A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

1.6 – Spiritus Immanis {The Soul of the Soulless}

The overly hot streets of Milia had cooled to a pleasant warmth by the time Elena and Ele reached the street. Insects buzzed around the lanterns that hung on tall poles on the sides of the paved road, lighting the town in a soft glow. The crowds that had occupied the streets during the day had thinned, although there were still men and women passing to and fro.

“Should we go back to the studio and see if we can find Arturo and Arta?” Ele asked, putting his hands in his pockets and glancing around him. “Or do you want to wander the city beforehand?” Elena realized with a start that she could do just that. Her mother was upstairs in the inn’s room, sulking and ignoring her, and Elena was free to do anything she wanted.

“Why are you standing there, smiling like a fool?” Ele asked, but his half-smile told her he was teasing.

“I’m not sure, really.” Elena admitted. “Everything seems so much safer now. The city seemed so hostile this evening but now it seems…inviting.”

“I beg pardon miss?” Nearby where the two of them stood, a tall man with a long black beard looked up from the bag he was tying.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t talking to…I was just…” Elena stammered.

“No worry miss. My sister’s a Stormtouched, an’ she talks to herself almost constantly.” The man said genially. He swung the bag onto his back and walked down the road, whistling briskly.

“I think I like this city.” Elena’s eyes felt swollen from the tears that had fallen earlier in the evening, but she smiled.

“Emotionally unstable.” Ele proclaimed. “That’s what you are. One minute you’re crying, the next you’re grinning, a body doesn’t know what to expect next.”

Elena smiled wider and punched towards him, and he stuck out his tongue as her fist passed through him.

“Next I want something to eat.” Elena indicated the direction they had come from. “If we find a pub on the Street of Yellow Artisans, there’s a chance we run into Arturo and Arta there.”

 


 

The street had been beautiful in the daytime, and the sun’s setting didn’t marr its beauty. Many of the shops were closed for the evening, but a large number of them still threw light from their windows out into the path. It hurt just a bit, seeing the large bright windows of Master De Luca’s studio so soon after she had been rejected from it, but it would hopefully be worth it to meet Arturo and Arta.

Elena knew the city from her Aunt’s stories before she passed away, and from any travellers who had passed through her small hometown of Carpi, but she had no idea what kind of city food she would like to try. She did know that Stone Hand’s pub was on the Street of Yellow Artisans, and it only took walking past a few houses before she found it.

Elena was pleasantly surprised the moment she entered Stone Hand’s Pub. The tavern in Carpi was dim, loud, dirty, and cramped the few times she had frequented it in the past, and she had been bracing herself for much the same thing. Instead she was met with a charming little interior with high ceilings, well lit with candles on the walls and lanterns hanging from the ceilings, and a fire that burned in the grate despite how hot the day had been. The short wooden tables and benches around the room were made of a red wood that made the whole room feel warmer, and behind the bar a very fat woman with a very friendly smile gave her a wave.

“Halloo dearie! New to the Stone Hand?” The fat woman asked. “Just take a seat anywhere ‘bouts, there’s plenty of room. You’ll be wanting some food and some drink? Twenty lire, and I’ll bring them to your table.” Elena opened her mouth to respond to the woman’s questions, but she had already bustled into a room behind the bar, leaving her a little off-balance at the forward manner of the innkeep.

Although there were a fair amount of people in the pub, it was almost quiet, only the low murmur of friendly conversation or low chuckles at jokes.

“A little too warm, but not bad.” Ele commented. “Shall we sit in the corner over there, in case they come in here to eat?” Trained by a lifetime of pretending she couldn’t see him, Elena didn’t respond at all, but she made her way to the small table in the corner, sitting on the end so that Ele could sit by the wall and no one would unknowingly sit on him.

Although that’s not a problem, anymore. She realized with a start. They can see him. And Arta is an echo too.

“It’s going to be hard to adjust, this whole ‘Echo’ thing.” She murmured. “Being able to talk to you in public, having other people see you.”

