Bela - Podiebrad Of Passion - The Tantalizing Temptor

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Description: After her wicked stepmother forced her into chains and made her the house Scullary Maid, it seemed that Amandine von Karnstein would never have the life her birthright destined her to. When she is accidentally invited to the Podiebrad Estely, however, her world is turned upside down. Lord Bela Podiebrad, master of the House of Podiebrad, quickly becomes enchanted by the brilliant mind and elegant hidden beauty of Amandine. Will the strapping Lord ultimately fall in with his fiance by arrangment, Belladonna Shimotsuki? Or will he serve to empower Amandine as her... Tantalizing Temptor? (The cover shows the silver-haired Lord Podiebrad bareback his magnificent black stallion in his leather breeches, his sweat-glistened pectorals exposed. He is on the middle of a ballroom, by the poofy dressed Amandine. The girl is wearing thick glasses and has unbrushed messy hair, which only serves to hide her true beauty as she looks dumbstruck at Bela. Around her ankle are the chains, which connect to a small crockpot barely off the page. Behind the raised tail of the powerful stallion, the lavender-haired Belladonna glares jealously at Amandine from behind her silk fan) ($2.99)

The ballroom of the Podiebrad Manor was not the most public facing location of the Podiebrad Estate.

The Podiebrad Manor itself was situated in Hungary, upon the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. For the public, for outsiders, most typically would either see the Arena for public events, or have tickets to the traditional thermal baths. Both were the primary source of revenue for the House these days, and the only thing keeping debtors at bay. For the Novus Orbis Librarium, the ballroom was nearly as well known though. It was a large, two-storied atrium. The upper portion kept a number of tables, chairs, and buffet places, allowing those who refuse to dance to watch them below, wining and dining with limited privacy. Upon the first floor itself, tiled floors of black and red on the edge, underneath the extended second floor, with smooth ebony floors for the open middle portion. Black chandeliers hang overhead, with strange lighting impossibly bright, illuminating the floors. The ceilings were partially mirrored, giving the impression that there were no shadows in the ball room with the light all around. Both the upper and lower floors have archways leading to the rest of the Manor, though the house 'help' was always keeping eyes, wary of guests and hosts wandering away from the party grounds to the rest of the household.

The most distinctive feature, of course, was the Moonlit Mezzanine.

The stretch of platform sat in between the first and second floor of the ballroom, hanging over the atrium of the dance floor between the black chandelier. Two spiral staircases wind up to the stage, one on each side of the platform as it stretched across the center of the ballroom. The balustrade of the stair is crafted of silver and bronze, a metallic craftsmen of almost eldritch quality. The floor of the platform itself is crafted of fine mirrored silver, with alternating black and bronze tile situated across the floor. Carefully positioned is the glass, some partially mirrored, some not; this is carefully constructed to give the Pepper's ghost effect around and below the floor. This allow the illusion of the dancers upon the mezzanine to appear and disappear around the larger ballroom. Overhead, windows are open to the above as sun lights, though due to the theme of the stage, these are typically treated as 'moonlights' to allow the light of a full moon to descend upon the stage. The effect is nearly magical, and thus the opportunity to dance upon the mezzanine is only granted by the will of the Patriarch itself. And when does the Patriarch choose a partner to dance upon the Moonlit Mezzanine?

Only for a Podiebrad Estely.

It had been the standing practice, for the last decade or so, that the Podiebrad Estely were not a place for dignified Novus Orbis Librarium officers to attend. Oh, long ago it was another story. For years, other noble houses within the purvey of the NOL would come to the balls. Dancing, networking, feasting, and of course, the chance to find favor with the Patriarch of the House of Podiebrad. The only requirement was that it could only take place on the night of a full month. Over time, the ball had lost more and more class and dignity. In the last few years, it had become little more than an orgy of violence and lusts, a spectacle of appetites. When the former Patriarch, Aurel von Podiebrad, finally passed away, the scheduled balls were suspended. When they were continued, there was a clear promise from the Patriarch: That it would be like the old days, the traditional ways.

Nobody believed, it of course.

Well, almost nobody believed it. The attendence was low as it was, and the attendees themselves could generously be considered low as well. Those who came expecting the depraved spectles of Aurel were severely disappointed. A quarter left, when it became clear that the thermal baths were to be closed for the event. ANd of the remaining was an awkward, uncomfortable mingling between the Raven Guard and the rival noble houses of the NOL, along with honored guests. And there was that poor, embarrassed lieutenant that was in the gimp suit, who clearly missed a memo. The nobles were all lurking at the long buffet tables.

It was difficult to explain -why- they weren't have orgy, at this point.

The mood of the party took an even more wretched turn, when a young officer of the NOL was caught reacquainting with a Raven Guardsman that she had met at the last ball. A cleaning lady had caught the two. Unfortunately for guests, it was not the custom of the cleaning staff to let transgressions in the halls let slip. When the pair was thrown into a buffet table on the upper floor, ruining at least half of the desserts for the evening. Needless to say, festivities were strained, and cleaning had just finished up. It was, at least, brazen enough for a laugh. But as the bloody pair was untangled from razor thin threads, and sent to the infirmary for their wounds to be treated, there was a general sense of misery at the ballroom floor.

And out of sight, Bela watches beside Szabolc.

"Are you disappointed, brother?" The haughty Patriarch quizzes, staring through the crowd with half-lidded eyes. The Patriarch was garbed in ornate robes of purple and rose. Silver and gold jewelry adorn his form; from necklaces to rings to a circlet of silver and gold. An imperial dress, in stark contrast to the plain but clean teal uniform of Szabolc. The steel-eyed commander gives a huff. "I always stand by your decisions, Oh Patriarch." He states firmly. Bela rolls his eyes. "Please, I am inquiring on your true opinion. For your approval, yes?" Szabolc looks away, eyes casting over the solemn crowd. "I remember when these events were lively, where everyone was enjoying themselves. Now, it looks like a funeral." Bela smirks, running his long fingernails through his own hair. "So you loath it." Szabolc looks reluctant, before letting out his response.

"I think it was a mistake of our father to let the public face of our house become a parade of his weakness of character."

Bela chuckles at Szabolc's confession. "You see, I am not a totally irredeemable replacement." Szabolc's body tenses up, as he downcasts his gaze. "I would request the Patriarch not question my intentions, nor my loyalty on his decisions." Bela's chuckle transforms as he laughs aloud, taking a step forward to the party. "Request denied." He sings, as Szabolc continues to avert his gaze. The laughter stops. His tones softens. "But please, brother, enjoy yourself as you can. I am doing this for the House, and you are one of the most esteemed members of our house. Please."

Szabolc doesn't change his expression, as Bela walks out to join the estely.

Ah, a Podiebrad estely. It has been many moons since the last of these was held, and it seems in their absence there have been terribly few parties welcoming to the NOL noble houses--at least, to the less esteemed families. Who would invite those families?

Who would welcome families like the Karnsteins?

And yet, one Amandine Karnstein, loudest (if not most influential) member of the family is here. She is dressed in her regal best: a black dress, immaculately tailored and coupled with regal lace and just a dash of dark red color. Her hair is meticulously styled, Amandine's great mane hanging behind her almost as long as she is tall (impressive, even if her height is not). Is she mingling with the other nobles? Perhaps she feels more at place with the rank and file? Could it be that she's busied herself in the kitchen, having sought to put her talents to use?

