(1310-09-14) A Red Rose in the House of Blood
Summary: Thinking to visit her friend and mentor Edouard Shahrizai, Séverine nó Rose Sauvage falls instead into the clutches of his notable daughter Emmanuelle. (Warning: There’s Mandrake/Valerian flirtation and intensity ahead; please read with caution.)
RL Date: 10/10/2018 - 24/10/2018
Related: None.
emmanuelle severine 

La Maison Sanglante — Place des Mains

Directly abutting the walled compounds of Marsilikos's Night Court, and running in fact for some distance behind the Salon de la Rose Sauvage, is a house which boasts a far more modest frontage upon the Place des Mains d'Eisheth. Its name derives from a violent incident in its past; previous owners tried to redub it in the public mind, but the present ones embrace the term. By their design its three-storey façade of grey stone is shielded at street level by a high and forbidding wall of darker stone, into which is set a pair of intricately-wrought iron gates taller than any man who may ring the bell at their side. Kept locked, their curlicues of black iron are enlivened by a pattern of gilded keys.

Between the outer wall and the house stands a small stone courtyard lined at either side with wormwood trees, which impart a bitter and aromatic fragrance to the air within it. From it half a dozen stone steps rise to heavy doors of dark and ancient oak, studded with black iron and hung upon baroque hinges of the same; these open into a large, square, windowless chamber, occupying the full width of the building and yet higher than it is wide. At each side of the doors is a console table of dark purple marble veined with black, bolted to the wall above a pair of elaborate gilded legs and beneath a matching and equally baroque gilded mirror. There are no other furnishings. Sparse lighting is provided by candles in iron sconces bolted to pillars of the same purple marble, which pass into shadow on their way to support the vaulted ceiling overhead.

The light is, however, sufficient to permit examination of the frescoes which cover walls and ceiling alike from a height of perhaps four feet off the gleaming black and purple marble floor. An artist of great skill and anatomical knowledge has limned a series of scenes of Kushiel chastising sinners. Those who come to him for succour are shown enduring remarkably detailed torments before being transfigured by the raptures of his love… or, possibly, hers. In some panels Kushiel is a man and in some a woman, in others an unmistakable hermaphrodite: in all these incarnations the Punisher is depicted with the lean figure, the austere profile, and the hooded blue eyes of a lady who resides beneath this roof.

On the back wall this unconventional masterpiece is interrupted by the outlines of two single doors, and the elaborate black iron handles attached to each. The door on the left leads to an intimate receiving-room wherein a pair of studded black leather sofas frame a low, well-polished mahogany table. In here the walls are covered in frescoes of the Kusheline countryside, from the same brush.

A visitor has arrived to La Maison Sanglante, in search of its owner. At least Séverine has asked for a certain Edouard Shahrizai at the door. Word of the bustle around the house had reached her, after all the building is located close to the Court de Nuit, and thereby also to the Salon de la Rose Sauvage, whose founder and mentor said Edouard Shahrizai had been so many years ago.

The servant would have shown the courtesan in to the parlor perhaps. Asked her to wait. And so wait she does. Séverine nó Rose Sauvage, Second in charge of the Red Roses is attired as such, dark red silk charming her slender physique, arms left bare in a gown that looks to be not quite warm enough for the season. The back is fully exposed through the low dip there, of the dress, with her marque on full display, the red rose that is the art of the more submissive courtesans of Rose Sauvage. Long blonde hair of faintly reddish hue has been gathered in a manner that leaves her neck and shoulders unprotected from the view, putting them on display, especially the former delicate column upon which her head is held with a certain pride and confidence as befits a Second.

It isn’t often that a beautiful Red Rose simply delivers herself to one’s residence, wrapped (but not too thoroughly) in silk of that marvelous, that fitting burgundy hue.

The thought is so touching that Emmanuelle nó Mandrake de Shahrizai — who does, once the servant has deposited this delectable treat in the small front sitting-room and reported her presence, detain the man to inquire what the girl is wearing — spares a few moments to consider what reception she might like to offer her. She assumes Edouard Shahrizai’s protégée must have seen parts at least of the house as they were completed, was perhaps invited to watch the artist labouring these past few years over the cycle of Kushiel frescoes… She takes off her necklace and attaches instead a coiled bullwhip to her belt. With Baltasar’s aid she tucks her silk-stockinged feet into boots highly polished but unspurred. She gives certain orders to her staff. She rolls up her sleeves and refreshes the red paint upon her lips. And then, she takes a circuitous route to that quiet and enclosed chamber. The secret ways of the Maison Sanglante have been kept, as she knows well, to very few.

Behind the sofa where Séverine sits a hidden door opens noiselessly on well-oiled hinges. The Akkadian carpet chosen to cover the floor here so neatly, silences Emmanuelle’s two footfalls. Her scent, sharply spicy on the first breath, has scarcely time to reach Séverine’s nose and turn resinous, before she rests her hand on the younger woman’s shoulder. If the Red Rose should start at the touch, she’ll find herself held strongly where she is.

“Séverine nó Rose Sauvage,” Emmanuelle purrs, soft and low, close to her ear. “Have you come looking for my dear father’s shaft? I’m afraid it’s in the country, with the rest of him — and mine,” amusement ripples through her voice, “I haven’t had a moment to unpack.”

