(1310-12-21) Elua: Longest Night on Mont Nuit
Summary: The Longest Night ball at Cereus House
RL Date: Sun Jan 13, 2019
Related: Longest Night in Elua
adrien calanthe daphne emmanuelle etienne faisan genevieve heloise iamus inesse jeremie neela philomene solange symon 

Cereus House — Mont Nuit

Right on top of Mont Nuit, at the point where the avenue winding all the way up ends, sits Cereus House, overlooking the other Houses of the Night Court with majestic vigilance of ancient and frail beauty. The architecture echoes the style of ancient Ephesium, which shows in the tall columns with elaborate bell-shaped capitals that are ornately decorated with acanthus leaves, and also in classical statues of former dowaynes of note constituting a continuing theme in the expanse of the gardens.

Inside, there is a hallway that leads to the receiving chamber, light marble used in floor tiles and more columns that have been arranged in the manner of an arcade, supporting the ceiling in subtle reference to stabilizing frailty. A frailty that is also expressed in the prominent use of crystal chandeliers in the salon, of crystal windchimes klinking subtly near the windows and catching light and breaking it into all colors of the spectrum. The furniture is of light birch wood, upholstery and drapes of finest deep blue satin with gold lining. Cushions on the floor echoing the color scheme are soft and comfortable for the Cereus adepts and courtesans to kneel upon.

The Cereus Ballroom shows off even more grandeur through golden ornaments on the walls, the ceiling painted with an elaborate fresco of Cereus canon, a frail looking version of Naamah ensnaring the interest of King Persis with her charms of transient beauty. There are three crystal chandeliers suspended from the ceiling, and together with the additional oil lamps set at the walls at regular intervals they will offer sufficient lighting. This is where the great Midwinter Ball is held on Mont Nuit on Longest Night, heavy brocade drapes at the windows in deep lapis lazuli blue contrasting to the polished inlay work of the parquet wood floor, combining light maple wood with dark patterns of mahogany.

High upon Mont Nuit the formal gardens within which Cereus House nestles as a jewel, were the first in the city to be touched by the winter snows.

Now, with dusk fallen and the Longest Night drawing in, it's snowing no more. Some of the guests attending the Night Court's own private and privileged Midwinter Masque can simply stroll a little distance through the crisp clear air and up the winding cobblestone avenue and, finding themselves at the latter's very source, throw off their cloaks to reveal their lavish costumes beneath. Others, coming from farther afield in the city or in finery too delicate, arrive in carriages which stream steadily through gates thrown open but well-guarded. To reach the house itself all alike must pass through those gardens in their unearthly hibernal loveliness, in which manicured foliage reposes beneath a dainty blanket of snow and ice, set aglitter by the umpteen silver lanterns which light their way.

Then the best-trained servants in the capital city of Europa's most civilised nation come forth to greet them with just the right degree of elegant subservience, to bear away discarded outer garments, to provide every small necessity as they prepare themselves to be seen and, more than that, to see.

The Great Hall which has known this masque every midwinter since time immemorial, has been scrubbed and polished to a perfect freshness; fat new candles of the finest beeswax, just lit, gleam in profusion in the three great crystal chandeliers and countless sconces besides, illuminating in all their seductive detail the Exploits of Naamah frescoed upon the ceiling in the hand of a master artist long dead; evergreen boughs perfume the air, above even the scent of smoke. Long tables dressed with brilliant white cloths hold a feast to put even the palace to shame: those delicacies which taste better hot are kept so by hidden braziers, while those which must at all costs be eaten cold are chilled by a variety of fantastical large birds carved whole from blocks of ice. The musicians are in their gallery, limbering up their hands and tuning their instruments into the celestial harmony required of them on this night, when they face the greatest test of their year. And along every wall, the novices of the house kneel abeyante upon blue velvet cushions, holding trays laden with tiny glasses of colourless, cool, fragrant joie.

All, thus, is properly disposed to keep tonight's long darkness at bay.

The courtesans of Cereus House, whose traditional privilege it is to elect the Winter Queen, enter their own hall first and in the colours of her season, attired one and all in glittering cloth-of-silver and white silk pure as snow. On their feet, silver sandals or boots of clean new white leather; adorning ears and throats and fragile white wrists are jewels silver-set, delicate as cobwebs, diamonds or cut crystal shimmering like ice. This year's conceit is the feathers of the snow-goose, forming masks of white and silver feathers and woven through their long, flowing, almost universally blonde hair. Their feathers and their responsibility as hosts, they wear alike with perfect serenity, perfect aplomb; their formation of rippling 'V's within 'V's seems to float across the parquet floor, led by the Cereus Dowayne, a wraith-thin woman in the seventh decade of her life whose back is yet unbent and whose movements yet embody an ideal grace.

Her couch awaits her at the farther side of the hall. There the doyenne of Mont Nuit reposes in comfort, presiding over the grand entries of the twelve houses less venerable than her own, and the festivities that will follow.

Next to filter in are the courtesans and adepts of Dahlia House. Befitting their canon, Upright and Unbending, they enter at a confident majestic pace, with a grace and presence that demands attention. This year's theme for the Longest Night is obviously one of the most regal birds, the peacock. Peacock feathers are worked into the high stand up collars of dresses and doublets, more of that feather pattern evident in exquisite embroideries on the garments, shimmering golden upon the dark turquoise fabrics. Some feathers are also used upon headpieces, hats, and other accessories. Holding their chins high, the Dahlias take a triumphant turn about the ballroom, before the flock of avians disperses, and these feathery flowers elect to mingle with the rest of the festive crowd.

Calanthe nó Dahlia wears her dark hair done in a manner that have some of them arranged in an enigma of braids and loops, held in place by hair needles that are topped off with glittering gems. High cheekbones and slightly tilted brows draw attention to the stormy grey of her intelligent eyes that peer about the ballroom as she presents the peacock theme of her House. The bodice is embroidered with likenesses of peacock feathers and pronounces her waist while inspiring her to maintain a regal and proud upright posture. It also sports a standup collar at the back, of real peacock feathers that look almost as a second fan to match the one she occasionally unfolds in her hand. There are no sleeves, pale immaculate skin flashing on upper arms, whereas the rest in covered in long gloves that reach till a few inches above the elbow. Skirts flare out from the waist, helped along by a crinoline, more peacock feathers gleaming here in masterful embroideries of gold, green and black upon dark turquoise. Moving to the side, Calanthe accepts a glass of joie from one of the novices that are making their rounds, offering a smile to the young girl, before attention is bound to drift away towards the ongoing spectacle in the ballroom.

Courtesans and adepts of House Heliotrope are dressed up as fairy creatures tonight. Females with gossamer wings are wearing costumes of diaphanous pastel silks that drift about them, and males are posing as wood pixies, clad in greens and browns, wearing headpieces adorned with artificial flowers and twigs.

Among them is Adrien nó Heliotrope, a woodland pixie wearing verdant tights and a closely fitting long-sleeved shirt of green. A link of chains, adorned with artificial flowers, is worn about his neck, with several lengths of brown silk attached to it creating a loose garment that drapes on top of his other attire all the way down to his knees. Upon his head rests a brown hat similar to a tricorn, with lengths of green attached to its sides, upon which yellow flowers of fabric have been sewed. The woodland pixie's prop is a gigantic yellow flower upon a staff of sorts that has been decorated with brown and green fabric. Handsome features have been painted with yellow color, and a lock of dark hair is sneaking forth from the confines of the hat to drape decoratively on the forehead.

A well built figure of average height arrives on foot in heavy green cloak. His head tilts as drifts trough the grounds towards the House, at angles that suggest he is taking his time to admire the snow kissed landscape. He strolls without hurry until he finally reaches the entrance, knocks snow from his boots on the step, throws off his cloak, offers a token, and enters with an ellegant grace of movement suggesting extensive sword or dance training. He clogs the entrance momentarily as he takes in the maginficance of both the hall and the amazing prossession on displace. Luckily, the mask hides his gawping. soon enough he shakes off his paralysis in the face of all that beauty and slopes off the the side where can watch without being in the way.

He wears an elaborate mask of a face made of leaves and vines of cleverly layered fabric. The Eyes peering out are of a richly saturated blue, like the southern sea. Ribbons decorated in various shade of green dangle from the mask to mingle with thick, shoulder length curls in the back.

The Green Man is also wearing a very fashionable short cut tunic of forest green with black brocade leaf and vine inspired embroidery. he is wearing good quality green and black parti-coloured hose and pointy toed boots dyed green to match.

Shield your eyes, everyone. That entrancing sound of clinking, sparkling, jingling coin en route to the ballroom is a premonition of a vision in gold and in silver. House Bryony is here, and the flowers are all but wearing their coffers. Each one of them is clad in the metallic hues of coin spent and coin yet wanting spending, and not a few of them have actually mutilated thousands of ducats into materials to embellish their outfits— the height of profligracy and largesse, tonight, not willing to let anyone go home without a clear picture of who holds the longest purse-strings on the mont.