The latest is the closest to being accurate, but no. Amandine Karnstein, as a woman of noble upbringing, is occupying herself with the buffet. She balances a plate on her arm, but most of her eating seems to be coming directly from the buffet. She spears an hors d'oeuvre with a toothpick, then another, then a third before sticking the whole thing into her mouth and pulling it out clean. "Mmph," Amandine, "not BAD," she chews, "but not GREAT either." The tiny terror swallows, then takes the serving tray before unceremoniously emptying it into her mouth. Somehow, she does so with such efficiency that not a drop misses her maw to land on her regal wardrobe. "Yesph," she resumes chewing. "I've definitely had WAY," Amandine interrupts herself with a belch that carries enough force to make a nearby glass rattle. "Better." The gothic lolita brat sets down the serving tray, meticulously placing it out of the way. "Let's see what else they have--ooh," She pops another sample into her mouth. "Ifph that hollandaise?"

For the Podiebrad family, there were no lesser houses.

Certainly, the character of their fellow houses would always be in question. They would even go so far to say there were rival houses, and that rivalry had turned hot in the past. But the House of Podiebrad would never consider any house to be beneath them. At worst, equal. That may not mean much from the house that would have introduced twerking to the estely thanks to some questionable videos Aurel had seen. But it meant a certain sense of equality and brotherhood that was the point of these parties.

That, and for people outside the Podiebrad family to swoon over the Patriarch.

Even in the most depressing straits that had befallen the estely, the mood of the ballroom lifts upon Bela's arrival. The pale lord's elegance is only balanced by his beauty, His raised collar meets with purple and red striped pauldrons sit upon his shoulders, setting a mantle for his flowing purple cloak. He had no scepter now, only the endless jewelry of gold and silver upon him. He weaves across the upper level, only passing the faintest glimpses to each man and especially woman, every step of those high heeled boots coming with absolute grace. Soon, a silence comes over the ballroom, falling in awe and anticipation.

Well, except for the smacking lips of the best Karnstein could offer.

A blushing, bosomed officer was giggling, adjusting herself as Bela approached. The arrival of the Patriarch meant only one thing: The one most important dance of the ball. The Patriarch was glimpsing her way. The black haired woman knew it was her chance. After all, even with the house's name sullied, there was still prestige for being chosen for the dance. Especially the first dance. ANd yet, the smacking continues. Bela watches as there are one pair of eyes not even fixated his way. NOt even at their own shoes. No, someone was ignoring him? As Bela moves, a group of servants, shaven caretakers, and guardsmen convey behind him. He extends a hand to his side. And he is given something. Suddenly, he is right behind Amandine, as the question is made. He answers. "Close. Let it sit in you mouth, a little longer." And he reaches out.

Holding a single linen napkin.

Dabbing the corner of Amandine's lips, the Patriarch softly wipes away the sauce that lingers. "Creme fleurette. Take in the tang, the weight. It blends in a sour cream; I will leave it up to use to decide if it is proper creme fraiche or a cheaper type. Amandine von Karnstein, it is a pleasure you've come to indulge your appetites at the House of Podiebrad." Bela gives a sly smirk, as he looks directly into the young woman's eyes.

"I invite you indulge in mine."

And Bela extends his hand to the young lady. "Step forward with me, Amandine. I have made my decision." The Patriarch raises his voice. Already, the servants begin to pile out into the first floor, dressed in their formal bests, armed with violins. "You will the first to dance with me upon the Moonlit Mezzanine." And you could hear a pin drop, as the entire estely's eyes were transfixed, as the Patriarch's choice was made.

There may be some disagreement, from the other noble houses, on Bela's choice.

There is glory and splendor descending upon the dancefloor. Fallen though it may be, the House of Podiebrad still has class and decorum. A sense of high status echoing what it once was with the master of the house's arrival. Others gaze in awe and anticipation.

Amandine von Karnstein has none of these things, be it class, splendor, or decorum. She would like to think otherwise, but the damage she is dealing to the buffet table and the reckless abandon with which she's doing it speaks with finality on the matter.

"Mmph?!" Amandine is caught by surprise when he's suddenly there. Dangerously close. Wiping her mouth. The small woman's pale skin starts to redden at the cheeks with a different heat than what's brought up by her taste for too much brandy. Amandine keeps the sauce in her mouth for a moment, then swallows. "O-oh," she stammers, her eyes meeting Bela's. "Well, it's PRETTY good. Are you a gourmand?" Amandine asks, her usual crass loudness softened a bit. She looks left, then right. Why is everyone staring at HER? What did she do this time? Why is it that they ALWAYS--

Oh. ... oh. Amandine flips out a handkerchief and dabs the rest of her mouth. "Well, your lordship, I am MOST flattered," Amandine inserts. "Though I MUST confess it's been some time since someone such as yourself asked ME to dance." Shit shit shit. Amandine thinks. Did that give away that no one has asked her to dance? ... has no one ever asked her to dance?

Amandine steps back, and curtsies appropriately, if belatedly.

It was almost too cute.

The Patriarch watches the ebb and flow of Amandine's reaction, as the little creature struggles in his trap. After all, wasn't it a trap? To pull the little Karnstein piglet from her trough put her in a public situation. All eyes were on her, and Bela could drink deeply not only of Amandine's own insecurity, but the sheer shock and building resentment of the estely. Before this moment, Amandine might have been alone. But now, she would find rivals she could have never imagined. He almost seems to ignore the questions at him, glancing away as he waits for the girl to compose herself. And at the end of the display, with the curtsy?

Bela chuckles with tight, painted lips.

"That's not surprising." Bela says lightly. An insult? "Of the stars in the sky, of the pearls in the sea; there are very few people like me; I hardly think even the best of the NOL can offer a dancing partner like I." No, self-flattery. He passes Amandine, a single hand sweeping out to grab a caper, bringing it up to his eye level. "I am a gourmand as so fits the House of Podiebrad. I must be as capable as every and any one of our family. By the Patriarch!" And the ballroom comes in response, amongst the Podiebrad rank and file. "By the Patriarch!" Bela pops the morsel in his mouth, before he sweeps those shining nailed fingers, just short of touching the little woman by those long, luxurious locks. "Do not fear if you cannot dance like I. Every partner of the Patriarch will do marvelous... as long as you stay close to me, young lady, and follow my lead." Bela then extends his hand once more to the lady-

"My lord."

The interjection comes, from one of the guests. Bela recoils his hand, glancing at the objector with cool curiosity. The woman has is with black hair tied up into two buns. She is dressed in black and white, with an awful lot of lace trimming on the tops, disconnected sleeves, stockings, and skirt. Her shoulders and thighs are exposed, and there seems to be ample support in the front. Her stockings are trimmed in lace, with yellow bows tied at the top of the stockings and just above the start of the skirt. She holds a lavender fan, covering her mouth as she asides to the host and his chosen dance partner. "I don't mean to interject, but that's Amandine." Done with the same tone one would describe a particularly distasteful pet or animal, once that would be often caught soiling the floor of particularly expense carpets. "And our honored host might have not noticed, well." Fan fan fan. "Amandine is ~special~, and hardly suited for parading on a dance floor of any kind. No, no, she is best equipped to park herself by the buffet table, for her own safety, as well as the safety of others. Her... oh, it's so embarrassing." The lady traces a stray gloved hand across her own abdomen. "Well, she can best describe her special commitments involving Tantalus." She turns her head away, concealing her mouth with the fan... but peering out at Amandine, her gaze into slits. Bela pivots his gaze from the young lady, back on Amandine. All eyes are on her again. The Patriarch does not say anything, but his smirk and glance makes it clear he was asking the same question everyone was.

