Per Dorothy's Request:
Clio stared. It was starkly, utterly unbelievable, but Miss Kendron --
she of the (probably) artificially golden hair and (possibly) enhanced
figure -- was wearing the *precise same outfit* as Clio herself. And the
brazen hussy was headed RIGHT FOR CONWAY!
Her eyes narrowed. All right, she thought. Bribed my dressmaker, did
you? We'll see what you've got. Not for nothing had she been raised in
the whirl of society, learning the arts of verbal thrust and
counter-thrust, mastering the tilt of the head that could bring strong
men to their knees. Her mother had well known what dangers lurked in the
glittering, deceptive beauty of corporate social life, and her
daughter's eyes narrowed before opening once more into the limpid pools
of innocence that concealed the lethal combatant within.
"Why, Kendra Kendron, dear! What an ASTONISHING coincidence!" she sang
out as she came in range. "The same dress! That was commissioned as a
unique original from Pierre DuPaul, I might add!"
Kendra's eyes sparkled back with the same guileless look in their azure
depths. "My goodness!" she twittered. "It's so... embarrassing for you,
The two locked gazes for a moment. Conway Costigan did not know -- then
or ever -- what titanic forces were unleashed at that moment. He could
not see -- nor could any whose fashion sense was below the third level
of stress -- beyond the empty, light greetings, through the innocent and
harmless guise each wore. To him, the entire meeting was an almost
inconsequential encounter, albeit with a girl whose beauty and charm had
momentarily (and only momentarily, he was sure) distracted him from Clio.
But to Clio and Kendra -- each well aware of the other's skills -- the
glances instantly penetrated the disguse, showing the other as a warrior
of emotional combat fully their own equal. The razor-sharp intellect,
the immense and almost inconceivably vast knowledge of fashion in a
dozen countries, the casual tone of voice that could devastate an
opponent or lift up an ally -- all these and more were in their
arsenals. Kendra knew, in that moment, that Clio was willing to risk her
own destruction -- even to the point of utter humiliation in all else --
in order to keep Conway from her. And Clio knew, with equal certainty,
that Kendra was here to make sure that this never came to pass; she had
been instructed to capture Costigan's heart, and she was cold and
ruthless as Gray Roger himself; no ordinary force stood a chance of
For the most infinitesmal fraction of a second Clio was uncertain.
Kendra's force of fashion was more absolutely formidable than she could
have imagined. Should she tell one of the others? No, impossible. Jill
might -- probably would -- believe her. But Jill was not available. None
of Conway's friends would even understand. In fact, even to ask would
weaken her position. She would certainly fail.
Even as the thought occured to her, she dismissed it. In that instant,
Clio became fully what she had only before had the potential for being,
and for one moment the crystal-clear gaze hardened. Costigan could not
have seen it from his taller position, nor, had he seen it, could he
have understood what he saw.
But the force of that gaze struck Kendra like a blow; never had she
faced such an opponent -- why, even a few weeks ago Clio herself
couldn't have done this! Well it was for Civilization that Clio's mother
had raised her so well! Well indeed it was that Clio had learned those
lessons, and that she had been hardened to society conflict in a
thousand salons across the System! Kendra hesitated, and Clio bored in,
keeping the gaze locked, and turning ever so slightly. Kendra realized
what her intent was, and made her counter move -- just that fractional
second too late. Conway's gaze shifted, from Kendra to Clio, and Clio's
eyes, now once more as innocent and warm as the regard of a child,
captured his own.
To Conway, Kendra's sniff and goodbye barely registered, but to Clio it
was the sound of victory.
And on distant Arisia, Mentor gave a mental nod. "You were concerned,
Eukonidor. Yet our Visualization was sound. Though such
emotionally-fraught events are no longer something we of Arisia
participate in, still our Visualizations include them. It is true that
it was possible, though barely so, that Gharlane, having now some
concept of Arisia and our capacities, could have directly or through one
of his intermediaries intervened; yet he was already aware that we were
watching, and it was extremely unlikely he would choose to risk himself
when we could have equally simply energized our own forms of flesh to
counter his interference."
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