“How do you think I feel?” Ele leaned back against the wall and eyed the rest of the room. “I don’t always like being invisible, but I’m beginning to appreciate how good I had it now that I know other people can see me.”

The fat woman made her way towards their table with a large tankard and a hot pie, which she set down in front of Elena with zeal.

“Normally I makes people come up to the bar to get their food, but you seem in such need of it, and you’re new and all, so I thought to me’self I’d bring your food to you. Tuck in now, put some meat on your bones.” The innkeeper chuckled as Elena blushed and ducked her head.

The pie was savory and meaty, full of flavor, and the drink some kind of warm ale. In the slightly too-warm room Elena would’ve prefered something cooler, but it slaked her thirst and that was enough. She was so lost in her meal that she didn’t notice the new presence by the table until Ele cleared his throat nervously.

“Um. Elena, we have company.” He said, his voice carefully controlled. Elena glanced up from her meal to find a woman with startling green eyes standing just a few feet away, holding a pie and a tankard of her own. The woman wore the black metal mask of a Rhetor, and that fact startled Elena so badly that it took her a few moments to recognize her; it was the woman from earlier, the one who had winked at Ele.

“She’s not allowed to communicate by signs.” Elena hadn’t noticed the Rhetorguard standing a pace or so away until he spoke. The black metal armor plating seemed to soak in the warm light of the room, only shining in the thin silver design that matched the Rhetor’s mask. He was large, though Elena couldn’t tell if it was muscle or bulky armor that gave that impression. His neat goatee and heavy eyebrows lent to the effect of presence and size, which made his friendly smile seem almost out of place. “I believe she wants to join you at your table, if you have no objections.”

“Of course you can join us.” Ele said quickly. Elena shot him a glare. A pair of green eyes was all well and good, and she couldn’t stop him from being attracted to whomever he pleased, but to invite a Rhetor to eat with them was pushing that crush a little too far.

The woman’s eyes wrinkled in the corners, her smile hidden by the black metal mask, but she made no move. Ele had put Elena in an awkward place; now that the woman knew they had no reason to deny her she could hardly say no.

“Yes, by all means.” Elena motioned to a seat across from them, and the Rhetor put her food down and sat primly, her Rhetorguard settling in the seat next to her.

“I have to say I’m probably just as glad of the company as she is.” The guard gave a nod to Elena as he untied a set of complex knots at the mouth of his pouch. “I’m sure you know how most people feel about her kind, and since I have to stay at her side I sometimes feel like a pariah myself. My name is Kelf, it’s good to make your acquaintance.”

Elena had so many questions she didn’t know which to ask first, the foremost of which was how he could talk about the Rhetor so casually as if she wasn’t there. If the woman was offended at being called a pariah she didn’t show it, meekly turning her head to expose the back of her neck to him.

“Ask what her name is.” Ele instructed, and Elena sighed.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Kelf.” She said politely. “And what is the name of your…companion?” Kelf finally removed a twisted black key, it’s haft made of a cast iron and its teeth extremely fine and bent at exact odd angles. Elena wasn’t sure from a glimpse at it, but it might’ve been Machinator-made, and it was almost certainly not duplicatable. He carefully inserted the key into the mask’s slot that lay lengthwise across the back of the woman’s neck.

“I’m afraid we can’t really know that.” He said, unlocking the mask with a small click. “She can’t tell us about her family or her name, that’d involve communication.” As he spoke, Kelf fiddled with connectors at the back of the nameless woman’s mask, and as he finished, the mask fell off and onto the table with a dull and heavy sound.

Elena was on her feet and backed against the wall before the sound had even died away.

“W-what are you doing? Why…how…” She gasped. The Rhetor was holding her gaze, looking up at her with a sad smile. Without her mask, she looked almost human, a beautiful girl whose feelings were hurt, but who took on the offense as if it was to be expected.

“There’s no need to worry.” Kelf chuckled. “How exactly did you think Rhetors eat? They can’t exactly suck food through the mask now can they?”

“I just- I didn’t think of it.” Elena’s heart was still pounding, and she wasn’t sure she felt up to sitting back down with the woman.