What was this embarrassing situation involving Tantulus?

Amandine's lips purse like someone who just tasted something sour. For a change, she doesn't have something to shout. She doesn't immediately drop the first thing to cross her mind. No, instead, she holds her tongue. That, in itself, is an impressive feat for Amandine. Perhaps she can be taught.

"WELL," Amandine says, "I don't REALLY go to that many parties," she says. "You know, with how BUSY I am." Amandine swallows, then. "But OF COURSE, I'll follow your lead. I'm sure you're a MARVEL--"

Amandine's eyes turn toward the newcomer. They narrow into slits, as if Amandine were looking at something particularly repulsive. "Well of course I'm SPECIAL," Amandine says, perhaps a little too loudly. "I am AMANDINE von KARNSTEIN! and -- what did you say about Tantalus?" Amandine steps forward. She would be eye to with the woman, but it winds up more as eye to bust, the gremlin of a woman lookin up at her. Amandine trembles for a moment, bile rising up as she wants to snap--but now the Patriarch is looking at her. Everyone is looking at her. She bites her lip, her face aflush.

"Well you KNOW I don't ALWAYS lug around Tantalus. H--" She starts to say, then pauses. "Tantalus is HERE, but not HERE HERE." Amandine folds her arms, looking away from the pair.

Bela lets Amandine dangle on the end of the chain.

Oh, the haughtiness was rich. But when a rival lady comes to not only undercut the little gremlin, but socially eviscerate her out in front of everyone? The Patriarch was almost ready to let the inevitable catfight play out before his eyes. Except, of course, he would need to have his dance first. He watches that rage barely contained. He didn't have any answers on Tantalus, either. But as she pouts away, Bela's heart aches... and he listens, as he makes questions within it.

>]}Tanatlus. From Karnstein. Why should I care about that name?{[<
>]}Devilishly? Am I going to be outing a diabolical ally?{[<
>]}I do not see how she's useful so far, other than expending our strained food budget.{[<

"Here, but not here here. Such a charming riddle, Amandine. As for you." Bela traces a thumb under his chin, as he casts a gaze from Amandine to the other woman. "You certainly have caught my attention, young lady. What, pray, is your name?" The woman curtsies, with such grace and elegance that it can only be described as a specific affront towards Amandine. "Belladona Shimotsuki, oh noble Patriarch." She fans herself, as Bela nods distantly. "Shimotsuki. Yes, yes, one of the fellow Twelve Originators." Belladona gives a faint giggle, covering her mouth with the fan as she blushes. Her eyes glimpse towards Amandine, as she seems assured in snatching away Amandine's honor right in front of her, like ripping a plate of food from a hungry dog. Bela looks away, glancing back towards Amandine. The opening was set up, and he gives a gentle nod to the other. "Pity, then, I was hoping Captain Katarina accepted her invitation."

Briefly, the young Shimotsuki has an expression of an open handed slap across her cheek.

In that brief moment, Amandine's mouth is agape. The grace and class with which Belladona curtsies seems like an insult, but it's as if Amandine can't pin down exactly how or why. It shifts into a snarl, briefly, Amandine's slightly pointy teeth barred ever so little outside of her lip.

And then, the dropping of a name, and Amandine has the advantage again. Her face curls into a wicked, impish grin. When Bela's back is turned for just a moment, she sticks out her tongue at Belladona.

"Oh, you KNOW Captain Katarina?" Amandine asks, trying to drive the knife in further. Amandine abruptly sniffs the air. It's not quite clear whether it is in haughtiness, or if she caught a whiff of something. She glances back toward the buffet table briefly.

Bela actually misses the juvenile display from Amandine.

But Belladonna didn't.

The haughty noblewoman seethes, her gaze like knives at the little girl. Bela, of course, was watching Amandine at the time. When she mentions if he had met Captain Katarina, he takes a breath, ready to answer.

But is interrupted by a flush faced Belladonna.

"Captain Katarina not only almost single-handedly lead the effort to liberating Illyria, but nearly shamed the treacherous Sacred Order into surrending to their betters." She rapidly explained, puffing up at the claim. "Every man and woman worth their salt in the NOL has met her! That loathsome Ky Kiske was well put in place by our family's majesty and grace, to say the least of those barbaric enough Whitefangs-"

There is a deep clearing of throats amongst some of the attending guardsmen, at Belladonna's wayward mention of the Whitefangs.

Bela opens his mouth, about to take a breath, before once again he is interrupted, the Patriarch looking annoyed. "Enough. As I heard, not only were you the lowest of low camp cooks, and habitually drunk, but your food was so terrible, that it poisoned our soldiers! Oh, they excused themselves to save face, but we all know that a gluttonous, filthy piglet like yourself can't help but soil the food with your greedy samples. I wouldn't be surprised if your Karnstein germs weren't tasted by the entire NOL. Now watch her, oh Patriarch, as she gorges herself on the buffet... or throw one of her tantrums!"

And she squints at Amandine, waiting to see her riposte.

"Well, OBVIOUSLY everyone has HEARD of her," Amandine starts to interrupt, but the deluge from Belladonna is too much. Amandine twitches, brushing her hair out of her face as Belladonna goes on a verbal rampage, a deluge of words that leave Amandine struggling to find a place to get a word in. Whenever she starts to open her mouth, Belladonna cuts her off. As the tirade continues, Amandine's face reddens, her pale skin turning flush. Anger? Embarrassment? Her tiny hands creak as she clenches her fists. Her teeth grind in her mouth.

Finally, her foot comes down with a thunderous retort that makes glasses across the room skip and beverages ripple like a rock tossed into a pond. "ENOUGH!" Amandine says, "I'll HAVE you KNOW that I was FRAMED but a FAT-ASSED, SLUTTY SABOTEUR!" The tiny terror huffs, stomping toward Belladonna despite the inherent comedy of their high difference. "Probably some Sacred Order SKANK trying to earn BROWNIE POINTS with that DAMN KISKE!!"

Amandine stomps toward Belladonna, planting her hands on her lips and looking up at the woman. Chains rattle somewhere.I t seems to take a concentrated effort not to grab her and pull her down to eye level. "I may LOVE to EAT, but in MY KITCHEN cleanliness is IMPECCABLE."

"HELL," Amandine says, "If YOU don't believe ME, I'll whip up something RIGHT NOW so DIVINE you'll be practically BEGGING me to cook for you ALL THE DAMN TIME!"

And in that moment, Amandine seems to realize what she's done. She looks left, right, then back at Belladona. Her nose crinkles.

"That is, uh," Amandine's voice goes much softer. "...with the Patriarch's permission..."

And what was the Patriarch's expression at the end of this cat fight?

Cold contempt.
Only the glimpse of Amandine's meekness gives softens it. But the cold words of the Patriarch comes with the weight of a lord. "It is clear to me, Belladonna," He begins, his words frosted with that chill. "That it was a waste of time to have invited the Shimotsuki." Belladonna quails behind her fan, looking like she realizes the same mistake that Amandine realized.

But before the little chef can enjoy that opening, Bela frozen glare is on her.