Faisan no Bryony is at the head of the group, not afraid to be in the vanguard of their gilt-clad band. He's dressed in the guise of a soldier, with one golden pauldron in three bands of gold, his other shoulder sporting a shield-shaped clasp holding a short soldier's-cloak of snowy white fur dotted with ducat medallions at an angle behind him. His shirt, worn over a white velvet tunic, is of golden scale, each scale comprised of a single golden ducat in artful arrangement, clasped about his waist with a dark brown leather baldric, polished to a gleam and studded with golden stars. There's a grip of a weapon in the baldrick's sheath, but it is locked shut with a golden chain. The ducat mail descends in two tails before him and two tails behind his sturdy equestrian thighs, clad in pale tan wool embroidered along the sides with golden thread in a floral scrollwork. Soldier's boots match his baldric, stars and suns of gold gleaming againt the dark brown, and high on his head he wears a masque like a soldier's helm, worn aloft to cover his eyes but leave his mouth visible. He has slung back his soldier's cape and offered up his arm to Solange, on which she may make her entrance.

And yes, there's Solange, walking upon Faisan's arm near the front of the Bryony House contingent. She stands tall at five-foot eight, and elaborate gold-hung chains weave through braids that catch moon-kissed curls of white aloft. She wears a gown in Hellenic style of pure gold threads as befits her House's theme for the night, and the train that follows her like a molten river of gold is constructed of a thousand or more ducats, individually drilled and linked together in one splendid piece. A glorious mask of golden feathers covers her face from her brows to her cheeks. The tips have been gilded with gold dust powder to match her dress, and they ripple and shimmer with each turn of her head. Bright eyes glitter behind that mask she wears, enjoying the spectacle that comes but once a year.

This year, Gentian is next in the order. All the adepts are painted in midnight blue pigment with a hint of shimmer, and most are clad in robes of midnight blue with pale, glittering stones as embellishments, but Iamus, at the head of the adepts, is wearing near-transparent gold over his deep blue paint. They are, viewers realize, the constellations of the night sky that keep vigil over the heads of those dreaming. Iamus carries his mask on a stick, a dark mask painted with a delicate galaxy swirl, trailing gold ribbons like the tails of comets. In his left hand, a censer fashioned after the moon. Their pace is slow and stately as they process into the room. They are, after all, Dreamers to the last.

The entrance of Orchis is riotous, made more so by the sheer array of variation within their ranks. This year's theme is a play on the fantastique beasts of Hellene myth; golden fleeced lamb, griffin, pale sphinx, even three apprentices stuck cleverly side-by-side to embody Cerberus, all of them devoid of the solemnity required to form of it a convincing illusion. The most terrifying creatures have been formed into farcical facsimiles by the laughing, merry adepts, making a show of roaring fiercely.

Geneviève is amongst them, having adopted the guise of a phoenix rising from the ashes. The hem of her gown is dark and soot-streaked, dissolving into brightly toned reds, oranges, and hints of scalding blue. Her broad mask is bedecked in dyed, glittering feathers, giving the illusion of wings spread in flight.

Ah, here comes Jasmine House, their theme easily picked up on - the Tsingano. From men in vests and flowy pants, to women in sheer skirts and scarves, the playful and seductive nature of the nomadic people are touched upon as they dance their way into the celebration. Masks of bright colors with small bells or coins sewn to the bottom edge are worn by all.

With a sensual grace does Neela move into the room with her House, her own outfit shades of red, orange and touches of gold. From the sheer scarves of her skirts, to the tiny shirt worn off her shoulders, the teasing glimpse of her youthful form is on display. Bare of foot are most of them, their steps to ring out with the chimes of bells or coins that sing with their movements.

Eglantine House arrives to the fete, in a splendor of winter snowflakes and ice crystals. The younger adepts twirl and skip at either side of the procession, throwing out handfuls of sparkling diamond dust and tinsel to flutter down over their brothers and sisters. The Dowayne of the Artistic House heads the procession. However, her lips are not smiling. Instead, they are tightly pursed and her cheeks are stained red, for many of the House are wearing similar colors and materials as Cereus House. While many are dressed in snow white and sport snowflakes, others also have sported a silvery icicle style.

One such person who has actually chosen both to represent her costume this evening is none other than Daphne no Eglantine. She walks beside Jeremie, her hand in his, but rather than displaying the usual confidence she shows whilst performing, she seems extremely shy and bashful now. She is dressed in a sheer white dress embroidered with crystals and snowflakes, her nude body clearly visible beneath the transparent material. Her mask is white and made to look like icicles. She sees some of Cereus House's costumes and her jaw drops. She quickly glances to her Dowayne to gauge the reaction. "Not good." she whispers to Jeremie. "We chose too similar to them."

Philomène is initially stopped at the door, which is hardly surprising. Among all this beauty and splendour, the tall, blonde is dressed rather simply. Dark colours and a severe cut to her clothing, and enough wear and tear to indicate that no matter how good the cloth or how well fitted the garment, these are no finely tailored clothes for this evening alone, but the best clothes cobbled together after an unexpected invitation. Not only are her clothes less than the ideal of beauty espoused by every other attending lady or gentleman, she has the poor manners enough to let her own marred beauty show by a distinctive limp as she moves. Yes, it's really no surprise at all that she might be initially turned away, but she gives an amused laugh, produces a token from the folds of her clothing, and clumps on up into the dazzle of the room with an ironic bow for the gathered beauties.

Jérémie no Eglantine enters the festivities towards the front of the Eglantine courtesans, hand in hand with with Daphne. He, too, has opted for colors of white and silver to go with the Snowflake theme of his house. His attire is equally parts roguish and regal, sporting a bare torso beneath and elaborately crafted and embroidered coat that reaches almost to the floor. His bare chest, visible beneath the open coat, has been painted and decorated to make it appear as if the crytal pendant he wears on a silver chain around his neck is slowly runing his body to solid ice before the eyes of everyone gathered. In his free hand, he holds a tall silver staff shaped as a dragons claw at the top, the long nailed fingers of the claw grasping a large crystal that sits at the very top. Jérémie frowns at first when he sees the Cereus' choice of theme for this Longest Night, but it is quickly dispelled by an amused snort when Daphne voices her concerns. He leans in to hear and talks in a lowered voice. "Pfft. They chose to similar to us." He replies, his eyes still firmly fixed on a few of the Cereus house courtesans and their Dowayne.

A young lady of House Baphinol sheepishly enters the ball room. Her slim figure is quite quick to find a shelter in a more quiet side of the room. Dragging her fingers across the wall, she moves a bit further in order to explore the decorations and scan those who are already present. Her gaze sparkles in a healthy jealousy and admiration when she sees the expensive silks of the other guests and the costumes of the courtesans. Her other hand nervously brushes off unexisting wrinkles of her skirt as if lady Inesse would be lacking self-confidence in the perfection and beauty of her own attire.

Her gown stands out in a sleeveless, plunging V-neckline with fitted bodice lavishly decorated with floral appliques. The dress shows a V-shaped back and reveals quite a decent amount of flawless skin. Her tulle skirt opens in a ballgown silhouette and runs at a full length hem. While one would say that her attire is playfully revealing, a bit coquettish, it does have a very distinct taste of innocence as well because of that coral pink shade of the fabric definitely reflecting the blushing cheeks of an innocent lady.

When Geneviève nó Orchis turns, layers of semi-transparent skirts flare in what seem to be the literal sense. Gold threads catch in the candlelight, making them look for all the world like they're crackling with merry flame themselves. The single-shoulder bodice, along the line of Hellene inspiration, clings to the curves the passage of youth have granted her. Her befeathered mask does nothing to conceal her considerable delight at the entrance of Philomène, whom she approaches, declaiming, "Joie, joie to you on this Longest Night!" The words are accompanied by her snatching two glasses of the eponymous decoction from a quivering apprentice, for whom she spares a smile and waits till the girl ceases her shaking and returns it before carrying on towards the other woman. "Well, you're a riot," she observes, "And I suppose your costume is one of a woman who didn't expect to get invited to a ball?"

The recently retired Dowayne of Mandrake House enters alone: the people just before her are allowed a moment to disperse, and the people who might have come with or after, take a good look and suddenly discover something they'd rather be doing a short but sufficient distance away… The crème de la crème of Elua society knows (and not a few visitors from Marsilikos might concur) that there's only one figure of quite that size and shape, who might dare to appear here masked with a bronze visage of Kushiel almost but not entirely like those worn by that severe angel's own priests, and by his statues in temple and shrine, below a crown of bronze set with an array of improbably large sapphires. The rest of Emmanuelle Shahrizai's costume is characteristic: a well-cut, square-shouldered coat with swirling dark leather skirts and no few decorative chains, dark breeches tucked into mirror-bright, thigh-high black leather boots, with gilded spike heels and spurs that jingle with each step she takes. The accompanying vest is, perhaps, out of the way even for her. Cut with a low and narrow 'V' which swoops almost to her navel, sewn onto her by her valet Baltasar's deft hand, it yet manages to suppress any hint of feminine contour; around her neck, resting against translucent skin visibly veined with blue, are the three glittering Keys of Hell. To an uninitiated stranger she might be a man, a woman, or some curious hybrid unique to the halls of Mont Nuit. (The false phallus stretching her breeches taut adds its own part to the confusion.) Beneath her plain and forbidding crown her blue-black hair falls to her absent waist in a mass of braids, each threaded through with a narrow thong of black leather and tipped with a glinting steel hook: the Punisher and the scourge, united in one form.