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Severine=Perception Vs Emmanuelle=Stealth+2
< Severine: Good Success (4 5 3 4 7 6 8 3 3 3 7 4) Emmanuelle: Failure (6 3 1 6 1 1 3 3 6)
< Net Result: Severine wins - Solid Victory
<FS3> Severine rolls Composure: Success. (2 2 5 6 3 5 5 8 1)

Séverine is indeed familiar with the location. As someone whose marque was bought by Edouard Shahrizai for his own salon, and who had been mentored by him. It had been no coincidence, that she had been offered her current position. This particular Red Rose had been Edouard’s favorite in her first years at the salon, and rumor had it that most of her marque had been financed by his generous patron gifts. She had been invited more than once to La Maison Sanglante, for assignations at first, and later, for the occasional visit to refresh old memories and her reports of life at the salon.

With her back turned towards the secret door, the soft ‘click’ of it opening does not escape her perceptive ears. A ghost of a smile plays upon features that can hardly be visible to someone approaching from behind, even with her head turned a little to allow the glimpse of the outline of her face.

The approach happens fast, though, giving Séverine little time to wonder about the odd character of sneaking steps. It will be the hand suddenly placed on her shoulder, which prompts a faint flinch, only to be held firmly in place.

But it is not Edouard’s hand, but that of another. Female. As is the voice that finally makes it clear that is not the Shahrizai consort of the late duchesse, but her daughter.

That slender shoulder tests the firmness of Emmanuelle’s grip. And Séverine, turning her head more fully now, chin lifting to regard the dark presence of the former Mandrake Dowayne looming up before her, dares to ready a response.

“I thought he’d returned, with all the bustle about the house. Forgive me, I was obviously mistaken.”, says the Red Rose Second, her voice smooth but not without that hint of submissive tremble in her tone, “Lady Emmanuelle. If my visit appears to you like an unwelcome intrusion, I shall remove myself at once.”

At which Séverine will attempt to rise from her seat. If that commanding hand resting on her shoulder will allow her to.

The white hand of Emmanuelle nó Mandrake de Shahrizai is adequate to the occasion, and keeps that tremulous Red Rose where she belongs: expectant and still.

“Oh, no,” drawls that well-credentialed lady, leaning against the back of the sofa with languorous ease, her cologne warm and her breath warmer still against the skin of Séverine’s throat. “I shan’t let you go so easily, when I have longed these several years to make your acquaintance… Unless,” and her tone shifts from something savouring to something condescendingly dry, “you prefer to take your leave now, as you are?”

The slender frame of Séverine nó Rose Sauvage slumps back into her seat, encouraged by that hand on her shoulder, keeping her there. A breath is drawn through her nose, air filling lungs, forcing that shoulder to lift slightly against that touch. But obedient Red Rose that she is, the courtesan remains seated, tilting her head a little away from Emmanuelle, thus exposing more of that slender neck to the words and the breath upon which they ride.

“You have longed to meet me?”

The reply comes in a soft tone of surprise, but also a bit of gratification. “I doubt, I have been much of a topic between you and your father, but perhaps I was mistaken?” And there her head turns, to give the Mandrake looming over her from behind a glance. “I’d prefer to stay, and be it just to sate your curiosity.”

Emmanuelle’s hand moves in a caress down along Séverine’s arm; she knits their fingers together and then draws the younger woman slowly to her feet. “… My father and I do, from time to time,” she suggests, again in that very low purr, oddly similar to the voice of Edouard Shahrizai himself in moments of seduction or amusement, “compare notes. I recall something he said of you the last time I was in Marsilikos.” Her wide red mouth almost, but doesn’t quite, smile: nor does she repeat this intriguing piece of… praise?

Meanwhile she’s adjusting her grip and drawing Séverine around the sofa to meet her behind it. Since she initiated that physical contact between them, she hasn’t once broken it. “Now,” she breathes, baring her teeth in a real albeit feral smile, and looking as deeply into the Red Rose’s eyes as only a Scion of Kushiel can, “what can I find to show you that you have not already seen—?” She seems to solicit an opinion from her visitor. “… I think perhaps it is not only my own curiosity,” she drawls, “that requires to be sated.”

A hand drifting from her shoulder to her upper arm elicits a reaction, when perhaps caused by the light friction as they pass the dark red silk of her dress, Séverine turns her head far enough, to glance down at those dominant fingers, watching them progress until they touch once again the faintly freckled skin of her bare arm.

A Red Rose has been trained to relent, to follow and obey subtle commands, and so Séverine finds herself rising from her seat, encouraged by Emmanuelle’s guiding hand. The remark of the former Mandrake Dowayne, brought forth in such casual manner, has those grey eyes lift to regard this woman as she is pulled towards her.

“What did he say?”

The bait has been taken, accepted by the Red Rose and former favorite of Emmanuelle’s father. Even someone of Valerian canon can yearn for praise now and then. And Séverine is eager right now, as Emmanuelle might notice from the brightening of those grey eyes, from the hitch in her breathing, to hear what Edouard Shahrizai may have said about her. It must be praise. Truly. What else could it be?

Standing now right before the daughter of the man who had a considerable hand in founding the Salon of Rose Sauvage, the woman of honey blonde hair with that faint reddish glow takes a moment to take in the appearance and presence of Emmanuelle nó Mandrake de Shahrizai. It is a view that recalibrates senses, in a manner only a Valerian would understand. The whip attached in a handy roll to the belt being just a minor detail, when Emanuelle’s eyes, her tone, her body language put Séverine instantly in an all too familiar context.

Those eyes. Blue, and deep, as Séverine meets their gaze with her own grey ones, the soft shudder of the Red Rose's body being a natural reaction of deeply ingrained instincts.

“What would you…”, the younger woman hears herself reply, in a low voice that sounds strangely hoarse, “… suggest to show me…?”