"I have not come to run my Estely as some kind of Courtly Cook-off! And you should be ashamed for suggesting it!" A vicious, cutting scolding, all before the crowd. Was it a loss? He shakes his head. "Embarrassments, both of you, for behaving like children before me, and your peers. And worse, by fooling around with bitter infighting and innuendo, you have not answered why Tantalus or Amandine would interfere with my dance. So, it ends here."

And he snaps his fingers.

And like that, 6 bald headed men in robes appear, and 6 servents in maid and butler wear appear, 6 and 6 at each of their sides. He extends his hand to Amandine. "Take my hand now, Amandine. If I have to have my servants drag that piece of crockery up the steps, then I will do so, but I will not allow the nattering of jealous hens interfere with our night! And if you feel peckish." A red haired maid with black eyes holds up a platter... As does the other five servants, each bearing silver platters of exotic desserts and sweets. "Pamper yourself on our truffles, and I do not want to hear another shriek from you. It is so unlady like. As for you?" Bela doesn't even glance back at Belladonna, who looked sick. He just passively shakes his hand at her.


Belladonna turns a faint shade of green, as two bald men comes to each of her sides.

"My apologies, Patriarch," Amandine stutters, her eyes on the floor. But then, there's a shift. An army for servants. For a brief moment, Amandine tenses. It's that almost cowering wince as she imagines herself being thrown out on her butt outside.

But then, everything changes. "Ah, WELL," Amandine says, "thank you for kindness, Patriarch," Amandine bows, holding up her skirts. Her hair obscures any glances she makes toward Belladonna. "Tantaluuuus~ We're DANCING," she calls.

And in a moment the rattling of chains follows. Where they were not there, they are suddenly rattling, one end from Amandine's waist. She gives it a sharp tug and the nefarious cookware comes forth as if pulled from the shadows themselves.

It's difficult to describe the expression on the bald men's faces, when Tantalus is finally revealed.

It's knowing, it's understanding. And yet, it's a kind of internal disbelief. Belladonna is gone, whisked away. And the estely becomes like a dream. A nightmare, for those who are entrusted to hold the great cauldron.

But for Bela, it was merely details.

Bela takes Amandine by her hand, delicately clutching her fingers, as he leads her down the stairs to the open floor. Slowly. Gracefully. But mostly, slowly; behind them, the team of six were lugging the pot, groaning as they try and ease the massive pot down the stairs. Before them? The servants were dancing, swaying as they let the silver platters pass around, a procession for the pair. Already, the music was coming up, playing light airs to serve as their introductions. All eyes were on them. They cross the floor, towards the center, where the Moonlit Mezzanine awaits them. Custom required it could not be accessed normally from the second floor. They stop before the stairwell, and Bela turns around, and gives the partygoers a brief bow, to a smattering of applause. It was time for the stairs up.

The six bald men swallow hard, as the sweat builds.

Slowly, slowly, they rise up the spiral stairwell to the mezzanine. The presence begins to brighten, the men struggle, bringing the desperately heavy pot up the long rise up. It is a miracle they do not fall. Absolute faith is what holds them strong, as Bela acts as it is not even there. Amandine is treated as the belle of the ball, the madame of the highest honor and respect. If Amandine ever imagined herself being treated the exact way she claimed she wanted to be treated, the closest would be right now, on the descent and rise. Finally, the cusp of the stairwell is conquered. Platters are presented before Amandine, for a last minute snack for her before showtime. Only a moment, because the slow approach suddenly hastens, as the end is near.

The Tantalus team finally places it down, catching their breath desperately.

The chain cascades across the floor. And Bela turns, rotating the little lady. And his words are straight. "We will keep it simple. A waltz. Your left towards my shoulder. Your right in my left." The Patriarch clutches Amandine's hand, holding it up. "We will begin with a waltz. Box step. Back with right foot. Side with left. Close right to left, forward with left, Side with right, Close left to right. Repeat." The words come with the steady command, diction with direction. The music pauses, as all eyes are on them, the moonlight extending across the mezzanine. The music rises. The waltz starts.

And they begin their dance as the moonlight descends on them.

Tantalus is an awful thing, like an antique from a time that never was. It's feet drag at the floor like claws as Amandine pulls it, or perhaps it pulls itself to Amandine. The amount of sweat that the men was put into carrying the ancient thing is a terrifying testament to just how much strength Amandine must have, despite her stature--and disgraceful lack of finesse on the battlefield.

But despite all this, Amandine takes to the pampering like a fish to water. She moves with a sort of awkward grace, like watching a machine run after years of disuse and rust. The fundamentals are there, but caked under so much cruft.

There's an almost wide-eyed wonder as Bela leads the waltz. Amandine follows his lead with effort. It's the same sort of effort that she puts into cooking, but with only a quarter the confidence. Each step is measured, the tiny terror attempting to keep time. To do this RIGHT. To not make herself look like a fool.

Her face reddens. Pressure builds. She glances briefly at the truffles, then turns back to Bela.

In that brief moment, one is in her mouth.

The servants are dancing in tandem with the pair; their trays ebbing and flowing. Their eyes are on Amandine, just like everyone. She might catch the glimpse of jealousy, but like the rest of the guests, Amandine was, at this moment, inescapably trapped being the envy of everyone across the Twelve Families and beyond. Tantalus, for all his lack of effort, was bringing carried along as slowly but surely, the pair work their dance across the Mezzanine. Amandine was working hard to avoid any mistakes. But there was no danger of mistakes here.

Bela was in control.

Every stumble was corrected, adjusted before it comes. When the chain comes dangerously close to tripping, or even entangling a servant or Bela himself, it is neatly moved around, slipped past like the wind. Anytime Amandine was about to miss a step, a surge of silent energy comes to put her in her place. And any time Amandine would come too soon, that firm power would guide her straight to the right step. Amandine couldn't relax, no, Bela's calm gaze was ever present on her.

But his smile assured that nothing would go wrong.

"You are beautiful, you know." Bela states, as the rhythm comes into full stride. "Everything wonderful about the Karnsteins. Elegant. Prim. And uncompromising in values and standards. It's so difficult for outsiders to understand and respect that about the Karnsteins." He gives a chuckle, as a faraway look passes over his eyes, in a moment. "We nearly had a war, you know, centuries ago. The Karnsteins and the Podiebrads. A corpse. An accused vampire. Mix in bad blood and history, and that sensual, uncompromising will. And it became clear that your family would never let those barbaric exiled mercenaries pass judgement on the Karnsteins. We were the uncouth upstarts at the time."

"That's the original purpose of the Mezzanine, you know."

He turns, slowly with the step, to let the strange reflections and moonlight dance around, the floor and audience fading in and out like ghosts around them. IT was all like a dream, actually being in there. Even the servents almost seemed to fade in and out, displacing as the whirl of dance and music spins around and around. "Silver backed mirrors, a full moon light, an audience filled with trained Hunters, and impossibly close to the strongest member of the House of Podiebrad. So dangerous, and yet, so passionate, so magical, so real. And in the throus of seduction..." Bela dips Amandine once, his strong arms and firm grip keeping her from falling back. He leans in close, under her ear, by her neck.

"The monster, revealed, would be annihilated in but a moment.

