She looked like a demon or a deviant prostitute, or some combination of the two. Her shoulder length blond hair was styled as though it had been cut with garden shears and it stuck out in all directions. She had dropped charcoal dust into her large grey eyes, creating thick black borders around them like the ancient Argrathian queens, and she had framed them with green malachite eye shadow. Her lips were so dark that it was more the red of blood than that of the rose. Though her skin was alabaster white, as was Iolanthe’s own, she wore no rouge on her cheeks to give her that aura of health and vitality. She wore no hat, and to Iolanthe’s eyes, no clothing.
The woman’s ensemble was bizarre and lewd in the extreme. It was clearly meant to frighten and baffle at the same time. It was a collection of women’s undergarments transformed into outer clothing. Her arms were covered in fishnet gloves, though they couldn’t really be called gloves, because they didn’t cover her fingers. They simply attached to rings around her thumbs and her pinkies and then ran up almost to her shoulders, where they were held on tight with silken bows. She wore a corset made of black leather with a series of five belt-like straps with buckles running up the front, which Iolanthe suddenly realized, would allow the woman to don and doff the device without the aid of anyone else. The low-cut brassier portion of the corset left much of the woman’s chest bared and exposed two tattoos, each a five pointed star, two and a half inches across, outlined in black but filled in with red ink. She wore a kind of leather skirt over the corset, but it reached down only about fourteen inches from her waist, leaving the tops of her stockings and the twelve suspenders connecting them to the corset, completely exposed. The stockings were fishnet mesh, matching the gloves. They were mostly unseen however, as the woman’s leather boots reached all the way past her knees to mid-thigh. These boots each had seven of the same belt like straps with buckles that her corset had, as though they were made to match, which they probably were. The boots had thick square four-inch heels. This last detail was the least striking, as high heels were the fashion. Iolanthe’s own shoes had similar heels, and owing to the fact that she could look the woman directly in the eye, the two women must have been of about the same height, with or without heels.
“Zurfina, I presume,” said Iolanthe.
“Zurfina the Magnificent.” The woman had a husky voice that put Iolanthe in mind of a teen-aged boy.
“Am I supposed to call you Zurfina the Magnificent?” asked Iolanthe. “Do I say ‘good morning Zurfina the Magnificent’ or ‘meet me for tea, Zurfina the Magnificent’ or ‘look out for that falling boulder, Zurfina the Magnificent’?”
“You are of course quite right, Miss Iolanthe Dechantagne,” said the woman. “We shall be on a first name basis, Miss Iolanthe Dechantagne.”
Iolanthe heard a small sound coming from behind her and to her right and suspected that Yuah was suppressing a laugh, or perhaps, worse, a smirk. She didn’t turn to look at the dressing maid, just aimed evil thoughts in her direction.
“Show us some magic, then,” she said. “I feel the need to be impressed. I know my brother is already.”
Augie, who had been so engrossed in the woman’s posterior, that he had not even noticed that his sister had entered the room, suddenly startled to awareness and stood up straight. The blond woman favored him with a sly smile over her shoulder. Then she raised her arm out straight in front of her, palm down. Turning her hand over, a flame sprang up in her palm. Within two or three seconds, the flame had coalesced into a humanoid figure, eight or nine inches tall, which immediately began pirouetting and spinning in a miniature ballet, all without leaving Zurfina’s hand.
“That’s it?” asked Iolanthe. “That’s your great magic?”
“Well I thought it was smashing,” said Augie.
“You don’t like fire?” said Zurfina. “How about ice?”
The tiny figure turned from fire to ice, but continued dancing, breaking off little pieces of itself as it did so, to fall to the floor like tiny snowflakes. Iolanthe pursed her lips.
“My brothers and I are preparing to embark on a great expedition,” she said.
“I know all about it,” said the sorceress.
“Then you know I need a magic user with real power. Just dressing like a necromantic whore doesn’t make you a powerful witch.”
“Oh, you are so right,” said the sorceress. “Clothes do not make the woman.”
She waved her hands in front of her own body, and her clothing became an exact match for Iolanthe’s own evening gown, right down to the red and black trim.
“Or does it?” Zurfina said.
She waved her left hand in front of her face and it became an exact match of Iolanthe’s. She even had the red and white carnations atop her head. The false Iolanthe gave a very flouncy and very un-Iolanthe-like curtsy, then raised her chin and said in a very Iolanthe-like voice. “Yuah, fetch me a white wine!” Yuah took several steps forward before remembering herself and stopping.
“Outstanding!” shouted Augie, clapping his hands.
Iolanthe took a deep breath. “Not bad, I do admit. But show me something that I won’t see one of our journeyman wizards do.”
The sorceress pointed her arm at Yuah, fingers splayed. “Uuthanum uastus corakathum paj.” There was a grinding sound, as though someone were walking upon gravel, and suddenly Yuah froze in place. She, her grey and white dress, and everything else she wore had been turned into a stone statue. She looked like one of the apostles that lined the nave in the Great Church of the Holy Savior. It was as though Pallaton the Elder had been brought from his time into the present to capture the essence of a Zaeri dressing maid.
“My God!” said Augie, absentmindedly crossing himself.