She stands in the doorway with one hand gloved in vivid red leather clasping a flail, the very sceptre of the Lord of Hell, barbed à la her hair; the other sweeps open her coat and comes to rest upon her hip, where a finely-made black leather holster strapped about her slim figure holds a set of fléchette knives. A coiled bullwhip is just visible hooked to the other side of that encircling belt. She draws a breath, surveying the assembled throng as they buzz about; she strides into their midst, then, as though she were ten feet tall and a reigning sovereign.

Daphne bites back a little giggle at Jeremie's reply to her. She once more looks over to Cereus House, then back to their Dowayne. "Oh well." she says to him, shrugging it off with a smile. "It can't be helped now." She takes her hand out of his, only to link her arm through his now. A passing novice walks by and hands them each a glass of joie. Daphne politely thanks him and raises the glass in a small toast to her companion. "Joie, my love!" she says to him with a warm smile, before sipping the fragrant liquid. "Here is to another year in Elua with you!" She then stands upon her tiptoes and presses a soft kiss to his lips. "Joie!" she says to him again, her eyes sparkling happily.

Philomène accepts the glass from Genevieve with a small smile and a glint in her eye. "They do say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, mademoiselle, do they not?" She lifts the glass and knocks back half in a single gulp, before gesturing around herself with the liquid. "Now, do I look like I'm here to flatter? /That/ was never part of the invitation. Honestly, I'm beginning to think I'm the only one here with the imagination to show up in something completely different to the rest. Joie to you, my dear. Should we show these youngsters what a good time looks like?"

As the lines of the procession begin to thaw, Iamus melts away into the crowd, picking up a tiny glass of joie along the way. Whether he is looking for anyone in particular is unclear. But to hold the glass, he shifts his mask to the hand holding the censer, meaning his face becomes visible to all gathered, kohl lining his eyes and gold brushed across his eyelids. He smiles and says something in passing to a noblewoman he recognizes.

Neela would laugh if she even noticed the similarities between the two Houses, she but smiles and keeps on going. Dancing up to one patron, she offers a wink with her smile, scooping up a small glass of joie, "Joie to you on this Longest Night!" It is a saying that will be heard quite often as the night continues.

Grand entrance completed, Faisan continues to process with Solange upon his arm, if for no other reason than that it is difficult to be dressed as some gleaming war-god and not stride along with such gallant gravitas as he had on entering. It's a heady sort of costume, in addition to its physical weight. But below the edge of his golden helm, his sweet pink lips flicker into a mischievous grin; he has, to all evidence, marked the moment of awkwardness between the hosting Cerei and the Eglantine snowflakes and is calculating the odds of some misadventure between them. "The joie has barely begun to flow and already that little one there looks to be boiling up some comment for an acquaintance," he remarks, quietly, to Solange. "I'd lay three against one she says something before the caravette is played."

Calanthe makes her turn about the ballroom, and in passing, offers Daphne and Jérémie a pointed smile, after giving their costumes an appraising look. "Joie to you," the Dahlia intones, tilting her head just so. "Snowflakes. How fitting." Lifting her fan to unfold it with a determined flick of her wrist, she holds it in a light flutter, as if in need of cooling. "You two look lovely," the adept states, raising her own glass of joie in her vacant hand in a toast of sorts. Before her gaze finds Solange and Faisan, and the Dahlia Peacock decides to drift onwards on her unhurried trail.

Adrien is already lingering somewhere to the side, staff with a gigantic flower held in one hand as he sips from a glass of joie from the other. The woodland pixie shares a few words of conversation with a female fairy at his side, another Heliotrope, obviously. It does not take him long to notice the arrival of Inesse, however. And it is no coincidence, that Adrien excuses himself for a moment, to make his way through the throng of celebrating Night Blooming Flowers, heading for the wall, the young Baphinol lady is tracing with her fingers as she walks.

Geneviève laughs uproariously at Philomène's conclusion before knocking back her entire glass of joie in a single tilt. "Oh, it would be my greatest pleasure. Can I provide you my arm this time, or shall you simply scoff at me again?" The former Mandrake dowayne is given a look of shock and she whistles lowly. "Balls of brass on that one. Possibly literally," she adds, her eyes drifting to the suspicious pants. Then, across the assembled. "Speaking of creativity, my, sparks are sure to fly today," she relays to the noblewoman, "Those snowflakes of Eglantine are sure to be at odds with fair Cereus all evening."

Solange glides along at Faisan's side, a vision of moonlight wrapped in gold. She appears unwilling to detach herself from his arm just yet, perhaps because they just make such a /striking/ couple as they are. She laughs at his bet on the social faux pas, mischief showing behind her mask as she turns to him to say, "Only three against one? I'll warrant the odds are shorter than that. Nevertheless, you have your bet." Her voice is a ripple of softly-struck chords as she snags a couple of glasses from one of the young novices' trays. She does turn to lift her glass in the direction of their hostess before she takes her first drink, acknowledging the Cereus Dowayne with inner amusement for what /might/ come to pass. The party's just beginning.

When the courtesans and the adepts of the Thirteen Houses of Mont Nuit have all in turn processed into the Great Hall, flaunting for one another's educated eyes all their splendour and their grace — when an array of royal and noble guests, chosen by craft or by chance, their costumes lacking in unity but not absent a certain motley charm, have likewise entered and found places amongst those who are here by right — when every eye is gathered to see and every breath held, and no wits yet fuddled by joie: the trumpets sound a third time, to herald the Winter Queen.

The storied mask of Olivier the Oblique having crumbled to dust a century ago, this venerable lady's visage is formed in its remembered likeness, by a master leatherworker who incorporated those few salvaged shards which were placed in his hands. Thus does Cereus House renew when necessary its traditions, linking the Night Court's legendary past with its glittering present… Some hardly see it, of course, for her passage is attended by a ripple of gracious bowing which spreads rapidly throughout the hall; but all those near enough to her processional path may glimpse her greyish, brownish rags trailing over that polished parquet of maple and mahogany which later in the evening will crunch underfoot with a thousand broken glasses. Her shabby grey woolen gloves are half-felted on her hands; one holds tight to the ancient blackthorn staff which seems her sole means of dragging herself along, while the other clutches a threadbare shawl about her slight, hunched figure.

At last, when it seems the hush can scarcely last any longer, she reaches the head of the colonnade and turns to face the assembled throng. Steeling herself visibly for the effort, her narrow shoulders set though hardly straightening, her hand slides down the staff in her hand and she raises it aloft in feeble triumph. The musicians strike up a frantic tune; the joie-bearers rise from the cushions where they've been kneeling all this time, holding aloft their heavy trays and seeking to honour first of all the Dowaynes and then their house's guests with the intoxications of that tiny white flower which blossoms in the snow.

And the Winter Queen? Somewhere amongst the dancers she loses herself, too much a reminder of the old year to depress the revelry by lingering in sight.

From his posture, the Green Man is clearly stunned. He might be heard to give little gasps of amazement as each new display of beauty and splendor. He freezes in place at the arrival of the Angel Kushiel, rather like a mouse on seeing the shadow of the hawk. Once he masters his shock, he is shuffling rather quickly along the edge of the wall in the direction of the celestial Gentians, still very careful to stay out of the way of procession and anyone else who looks important. Once Iamus shows his face, he scuttles that way, like a ship before a strong wind.

Iamus remembers to turn back and be silent to observe the arrival of the Winter Queen when the heralds sound, but having observed this rite many times before, it does not appear to have quite the impression upon him that it might on some of the Mont's less frequent visitors. So it is that by the time the queen is gone he has indeed taken up that cup of joie and is turning toward the revelers. Not that most of their identities are very obvious. But he awaits someone to toast with, surely.

"One wonders, then," Philomène muses towards Genevieve, turning to consider the Mandrake, "whether it really /is/ cold enough out there, and if a Mandrake is close enough to a Mandrill to count as a monkey. Empirical investigation, you understand. We shall have to keep tabs throughout the evening. Oh, good grief, now there's /dancing/. I'm out!" She shakes her head, limping over to take a station by the arrayed ranks of blue joie, intending by all indications to be planning to see just how far through the myriad glasses she can get before she's stopped, dead, or too drunk to know any better. Another glass is claimed already, the moment she finishes her first. "Who's running book on whether those snowflakes come to blows?" she queries, with a nod towards the two white-clad factions.

As the Winter Queen makes her appearance, Neela stands to the side, offering a graceful low curtsey. When she rises, she fetches another cup of joie, ready to raise it in tribute to Dowaynes and their Winter Queen as she disappears into the mass that begins to dance. The Jasmine will soon join that mass, losing herself in the moment as her body gives praise to passion in the sensual movements of dance.

"Oh!", the woodland pixie exclaims, when he catches Philomène's words in passing. After all, Adrien nó Heliotrope was on his way towards a certain area of the ballroom, but the lady's remark makes the courtesan pause in his steps. "Snowflakes? Blows? Did I miss anything? This is Longest Night, my lady." His painted features pull into a grin. "And perhaps… you would like to give me the honor of a dance."

It's a good thing Geneviève's already finished off her glass of joie, for she might very well have spit it out at the comparison to primate. Her attention is momentarily captured by the procession of Winter Queen, levying the proper obeisance, before stepping crisply after Philomène. "I suspect it's Bryony. Let me know if you'd like to place a bet." Another glass of joie claimed on her own behalf, she somehow manages to materialize a chair for the noblewoman and gesture to it. "Sit before someone mistakes your gimp for a two-step, then. Oh, see?" she indicates to the Heliotrope setting upon them, dipping her voice low enough to not be overheard by the man, "I wonder if he'll rise to the occasion?"