Bela pulls back, and the dance continues, without breaking the step. Another platter of sweets is eagerly offered, and Bela releases a hand as part of the dance. In case she needed something to satisfy her renewed appetites. "A single Karnstein lady, dancing with the Patriarch, stopped the war before it began." Bela doesn't say what happened afterwards. It wasn't important. "It's so easy to forget that we noble houses have so little to stop us from squabbling amongst each other. For all the goodness of the NOL to keep that in-fighting from destroying our united front, still." He shakes his head.

"The threat of battle is important to set boundaries, wouldn't you agree?"

In this moment, Amandine has something that she has never had. Surely she has dealt with fear, bitterness, and maybe even affection, but seldom envy. Who would envy here, even one of the noble Karnstein name, when she's so ...Amandine. That short, loud, and obnoxious little harpy with the oversized cookpot and equally oversized mouth.

But no, here is she is on a pedestal. In that moment, her dancing is perfect. Her form is flawess. Each step she takes masterful, if guided by the heavy unseen hand of the Patriarch's awful power.

Amandine finds a truffle in her mouth, but it does not interrupt her dancing. No, every note and step has its proper place. She only need to follow the lead.

"Oh, Patriarch, you flatter me," Amandine says, her face reddening. "To think we almost had a war," Amandine makes an effort to keep her voice subdued. Ladylike. A united front against her own loudness. "But that's changed so much now. Everything is so--you're so--" Amandine trails for a moment.

"REFINED,' it slips. "R-regal," she adds. But then, more history is unearthed. Amandine listens with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, the depth of her understanding inscrutable.

"Uh...huh," Amandine answers. "I didn't know that," her whisper a bit too heavy. But then, she's dipped. Amandine's face reddens further, her pale skin aflush. Sweat beads on her forehead, but she swiftly dabs it with her sleeve when given a moment's reprieve. Sweets are offered, and subsequently inhaled by the flustered Karnstein. "Oh," Amandine says, "oh!" It parses as she swallows. "Isn't it though?" she offers. "But of course! Why, I guess--" Amandine struggles to get her words together. "--I should apologize again for causing trouble with," she bites her lip. "With Shimotsuki."

"Oh, when they get word of your behavior, they will find ways to humble you."

Was it a warning? A threat? "No no, do not apologize for causing trouble. It's delightful." The chuckle that comes from that outburst was sincere. A silk handkerchief is brought out by the red-haired servant, and handed to the waiting free hand of Bela. Not missing a step, he wipes away Amandine's sweat so delicately, so swiftly. It was made to a be a moment of heaven for the lucky guest.

Bela only hoped she would keep it in her heart forever.

"There needs to be freedom amongst the noble houses, there needs to be passion!" He declares, returning the silk hanky, before taking Amandine's hand once more. "And class, of course. And you've done so well to conduct yourself as a lady. Better than other Karnsteins." A twinkle sparks in his eye. "But that bluntness is part of your charm. That always present desire for no restraint. The ever present hunger for passions, for pleasures. My father..."

A misstep.

He bumps his foot against Amandine's. Almost impossible to notice. Almost impossible to not notice so close, with the flawless performance so far. He regains composure, that gentle expression becoming intense for a flicker. "The former Patriarch well appreciated the hedonistic spirit of the Karsteins. I'm surprised with the current reputation of the Estely, they would allow someone so modest to come. Then again, with your strong spirit, you always have that natural power to carefully balance that line, to come just short of becoming consumed by your desires. We lacked that. And Aurel von Podiebrad always appreciated that. Uncompromising resolve, to the point of hostility."

"Which, naturally, surprises me that your family has taken a Grimoire."

That gentle smirk comes, as it just feels like, even with the servants and the audience below and above, that they were alone in the moonlight. "I, as much as every one of our house, are well aware of the sacrifices that must be made to attune to a Grimoire. And what you have to comprimise, personally... the expense is great. Pardon me for inquiring, of course." Bela asides, as he deviates from the rhythm of the waltz step. He extends Amandine out, to turn her around once. A simple break of the comfortable pattern. But no less disruptive. "But when you became one with your Grimoire... with Tantalus" He gives Amandine another twirl, another chance to be fed a sample off every platter in a rapid chain.

"Did you find it difficult?"

Amandine crinkles her nose, threat or not.

"Right!" Amandine echoes. "Passion!" She seems to get more flustered as things continue, to the degree that some may wonder if she's going to overheat. Is she that out of shape? "I am, of course, very classy. A proper lady!"


Amandine blinks, but the moment goes without comment. "So...modest?" Amandine says, "Well, of course, I am a refined lady, so--"

But then there are questions of the Grimoire. Of Tantalus. Amandine glances away toward him during the extension. She does not answer immedaitely, taking the moment's reprieve to also get a moment's repast.

"It has it's challenges," Amandine says, "I mean, of course it does! The responsibility of dealing with Tantalus is something only a Karnstein is suited for. That constant pressure, you know, to chase after every want and desire. ... it's," Amandine chews, "bahsically overwhelmfing."

"I can only imagine."

Bela is just able to conceal the sardonic response. Naturally, Amandine had done little to show that control. Still, he moves with the dance, as Tantalus is brought along. As she is stuffed with his sweets, the Patriarch coos. "That's the way it is, with vices. Either you control them... or they control you. I wonder, who is the master at the end of that chain? And who is the slave?" The music finishes, and Bela extends Amandine out, and gives a bow. Was it over? Was the dream done? Was the snacking finished. Bela must have heard those questions, because he shakes his head. "I am not finished yet." He states aloud. He gives a light leap to the side, with a twirl, away from little lady, past the bald men-

And Bela is up on Tantalus.

Sitting upon the edge of the cauldron, he balances neatly, both of his legs crossed. He looks down at Amandine, as he wiggles a little bit. "Once more, Amandine." He uncrosses his legs, and recrosses them, switching sides. And then, he leans back, as he kicks up his boots. So close, nearly able to fall right in. But not quite. "But I want to be closer to you." He stretches a leg out, as the red-haired servant begins to unlash the first boot. "We Podiebrads, are not very tall. Without these oppressive boots, it would be at a much more even height. You might even find yourself taller than me." A mirthful chuckle comes from deep within, as he leans back further, nearly stretches across the maw of the cauldron. The first boot comes off, revealing the stockings underneath. He wriggles his toes.

As he rests his neck upon the lips of Tantalus.

The sarcasm goes Amandine's head like many things before it, some literal and some figurative. As the two separate, Amandine has a look of longing. It's as if, despite her apprehension, now she is sad to see the moment over. Perhaps that is the secret of any purveyor of desire--to keep the audience wanting more.

But as Bela moves to Tantalus, Amandine starts. She opens her mouth, but then closes it. "Err..." Amandine starts to speak, but comes up short. Shorter than usual. She chews her lip pensively, nervously even. Her thumb goes to her mouth and runs across her lip. Droplets run down the side of Tantalus, starting at the lip and tracing the curve.

"Oh, do you really think so?" Amandine says, her voice like a balloon losing air. "I'm --" A pause. "I'm wearing heels too, Patriarch." She rolls her tongue in her mouth.

"You know, Tantalus is a little fickle, at times. He usually listens well, I--aheh." Amandine threads her fingers through her chain, slowly coiling it around her forearm, then her hand. "I have to pull his chain sometimes."

Why, what ever could be the matter with Amandine?