The canon of the one responds to the canon of the other as though heavenly bells peal together in harmony above; holding Séverine’s hand in her own, just a little too hard, Emmanuelle breathes out: “Perhaps those parts of the house you have not seen because they are my own…? The frescoes,” and without quite breaking eye contact she contrives to indicate the foyer and those various faces of Kushiel, all her own, “they are my father's conceit,” she confides, pulling Séverine slightly nearer as she draws in her next breath. Her own heady and resinous cologne is adulterated by just a hint of fresh perspiration. “We shared in creating this house, from the very beginning, though he respected — he always respects — my taste for privacy…”

By now they're very near to one another, almost too near for Séverine to perceive the rest of those little details that fill in the picture sketched so boldly for her by Emmanuelle's low voice and her blue diamond eyes. The high sharp heels of her boots, lifting her above her natural prey. The patina of her dark leather whip, showing it to be well-used and well-loved. Despite her amused disclaimer of earlier, that unnatural bulge in her breeches — as though the hermaphrodite Kushiel has stepped down from a fresco to act as host. The openness of her top buttons and the pale skin thus revealed, hinting that her Mandrake marque might well be bare beneath that silk shirt. None of it a show put on in a salon or a patron room. Just Emmanuelle herself, in her own home, on an ordinary afternoon that threatens now to become anything but.

“Would you like to see?” she wonders, black-lacquered nails digging into Séverine’s palm to prompt the answer she wants. She hasn't heard the magic word yet. She does insist upon it.

Séverine had known, even without having made her acquaintance yet, from those frescos, and the family likeness of father and daughter — but Kushiel’s depictions had been a touch too androgynous to ever be considered likenesses of Edouard Shahrizai. How many times she must have looked up to those scenes upon the walls and studied them in detail.

It colors in a way the Red Rose’s current perception of Emmanuelle and might explain why Séverine allows herself to be overwhelmed for that moment, as she is pulled closer and exposed to the intoxicating proximity of such dominant air.

The firm grip of Emmanuelle’s hand, eliciting discomfort that then shifts into a more pronounced sort of pain, once long fingernails dig into delicate flesh of a palm, increases the state of fascination, the Red Rose Second finds herself in, only visible through the faint tremble of nostrils and a subtle dilation of pupils that could be perceived in the darkening of her gaze.

“Yes. I would. Please.”, the reply finally comes, a low murmur of one, and yet, it echoes with an ominous ring in that diffuse area between mind and instinct within Séverine’s awareness. She exhales, and in that exhale her lips curve faintly upwards, now that that magic word has left her lips and sealed her fate, in a way.

Emmanuelle betrays a hint of satisfaction with her next breath and the subtle curve it seems to impart to her red lips. She looks away from Séverine, releasing her from that bond at least; and walks ahead of her, leading her by a hand still reassuringly firm out of the small receiving-room. But not by the secret way which brought her and closed up so discreetly behind her. Their path takes them through the foyer, in no great haste, allowing Séverine a moment in which to compare the frescoes with their model… The succeeding corridor, the Red Rose has also seen before; it too was slowly painted according to Edouard Shahrizai's whims, with Kusheline landscapes more fantastical than those of the receiving-room, illustrating folk-tales all subtly perverted from their originals and given endings either unhappy or — well — happy only in the eye of a sadistic beholder. Nightmare visions, some of them, copied from the oldest and rarest manuscripts in his possession. Séverine herself appears as a princess in chains, on the point of being ravished by a dark knight.

Not all the doors along its length have been opened to her in the past.

One such unknown portal at the very end yields to a key in Emmanuelle’s hand: she locks it behind her and produces a second key to open the door on the other side of the antechamber in between. It’s a lock in itself, separating two sections of the house from anyone who hasn’t both keys, and raising the possibility of some who might possess only one… It must be a difficult matter to depart from the Maison Sanglante without the permission of one or the other of the house’s owners. A single candle lights this small room, tucked inside an elaborate iron cage that casts curious shadows upon walls inlaid with an intricate trompe l'œil representation of a dungeon such as one might find in the depths of Mandrake House, or indeed the Salon de la Rose Sauvage. The console table where the candle-cage sits, and some shelving above it, were built to fit in their present places and to appear, at first glance, part of the illusion. But in front of the intriguing instruments of pleasure and of pain, picked out in rare wood in a dozen hues, those shelves hold a few real objects deposited here to await Emmanuelle’s convenience. Letters, mostly — a small parcel wrapped in black cloth — a leather coinpurse. She ignores these things.

Beyond the second door, a second corridor: the floor tiled similarly in black and white, but the walls painted a plain and muted shade of burgundy above fine oak paneling.

And then an emergence into light: though the sun must only reach the floor of this quiet stone courtyard in the middle of the day, and the afternoon by now is waning.

Courtyard — La Maison Sanglante

The labyrinthine dark and frescoed passageways of the Maison Sanglante debouche at length into a small sitting-room wherein each piece of distinctly upright furniture is black-lacquered and elaborately gilded with, at the farthest consent to comfort, a seat of woven cane. One wall of it consists entirely of a trio of double glass doors which open outwards, shadowed by black-lacquered shutters which open inwards, and shielded by draperies in a very deep purple velvet.

Beyond is a rectangular courtyard of centuries-old, weathered stone: surely one of the house's original features. To the left its longer side is formed by a high wall of stone, set into which a niche houses a stone statue of Eisheth. From her open hands water pours down into a half-circle basin where water-lilies grow. Along the opposite side to the right runs a corridor lined with black-lacquered shutters of the same make but half-length, that are often left open. At the courtyard's farther end the same arrangement of floor-to-ceiling windows and shutters gives onto a large bedchamber, into which the corridor also leads.

The courtyard has no permanent features of its own besides the fountain, several old stone planters growing earthy-scented mandrakes, and a solidly-built whipping-post set deep into the mossy flagstones just outside the bedchamber. But furniture may easily be carried out into it by servants.