Faisan makes a respectful pause to his prattling with Solange to angle himself into a soldier's bow, fist applied to chest while she makes her ceremonial entrance. When he rises, he reaches to take a draught of joie and share them with his comrade in Naamah. "I had considered that the early festive solemnities would throw some water upon the fire… though I still think it might stir back up before the band gets too far into its setlist," he tracks his evening's first pony with an appraising eye.

Étienne hastily takes a flute, and lifts his mask enough to show the lower part of his face. He lifts it to toast the striking figure in blue, "Much joie to you on the Longest Night!" His Azzalleze accent is unmistakeable however elegant his new clothes.

"My dear, leafy fellow," Philomène addresses Adrien, lips curved into a generally amused smile as she casually leans on the back of the offered chair rather than necessarily sitting in it. "I'm sure you've missed plenty, but in this case it's just the opportunity to have your feet trampled. Perhaps you ought to give thanks for your supreme good fortune when I turn you down. Besides," she adds, gesturing to his outfit, "I'm sure there's an eager squirrel here somewhere, desperate to get its paws on your nuts."

How Solange overheard Philomène's musing as to the holder of the book for tonight would be anyone's guess, but overhear it she does. A tilt of her head a lowly murmur directly into Faisan's ear before she directs his attention to where the lady in question's being accosted for a dance. "Best be quick though," she adds after taking note of the situation. "Don't want her to escape." And holding her glass of joie aloft so it doesn't get jostled, she leads the way through the crowds.

"Ahh." The surprise on the Gentian's face is emphasized by his dark eyeliner. Iamus smiles at the Green Man addressing him, and makes a little bow. "And to you," he returns, lifting the glass in a toast and drinking. "How fine you look tonight. Is your face indeed joyful behind the mask of leaves?" he wants to know. "I hope it is, and any worries are carried away on the tide of joie."

Geneviève poses herself similarly to Philomène, a counterbalance of weight on the chair, though with more of an air of joyful indolence than necessity. Adrien gets a beaming smile. Yes, this woman is the one the Orchis chose, Elua help us all.

"Oh, there certainly is," Adrien is quick to respond, and his eyes glint with a bit of perhaps joie-induced mischief, as he looks towards Philomène. "But the night is long, apparently, and why should I not take the opportunity to offer you this little adventure?" He chuckles, it is a hearty good-natured chuckle, assuring her, "I am said to be quite nimble, and my feet would evade any trample you may have in store for me. But…" And here he leans forward, in an elegant bow, "it is not my intention to fluster you and press you into doing something you are averse to doing. Joie to you…" Straightening he lowers the flower staff in his hand just a tad. "Do you want this?" Who would have thought, the Heliotrope had traits of Orchis within him? It must be Geneviève's inspiring presence.

"Meh." Jérémie replies to Daphne. He looks over to the Cereus House courtesans, to his own Dowayne, and then back to his partner. "We look much better anyway." He then tells her with a smile and a wink, squeezing her hand softly. He links his arm with hers and accepts the glass of Joie when offered, giving the novice a smile as well. "Joie to you, my love." he says, raising his own glass to take a sip of the colorless liquid. "To another year, and many more to come." He answers before leaning down slightly to press his lips against hers, returning the kiss. He looks at her with a warm smile. "With you, my dear, there is nothing but Joy. When Calanthe approaches them, he raises his glass to her. "Joie to you." He tells her with a warm smile. He looks at Daphne through the corner of his eyes and stifles a laugh at the more-than-expected jab from the Dahlia. "You look quite splendid yourself." He then offers her, before returning her 'toast of sorts' with his own, slightly theatrical, toast in response. "Maybe with a few more of these in you..," He shakes his glass faintly. "..You might even be entertaining as well." He adds with a wry smirk and a humored wink, his tone very much tongue-in-cheek. When Calanthe turns to leave at her unhurried and languid pace, Jérémie turns to Daphne, shaking his head slightly and giving her a roll of mirth-filled eyes. "Dahlias…always so serious and aloof." He half-says, half-chuckles. He raises his glass to her again, sipping at the liquid held within. He then looks over to an area that is less crowded at the moment, likely because it doesn't offer a very good view of the ongoing performance. "As magnificent as the showing is, why don't we go somewhere a little more quiet. I need to find somewhere to put my staff…." He says to her, more than a little innuendo in his voice at the last part, which is delivered with a playful smile and another wink. He then leads her towards the, relatively, secluded area, slipping down a hand to give her naked backside a firm squeeze as they make their way there, not at all bothered whether someone should see it or not. This is their day, and even the spectacle of the Cereus House Fete seems to pale in comparison to that.

Étienne gives the impressive gentian a shy, but genuine grin as he drinks. "Not as fine as you! I don't think I've seen anything quite as… It's all so overwhelming, but you…" he tries again, "I am indeed joyful and the moreso because this night has brought me a chance to offer you my gratitude for your wisdom and kindness." His is so dreadfully sincere.

Philomène gives Adrien a sympathetic smile, shaking her head. She doesn't quite go as far as to pat his pixie-clad head, but that's probably because she's using one hand for balance and one for her glass (and that hand intends to be occupied in that exact way all night, regardless). "My dear boy, I can think of very few things I would like less than your particularly floral staff this evening, but bless you for trying. It's really very endearing."

Neela turns about in time to see the way Jeremie gropes the backside of Daphne, the two Englantines to get a brow raised from the Jasmine as they slip off together. Laughing as she shakes her head, she goes back to dancing. Slipping off to the side as the music comes to a slow ending before starting up another, she is quick to pick up another small glass of joie to sip upon. Her gaze takes in the nearby trio of Adrien, Philomene and Genevieve, watching their expressions though not quite hearing their conversation.

<FS3> Calanthe rolls Composure+2: Great Success. (3 7 2 5 7 2 8 2 5 7 2 8)

Iamus smiles at Etienne and reaches out to grasp his upper arm, though he's careful not to get any paint on Etienne's fine clothes. (His palms and fingertips, mercifully, are bare.) "It was my pleasure to guide you," he says. "And if you should ever wish to meet again in the future…" Well, business is not done on the Longest Night, but the implied offer hangs there. Upon closer inspection of the Gentian's body, one familiar with the stars might note that the constellation Andromeda is what the stars spilled across his body sketch out.

Faisan hms? He leans over when Solange murmurs to gain his attention, and his eye follows hers to Philomene, though the force of his gaze is of course obscured by the line of his helm. "Oh, am I opening book, to-night, in fact?" he grins aside at her. "Very well, let the books open," he decides, "But it will have to cover a wider spread than long odds on a joie-fueled brawl," he murmurs. "Let me take a lap," he excuses himself, drawing back toward her close enough to give her a kiss upon the cheek of parting before he betakes himself from her side and goes to take his appraising lap of the ballroom, testing out the grounds, as it were, and taking stock. He does, of course, have a small book of cross-lined paper in the pouch of his soldier's baldrick, and soon enough he's putting together a book of all manner of odds on the evening. From when the first catty comment will cause a rustle of alarm over too-closely matching costumes, to how many Valerian flowers will come fawnin to the returned Emmanuelle's heels over the course of the evening.

<FS3> Faisan rolls Gambling+4: Great Success. (5 1 8 2 2 5 6 7 8 4 8 1 5 6 2)

In a bright corner darkened by their attire masked Mandrakes gather about the gilt chair where Kushiel sits enthroned, to pay their homage. The Lord of Hell has borrowed from someone or another a vicious-looking riding crop; holding it in a red-gloved hand, she is beckoning and dismissing, caressing and chastising her own little petting zoo of savage beasts rendered uncommonly sweet by the presence of a more dangerous predator than they themselves. For each she has a stern but kindly word; however loud the hubbub in the Great Hall she never raises her voice but, knowing her well of old, they brave the resinous allure of her cologne and lean in close to listen to the black pearls of their former Dowayne's wisdom. They frequently step away barking their laughter. Those Valerians who make so bold as to approach and to kneel before her — usually, the result of a dare exchanged amongst themselves — are apt to earn genuine strikes of her crop, on this night of nights not to punish their cheekiness but to reward it.

"I certainly will find someone appreciative and worthy of my attentions," Calanthe quips back towards Jérémie, whose remark and reply deserves not the be left without answer. "And thank you, I know I look splendid tonight, as I dressed with so much care." She leaves the two Eglantines turtledoves to their conversation then, in pursuit of another glass of joie, and perhaps that certain someone she referred to.

Geneviève has to stifle a guffaw to the ribald jest from Adrien. "Oh, allow the boy pride in his staff, my lady," she drawls, eyebrows raising with theatrical gravitas. Freeing the chair from her own grasp, she does what Philomène might do if her hands were free to do so, patting him on the head. Unlike Philomène, the touch is soft and dancing, surfeit of joy setting her fingertips to a jig. "Joie," she wishes, broad grin beckoning forth laugh lines on her lovely face.

Étienne gives him a look of admiration and gratitude, and he seems comfortable with the touch. He nods, "I have spoken well of you. I don't know if we…I will see you before I leave, but ifI do not, your memory will live always as a warm one." Then his eyes go wide, "Is that Andromeda? How wonderful!"