Bela let's the red haired servant work on the other boot, relaxing and bending a bit, dipping slightly into Tantalus before pulling out. Amandine was being tended by now obviously emptying platters. Tracing two fingers around it's lip, he pulls it up, tracing his own lips with the moist dribblings of the cauldron. "Oh, please Amandine, you don't have to match my dressing down. If you take off every one I take off, why, we would be going at it all night."

as that a flirt?

Before the comment can sink in too deep, Bela allows the other boot to be removed, and he groans slightly, writhing as he turns around on the top of the pot. Nearly, almost nearly, slipping right in. Until finally, he spritely bounds off as nimble as a gymnast. Tumbling off, he lands almost on top of Amandine, easing next to Amandine, chest to chest. Now, with her boots and him without, they were more even vertically if not horizontally. And so close. He was holding her much closer now, clasping one hand, holding her by her hip firmly. "Once again, we dance. Sway with me, Amandine. Faster now. Break those chains of restraint! And show them all below the unyielding passion of a Karnstein!"

And the music begins once more, as the dance renews.

"Of," Amandine swallows, "Of course! Of course." Her face is flushed again, the little Karnstein clearly flustered. She wraps a thick strand of her black hair around her free hand idly, glancing away.

And then Bela is almost on top of Amandine. She glances up, if only slightly, having nearly jumped when he landed there.

"Oh," Amandine stays, taken into a dance once again. "Yes...lets!" The chain unwinds from her hand now that Bela is away from the cauldron, and it rattles to the floor as they start to move and sway.

That condensation still lingers on Tantalus.

The world was revolving.

As the music picks up, the frenetic steps come with the frantic pace. Amandine's feet might not even be touching the ground, as he spins and spins. The keepers of the Cauldron were groaning, as they struggle and slip with Tantalus, the moisture making it difficult to keep a grip on it. It was danger of injury, or worse, breaking the very dance floor. A single slip, and Tantalus would smash a poor dancer underneath. ANd yet, with Amandine's will and defenses nearly gone, Bela smirks, as he takes Amandine away. He finally makes his offer.

"I am preparing for a war."

The words come out disjointed from the pace of the dancing. "Illyria. And I need you. I heard how they had humiliated you. How the Sacred Order leveraged those big-bottomed hussies of low taste and necklines to embarrass you. To sully your flawless reputation as a chef. Of the dragon, the possessing spirit. Of The Tellarics. I want you to assist me. Not as NOL, but as a Karnstein. I want to take you back. I want to make them pay. Will you join me?" The dance does not slow, but the audience below begins to change temperature. Something shifts. Were their words heard? In the haze of swaying crockery and twirling dancers up top, it was hard to see anything. It might be just barely possible to miss the NOL Captain and his Entourage emerging at the edge of the dance floor.

With a furiously fanning Belladonna right behind them.

In the frenzy Amandine is lifted, though perhaps not with ease despite her height. The two of them spin, and flourish, and move with a grace unnatural for the Karnstein as Tantalus moves in tow.

At the mention of war, however, it is as if the music stops for Amandine. In that moment, her attention is seized by the throat, grasped intensely and held there with the world spinning around her, lost in the dance.

"That's--" Amandine bites her lip. "You know," Amandine chews. "You know what they did to me," she whispers. "How they EMBARASSED me. They and that damn dragon and his little water spirit.

But before Amandine can speak further, there's new faces. And old faces. An old fans. Fans who are not fans (of Amandine).

"Oh," she says, "I think you have guests, Patriarch."

Bela was about to move in, to give the coup de grace... When Amandine mentions them. If Amandine could capture the look that was on the Patriarch's face now, and serve it ground and boiled, there would be no more dark and bitter brew to fend off the worst hangover. Bela eases, as he refuses to look down at the Mezzanine. No, he slows the dance, before coming to a stop. He gives a bow, but the magic was killed. He escorts Amandine to the stairs now on the far side, Tantalus swaying side to side. He begins the escort down, looking calmly at Amandine.

Forcing the waiting Captain to interrupt him again.

"Lord Podiebrad." The captain bows and salutes. "My apologies. We were waiting for the festivities were to be completed, before we shared the news. Lt. Shimotsuki stated it was nearly complete, but we must have arrived too quickly..." Belladonna fans faster and faster, eyes like daggers at Amandine. The Patriarch takes in a deep breath, still holding Amandine hand. "I consider any interruption of the the Moonlit Mezzanine to be grounds for a mortal duel. If your excuse is not to my satisfaction, Captain, then I we will finish my Estely with one more dance between us. I hope you are more practiced than your cousin." The captain chokes, barely keeping his composure as he explains.

"Japan is under attack."

Bela stance changes. He gives his waves to the crowd, a final now with Amandine, and holds her by her shoulders, inspecting her. Gone was the outrage, but a cold professionalism in it's place. "Gears?" The captain shakes his head. "We do not think so, but we are looking at numbers of Darkstalkers in Southtown, people are in danger-" Bela tickles a single finger under Amandine's chin. "Disappointing, but understandable. It looks like we will continue this conversation later... I private. Tend to her, Zsa Zsa." The red haired servent with the black eyes bow, as the team of bald caretakers collapse exhausted, having finally gotten it down." Bela releases Amandine, sweeping his cloak.
%e"It seems duty demands for the House of Podiebrad."

The dance comes to a crashing halt, and with it goes Amandine's mood. The woman pouts like a child, briefly, biting her lip again and trying to keep her composure. She glares at Belladonna before crossing her arms and looking away with a haughty upturn of her chin.

When Bela turns her attention back toward Amandine, she goes upright. "Of COURSE," she answers quickly. "Err--" A pause. "As soon as you're able, that is."

She makes her way over to the exhausted servants with a steady tap, tap, tap, places one hand on the lip of Tantalus, and lifts him up with ease. "Thank you, gentlemen," Amandine says, "for minding Tantalus for me!" She shoots a glare over her shoulder at Belladonna again.

Belladonna continues to shoot daggers at Amandine. The casting of Bela's gaze softens it instantly, turning it to flush and soft eyes. Bela shakes his head, looking to his partner. "Always able." He says softly. "Always willing." The men stare wide-eyed, as the young lady lifts Tantalus as one might pluck a flower. Defeated, and more than humilated, they all bow to Amandine, gasping, as Bela turns around. "Thank you Captain. You are dismissed. I will make my announcements, to close out my Estely." He clears his throat, and finally, he raises his voice, for all to hear.

"Thank you all, for attending the Full Moon Estely."

"This has been the return to tradition I had hoped for, and as well, the same return you all had hoped for as well. I had planned to use my Estely for one announcement, but I have received word that the world is at danger. Southtown is under attack by hideous creatures of the night." A murmur comes through the ball. "I know rumors have been spreading about us dealing with Illyria, but we must place those on hold, to ensure the protection of innocents against the monsters. It is the oath of the Podiebrad! Let justice be done, though the world perish." Bela gives a bow, and with that, the party begins to dissolve. Bela straightens up, and strides up the stairs to the second floor, back to the corridor he had once entered. Szabolc was still there, his stone face glowering.. "I assume you have a plan, O Patriarch?" Szabolc states coldly, his steel-eyes glaring at his superior. "Yes." Bela stated firmly. Bela doesn't look back at his commander, but proceeds to comb his own hair, looking into a gold and silver hand mirror that has... just appeared. "I had discussed before, if there was an incident, we would split our forces and give a portion to assist the NOL." Szabolc grits his teeth, averting his gaze. "And I assume that is still the case?"


