Hey, welcome to the gang! Get yourself comfortable, relax, sit back - oh, and there's still time to grab a coke before the main feature starts!

Title: The Midnight Masque

Summary: In a world of black and white, lightning in the night sky; of good and evil, fairy tales for children - where do the real people fit in? The bland, blasé catchline is the same: A beautiful princess is kidnapped, locked in a tower, and is rescued by her valiant prince. The wheels of war are stopped for pitiful fancy, time and time again.

Is it really so? What of the real villains? The misfits. The forgotten ones. The hated. Behind the wrong coloured tunic, the wrong coloured mask, they embrace the dance, frenzied, mad, losing themselves in something beautiful and something terrible, something disgusting. Their hours are numbered. The spell is nearly broken. But the masquerade will go on - until midnight falls.

They will not wait until the clock strikes Thirteen.

Warnings: Whilst this is technically rated T, there is violence, sex, and profanity in this fic. (Don't say I didn't warn you).

Pairings are... not very canon at all. Some alternate character re-interetation, and I play with them and go all over the shop with it. The canonballs in this fic don't like to play with Mr. Paolini's laws of physics - I plan on heavily diverting and playing with canon in terms of backstory, specifically The Fall of The Riders, although everything recent stays the same. This is post-Brisingr, but then again, everyone read's Book III now.

Disclaimer: Characters, setting, etc. belongs to Mr Paolini over in the corner, not me, blah blah blah... you guys know how this goes, right? I'm not going to repeat this at the beginning of each and every chapter, as you know the characters technically aren't mine.

Without further ado!

I: The Blonde Puppeteer

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." - George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The throne room, he insisted, be any other colour except black.

So it wasn't.

The floor – solid marble, was grey. Chequerboard, to be precise – dark grey and light grey. Classy – he had thought at the time. A noble never did do something a troublesome as point their nose at the floor, after all. The symbolism would be lost on them. Insert ironic laugh.

Bland – he had thought a few seconds ago. So the sheer grey was wiped away, with fluff and pomp and ostentation. A royal colour – Red. As expected of a gold-trimmed 40ft rug. Saved cleaning the blood, at any rate.

He also insisted on windows. Large, vast, arches of glass coloured in smoky purples, grassy greens, and opulent oranges in a children's picture show display. It was a throne room, he mused, not a torture chamber. Not a bloodied and rusting chain in sight.

Then the ceiling – the ceiling! Vast, hulking pillars once stood in their way; fat and fusty they were, in heaving bulk; they wrestled the sky. They groaned and moaned about it, of course. Whiny bastards. Such, ahem, immense pillars had the words 'POWER' and 'MIGHT' and 'ATTENTION SEEKING' scrawled all over them. No, no. The pillars had to go. And instead, the ceiling would be painted, and instead those delicate, swirling intricate carvings traced in the sky would never be left in a sad, forgotten, stone grey. Painted blue, of course – the colour of what the ceiling could only dream to be.

It was beautiful, in its own disorganised way. That was to be a must. Candles would be of different length, not the same, and never, ever black. Or always black – but only in irony. Delicate dragoness sculptures, courtesy of Lord Burke, also, were to be painted by his seven year old nephew, not himself. Oh, how glorious it was to see! – Lord Burke's spluttered and stifled reaction, that was.

Yes, indeed, it was a beautiful room. It represented everything Galbatorix loathed in the world.

It was still a throne room, you see. However stupidly it was painted, splattered, spat on, it was still a throne room. That wouldn't change. Nor would the tacit – or plain oblivious – flattery from various people with pointlessly long titles praising his (ridiculous) taste. Therefore Galbatorix generally preferred his study. Quieter, for one. It was positively mundane, for two. To watch a general attempt to cough up a compliment on his collection of banned, burnt, and delirious books was always amusing.

Today, however, was different.

Galbatorix exclaimed it to the chambermaid – mad, bonkers, unheard of, for a King of all people, to speak to their class like that; probably an insult, a mockery, of us peasants, of us lower classes, those ghastly nobles, so bloody damn superior – as he woke.

The servants, pale and stony-faced this particular morning – but when were they not? –, always considered such an action an omen. For good reason, too. It meant Galbatorix was going to be in the throne room. It meant Murtagh was going to be in an absolutely foul mood. It meant the breaking of routine; it meant the braking of the cart that kept them going, kept them, the servants, the soldiers, and all those damned to unhappy lives and early deaths, ticking along like clockwork puppets.

Nevertheless. Galbatorix occasionally had to be cruel. Hard times, eh? He was going to be less cruel than usual – the servants would at least be spared the glacial glare of his second-in-command. This was something he was going to do by himself. By himself!

"Good morning gentleman!" he squealed. It echoed. Of course, there were other no men, especially gentlemen, brooding in the ambience of the throne room today. Just. Him. He grinned. It was a manic, frantic grin. Galbatorix spent most of his time smiling – icily, sardonically, even in genuine laughter, but never so excitedly. His eyes, large blue sunken bulbs, usually looking gloomily beyond, looked – of all things – animated. It was... refreshing. To work!

A map was laid in front of him, and several eccentric figurines, on a nonsensically long mahogany table. Galbatorix wasn't as unremarkable to have a detailed, surveyed, army-style map presented to him by some upstart geographer. Nor was he as so utterly cliché to have a chessboard. This wasn't a map for war, of course. Grin.

It was his stage. Another smile, more pensive, struck his face. And here we have the cast list. His fingers traced around the assorted figures... a broken twig... a fairy statue... an exotic feather... a discarded tobacco pipe... farmboy hero; rebellious princess; ambitious queen-to-be; the dead mentor. Reduced to clichés, their secrets and delusions to tatters, they were little more than recycled cardboard puppets. His puppets, he insisted. There was nothing remotely human, or indeed, humane about any of them, as far as he was concerned.

He picked up the 'puppet' of current interest. Half a chess piece – a broken black knight – with a white ribbon tied around the base. Tied to Uru'baen, he thought with a spare smirk. The original plan was to have him, the broken black knight, find the farm boy hero. Tentative, strained reunion, filled with hatred. Torturous capture. Agonizing, bitter, realisation – oh, it would have been so wonderful to witness. Reduced, when all the fancy titles and trinkets, are taken away, to what he really was: an ignorant, crying boy. Humanity, he mused, really means nothing in war.

Galbatorix picked up the broken twig. The original plan hadn't exactly played out as it should. Twice, he'd tried to capture him. Twice, he'd failed. Some slight improvisation going on backstage, eh? He frowned, and stroked his chin, blowing a stray golden lock of hair out of his view. He twisted the twig gently between a forefinger and a thumb absently, peering over the map. But, he thought, picking up another stray piece on the board, covered in dust, so deplorable it was left mostly untouched, I can use you yet. He decided, yes, indeed, this change of plan would work – he scraped a few other pieces away as, discards, dead men.

It would have been an anti-climax; after all – "Wouldn't it have been?" he shrieked without meaning, his voice rattling, hurtling out of gear. Silence was the answer.

Sighing, he hid a frown behind another grin. If there was one thing Galbatorix hated, it was a dry, lacklustre performance.

"I really am the worst of the lot, aren't I?" he chuckled. He placed the figurines he'd been holding down, before sweeping the whole board onto the floor with a flick of a hand. The clatter echoed; breaking the silence. I really am the worst...

Galbatorix smiled again – and this time, it was frightening.

A/N: I do love Galby's point of view. Hopefully he comes across as eccentric enough, and clichéd enough. Oh yes, you'll eventually see! And please review guys! Much appreciated for you reading.