"Fair enough," Adrien nó Heliotrope inclines his head towards Philomène, and a warm smile curves his lips. "I shall see to whom else I may gift it to." A wink he tosses towards the Orchis, and then as he watches her rise he receives the pat to his head in good spirit. "Joie to you, Geneviève," Adrien replies, and in leaning forward offers a kiss of greeting to the side of her mouth. "If you may change your mind about my staff, dear lady of gruff words, I will be here for awhile…" His gaze lands on the far side of the ballroom again, before it flicks back to the Orchis and the Chalasse vicomtesse. "But if you would excuse me, for now…?"

"Ah, you recognize it," Iamus says with great approval, turning slowly so that the full map of the constellation may be appreciated. "Many ways to read it, I thought. So many of our patrons are bound and tormented by unpleasant dreams, in need of rescue. While, on the other hand, other kind patrons rescue us ourselves from our loneliness."

Solange laughs, relinquishing Faisan to his lap of the room, whilst heading herself in the opposite direction. She cuts a swathe through those around her, her metallic chain clinking heavily in her wake. Smalltalk is made with one or two of her fellow courtesans, until her path intersects with that of Calanthe's. "You look positively regal tonight," she compliments her. "Dahlia House always look stunning however." Another glass of joie is snagged from a lofted tray, and she turns to peer through throng. "I almost missed the entrance of the Winter Queen as I was on the wrong side of the room and stood behind one of the pillars."

"Have a marvellous evening, and joie to you, my dear," Philomène insists to Adrien, returning the smile for a moment or two before she knocks back the drink in her hand and reaches for another. "Perhaps Mademoiselle Geneviève might like to sample the staff of which you're so inordinately proud, if your hunt across the room is otherwise unsuccessful. Although you ought to be warned that the Orchis are rather prone to laughter, and I've found that can have a rather detrimental effect on your… pride."

Geneviève returns the kiss properly, her lips curled into a smile and angling her head just so in order for their masks not to enter the fray. "There's quite a few woodland creatures among my house this eve," she remarks in response to the other woman's quip, breaking away from the sprite. Laughing, she adds, "Now away with you and your au naturale staff, Adrien nó Heliotrope, before I claim you've been harassing my dear Lady Philomène."

Calanthe's gait slows when she finds herself addressed by the Bryony. "Ah, Solange…" Dahlias have often been accused of their occasionally haughty appearance, but there it is, their training that pushes them to perhaps one day become the perfect companions of those holding the most powerful positions in Terre d'Ange. "Thank you. But so do you." Compliment returned with conversational ease, as her gaze follows that of Solange, in a sweeping look over the ballroom. "She should be here somewhere… as it is, the Sun Prince has yet to arrive. She looks so elaborately frail and old again this year. I wonder who they chose to impersonate her…?"

Étienne says, "I love the starts. I wish I could learn to be a navigator." As self conscious as he usually is with the courtesans, he is relaxed and completely comfortable enjoying the design close up. "The detail really is stunning. You are… It is wonderful that you can be as awe inspiring as the night sky and yet also….as you are. Warm and comforting as good tea, but beautiful as anything nature contains.""

Solange's smile is broad beneath her mask. "I don't know, but she should be an Eglantine with how well she's playing her part." A hand lifts and the tips of her fingers brush along the feathers at the back of her neck. "I don't suppose that I could ask the biggest of favors of you, could I? If you should happen to have a few of these feathers lying about Dahlia after tonight is done with, I would a handful to put in a vase in my room. They're so lovely and colourful, and would suit the jewel theme that I'm having it redecorated in."

Iamus spreads his arms a bit and arches his back to make the design as beautiful and accessible as possible. And to show the glittering transparency of the painstakingly woven gold robe he barely wears to even better advantage. Though this praise does take him just slightly off guard, the gold painted on his eyelids catching the light as he blinks. "How kind of you to say," he replies, smiling. "In my service to Naamah, I hope I am so."

Étienne keeps his hands carefully to himself, simply enjoying looking. "I believe so, though I can not know the mind of angels." Then he pulls his mask down to hide his blush, and ducks his head, "I would not stay you any longer from your friends, I just… thank you. For being yourself."

Amusement likely shows upon the Jasmine's face as Neela overhears some of the comments bandied by the nearby trio. The smile upon her lips is half hidden when the small glass of joie is lifted and drunk down. Another small glass in a night that will blur with them. The lovely Tsingano will dance forwards, making a circle to see whom she might entice to having a little bit of fun.

"We could make this a prize for a wager," Calanthe nó Dahlia says towards Solange, her smile deepening in the moment her gaze finds that of the Bryony. "You are saying Eglantine, hmm?" She looks about again, perhaps catching a glimpse of the Winter Queen dancing in the crowd. "I would think it may be a Camellia. They are so perfect at all times, all the grander the contrast will be, once she reveals herself." Stormy grey eyes find those of Solange nó Bryony. "What do you say? And what prize will you grant me, in case I win?"

"And thank you," Iamus returns, standing up straight once more and nodding respectfully, then turning to move back into the crowd. He murmurs a word in the ear of a fellow Gentian, who looks round and then, apparently spotting someone, goes in that direction. Then a smile is flashed at Faisan as he moves past. Then he melts further into the milling mass of revelers.

Geneviève eyes the Bryony man in his regalia doing his rounds. "You said you put some deniers down on this coming to blows?" she suggests to her sharp-tongued companion, flashing a brilliant smile in Faisan's direction. "I think perhaps we've made his ears burn."

"Oh, I don't think there's any doubt that there will be blows by the end of the night," Philomène insists, flashing her Orchis companion a wholly innocent smile, thumb absently running around the rim of the glass in her hand. "That much is a sure bet."

With another chuckle, Adrien had excused himself from the company of Geneviève and Philomène, offering them a last courteous bow before turning and continuing on his way towards a certain young lady clad in the light hues of a maidenly blush — how very intriguing a bait to any d'Angeline! He finds the wall, leans his flowery staff against it and then snatches two glasses from a tray of a novice. His eyes lingering most intently on Inesse Baphinol, as he approaches her with a charming smile.

A silvery laugh is Solange's response to Calanthe. "As you will then. My Eglantine against your Camellia. But as to what my wager is…" A smile alights the pale maiden's lips, and her hand goes to her throat about which is worn a choker; gold stranded ducats that are matched rather beautifully to the train that she wears. Three or four of them perhaps, fastened in place with links of gold and gilded ribbons. "This then, but an armful of the feathers, along with… your fan?" Oh yes, she's been eyeing that fan for herself, and another sip of joie is taken as she allows the other courtesan time to consider the wager.

"What manner of blows, though? There are enough staves around I fain think they'll be brought into the fray," Geneviève ripostes, tone considering. She washes it down with joie, the warmth suffusing her. An incredulous eyebrow is cast in Philomène's direction, "How much do you intend on drinking? You can scarce walk already."

Calanthe's eyes glitter as she considers the offer of Solange, that delightful and excessively expensive choker. "An armful of feathers, and my fan?", she repeats, folding her impressive peacock feather fan is if inclined to reject the proposed prize. "But… why. Yes. I believe, this sounds… acceptable." Her smile deepens just a tad. "It will pain me to relieve you of this exquisite piece of jewelry, my dear Solange. We shall see."

Philomène pulls a sad little face, pointing her finger downwards along her glass, then slowly lifts it, smile appearing with every degree it lifts, and she lifts her brows at Genevieve meaningfully. "If I don't specify, I'm certain to win my bet," she points out, then shrugs, leaning more heavily on the back of the chair, so Genevieve needs to counterbalance it more securely. "So the drink can hardly make my walking any /more/ difficult, and that strikes me as a good reason to enjoy as much as I like. And the drink is hardly going to affect /my/…" her finger slowly droops again and she pulls that sad, sad face.

For someone soo young as lady Inesse, the fete is quite overwhelming. All those beautiful and unique costumes fight over the attention of the Baphinol. Her eyes run from one courtesan to the other and it seems that the young lady grows slightly anxious, slightly lost, slightly out of breath. Her hand lets go of the wall and she gently brings it to her chest. Inesse leans back against that wall instead and closes her eyes. The colors, all those sparkling colors and unknown faces… But once her eyes are closed, she feels much safer. Her chest starts to rise slowly as a young woman takes one inhale after another.

The Lord of Hell has doffed his long leather coat across his gilt chair and laid his flail upon it, to reserve it for his own later use; and her appearance is rendered now a little more distinguishably female by the display of two bare white arms, their musculature lean and compact yet curiously powerful for a lady of a certain age. The masque's regular attendees may know that, as Second and as Dowayne of Mandrake House, Emmanuelle Shahrizai chose each year a Valerian to honour. She seems to be perpetuating her custom even in retirement. She's dancing with a raven-haired girl of that canon whose gown has already been torn behind by several brutal strikes of a riding crop, revealing at the rips red welts rising upon pale skin. For both of them a certain frisson comes from the fléchette knife held in Kushiel's right hand, which when she draws her captive in toward her according to the figures of the dance — or against them, just for her own lordly amusement — finds the girl's throat, or her wrist, or her thigh, there to threaten with the ghost of a caress. From one such risky embrace the Valerian twirls outward with her gown and the corset beneath slit asunder low enough that her full white breasts almost fall free. Slightly later she may be seen with the merest hint of blood trickling from behind the central stone in her necklace down into the depths of her ravaged bodice. And then she is seen no more, for she is marched upstairs by Kushiel with whip-bound wrists, at the centre of a crowd of intoxicated Mandrakes baying and howling to suit their masks. Not a few Valerians steal along in their wake, to spy upon their games.