Szabolc looks back, expression softening. Bela continues, adjusting and poofing up his hair slightly. "You had discussed plainly, that the pursuit of selfish interests in the face of world terror would result in the further diminished of our goals. I disagreed with specific reason: that Illyria had enough ill-will against the NOL, that acting as a puppet front to harass those Sacred Order types would save face. Denying to assist the NOL, and then chasing after the Illyria would be a clear conflict of interest, and would deny us our allied support. Just because I disagree with you, Szabolc, doesn't mean you are wrong." Bela adjust the mirror, looking back at Szabolc's shocked expression. "I have no mind for tactics, and barely any for strategy. I will allow you to conduct support operations as you see fit. I will provide leadership, guidance, and of course." He gazes deep into the mirror at himself.

"A pretty face."


The party begins to dissolve, Zsa Zsa escorts Amandine along. The quiet maid was clutching the silver platter to her chest, as she keeps her head low. A thin red scarf of silk is wrapped around her waist in a neat bow, which trails behind her as she walks along. "The Patriarch is very pleased with you, Lady Karnstein." Zsa Zsa stated softly, her boots tap tapping on the black wood floorboards that lead to the hallway. "Whatever makes the Patriarch pleased is a good thing." Her black eyes almost seems to glow in the dim artificial candlelight of the hallways. "He is inviting you to the Commandment Guest Suite; it's normally only reserved for high ranking NOL officers. He must be very pleased with you. You do not need to stay the night, if you need to leave. But please at least let me serve you in freshening up-"

"I'm not through with you."

The words cut like a knife through the halls. The lavender-haired lady behind the fan was down the hall, trailing them. Her escort of guards was gone. She was still hiding her expression behind her fan, but the words slither out like snakes. Zsa Zsa turns back, looking at the noblewoman. Belladonna strides on her boots, hips swaying as she shakes her plump bottom side to side, puffing out her chest in demanding arrogance. "You know that the Patriarch is just using you. You know how those Podiebrads are. Sweet words, to lure innocent noblewomen into their private chambers for a quick and easy fix. I don't know how they have been raising those Karnsteins, but a good Shimotsuki doesn't give herself away to a Patriarch, no matter how well they dance." Belladonna finally closes the gap, fluttering herself, turning up her nose at the little Amandine. "I bet he made you feel like you weren't just a worthless nobody officer from a worthless nobody family. What an actor! Goodness, if I knew how easy those Karnsteins girls are, I wouldn't have bothered showing up. Apparently the Patriarch is still looking for easy lays from clumsy piglets in silk stockings!"

Zsa Zsa is lowering her eyes, her grip tightening on the platter.

"Good!" Amandine beams, running her fingers through her hair and tossing it back with a quick twist of her head. Her massive mane of hair of dark hair shakes back and forth. "I did my best to impress." What's your name, anyway?" Amandine says. "Can I ask that? -- oooh, a personal invite. I'm flatt--"

"HUH?" Amandine says, turning to face Belladonna when she arrives. "Oh, REALLY?" Amandine says, her voice raising a bit to her usual volume. "Well, you sound like you might know--" Amandine huffs. "I'm not THAT easy, I'll have you KNOW." The Karnstein grinds her teeth as Belladonna lays on the insults. "Well DAMN," Amandine says, "I thought you'd given up after the Patriarch scolded us earlier," Amandine huffs. "I mean I APPRECIATE your CONCERN, but you're one to talk about PIGLETS. I saw what you're packing under that dress earlier. Does that come with being a Shimotsuki, or are you just especially PLUSH?"

Belladonna fans faster and faster, her face turning crimson.

Zsa Zsa continued to keep her head lowered, averting her eyes as she keeps clinging into the platter, tighter and tighter. As the comment launches across at Belladonna, she finally folds her fan, exposing herself fully. She strides past, pushing past Zsa Zsa. Boiling with rage, she cuts to the chase. "Please. Plush, coming from you? You are built like a doll! No wonder the Patriarch prefers you, the man barely even counts as a man. In fact, I would say that Bela is more beautiful than you. You are a disgrace to the Karnsteins! You... you... Flat-Chested, Flat-Bottomed Lolita!" And she taps her fan on top of Amandine's head.

Zsa Zsa suddenly sputters a giggle.

Amandine inhales, her cheeks puffing out in a way if that might be cute if it weren't so unbecomingly childish. "You're just SALTY because it's TRUE. I mean, EVERYONE knows Captain Katarina for HER accomplishments. I GUESS they don't give MEDALS for the most bon-bons or the FATTEST ASS!" Amandine stomps a tiny foot, her heel pounding the floor.

"REALLY? Not a MAN? He's a PERFECT GENTLEMAN! How come YOU were after him, then, HUH?"

The fan taps the top of Amandine's head and she huffs again, pulling her chains and winding them tightly around her hand.

The electricity was intensifying.

Belladonna puffs her chest forward into Amandine, as she looks down with a haughty sneer. "Please, I had just ASSUMED that he would prefer a woman with a more balanced build." She taps the fan on her bust, waist, then hips. "But really, what is more balanced than being as flat as a board! I suppose he prefers a younger set-" Belladonna is cut short by a ringing sound.

As Zsa Zsa slams the platter on the back of her head.

The Shimotsuki officer is stunned, eyes wide as she grips her fan tight. She falls forward, blood dribbling from the back of her head, as the platter clatters to the ground. The red-haired maid's expression was serene, as she unfastens her scarf from around her back. Blood droplets appear on Zsa Zsa's dress. "Calm down." She says with a gentle smile on her lips, as she pounces, fixing her two booted feet on the ridge of that fat bottom.

Using it as a leverage point as she wraps that scarf around Belladonna's neck.

Zsa Zsa holds it taut, tightening it as she continues. "The Patriarch is the most wonderful man ever." Zsa Zsa explains evenly, as Belladonna claws at her own neck. Blood was dribbling out, as the thin needles in the scarf dig in. "He is a Gentleman, a Scholar, a Lover, and Leader, and deserves only the most obedient and deferring affections and attentions from every single unworthy guest that comes to his manor. And I will not allow a lying, evil woman of your stature insulting my Patriarch, and having the dishonor of sharing a portion of his name to him." Belladonna looks up at Amandine. She can't speak, her face was turning red. But her eyes were pleading. Help me. Help me. Zsa Zsa looks up at Amandine. Her expression was just like before, like all through the dance. The same expression she had when she popped those truffle morsels into her mouth. No. Not at Amandine. On the -chain-.

"Do you think she will fit in there, Lady Karnstein?"

Amandine puffs her cheeks again. "Balanced like a drinking bird, M--" Amandine's mouth goes agape when there's the clang of the platter, and then Zsa Zsa mounting Belladonna for the choke. The shock takes a moment to set in as Amandine realizes just what happened. She looks at Belladonna, then at Zsa Zsa. She gazes into the choking woman's eyes for a moment. Wheels turn briefly, the shock passes.

"GOSH," Amandine says, "I guess that's what you GET for having such a MOUTH. HOT DAMN."

"What?" Amandine asks, looking at Zsa Zsa. "In Tantalus?" She lifts the chain. Amandine smoothes her dress, then pats her stomach almost proudly.

"Or in here?"

Zsa Zsa cocks her head at Amandine's answer.

