Iolanthe Dechantagne walked slowly down the wide, sweeping staircase that led into the vast foyer of her home. She had expected to make a rather grand entrance, but was disappointed to find no visitor awaiting her at the bottom of the stairs. The room was peopled only by several members of the household staff: the doorman, one of the maids, and a young man on a ladder cleaning the wall behind one of the gas lamps. Iolanthe turned slowly to look at Yuah, who stood just behind and to her right. The dressing maid, in a gray and white dress that made her look rather more like a governess than a maid, shrank back slightly. She knew how disappointed Iolanthe was, especially when she had purchased the new evening gown for just this occasion. It was white, and the skirt featured seven layers, one upon the other, each trimmed with red and black, the hem creating a circle more than five feet wide as it swept the floor. The bodice featured matching red and black trim. It was of course so thin at the waist that no one could have worn it without a patented Prudence Plus fairy bust form corset and it featured, as was the style, a prominent bustle in back. It was strapless, leaving an unobstructed view of Iolanthe’s long, thin neck, her smooth shoulders and the top several inches of her chest. Instead of a hat, she wore an arrangement of red and white carnations atop her carefully curled hairdo, which matched the rest of her outfit perfectly.
“She was here, Miss.” said Yuah.
It had been two days since her brother had learned from a police inspector that a powerful sorceress was available for hire. She had arranged a meeting, carefully setting the precise date to give herself plenty of time to prepare. When one met a powerful magic user, especially when one intended to hire a powerful magic user, one had to make a good impression. If Iolanthe were going to hire this woman, if this woman really possessed the gifts that she and her brothers would need in their great enterprise, she intended to show the woman, right from the beginning, who was boss.
Yuah scrambled down the steps of sweeping staircase and whispered to the doorman. The doorman whispered back. Then Yuah ran back up the stairs to Iolanthe’s side.
“Master Augie just took her to the library.”
“Bloody hell, Augie, you idiot,” said Iolanthe.
She stomped her way down the remaining steps of the staircase and through the foyer, stopping just outside the door to the library. Hyperventilating for a moment, she stepped through the door with a stately and unhastened grace. Yuah followed her, several steps behind. The library was a relatively small room, about thirty by thirty feet, but with a ceiling two stories high. All four walls were completely covered in bookcases to the ceiling. Two railed ladders allowed access to the books at the very top. The room made quite an impression—when full of books. Unfortunately, the books had been packed and loaded onto the H.M.S. Minotaur. The resulting room, empty except for the three overstuffed chairs, two small tables, two oil lamps, and a single volume—Baumgarten’s “Brech Stories”—was noticeably unimpressive. Along the far wall, Augie leaned against one of the ladders with practiced nonchalance. In the center of the room stood the woman—the sorceress.
She looked like a demon or a deviant prostitute, or some combination of the two. Her shoulder length blond hair was styled as though it had been cut with garden shears and it stuck out in all directions. She had dropped charcoal dust into her large grey eyes, creating thick black borders around them like the ancient Argrathian queens, and she had framed them with green malachite eye shadow. Her lips were so dark that it was more the red of blood than that of the rose. Though her skin was alabaster white, as was Iolanthe’s own, she wore no rouge on her cheeks to give her that aura of health and vitality. She wore no hat, and to Iolanthe’s eyes, no clothing.
The woman’s ensemble was bizarre and lewd in the extreme. It was clearly meant to frighten and baffle at the same time. It was a collection of women’s undergarments transformed into outer clothing. Her arms were covered in fishnet gloves, though they couldn’t really be called gloves, because they didn’t cover her fingers. They simply attached to rings around her thumbs and her pinkies and then ran up almost to her shoulders, where they were held on tight with silken bows. She wore a corset made of black leather with a series of five belt-like straps with buckles running up the front, which Iolanthe suddenly realized would allow the woman to don and doff the device without the aid of anyone else. The low-cut brassier portion of the corset left much of the woman’s chest bared and exposed two tattoos, each a five pointed star, two and a half inches across, outlined in black but filled in with red ink. She wore a kind of leather skirt over the corset, but it reached down only about fourteen inches from her waist, leaving the tops of her stockings and the twelve suspenders connecting them to the corset, completely exposed. The stockings were fishnet mesh, matching the gloves. They were mostly unseen however, as the woman’s leather boots reached all the way past her knees to mid-thigh. These boots each had seven of the same belt like straps with buckles that her corset had, as though they were made to match, which they probably were. The boots had thick square four inch heels. This last detail was the least striking, as high heels were the fashion. Iolanthe’s own shoes had similar heels, and owing to the fact that she could look the woman directly in the eye, the two women must have been of about the same height, with or without heels.
“Zurfina, I presume,” said Iolanthe.
Art copyright 2008 by Clipart.com