Symon is late. Where has he been, the Palace Ball? Or was it a wardrobe malfunction? He enters now in buff-brown suede, not as highly decorated as some of his clothes have a tendency to be, but in a stylish cut. His mask declares him to be a young stag or hart, the rack of antlers modest to help prevent the inopportune party foul as joie is inevitably passed around with greater and greater abandon when the night deepens. At the back of his breeches, there is even a little white tail. Was that originally part of the costume, or could it have been placed there by a clever servant at the eleventh hour to conceal a split in the back seam? The breeches are…a bit tight.

"It'll pain me to be relieved of it too," Solange admits honestly. "But then, a wager is not /truly/ a wager if it's not something we would miss. Hm? And now…" She inclines her head towards the other side of the room. "I have to go and greet the winner of my token. He lost a fortune in his winning of it." Her smile is a force in itself, and sweeping one hand beneath her train, she swishes it like the glittering tail that it is, and heads off into the crowds.

Philomène's pantomime has Geneviève in stitches — hopefully not the literal ones that dear Valerian is going to need — leaning into the chair to hold herself up as much as the other woman. "I hardly think those canny bookmakers will allow vagaries," she says, conveying much seriousness, "especially as it…" Her face takes on the same drawn expression, her joie-less hand able to better illustrate exactly what it is that would happen, should a Bryony be deprived of vice.

"It is alright," Adrien arrives finally at Inesse's side, and leaning in, presses his lips against hers in the opportune moment of her eyes being all closed. "I am here. Lady Inesse… So you have found your way to our fete on Mont Nuit… Would you care for a glass of joie?" He hands her one of the glasses, and then slips his arm about her to lead her away, to a quiet hallway, whispering into her ear, half supporting her as he walks. His staff — still leaning against the wall — left to be taken and used by whoever might need it.

The Green Man seeing the other lost lamb rescued, spots rescue of his own in the form of a beantlered Perigeux. He weaves his way towards the new arrival, collecting an extra drink on the way to offer the stag all smiles, "Isn't it splendid? Did you see the peacocks?"

Symon happens to be focusing his vision on the tailfeathers of a passing peahen just when the Green Man makes that question of him, and The Stag looks back to Etienne and grins below where the mask ends. "I did indeed," he says. "Sorry I m…missed the p-procession." Well, his identity will hardly be a mystery to those within earshot, despite the mask. "Awful lot of p-people in w…white and silver, aren't there? I suppose it's the season for that…" He takes the joie gratefully and raises it in a toast. "To the b-best Longest Night."

Once the word makes the rounds that there's a Bryony book open on various odds, Faisan finds himself a popular figure, staking out a corner by the front of the hall and nodding out wagers on this and that into the book. By the time there's a break in the action, he moves along back to the pillar near where he'd left Solange— she's gone, by then, gone to have her fun of this longest evening. Ah, well— he takes a moment to take official count of those Valerians tailing the Dowayne Emerita, and, after taking a note, he takes his stride back along where Gevenieve and Philomene are tittering, since at least one or the other of them was Solange's inspiration in setting open the books. The long tails of his ducat-mail shirt sway behind him, or lick along his wool-clad thighs. The tines of the stag are near to turning his head— a consummate hunter, he— but the ladies are waiting. Or, even if they're not, "Be of good joie," he utters, deep-voiced and grinning devilishly.

Philomène straightens, claiming a second glass of joie so she's got a truly balanced diet, and steadies herself upright, eyeing the various gathered groups of people, chatting, dancing or otherwise preening. "Besides, aren't we here to show the youngsters how to party?" she queries of Genevieve. "This is the famous Mont Nuit? My goodness, how tame it is compared with the stories." She flicks a sidelong grin. "I've an idea. We'll need a lot of napkins, a couple of willing volunteers, some soap, and those tables there." She gestures with one glass. "Sud up their fancy outfits, and place a few wagers on /that/."

With joie in hand, Neela circles, and is likely approaching the two men - stag and green man, offering the pair a smile and lift of her glass, "Joie to the night, and all that it has to offer.." Her steps ring out, the bells about her ankles to mingle with the music played by those that wish to play this evening.

"It's early yet. It's not called Mont Nuit for nothing, you know," Geneviève retorts mildly, letting go of the chair so it doesn't go toppling without Philomène balancing on it. In a flurry of licking flame, the woman turns dramatically, hoisting her joie in time with Faisan's approach, "Joie! Here's just the man to enact your wild schemes, Lady. Tell me, fair blossom of Bryony, how many ducats were lost on the coattails of Kushiel?"

Étienne says, "They are from two different houses I think. The one in charge of the House that came out second didn't look particularly pleased. I've no idea what's going on, but I saw some of the Adepts from Bryony having fun, including Faisan. I think they may be betting on the party sort of. I can't tell." He dips his head a second then joins the toast, "The longest night and may the returning sun bring you all joy!" He drinks, all smiles."

"Oh," Symon says, turning to acknowledge Neela and look her costume thoughtfully up in down. "I didn't know the Tsingano w…were invited to Longest Night!" His tone is playful and he drinks down his joie. Then he looks back to Etienne. "Ooh, I w…wonder w-what the b…b…bet is," he says.

The slow rhythmic beat of a gong intrudes first a little and then a great deal into the rhythm of yet another dance tune, converting it into something else entirely: a warning to the revelers of what they may well have forgot amidst the drinking and the dancing and all the varied epicurean and carnal delights of this night. No matter the wealth of fine white beeswax candles burning within the Great Hall of Cereus House, outside the darkness remains to be vanquished.

From behind a screen the Winter Queen reappears, leaning on her staff, moving with all the aching languor of old bones stiffened by the cold. Silence falls upon the hall as some sight her and gesture their inebriated interlocutors to a respectful hush; and yet it isn't she who so soon becomes the cynosure of all eyes. Those in the know turn inexorably toward double doors which have been shut all this while, and those privileged to attend the Midwinter Masque for the first time surely follow suit. The pause stretches out— and then the butt of a spear beats against those great oaken doors: once, twice, thrice, at which strike they yield.

The musicians obligingly provide a flutter of drumbeats to welcome the man who stands in the doorway aglitter head to toe, from his mask worked with gold leaf and extending its rays up beyond his own yellow hair, to the lavish gilding upon his boots. The incarnation of light and warmth and splendour: the Sun Prince, alighting in person upon the very heights of Mont Nuit, bringing with him the promise of longer and gentler days to come. His cloak of cloth-of-gold, loosened by a single touch, falls in a fragrant waft behind him; he strides the length of the colonnade with his gilded spear held aloft, resplendent in his pride.

"Only two-seven so far, but the evening is young— even still, it's fine to see how year by year the flowers always forget how bold a masque might render yon Valerian," murmurs the ducat-mailed Soldat du Soleil, tipping his thumb to the bottom of his helm-masque and slipping it along one of its gold-gleaming edges in a gesture suggestive of a wink. He leans effortlessly by Genevieve, perhaps about to say more, but then the Winter Queen is returning to the forefront and his mischief-ridden smile turns thirty degrees more solemn while he regards the proceedings.

Neela is about to speak when the first beat of the gong rings out. "He comes.." She but says to them, stepping to the side so that she might turn in a swirl of sheer skirts. A lift of the cup is made before bowing her head to the Winter Queen who ambles forwards. And yet as doors open to permit the entrance of the Sun Prince, she is smiling beneath her mask of orange.

Calanthe turns her gaze towards the double doors, expectantly, once she hears the horologist strike the hour. The peacock fan is unfolded with a flick of her wrist, as the Dahlia adept holds her breath. The time has come, and the Sun Prince arrives. The moment that will bring the highly anticipated encounter and transformation of the Winter Queen. Keen eyes look towards the crone that hobbles forward, clad in rags. And a faint smile of anticipation and excitement caused by a wager blossoms of Calanthe nó Dahlia's features.

Betting designs momentarily forgotten, Geneviève knocks back her glass of joie (how many is that now?) to better grip dramatically onto Philomène's arm. "Ah, we're not quite there yet, are we!" is said of the Winter Crone, then she inclines her head towards the Sun Prince, "Still, he seems to be a man that might actually be capable of performing his duties." She falls silent before she dissolves to any more rowdy comments.

Étienne says, "I do too. We should dance, Symon! Where else will there be music so we can dance at one proper… Oh!" Because then the Winter Queen is coming and he stills to watch what he really came for. He clutches Symon's arm, all excitement."

Symon cranes his neck just as curiously, never having made it to the Mont Nuit bash before. He watches the two roles played, eyes squinting in his pleasure and excitement. "Really does m…make you think the spring m-might come sooner," he murmurs to his friend.

The old year and the new come face to face, the one so frail and so drab in her rags, the other tall and straight-backed and shining bright. The Sun Prince essays a courtly bow to the old crone before him; and then, a slow, deliberate tilt of his long gilded spear… The tip of it just pricks the Winter Queen's breast, catching for an instant in the folds of her motheaten grey shawl.