“Elena, you’re being incredibly rude.” Ele admonished. Easy for him to say; whatever an echo was Elena was sure he wouldn’t be in any danger from her. “If you don’t mind miss, I’ll call you Emerald, because of your beautiful eyes.”

The Rhetor flashed a wide smile at Ele again, and Elena felt an ugly twist in her gut at the sight. Without her mask the “Emerald’s” smile was even prettier, and the fact that Ele was so enthralled by her wasn’t doing much to help Elena’s confidence in the situation.

“What if she runs off? Or what if she starts talking before you can get the mask back on?” She demanded of Kelf.

“If she makes a sound or a sudden move with her mask off, I don’t try to get the mask back on,” Kelf had seemed good-natured up until then, but his voice had taken on an air of deadly gravity, “I use this.” For the first time Elena noticed the knife that Kelf held, its blade thin and the metal dull. He was holding the blade against Emerald’s throat, gently enough that it didn’t cut skin, but firmly enough that the edge of the blade pressed into her skin.

“You’d just kill her?” Elena was too horrified for a moment to remember that she was frightened. “What if she sneezes? Or if someone bumps into her chair so it looks like she’s trying to run for a moment?”

“Then she dies.” Kelf replied simply.

“But that’s horrible!” Elena sat back down and leaned forward. “How is that fair, that Emerald should die because of a simple mistake? Doesn’t that bother you?” She directed her last question to Emerald. The woman raised her shoulders in a slight shrug, then began to dig into her savory pie.

“Just a few moments ago it sounded as if you wouldn’t mind her dying just for being her.” Kelf said sternly.

“But I didn’t…I…” Elena struggled for words.

“Nice, Elena.” Ele admonished.

“I apologize for my harshness.” Kelf sighed. “I just sometimes feel sorry for her, having to deal with the fear and suspicion every day of her life. I’ve been assigned Rhetors before who haven’t been nearly as well behaved as mine…what did she call you? ‘Emerald’?” He suddenly asked the woman. “Do you two know each other?” Emerald smiled, and shook her head one time. “You seemed to like it. Should I call you that?” Another smile, and a single nod. “Emerald, then.”

Elena felt oddly intrusive watching the odd exchange, the almost tenderness coming from the man who held a knife to her throat.

“You really care for her, don’t you?” She asked.

“It’s hard to spend every second of every day together and not care for that person.” Kelf replied. Elena glanced at Ele. Annoying as he sometimes could be, she could see what the man meant. She tried to imagine how much strength it would take, to hold a knife to his throat, knowing that at any moment she would have to decide to end his life.

“Would you really kill her?” She asked. Emerald nodded before Kelf could answer, and just for a moment the knife blade pressed a little bit harder against her neck.

“Only direct questions to you, you know the rules.” Kelf murmured, gently but firmly, and Emerald stopped nodding immediately.

“I would, in a heartbeat.” He replied to Elena. “I don’t think Emerald would hurt anyone, not for an instant. But smarter guards than me have been fooled by Rhetor in the past. It’s not up to me, and if a Rhetorguard lets his own feelings affect his judgement, there’s no use in him at all.”

Emerald reached out, slowly, and laid a hand across his on the table, a comforting gesture, and he smiled at her like a father would smile at his daughter. In that look was more affection and love than Elena had ever gotten from her mother.

The knife never left Emerald’s neck.


 

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15 responses

  1. Here we go, the second “vacation chapter”, which I hope isn’t code for “typo-riddled chapter” :)

    Once again I’ll be re-checking these chapters when I get back, so I hope my lovely readers be sure to let me know if you find anything wrong!

    Like

    2014-07-02 at 10:43 pm

  2. CaptainPedantic

    Thank you Ms. Rose, came from your orbital series (I’m an nsfw person) but stayed here becuase of the intriguing story, cryptic lore, and awesome writing. Keep it going!