Ropes run overhead, along which a white oiled-silk awning may be drawn in wet weather, or lanterns of coloured glass on dark evenings.

“… As you must know we enjoy several such courtyards,” purrs Emmanuelle, who has been offering now and again a tidbit of information regarding the house and its redecoration; “this one I keep for myself.” Though that easy pride of possession in her stride and in her air, is just the same at either side of her trompe l'œil lock. If it isn’t all hers now, it will be one day.

She draws Séverine after her through her cool and shadowy courtyard, past the fountain, toward the whipping-post at its farther end. There aren’t presently any shackles attached to it; but that’s hardly a bar to a whimsical Mandragian imagination. “Shall we see if the height suits you?” she wonders aloud, glancing from the post to Séverine as though measuring her first of all with an acute Shahrizai eye. Her hand tightens, just perceptibly. Her other hand detaches the whip from her belt and with a practiced air she unfurls it, a crack which strikes only thin air. Drawing Séverine nearer, from arm’s length almost into her arms, she sets about binding her wrists together with that length of braided leather.

The task is accomplished in seconds: in this, too, she’s practiced. Instead of tying a knot she holds the two ends firmly in her left hand, maintaining her personal control. She guides Séverine’s wrists to a position approximating where she might be held by shackles, forcing the Rose to stoop slightly even before the weight of that cool blue gaze bids her kneel.

There is so much to see. Even if Séverine is no stranger to these halls, it has been a while since she last saw them. Those frescoes with vivid scenes that look like they escaped from a nightmare. The hand of Emmanuelle leads her on in its firm grip, the footfall of those high heeled boots of the retired Mandrake Dowayne echoing with sharp determination, whereas Séverine’s comparatively flat slippers make hardly a sound. Grey eyes lift and the Red Rose glimpses herself up there on the art that covers a wall. Her steps slow and almost come to a halt.

The faint smile that blossoms on her frail looking features is not brought about by gratification alone, but who can tell? Perhaps she remembers those lengthy sessions that were required when she posed for the painter, wound up in chains, freezing - circumstances someone of Valerian disposition would hardly complain about.

But Emmanuelle urges her on, and so Séverine obliges, her gaze flickering with that interesting mixture of excitement and uncertainty.

They enter the courtyard, and Séverine’s eyes widen in curiosity as she beholds it — a place new to her in a house she had visited so often. She is not granted much time to admire the architecture nor the details, when being instantly pulled to a particular one.

The chill of the air outside makes goosebumps rise on her skin, with her back and arms bare as they are, and the fabric of her gown, even if such a stark contrast in its dark red hue to the pallor of her flesh, offers little protection. Perhaps it is the cool temperature that elicits the soft shiver in Séverine nó Rose Sauvage, or perhaps it is brought about by the uncoiling of a whip, the sound of it snapping at air, and the efficiency Emmanuelle adopts as she wraps it about Séverine’s wrists.

No word of protest is forthcoming, not a single move at resistance. When grey eyes lift, and Séverine follows the silent command of those blue Shahrizai eyes, moving to kneel with her wrists pulled towards the upper area of the whipping post, arranged in such a position as must quicken the flow of blood in anyone of dominant disposition.

Several long moments pass, whilst Emmanuelle considers this new view of her courtyard. Her whipping-post, installed in her absence, hasn’t even been blooded yet; and here… here is Séverine. “I think, perhaps,” she murmurs in a very low voice, “though red is not my favourite — I think you are just the touch of colour my courtyard requires.”

The self-control necessary in order to pull that Red Rose up to her feet again, instead of keeping her there on her knees, every line and every curve ideal, ought all by itself to make Emmanuelle nó Mandrake de Shahrizai a legend amongst her kind.

She keeps her hold, however, and the tour proceeds, Séverine drawn along behind her with both wrists entwined amongst dark leather. They proceed together through several chambers, on this the ground floor, through the basement (where there is a genuine dungeon, of cold stone and iron and fire), and briefly along the first floor too. The palette is a dark one, the craftsmanship on display uniformly exquisite. The proud householder invites her captive occasionally to touch a rich silken drapery, or to run her fingertips along a carving of particular intricacy. One chamber is occupied by hundreds or perchance thousands of butterflies, each specimen dead and pinned to a board, confined behind the finest and clearest panels of glass. The walls are lined with them; the tease, delivered in a soft purr, is that perhaps Séverine in her delicate red gown belongs amongst them…?

A bit of surprise flickers in Séverine’s eyes when she finds herself being pulled to her feet, but then again, luring Emmanuelle in so easily would not have fit the character. She remains, however, at the mercy of the hostess who elects to pull her along further for an extensive tour of the house — or rather, of the parts of it unknown to Séverine so far.

The interior is exquisite, of course, and even if the Red Rose is made to touch certain details, hands pulled towards them because Emmanuelle wills it so, Séverine’s fingers caress the rich fabrics and smooth surfaces of skillfully carved details in furniture with obvious admiration. The room of butterflies elicits a smile upon pale and faintly freckled features, or was it the murmured remark? “Am I to become a part of your collection? Pinned and immobilized for your delight?”, the courtesan murmurs back, grey eyes glittering in faint tease.

“… My delight,” drawls Emmanuelle, in the tone of one humouring a child too naïve, “would require rather more of you than that.” She casts an amused glance about the butterfly chamber, lit by high narrow windows of leaded glass, and unfurnished but for its cabinetry. “All this, you understand, I inherited. I grant them their place but I keep my own treasures elsewhere.” And then, again, she draws Séverine onwards.