She looks at Tantalus. Then at Amandine's belly. And as Belladonna writhes, working her fan up, the maid understands. She gives her answer "Sharing is a virtue in the House of Podiebrad." She says calm voice, as she draws her long kitchen knife. "There is a storage room nearby, let's find out who gets first dibs-"


Belladonna suddenly rips free, having gotten her fan right up by her neck. She collapses at Amandine's feet, neck bleeding, tears in her eyes. Terror, terror around her. "Help me, help me, She's insane. Please Amandine, I w-was just kidding, don't let me die! Please! I'm sorry! I will-" She glances back at Zsa Zsa... Who was already preparing a gag with the scarf, as she stands right over her. Belladonna grabs Amandine's legs.

"I will do anything!

For a minute, Amandine gets a devilish look on her face. The knife comes out, and she eyes it. "Oh, that's a very NICE knife ... Zsa Zsa, isn't it? Do you cook, too? -- oh."

Belladonna gets free enough to call for help. Amandine hunkers down, despite her height, resting her hands on her knees. "A MOMENT, please, Zsa Zsa." Amandine looks Belladonna in the eye.

"You know, I think Zsa Zsa's loyalty is to be ADMIRED, I MEAN," Amandine says, "You were ASKED to leave, and YET you're still here. If I didn't KNOW better, with the way you were TALKING, I'd say you were up to something NEFARIOUS." Amandine taps her chin. "I mean, you might have been plotting an assassination, or something."

When Amandine suggests assassination, the maid brings the knife around the throat

"No! No! I wasn't going to kill anybody!" Belladonna whines, clinging tighter. "I- I just felt so insulted that The Patriarch passed over me for you! I was jealous, and I- I said those things so he would refuse to pick you! I didn't mean any of it! I wouldn't tell anybody about this either! It'll be our secret! And I promise I would never insult you again!"

"She is lying Lady Karnstein."

"She told the captain." Zsa Zsa responds coolly. "She will tell her family about this, and Captain Katarina will come, and demand retribution from you, Amandine... Or from the Patriarch..." Zsa Zsa suddenly giggles. "Oh, but he would punish me so severely for threatening her. Tan my hide, humiliate me so savagely; and keep doing it again, and again, until she is sastified that the Patriarch drew enough blood from me." Zsa Zsa eases the knife off Belladonna's throat. "Not if we kill her though...Not without evidence she was going to murder someone." Zsa Zsa traces a thread around Belladonna's hair.

"Maybe we can have fun with her instead, Lady Karnstein!"

Amandine continues to crouch, almost at eye level with Belladonna. She reaches up and gingerly puts her hand on Belladonna's head, smoothing her hair. "Oh, of COURSE," Amandine says, "I mean, it's certainly understandable. You're used to being the BELL of BALL I'm sure." Amandine looks up when Zsa Zsa interjects.

"Oh, Zsa Zsa. You may be right. Amandine frowns at Belladonna. "I MEAN, a fellow CHEF, and one who worked SO HARD for the Patriarch's honor..."

Amandine suddenly smacks her tiny fist into the other. "Oh, I know!" She hops upright, stepping over to Zsa Zsa and leaning in conspiratorially, even covering her mouth with her hand. She whispers something--a feat perhaps thought impossible for Amandine by the others--then turns back toward Belladonna.

"You KNOW, dear. You ALSO insulted my cooking. With that nasty BUMP, and that little SCRAPE, I think maybe you could stand a little TREATMENT." Amandine gestures with a wide, sweeping hand as she talks. "I MEAN, if Zsa Zsa is willing to help OUT, to show she accepts your APOLOGY, perhaps we can fix you up as good as NEW. BETTER than new, and forget the whole thing--" Amandine says, "Well, except for the part that I saved your FAT ASS despite you being so MEAN to me."

The meido did not quite understand what Amandine was implying at first.

Zsa Zsa looks confused, as she keeps the knife close enough to the throat to be dangerous. When Amandine relays what exactly she considers fun, the confusion fades, and her face falls into pleasant.neutrality. "As it so pleases Lady Karnstein, I am yours to use as you see fit." She wraps her scarf back around her waist, putting away the knife. And then, she bows her head to Belladonna. "I accept your apology, and forgive you for you insults "

For a moment, Belladonna looks utterly disgusted.

She looks almost ready to express her distain for Zsa Zsa even thinking she had the right... But touching her bloodied neck, she nervously rises to her feet instead. "Yes... Well... That's it? You will treat my wounds that this... Fine servant inflicted on me, and you'll just me go?" Belladonna unfolds her fan, and fans herself. "Well of course! I said I'd do anything! So just take me to the infirmary and we can get this taken care of." She didn't understand what Amandine meant. The lady suddenly steps forward, trying to walk past Amandine and Zsa Zsa.

"In fact I can save you the trouble and just go there myself-"

"Oh, no no," Amandine says. She steps to the side, swinging her hip to try and pin Belladonna between hers and Zsa Zsa's before the Shimotsuki slides past. "I said I'D fix you up better than new. It's only RIGHT, for my new FRIEND, right, Zsa Zsa?"

"People ALWAYS assume LOGISTICS just means FOOD, since I'm a CHEF," Amandine continues. "But I'm VERY good at putting people back on their feet. HELL," Amandine says, "with RESPECT to the medics here, I can probably do BETTER because I have an ADVANTAGE." Amandine smiles at Zsa Zsa. "So where can we fix a nice meal for Lady Shimotsuki, Zsa Zsa?"

Amandine turns, smiling almost impishly at Belladonna. "You're going to LOVE this, by the way. I MIGHT even take REQUESTS, if you're NICE."


Once again, Belladonna turms red, and looks about ready to object in full detail. But the singular glare from Zsa Zsa's eyes, coming like a moment of a flash, reminds the Shimotsuki what the alternative is. Was the alternative worse than being tormented by a personal chef treatment from Amandine? The NOL Lieutenant sighs, defeated.

"Okay, fine, I will let you... Cook for me."

Zsa Zsa bows her head. "The guest suite is fully furnished with a kitchen, my lady; we can prepare our prisoner- our guest for her all-night dining experience." Belladonna raises her hackles. "All night? I hardly think it takes you that long to make one of your silly meals-" Zsa Zsa suddenly gets very close to her, without changing her gentle expression. Belladonna begins to swear, fanning herself rapidly.

"I mean, I am sure you will just SPOIL me. "

"Oh, YES," Amandine says, "You'll LOVE it." Amandine claps her hands, threading her fingers together as she beams at Belladonna. "I'm sure that after TONIGHT, we'll have a whole new FRIENDSHIP. Why," Amandine gets extra close. "You'll love it SO MUCH, you'll want to come over just WHENEVER I'll have you.

"Thank you, Zsa Zsa, for being so patient. I'm sure YOU'LL enjoy this too."

Belladonna didn't know why she felt so much dread.

Almost instictively, the noblewoman touched her hips. She didn't know why she did, but Zsa Zsa and Amandine catching her in between for a psychopath sandwich, she felt an invisible danger. She swallows hard, as Zsa Zsa leads her along by threads- threads that we're still in her skin, from the first attack. She whimpers, but puffs up her chest. She was a Shimotsuki! She was strong. Almost idly, as she is led to the mysterious guest suite to await her dining fate, she states aloud.

"Well what is the worst that can happen."

Log created on 21:46:13 02/23/2020 by Bela, and last modified on 14:04:11 03/14/2020.