    Like

    2014-07-03 at 4:28 am

    • I’m so glad to hear that even the nsfw people are intrigued! It’s always sort of a balancing act for me, writing enough smut and non-smut to keep both nsfw and sfw fans satisfied, so I’m always excited when I hear there’s some crossover :)

      Like

      2014-07-07 at 12:13 pm

  3. So when did they ever agree to meet at the Stone Hand?

    Like

    2014-09-01 at 7:42 pm

  4. Also, she’s eating after having stated she has no money to eat. She waited seemingly expecting Arturo, but never met them. All around, not very clear.

    Like

    2014-09-01 at 7:44 pm

    • Good catch! I actually made this change in my personal version, but must’ve forgotten to make the edit on the site.

      Like

      2014-09-03 at 11:47 pm

  5. Really neat dynamic here. I like that. It has me wondering though, what are the Rhetors’ function in society?

    Like

    2014-09-06 at 11:43 pm

    • On, also you use “an instant” twice in the last bit. Seems redundant.

      Like

      2014-09-06 at 11:44 pm

    • It’s true that many Stormtouched are given a leg up in their careers by their gifts, but I wouldn’t say Italozan society delegates a single function to each of them. An Artifex might make a wonderful accountant, or a Saggitari might have a love of fiddle playing. For a large number of Rhetor, their function in society is much the same as a Mortalis; they cook and clean and bake and drive carts and all sorts of things. The only thing Rhetors wouldn’t do in society that a normal person might would involve careers that require communication, or careers that they couldn’t do with a Rhetorguard at their side.

      Like

      2014-09-08 at 12:18 am

      • Awesome! I’ve seen too many settings that ignore this aspect, and it annoys me. Kudos for functioning society.

        Like

        2014-09-08 at 7:30 am

  6. The one thing that interests me is the personal aspect of holding a knife to her neck. Here’s me getting all tangled in your world already, but if Machinators are able to make intricate keys (and I bet masks) for Rhetors, I’m damn confident that they can make some sort of neck-bladey-leash. So assuming that that’s completely possible, I’m reading into this personal touch as… I dunno – a small amount of slack to let Rhetors (or just this one in particular) feel human, or maybe something guards have to do to remind themselves of the responsibility they have (you’re less likely to forget Miss Emerald Eyes can something-communicate-kill you to death when you’re actively set to cut her throat).

    Fun touch! :D

    Liked by 1 person

    2015-04-13 at 1:27 pm

  7. Zephy669

    Oh, LOVED when Elena made the observation that the Rhetor had more love in her eyes for Kelf than her mother ever had for Elena, even though the knife was RIGHT AT HER THROAT. It was a very powerful image and very visceral. Now I feel EVEN MORE for Elena and her predicament. I’m rooting for her to amend her relationship with her mother or at least get a better mother figure.

    The banter between Elena and Ele is great too. And I feel like there’s some jealousy there with Ele and Emerald and you didn’t use the word jealousy to convey that. Instead you showed it. Well freaking done!

    I am reading a lot of serials these days as I try to break into the community myself: this one is my favourite to read so far.

    Like

    2015-05-25 at 10:37 pm

  8. DyeNoSaw

    I’m very picky when it comes to reading fiction, whether it’s an ink and paper book that I’ve paid for or a free online web serial, I’ll stop reading and never come back if I don’t find something that shows it has promise early on.

    The previous chapters were good, nothing is wrong with the writing and what little we’ve seen is interesting but there was still a chance that I’d stop reading since there was nothing amazing. However this chapter has ensured that I’m not going to put this down (can I say that if it’s not a physical book?). The emotions are conveyed so well that it shows me that not only can you write (in the sense that you can put words in the right order and make sense) but you can actually write well.

    Saying this if you were to go full retard and do something completely nonsensical next chapter would make me stop reading, but I’ve got a feeling that won’t be the case.

    FAKE EDIT: Also really liking Ele. There’s something childish about his exicitement and joy in the city that I really like.

    Like

    2016-07-10 at 4:05 pm

    • Aw, thank you so much for your kind words!

      (Man are you gonna be disappointed, the next chapter is utter crap ^_^ (I kid, I kid (maybe)))

      Like

      2016-07-11 at 12:43 am

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