The blackthorn staff falls from her hands, clattering far too loudly as it rolls across the parquet floor of this otherwise silent hall. An instant later she tears away her mask of old age and the wig of grey horsehair sewn to it — and casts off with a bold gesture of unburdening the rags which have till now enshrouded her lithe, perfectly erect young form — and releases from beneath the Winter Queen's dullness and decay a tremendous fall of loose red-golden curls, a simple gown of cloth-of-silver that leaves bare the marque on her back, and the high brow and alabaster complexion and radiant coral-red smile of Héloïse Lavecq nó Cereus.

Her last gestures, which rid her of the felted gloves that disguised her slender, white, exquisitely manicured fingers, bring both her hands graciously into the grasp of the Sun Prince kneeling now before the miracle he has wrought.

No matter how many times one sees this, Neela never finds it boring. With bated breath does she wait the transformation of Winter Queen, almost bouncing upon her toes as she watches the rags being pulled away to reveal the form of Heloise. Lovely, lovely! Quiet she might be otherwise, the bouncing sets bells and coins to chime upon her form, a sound that may well be heard from the others of Jasmine House around the ballroom.

That peacock feathered fan dips just so, as Calanthe raises her gaze, watching the beautiful spectacle unfold before her very eyes. A light breath is drawn in the moment the rags fall, and… the Dahlia realizes that her wager with Solange nó Bryony is won by neither of them. No Eglantine, no Camellia is revealed but the frail beauty of a Cereus!

Geneviève whoops joyously as the year is symbolically reborn in the form of Héloïse nó Cereus, losing her companion to clap enthusiastically. "Ah, brilliant, brilliant! What did your books have to say about that?" she ribs Faisan with a childish grin.

"Oh, he p-pricked her," Symon observes quietly, so as not to disturb the solemnity with which many of the others are viewing the rites. "That w…warmed her up."

Étienne says, "It does!" He barely remembers to breath as he watches the performance and gasps at the reveal as if the story old as time was being enacted here for the first time. Finally he whispers, "So perfect." And then he's laughing, only just then getting the joke."

… Yes, in the eyes of those who know the lady and can number her years, Héloïse must seem a peculiar choice on the part of the Dowayne of Cereus House: a choice that surely wasn't made without some powerful private reason, the exact nature of which soon provokes a flurry of ill-informed speculation amongst the denizens and the habituées of Mont Nuit. But it can't be denied that she's glowing. To those who recall her in this rôle ten years past, unveiling all the glory of her first youth and so effortlessly seizing the heart of a certain Prince of the Blood, the wonder of it is that she seems hardly to have altered meanwhile. Perhaps it isn't the bloom of youth but the bloom of love, which lights her delicate features as she gazes down upon her gracious golden cavalier…? With her own gentle hands she removes his mask and casts it away; and raises him up and presents him for the crowd's acclaim as he presented her. Séraphin nó Camellia stands beside her celestial in his perfections. The blaze of candlelight upon their rich garments and joyous smiling faces has them both afire in their beauty, in the midst of this longest and coldest night of the year.

Faisan is, indeed, rather vested in the identity of the Winter Queen, by now— as many courtesans as there are in the hall, there were almost as many guesses as to her identity or at least her floral persuasion, and each one more convinced than the last. It's going to be a big bank moment no matter what happens, and, yet, Faisan would rather leave himself in the moment of the revelation, gazing upon it with a quiet contemplation, only jostled from his reverie by the Orchid blossom at his side. "Oh, I think we'll do alright, of an evening," he turns back to her with a slow-spreading smile. "So, for what matter was it that you wanted to open your pocket, this evening?" he brings it back around to the matter at hand— and if he sets her up for the odd innuendo or two on the way, well, he's nothing if not an amenable straightman.

The reveal both of who is Winter Queen, and who exactly the Sun Prince ends up being, draw yet more bouncing from the Jasmine near Symon and Etienne. "Oooh.." Yes, surely there will be those that mutter about the age of the woman chosen, even more whispers that surround the man who stands as Sun Prince. Byrony will be full of bets being placed now! OR so Neela would say as she grins, accepting yet another glass of joie from a passing tray.

"Camellia! I knew it!", Calanthe cannot help but exclaim, the joie obviously working on loosening up this Dahlia's countenance. She offers a curtsey to Séraphin, and a smile. "Had I only made the wager on the Sun Prince… hmmm." Turning her head, she searches Solange in the crowd, but isn't able to glimpse her. But then the Dahlia joins in to the jubilant applause, appreciation shown for the performance, and the New Year that is greeted.

Symon snags another joie glass as well and looks to Etienne. "Dramatic, w…wasn't it?" he asks, nudging his friend. "Shall w…we go and ask Faisan w…what the b-bets were? Is he that gleaming heap in the corner?"

Geneviève reclaims a new glass of joie to toast the coming of the sun, swirling it within a hair's breadth of sloshing out of the cup. "I'm not sure my bet is worth placing anymore, with the statement Cereus has made," the woman admits at length, giving Faisan a lop-sided grin. She's been on Mont Nuit long enough to absorb the implications, oh yes. "There are many matters for which I might deign to open my pockets besides. I find myself warring with my inclination to keep my things close at hand and the joy it would bring you to liberate me from my coin, dear Bryony." Her peal of giggles, joie-infused, is infectious.

Étienne grins an captures another glass, "Let's!" Instead of just walking though, he moves with a little dance step here and there, playful, a hint of the steps that earned him his token.

Some moments after the ritual awakening of winter into spring a gilded chariot appears, drawn through the crowd by a spotless pure white mare sporting a glorious jeweled harness, with her mane and tail braided with cords of gold. Well-trained for this special task, she behaves herself exquisitely under the guidance of the two silver-robed Cereus adepts leading her. The Sun Prince hands his blushing lady into the chariot and steps up behind her; they make a progress through the Great Hall, attended by cheers and a few hoots, and out through the double doors spear-first, the Cereus blossom clinging delicately to her golden Camellia.

Neela watches as Symon and Etienne move off, "See you two around!" She calls out as they leave, the Jasmine to head off to dance with someone once the music starts back up again.

When the Sun Prince has escorted away his beauteous consort lately awakened into youth, and all over the hall courtesans and nobles alike are doffing their masks and confessing their truths, the impassive bronze likeness of Kushiel yields to the painted features of Emmanuelle nó Mandrake de Shahrizai. The red of her lips is particularly dark tonight, and the kohl heavier about her hooded blue diamond eyes, all the lines and shadows of her face deftly manipulated to heighten her likeness to a bird of prey, or to the Kushiel of her own frescoes in the Maison Sanglante in Marsilikos. But few see her and fleetingly. Helped into her coat by her obliging little friend of earlier, whose revealed face is tearstained and tremulously smiling — and who can still walk, though there were Bryonys present betting against it — she vanishes from the hall at about the same time as the thirteen current Dowaynes, leaving the youth of Mont Nuit to their sport.

Symon grins at Etienne's dancing and capers a bit himself, the energetic stag hopping here and there until they make their way to Faisan. "W…we've come to b-bother you," he says to the Bryony without removing his mask, certain that their identities will be known at once. "And b-be nosy." Belatedly, he takes in the effect of the costume. "Heavens, w…what a w-well-girded soldier," he remarks. "M…money is the b-best defense against m…most things, after all."

Étienne only realises when she bids them good bye that he's been terribly rude. He ducks his head and waves to Neela, but then they are before the warrior of Bryony, and he is struck by shyness. It is only when his mask thumps an antler that he remembers he's wearing it and hiding behind his friend is silly under the circumstances. He takes a breath to say something, only Symon's quip has him laughing, warm and rich as that fashionable drink come from across the ocean. "Hello, Faisan." His voice distinctive in it'sown way, he still adds, "It's Symon and Etienne" just in case.

If eyes had been on her earlier in the night, it's quite possible bets would have been taken on how many glasses of joie Geneviève nó Orchis could consume before keeling over. Her feathered mask is slung away, now, to hang around her shoulders as a pair of wings in truth. She taps her hands together enthusiastically at the approach of the gentlepeople. "I'll leave these two to your designs, Faisan," she says slyly, accompanied by a saucy wink. At some point, it seems as though the Lady Philomene has made herself scare, probably having enough of the youngsters delighting and wishing to dissolve before things really way to licentiousness, which leaves the Orchis bereft of a partner in crime. Her sights hone in on the Jasmine adept fading into the crowd, and she approaches the girl, intent on stealing her for a dance.

Faisan claims his first — first on this side of the room, at least — glass of joie to toast the Sun along with Geneviene. "Well, there is joie enough about these evening, beside, but if you find yourself at war, it's well I've brought my armor." His devilish little grin returns to its place, the Bryony duly infected by the Orchis' giggling plague. Then there's a stag with a recognizable stutter on the approach, with a companion whose identity he can well surmise, or at least suppose. He draws the helm of his masque further up along, revealing his eyes and covering the rough-tousled arrangement of his hair. Lest he be flanked, he turns himself subtly towrd the new arrivals, but, lest he leave Genevieve unattended, he sets his hand onto her shoulder briefly as though to bring her symbolically into the conversation along with him. "Ah, look— a stag, and me, without my javelin out. And what's this, his woodland grotto? … Ah," Faisan humors Etienne with a knowing smile when he reveals their identities sotto voce as though he were still unaware. And then his Orchis companion is escaped to go and dance, so he's free to go and join the boys. "So you both made it, after all," he remarks. "Congratuations. It was a game well played in the Bryony chambers. And where else did you compete?" he wonders, conversationally, while meanwhile downing his most recent joie and setting it away on a conventiently held tray.