Another chamber proves to be a private shrine to Kushiel, all in dark marble, wherein Séverine is briefly pushed down onto her knees, presented as a sacrifice to that tall bronze statue.

An altar consecrated to the Punisher, a statue of Eisheth watering lilies, a swarm of butterflies gathered painstakingly by some ancestor — in this house Emmanuelle's heritage is present at every turn and she the unmistakable product of it, honouring what she herself transcends.

The Shrine of Kushiel has the expected effect on Séverine, and with a soft exhale she sinks to her knees when thus encouraged by the insistent tug at the whip wound about her wrists. Lifting her eyes to regard the bronze statue, the Red Rose’s lips move in an inaudible prayer, her gaze bright and her features cast into an expression of supplication. Eyes are lowered again, and Séverine is once again encouraged to rise, to proceed to whatever room or chamber Emmanuelle wishes to show to her next, dark red silk whispering about Séverine as they resettle about her legs.

However much she knew of the Maison Sanglante Séverine knows a great deal more — and however much she had heard of Emmanuelle, she must understand more, from having followed after those slow, inexorable, slightly swaggering footfalls on a progress which never grows hurried or uncertain, from having breathed in her cologne during all these long minutes in which the subtle stages of it unfold, from the gentle chafing of leather about her wrists and the firm hand that retains its hold upon the whip binding her — before they return, at length, to the courtyard. It’s quite suddenly there, though approached from a different angle. Now it’s at the farther side of those wide-open black-lacquered shutters, as Emmanuelle leads her along the corridor next door to it and into the bedchamber beyond.

Here the décor is not unfamiliar to an habituée of the Rose Sauvage and its patron rooms, though all is somewhat richer and more expansive. The enormous four-poster bed, with rather an interesting pulley system built in above it. The cross hewn from heavy dark wood, attached to a wheel presently chocked still but quite capable of spinning. The display, across one wall, of every possible aid to love or incitement to pain, immaculately dusted. The difference lies in the details. The ceiling above is copper-gilded, reflecting distorted images of what may happen below. The bedframe is of heavy wrought iron, rather than mere wood: the shackles and the looped chains attached to it are formed of the same stuff, and are not merely decorative. The strongest man might strain against all this in vain.

Emmanuelle is leading Séverine past the monstrous bed and toward a glass-fronted cabinet, which requires also to be unlocked with one of her keys. “Some small part of my own collection,” she explains absently, pulling her captive Rose in closer, the better to admire — unmediated even by glass — that array of rare Akkadian devices capable of wreaking great and permanent harm upon, well, mostly a gentleman’s genitals. But there’s something there for a lady, too, and she watches with restrained interest until Séverine happens to spot it.

Séverine notes it as soon as they enter the private bedroom of Emmanuelle, the general air that represents her own world oh so well. And yet, the Red Rose cannot help but pause, to take it all in with eyes both curious and knowing where to look for certain details. Finding them represented makes a smile flicker over her features, before she relents to the tug at her bound wrists and follows to where Emmanuelle leads her along. “You have a wheel installed…”, is an observation that slips from Séverine’s lips in a soft murmur, as her gaze continues to sweep the room as they progress. The ceiling, especially, receives an impressed long look, a moment of morbid fascination as she considers the slightly contorted reflection of herself up there, staring back at her.

As for chains, shackles and implements of pain, these only receive fleeting glances. A courtesan with years of training and experience in the Valerian canon will accept most of these as given, but it is reassuring to find them gathered all here, in the boudoir of the former Mandrake Dowayne.

Not much time is granted to go around and explore, especially when her wrists remain trapped in the bindings of braided leather, and Séverine is pulled towards the glass cabinet, only to stop from Emmanuelle’s tug at the whip. It is a view that inspires both admiration and astonishment; also, a certain, delicious unease, and the Red Rose takes her time in considering these particular implements of exquisite torture, even a courtesan would be rarely confronted with.

Her grey gaze brushing devices for use on males, before it is drawn to that one implement, constructed for use on a feminine physique. It is a view that makes the Red Rose’s eyes widen and her breath pick up as she considers how to phrase the obvious question.

“Have you ever used any of those on anyone?”, Séverine asks, in a low, slightly breathless murmur, her gaze lifting from these somewhat intense exhibits to Emmanuelle’s face.

“You have a wheel installed…”

Behind Séverine there’s a wry murmur of: “All the discomforts of home.” But Emmanuelle knows perfectly well how mundane, how utterly usual most of the accoutrements of this chamber must seem to the Second of Marsilikos’s Red Roses, and so she doesn’t waste time upon them, but conducts her charge directly to her most unique objets d’art.

Whilst Séverine’s gaze is otherwise engaged Emmanuelle steps to the other side of her, her half-bare and half-silk-shirted arm wrapping comfortably around the younger woman’s waist from that point at which their hands are joined by the neat dark coils of the whip. And when that grey gaze lifts to meet her own inimitably Shahrizai-blue eyes, they’re waiting: cool and blue, inexorable, having feasted discreetly upon Séverine’s understandable reactions.

When she speaks she sounds pitying. “My dear child. I am using all of them, right now, upon,” and the thumb of her other hand strokes slowly across the rapt young Rose’s forehead, “the most sensitive part of you.” Her hand alights; she essays a small, secretive smile. “You’ll find the magic still works even if I tell you of it — won’t you dream tonight that you are a butterfly pinned in my chamber, still living and writhing in pain?” she teases.

The remark about the wheel had been uttered more in the vein of acknowledging an exquisite and very costly part of interior, and its presence, oddly enough, adds to Séverine’s confidence, as she is familiar with games of power and pain this device can be used for. It may be the reason why the display of these rare Akkadian implements of torture throws her off a little, as they are in a way unknown territory, disturbing in their devastating potential and yet — also alluring in such a twisted way.

