

The boy finally willed his legs to move as he tried to run in another direction to escape from the man with the vampire mask, but all of the dancers were quickly moving around him again. He saw with despair that the same horrifying man was in front of him again, and a scared whimper escaped from him as he sat on the cool, marble floor and wrapped his arms and legs around him protectively.

Many pairs of dark eyes turned to look at him at the sound, artificial smiles or frowns plastered on their faces due to the masks they wore. One of them was the man with the vampire mask. He released the woman the had been dancing with and walked toward him, the other dancers moving out of his way to let him pass, and the boy covered his head and began to tremble fearfully as tears formed in his eyes. This man's clothing was by far the most intricate with its ornate designs, but that didn't make him any less terrifying. In fact, it probably made him more terrifying.

When the man approached him and slowly bent over to reach a hand toward him, the boy flinched as though he had been struck and attempted to back away from him. "It's all right, Ian," the vampire then said in a kind, familiar voice. "It's only me."

Seven-year-old Ian Howe cautiously looked up at the man from behind his arms, watching warily as he slowly reached up and removed his vampire mask to reveal his true face behind it. The boy's eyes lit up when he recognized the man to be his father, though he would have much preferred have been found by his mother. He then realized that that had been the reason he had recognized his dancing since he watched the man and his mother dance together many nights after dinner. He then reached up toward him in a pleading way, and Richard Howe bent over again and lifted Ian up into his arms. The young boy laid his head on the man's shoulder and clung to him tightly as he swiftly moved through the crowd, which was now beginning to dance again.

Richard effortlessly pushed open one of the doors that led back into the entrance hall, and he could feel that his son had become less tense since they were now away from the masked dancers as they made their way up the staircase. The two were silent as they walked down the hallway and into the boy's dark room, and Richard set the seven-year-old on his bed as he sat beside him.

"What were you doing down at the dance, Ian?" he asked while he covered him back up with his blankets, a source of both warm and comfort for the boy. "I hold them after your bedtime for a reason, you know."

"I heard music, so I went down to look," Ian answered quietly, lying back against his pillows. Then, he met his father's almost amused gaze with fear in his eyes. "I was so scared. I couldn't tell who anyone was."

Richard laughed a little, but it was a soft and kind laugh. "Well, Son. That's the point of a masquerade, to hide your true self from the world."

Ian looked back at him, feeling confused. "But why would you want to pretend to be an evil monster like Dracula?" he wondered. He recognized the mask that his father had been wearing now, and he knew the stories behind the man and the legend. Both were horrible in their own right, and he wondered why his father would want to be someone like that.

Another laugh came from Richard as he looked down at the mask that was still in his hand, and a knowing smile appeared on his face. "Even Count Dracula was once a gentleman," he told Ian. When he saw his young son's bewildered expression, he shook his head while the smile lingered on his face. "Never mind that. Get some sleep now, Ian. It's very late."

The young boy nodded as he situated himself into a more comfortable position on his pillow, his eyes closing in clear exhaustion. Richard laughed again, leaning over to kiss his son's blond head before gently ruffling his hair. "Good night, Ian," he whispered once he was sure that his son was asleep, putting on his mask again so he would be ready when he rejoined his wife downstairs. "Sweet dreams."

A/N: Well, that's it for that! Just a short, eerie little piece to set the mood (and theme) of the story. Can anyone guess the theme yet, lol? Still, it's an important part of the story (plus it's little Ian, which you hardly ever see!), and I hope you all enjoyed it. Oh, and just to let you know, when I write with the actual Dracula like you saw in the trailer, I'm imagining the Richard Roxburgh Dracula if you saw the movie Van Helsing since he was like the coolest I've ever seen. So, yeah. Oh, and there are new pictures on my profile of the older Clara, her crush, and Richard (when he's older) on my profile beneath the ones of Nick, Dustin, and little Clara, so if you want to stop by and check those out, feel free. Thanks for inspiring this story, guys, because if I hadn't gotten all of your support for the first two, this story probably wouldn't even be in existence. Also, thank you so much to Halo for helping me to map this story out! I couldn't have done it all without you. And thanks to you all for reading! Your reviews are much appreciated! Thank you!