Neela grins, and with the removal of masks, her own orange one is tossed aside, revealing kohl lined eyes in a most seductive bedroom gaze to watch others dancing. Raising hands, she claps with others along with the music, not quite joining in just yet. And so, when Genevieve approaches, she nods to her fellow Courtesan, "Joie be to you!"

Symon does not realize his rudeness at all. Which on the one hand might be annoying, but at least it suggest that it wasn't a purposeful cut. "We were w…wondering if you were over here m…making b-books," Symon says teasingly. "And here I'd always heard courtesans don't w…work on Longest Night." He leaves the story of Etienne's token for Etienne to tell, only prompting, "Etienne has m-many talents."

Geneviève disposes her… seventh? eighth? joie glass upon the tray of a passing apprentice, ruffling the poor boy's hair and making him fall to laughter, before her sights zero in on her target. "Joie!" she echoes, giving the Jasmine courtesan a courtly bow. Extending a hand with a flourish, she raises her brows, "May I beg you for this dance, my lady Tsingani?"

The Green Man swallows a mouthful of joie too fast and ends up coughing on the stag's shoulder, but it does seem to be loosening him up a bit as the earlier glasses start adding up. The warrior's quip has him giggling — yes, giggling. "I'd like to see the thrust." His eyes go a little wide at his boldness, but he carries on, "I did my sword dance for Eglantine. Symon said he liked it and I thought… maybe other people might." He boldly quaffs the rest of his glass, this time down the right tube and sets it carefully on the tray. "You should have heard the lady from Chi'in sing." He pauses and giggles again, "Or maybe not it made my teeth ache."

Neela smiles, and with the request put forth to her by the Orchis, she curtsies and nods, "I would love a dance, my lovely rising Phoenix." It makes no matter how many little cups of joie that Genevieve has had, the Jasmine may be right there with her. Likely most of all the patrons and members of the Mont Nuit by this point in the evening. Stepping closer, she gestures gracefully to the floor already occupied by dancers.

"Hard to b…believe such a w…warrior w-without his sword at the ready," Symon adds to the entendres, eyeing Faisan. "Oh yes, Etienne's dancing is b-brilliant. A little fierce b-but it flows like w…water." He turns and plucks up another little glass.

Geneviève beams with delight, taking Neela's hand perhaps a tad harshly in hers and leading her to the floor. Her right hand settles with on the younger woman's lower back, a sensuous smile bending her lips as she puts herself in the position of control; in that fleeting moment, they look almost as though they are a pair of the heady Jasmine canon, well matched in height and riotous colour. "Neela, isn't it?" she inquires with a low chuckle.

Faisan flicks once at the chain keeping the crossbar of his blade hooked to his scabbard. "Evening of peace and joie, lads," he reminds them with a narrowing of one eye that doesn't quite yet amount to a wink, while maintaining the same sort of message. "And as to the books, yes, they put me up to it, so I've been working this longest night, against all custom. But say the word, lads, and the book will be closed to further bets, and all debts will be settled under the light of the first waxing sun. We could have a hunt of our own, after all, and see whether the huntsman will take the stag, or the stag take refuge in the wood," he grins.

Étienne leans into Symon, grinning delightedly at Symon and Faisan's flirting. The description of his dancing has hiim tangling with symon's horns again as he tries to hide invisible blushes in his neck. "I like dancing." And then he's looking up at Faisan, eyes all wide, but not as innocent as he might seem from his naive manners, "I'd like to see the huntsman take the stag." Then shocked by his own audacity on this Longest Night, he looks to Symon, speechless again.

Neela doesn't mind at all that the older Orchis takes the lead. Her hand in the phoenix's, she follows her to the dance floor, soon to face her, those painted lips never stop smiling. Dark eyes to meet dark eyes, she hmms, "It is, yes. I know I have seen you about.." But the name slips her head at the moment. Blame the several cups of joie already downed this night.

Symon pats Etienne's back. He lifts an eyebrow, completely lost behind the stag mask. "Sounds as if you m…may have new b-business, then, Faisan. A w…winter's hunt under evergreen b-boughs?" he proposes. "W…what a p-perfect conclusion to the festivities."

"Geneviève nó Orchis," the courtesan provides, her smile giving way to one of pure merriment though her grip doesn't loosen. "I believe your father was in service to Naamah at the same time as my mother," she remarks offhandedly, as if that's a typical thing to know. Yes, please recite the genealogy of Jasmine for us, Geneviève. Her steps are unfaltering, applying compression and leverage with skill to lead Neela through the steps though, as of yet, her touch lacks presumption.

Faisan is… wait, this is still innuendo, right? For a second it sounds as though Symon actually wants to go out hunting while very drunk on what might be the coldest night of the year, which is… doable, in this climate, but perhaps neither wise not comfortable. Faisan opens his mouth, taking in a short breath of air, then lets it out again in a brisk laugh, spreading his fairly impressive wingspan and coming to gather in the lads against both of his sides, stag on the left, woodland on the right, bundling in one and then the other in a series of quick hugs. "To the hunt, then," he laughs.

Étienne says in a small, but stubborn voice, "Yes please." He peers around "A more private reserve though? Maybe?" He peers around a bit deerlike himself, "There are an aweful lot of woodland creatures in this clearing." And then he's clinging to them both and trying to kiss them, Symon, then Faisan, dizzy with joie and the excitement of it.

"Ah, yes.. I have heard of your name!" Neela might say, her voice purring as she then says the Orchis' name, "Genevieve.." Easily is she led, barefeet silent on the floor as they make their circles, followed by the sounds of bells and chiming coins worn on her form and outfit. A swirl here, a turn there, leaving behind a scarf or two that have pulled away from her sheer skirts.

"Surely there's…" Symon breaks off to give Etienne a kiss, laughing at his giddy manner—and not immune to that spirit, himself. "Surely there's a quiet grove somewhere," he suggest. "P-perhaps a shift in scene. Shall w…we depart? And," he asks Faisan, "Does this count as p-paying m…my forfeit in advance should I lose the game for your fox?" That question is probably nonsense to most.

Geneviève can't help being a little caught up in Neela's spell; while the canon may not be her own, it still calls strongly to her. She draws the young woman closer at the tail end of a twirl, somehow turning her giggle suggestive as their bodies gain more contact. "And what," she inquires breathily, "is it you you've heard?"

Laughing further as she's drawn in, Neela bats her eyes right back at the Orchis, "Wouldn't you like to know?" That said, she leans in, her whisper offered to the other's ear, breath a teasing caress along the delicate shell.

Faisan is, himself, not as deep in his Joie as he shouldbe at this time of night. This is why, no matter who asks you to open a book of betting on the longest night, one must always refuse and focus on becoming mindlessly drunk. But the boys are so entertaining in their bumbly, fumbly kisses mid-sentence, and he could really ravage the both of them right now and be contented by it, so he hardly minds playing a little bit of catch-up on the way. "Grove, of course, quiet— I can't promise. The house is full of joie, tonight. If your modesty bothers you, another drink will wash it well enough away," he slides his hand down from Etienne's shoulder to his hip, then rear, gathering him up with a firm, frisky goosing to press deeper into the offered kiss than perhaps the woodland sprite had intended. Once Tien is good and snogged, Fai takes a deep breath. "Let's go and look, hm? And as to the forfeit— we'll see how much is made forfeit, won't we?" he grins sideways to Symon, making to draw him in likewise for a kiss.

Geneviève's hand tightens further on Neela's, just hard enough to cause a twinge of pain as she laughs deeply, resonance traveling through her body and into her partner's. "Oh, is that it?" she asks with raised brows, thoroughly amused. Leading the woman out of the throng, she inquires innocently, "And I suppose inquiring minds want to know exactly what it was I did to the dear Archon's wife?"

A lick of lips comes as Neela pulls back, though it might have served to allow her to tease Genevieve's ear with a lick. "Mmhmm.." She answers, dancing steps taken as she's guided from the dancefloor. "You could say that, yes.. inquiring minds.. and bodies."

With a bawdy laugh, Geneviève takes Neela in hand as they reach the edge of the dance floor. The firmness of her touch brooks no argument and in short order she's led the young Jasmine to a quiet corner amidst the quickly devolving debauchery where she can demonstrate to inquiring bodies what exactly it was that got her thrown out of Hellas.

When the horologists cry aloud the long-awaited (or else the long-forgotten?) hour of dawn, by far the majority of the Night Court's beauties and their fortunate and honoured guests are curled up together in twos and threes and the occasional ambitious four, filling every luxurious corner of Cereus House with the sounds of their pleasure or else fast asleep, drunk upon joie and one another's charms… But those who remain wakeful gather capes and cloaks and wend their way with tired, laughing complaints up and up a path of blue velvet that climbs several staircases, from the Great Hall to a rooftop terrace swept bare of snow.

These blessed and gorgeous few, gathering at the true summit of Mont Nuit, find themselves so far above the City of Elua that they might almost stretch up their hands to touch the lowering grey midwinter sky.

At last a line of pale golden light shivers into being upon the horizon.

A great cry goes up, from the city streets and the empyrean heights alike; and temple bells ring their changes joyously throughout the capital, their echoes rising higher with the reborn sun. The Longest Night is over; light has returned to the world; and from now each dawn shall hold a greater promise of spring.

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