The Red Rose shivers faintly, edging a little back from the glass cabinet, right into that supporting arm of Emmanuelle, a subtle mark of claim, she acknowledges by pulling at the whip by her wrists, as if to assure herself they are still bound and held in the former Mandrake’s firm grip.

With her head still turned to face Emmanuelle, Séverine endures that touch of those fingers against her forehead, breath hitching a little, oh so subtly. A faint smile blossoms on the Red Rose’s features, while her gaze remains locked with that of the dark-haired woman, offering her breathed reply in likewise tease.

“I might.”

Lowering her grey eyes, that smile still upon her features, Séverine softly adds, “You are too generous in giving me this tour. These impressions of vision and the mind will certainly leave me intrigued.”

Emmanuelle’s arm is absolutely steady behind her, and her hold upon the whip just as secure. Whichever way Séverine turns she’s enclosed by the sure embrace of the woman who is mistress here, who pronounces with sardonic certainty: “You shall.” If not tonight, another night. Say it often enough and it becomes true, the mind’s unconscious processes throwing up those images most dwelt-upon by day… Her other hand pulls open a shallow drawer in the middle of that ominous cabinet of curiosities, to reveal a generous set of gleaming razor-sharp flechette knives arranged upon dark purple velvet. They inhabit a black leather case folded back upon itself: that is, it might be lifted out of the drawer, closed and buckled, carried about as it is. The handle of each is elaborately wrought, each with a different shape and texture. One might know one from the other at a touch, were one acquainted with their vines and their flowers, their absurd geometries and their fantastical beasts. “A gift,” explains Emmanuelle lightly, “from a patron of mine some years ago, who had a particular yearning for the sensation of a flechette opening her skin… I drew such beautiful patterns upon her, my dear,” she murmurs, almost into Séverine’s hair; “the same symmetries each time, until her scars were— subtle, but permanent.”

Her gracious hostess can be certain to have all of Séverine’s attention now, as if it had been increased by that curt confirmation. The captive Rose cannot help but look, when Emmanuelle pulls open that drawer, its contents easily managing to elicit a shudder in the young woman of reddish-blonde hair. Because. The very nature of those tools, their purpose, immediately pull forth that reaction. The polished beauty of blades catches the light, and Séverine cannot help but lean a touch forward to get a better glimpse of the artful craftsmanship on the steel and the handles of those flechettes.

“They are beautiful,” Séverine observes, eyes widening in admiration, verbal comments directed at the knives, while her body responds to Emmanuelle’s explanations about the generous giver of that gift, in a shiver that feels like the subtle aftershock of her first reaction, genuine in being less overt, a very private statement of being affected by the tale.

“Permanent. As must be her infatuation with you,” is observed in a soft murmur. “When these scars will remind her forever of the times shared.”

That Mandragian arm around Séverine is indifferent to her first shiver but tightens with her second, not instinctively but consciously offering comfort and support, from the very one who has made it necessary. "We do," murmurs Emmanuelle, "still see one another, from time to time." And, seeing… what else? The picture in the mind’s eye of one so experienced as Séverine, must be a vivid one.

She allows this Red Rose she gathered from her doorstep another moment's contemplation and then pulls her away with a firm hand, shutting the door of the cabinet with the heel of her other hand and turning the key in the lock and tucking it away in her pocket as she leads her beautiful hostage away. The tour has not quite finished. She has not quite run out of evocative experiences she might offer to one certain to appreciate them.

Beyond an array of whips and straps and canes and tawses and flails, arranged by size and by colour rather than by effect, because Emmanuelle knows perfectly well the effect of each — and behind an intricately carven screen — an arched doorway leads into a smaller chamber, in the centre of which is a low and padded table of the kind one might see in a marquist's shop, or in certain Coquelicot patron rooms. Shelves above and behind it hold an extraordinary variety of vials, flasks, jars, and boxes: all the equipage, in fact, of an Eisandine chirurgeon conversant with the very latest theories in medicine. "Here, you see," explains Emmanuelle, her hip casually pinning Séverine against that padded table as she reaches around her with her empty hand, "the accoutrements of my other profession…" She flicks open a lid here and a cupboard there, to show Séverine clean pads of linen and rolled bandages, needles of different sizes already threaded, compresses simply waiting to be applied.

"If I choose you," she murmurs, her breath against the Red Rose's neck as she traps her more firmly against the table — no, that isn't, that's not exactly, something in her pocket; "I should like you to be certain, Séverine, that you are safe in my hands. No matter what you should suffer," and her purr comes closer, her breath warmer, "or how much blood you might shed for my pleasure — my dear, I'd be more wholly in command of your body than your usual patrons… Some," she grants, tilting her head as she eases that gentle pressure and turns Séverine to face her, "some prefer to feel that they are not safe, with me. But if you and I met together on such a plane, different assurances would be necessary. For we should pass beyond anything that is usual, between your kind and mine.”

When Séverine arrived in Marsilikos, an adept fresh from her debut, Emmanuelle had already left for her second stint in the capital. All she knows about the retired Mandrake Dowayne therefore is from tales and chatter she picked up from other Rose Sauvage courtesans and adepts of that time. Even if this Red Rose Second now recalls some vague memory of Emmanuelle having also studied at the healer’s academy in Marsilikos, the realization hits her belatedly, when she is already nudged against that padded table. “The other profession,” Séverine murmurs as she turns her head to glance towards the older woman behind her. “So it is true…” And while it is not unusual for a Mandrake to be acquainted with deeper secrets of human anatomy, the quality of equipment and a special room set aside for treatment after certain intensity had been visited does not fail to impress.

Turning her gaze away from those blue eyes, Séverine regards what Emmanuelle elects to show her, a subtle shiver coming in instant reaction to the breath of the other woman felt against her neck, all the more aware of the physical presence by the increasing press of hips against hers, pinning her against that table. It might be what causes the slow blink of her lashes, or perhaps it is the suggestive message of those words, breathed against the delicate flesh of her neck.

The Red Rose is turned around, urged by the pull on wrists that are still bound by the length of the whip, and she lifts her grey eyes to meet the blue Shahrizai stare of Emmanuelle, faintly aware of her cheeks warming in a blush, of being affected by those many impressions, and first and foremost, the commanding presence that is the daughter of her mentor.

Emmanuelle had not uttered a question, it had been more of a statement. Even so, some sort of reply is expected, the need for one becoming clear in the long pause of silence that follows.

“I understand.”, Séverine says, and the corners of her mouth twitch upwards, into the faint curve of a smile, the grey of her eyes, glittering.

“The young ones,” purrs Emmanuelle, admiring that flush of colour in Séverine’s cheeks and leaning in nearer to hold her just so, pinned again and bound tight, “they boast of breaking this patron or that, as though such feats required anything but a strong arm and time enough to employ it. You and I, we know better. I should not seek to break you, Séverine,” and her other hand lifts, and gentle fingers caress the heated skin of the Red Rose’s face as she colours more and more to match her name — fingers tipped with black-lacquered talons that graze with infinite tenderness over her cheek and her chin; “but to make you.” A beat. Her hand drops. “To show you,” and the former Mandrake inclines still closer until it almost seems she’s drawing that warmth into herself, or as though she might deign to kiss her beautiful captive, “just how much you could bear, for love of me.”

“I prefer those with experience,” counters the delicate Red Rose in a soft murmur, tilting her head a little to one side, as she is drawn even closer, the leather of the whip wrapped tightly about her wrists, held there by one hand while the other of Emmanuelle is lifted to Séverine’s face. The cheek must feel hot to those fingers, and it seems it blooms even more from the light graze of nails. “And now and then, even I am surprised by new areas, new situations that will push me further than I have ventured before. As things are…” Tipping her chin slightly upwards, her face is merely a few inches away from the Shahrizai lady’s features; breath felt, as it mingles. “I find myself wondering, how far you would have me go.”

Emmanuelle inhales deeply; she leans down close, her lips almost touching the lobe of Séverine’s ear. “… You’ll never know,” she whispers, each word warm and fragrant and cruelly mocking, “unless I do choose you — you, above any other.”

And then she draws back, depriving her Red Rose of the warmth and the firm certainty of her body; and she leads her without another word out of that lavish and singular bedchamber and into the courtyard beyond. Here as the dusk gathers — night falls earlier betwixt such high stone walls — lanterns of coloured glass blossom along ropes stretched high overhead, blue and purple and red and orange and gold — and a small table has appeared, next to a single chair with a luxurious red velvet cushion placed at its foot.

The lady who is mistress here — mistress truly anywhere, given her training and her antecedents — strolls as far as that chair and that cushion and steps neatly between them. Her firm hand and her commanding gaze direct Séverine down onto her knees upon red velvet; as the courtesan lowers herself into the approved position, abeyante, she herself sits down firmly in the chair. Her booted feet are wide apart, at either side of Séverine’s cushion. She adjusts the chair slightly, bringing herself nearer. All these manoeuvres are conducted in the calm assurance that a young woman with Valerian training knows where to place herself and how to do so gracefully, even as she’s hemmed in by those heeled boots and those Mandragian buckskin breeches, stretched taut now over a hardly concealed phallus.

Emmanuelle passes the twin ends of Séverine’s whip-crafted tether from one hand to the other, and takes up a snifter of cognac from the table at her side. She breathes in the bouquet of it but doesn’t drink; generously, she offers her captive a taste.

“You must have come here for a purpose. What was it?”

That whisper causes a faint, almost imperceptible shiver in Séverine, and yet, it will be the words that make the Red Rose’s lips pull into a smile. Well played, indeed.

Once again, they are relocating, as they return to the courtyard, that has already — by some perspicuous action of servants, turned into a fitting space to conclude their tour. As soon as they step outside, the kiss of cold air is felt upon bare arms and back, and yet Séverine does not object as she is pulled towards the arrangement of cushion and chair. Little doubt can be of where she is to settle herself, and so the slender courtesan lowers herself into a kneel upon the red cushion once Emmanuelle’s look prompts her to do so.

Her own body language is pliant and obedient, abeyante, in her kneel that contrasts to the confident, pretty forward manner in which her hostess elects to sit herself down. Eyelids flutter for a moment, as Emmanuelle edges closer, the Red Rose almost trapped between those legs in boots with heels that are high and pointed, implying agonizing potential of other uses. The bulge in those breeches, brought about by whatever means, draws the gaze of lowered eyes, that lift only when Séverine is offered to drink from the glass. And so she leans forward, arms straining lightly against the hold of the whip that keeps her wrists trapped, lips touching against the glass in obedient acceptance of the alcoholic beverage.

Nostrils flare, eyelids move in a slow blink, as Séverine leans away after savoring some of the cognac, lifting her chin as to meet Emmanuelle’s gaze with her own. “You said it yourself when you greeted me…”, she replies in soft, manipulative tease. “Your father’s shaft.” At which one corner of her mouth lifts in a wry twist of a smile. “And to speak of our upcoming debuts, at our salon of Rose Sauvage.”

The red rose blooming at Emmanuelle’s feet receives in answer to her impertinent tease a wide and lazy grin, signifying appreciation. Very well played.

What; did Séverine expect her to feel her own prowess slighted, or her dominance threatened, or to rise in some manner to that tasty snippet of bait she herself was the first to offer at the end of a barbed hook —? Has she not sufficiently illustrated, today, the difference between an intelligent, passionate amateur and a stone-cold professional —? She knows herself to be the new and improved version, true Shahrizai seed planted in Eisande’s fertile ground, refined by the strictest training and acclaimed as an ideal by the most knowing exemplars of the Mandrake canon. And she knows that Séverine knows it, too.

“… Well,” she murmurs indulgently, pressing the rim of the brandy snifter once more to Séverine’s waiting red lips — she obliges her to swallow just a little much, just a little too quickly; “and what nubile treats have you in preparation for the lords and ladies of Marsilikos? Have you anyone new for me?” she wonders: thus challenging the Second of Red Roses either to make little of her accomplishments, or to praise her rivals.

Feigning just a bit of reluctance, Séverine’s red lips part a bit belatedly perhaps, to the renewed offer, glass pressing against the mouth until it relents, and cognac being poured generously as if Emmanuelle aimed to feed her submission or just make her tipsy with the potency of what then will roll down into her rippling throat. A third thing Emmanuelle does manage, at least, when cognac gathers at the corner of that mouth from the generous spill, a few drops that trail down Séverine’s chin, the frail column of her neck, into the tempting promise of cleavage as offered by her gown’s neckline.

“First would be,” Séverine intones, “Bijoux. A nice sort of girl. The oblivious kind, or so she makes us believe. We expect her to debut by the end of October. Her theme will be masks. The theme, black and white, probably, and she will be dressed all in red.” Maybe the cognac loosens her tongue, or is it Emmanuelle’s convincing personality? It should be highly unusual for a Second to give so much detail to a potentially interested party, about an event that still will have to be announced.

“Then… sometime in late November or early December,” the Red Rose continues, grey gaze veiling as she looks up to meet Emmanuelle’s impressively blue eyes, “Leon. Our male Red Rose novice.” The corners of her mouth lift. “Whether either of these will be able to tempt you, Lady Emmanuelle, I can hardly tell. And I shall hardly complain, knowing that neither of them will be able to affect the choice you mentioned permanently,” that smile of hers deepens in the sort of submissive confidence only a Red Rose Second or Valerian Dowayne could display. “Debuts have the allure of novelty to them. But can they really keep up with the more intense thrill of advancement in Naamah’s Service?”

The point is less for Emmanuelle to make Séverine tipsy than to remind her that she could: and to keep her obeying in these little ways, following, kneeling, drinking, for the quiet pleasure it gives a Mandrake to command and a Red Rose to acquiesce. Hospitality, calculated to appeal to a visitor’s own particular tastes. Soon enough Emmanuelle sets down the glass upon the table; assuming those fragrant droplets of liquor to have been spilled for her sake, as a temptation, she courteously reaches out with one black-taloned fingertip to caress the moisture from Séverine’s skin. Her fingernail happens casually to graze over the pulse in the young woman's pale throat, where it would be so easy for a chirurgeon in particular to open that vein and spread a true splash of colour through this courtyard of the Maison Sanglante… There's such a scene in one of the frescoes in the corridor; no doubt they're both recalling it, as Emmanuelle's finger glides gently downward, slips just barely beneath red silk, and then alights.

“Mm,” murmurs the erstwhile Mandrake dubiously as she licks cognac from her fingertip. “Masks, again.” It's hardly a concept without precedent. “Blonde or brunette, your Bijoux? I do,” she explains to her captive redhead, “prefer brunettes.”


The reply is offered with the faintest twitch of a smile, when Séverine’s attention seems to have focused elsewhere, that grazing fingernail chasing the drops of cognac upon delicate skin, a faint press there perhaps, when Emmanuelle reaches that particular spot with the accuracy of a chirurgeon. Yes, Séverine is aware, and yes, she remembers that particular fresco. It becomes clear through the faint flare of her nostrils.

“Bijoux is blonde, my lady. A lighter hue though, than mine own.”

Emmanuelle’s wide red mouth curves again, enjoying the swiftness and certainty with which Séverine establishes that hierarchy of hair hues. She shifts in her chair; she leans back with her head tilted, studying Séverine from another angle, in the light of the lowering sun and the rising moon and her own colourful glass lanterns. This time, when she reaches out, her fingers sink into that hair darker than Bijoux’s blonde tresses and she tugs Séverine even nearer to her, pressing the Red Rose’s cheek against the warmth of her thigh as she hunts for hairpins and casts them away to ping softly upon the mossy flagstones.

In loosing Séverine’s hair her touch is efficient and ungentle. Soon she’s combing her fingers through those long waves of red-blonde silk, and getting a good handful of hair in her right hand to balance the two pale wrists still under the iron control of her left. She pulls Séverine’s head this way and then that, studying her: she gives another dubious, “Mm,” and then at last allows: “Perhaps I might come to like it. To be sure, a redheaded woman’s screams are no less sweet than a brunette’s, nor her spirit any the weaker for her colouring.”

She stands; those whip-bound wrists lift with her, placing the Red Rose in an attitude of supplication on the cushion at her feet. “I may,” she goes on as she untangles her elegant talons from Séverine’s hair and lets it fall down to cover her marque, “send you a contract, Séverine nó Rose Sauvage. For you and I…” She leans down and whispers tenderly to her captive, whose senses she hasn’t quite finished playing upon yet.

“We don’t cheat Naamah.”

The whip uncoils. Emmanuelle steps away. Faster than one might imagine it possible Séverine is left alone on her knees amid gathering dusk and autumnal chill.

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