A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

4.5 – Et Ora Magnes {Lodestones and Mouths}

“You killed someone?” despite herself, Elena took a step backwards. She was almost sure she had misunderstood, but the fiery look in Lorenzo’s eyes did look a little unhinged.

About to be a killer,” he repeated, already turning back to his papers as he entered the room, “future tense, and probably in the third person since I’m not going to be the one doing the actual killing but that doesn’t exactly give me the moral high ground does it?” He answered before Elena could even open her mouth, “it doesn’t, that would be ridiculous, it would be like calling a General innocent since he never actually spilt blood. I’d never spill blood but Elema the blood is still on my hands! Inventing a better killing method makes me a killer!”

His words, combined with the rambling and distractedness, made Elena relax just a little bit, visions of lodestone-related murders slowly subsiding. She closed the door and blinked sleepily.

“Please, come in,” she said a bit wryly.

“Ah, yes thank you,” Lorenzo flipped one of the pages he carried over, and another fell off the stack and gently floated to the ground, “Lore can you grab that please?” Lore was looking over a smaller stack of his own notes, but he bent down and grabbed at the fallen page, apparently too absorbed in his reading to realize that his hand was passing through the paper. Elena watched Lorenzo for a long moment.

“You wanted something Lorenzo? Blood on your hands?” she prompted.

“Hmm? Oh, yes! I was going over the diagrams you drew, the workings for the bow,” Lorenzo explained, “and it caught my eye, namely the tensile strength of the string. Lore pointed out the low velocity at which the arrow leaves the bow caught my eye.”

“‘Low’ as a relative term, of course,” Lore broke in, “sufficient velocity to cause permanent damage naturally, but in our work with lodestones we encounter forces faster than an arrow regularly.”

“You make lodestones move faster than an arrow…at the workstation right next to mine?” Elena tried to remember how often she had worked next to Lorenzo over the past several weeks.

“It’s mostly theoretical work that Lore is talking about, but that’s not the point,” Lorenzo said. “The point is that we instantly knew we could do better! Inserting bars of lodestone into the arrow was easy, as was triggering the  lodestone-laden arrows to activate as soon as they’re fired. No the truly clever thing was combining them with some work we’ve been doing recently with sympathetic lodestones…the applications are awe-inspiring!”

“What are sympathetic lodestones?”

“Wait!” Ele interrupted as Lorenzo opened his mouth to answer, “I have the feeling we’re about to get far too much information that we won’t understand and really don’t need to know. Lorenzo, maybe just tell us what you can do with sympathetic lodestones, not what they are.”

“What can’t we do is a better question,” Lore said, “the sympathetic magnetic force is independent of proximity up to a max range!” He looked at them expectantly, seemingly unphased by Elena and Ele’s blank looks.

“We don’t know what that means,” Ele said.

“The lodestone effects that normally happen across a distance of a few inches can be applied within a few hundred yards,” Lorenzo explained.

“I still don’t understand what that means,” Elena admitted, “please, I haven’t been sleeping very well, and I don’t even know what time it is…pretend I don’t know anything about lodestones and explain it again.”

“Arrows that the archer can curve through the air towards their target, or can fire faster than any crossbow. Arrows that you can pull back towards you and re-use. The invention of lodestones changed navigation technology forever; I think I’m on the cusp of changing archery in the same way!”

“That sounds like…an amazing project to show off to De Luca,” Elena said a little wistfully.

“No! It’s horrible!” Lorenzo waved the handful of papers at her. “How many people will die because of these advances? An archer with a better bow is an archer who can take life faster. How can I live with myself if I am responsible for the deaths my creations cost?”

“Well,” Elena sat on the bed and mused, trying not to drift off to sleep, “you’re just advancing technology. Isn’t that what you wanted to do with lodestones? Just like using them for navigation?”

“Navigation has helped humanity, this will help cull it! I don’t want my first project, the one that defines me as a Machinator, to be a better method of death! No Elena, I came here for a reason, and I’m set on that reason.” He thrust the papers towards her, “take them.”

“What? What am I going to do with them?”

“If I keep them, I’ll be tempted to work on it. This was your project, you came up with the designs, it wasn’t fair of me to steal the idea from you in the first place.”

Elena tilted her head to look at the equations on the top sheet of paper, all of them completely unintelligible.

“Lorenzo you don’t have to do that. All I ‘came up with’ was copying down some data from books in De Luca’s library, anyone could’ve done that.”

“But it’s your project,” Lorenzo pleaded, “and as long as I can remind myself of that I can avoid working on it, because I don’t want to take it from you.”

“I just…see you talking to Leanarda and Mella so often, I’m a bit surprised that’s a concern of yours,” Elena said carefully.

“Hmm? What do you mean?”

“The conversation from earlier today,” Lore reminded his Stormtouched quietly.

“Oh! Yes Leanarda said something about me taking the project from you…to be honest I hadn’t even realized that’s what I was doing until she pointed it out. It’s a stupid way to work,” Lorenzo waved one hand vaguely, “you can’t get any real work done when you think like that.”

“I appreciate the fair play Lorenzo, but I’ve already decided to move on from the archery idea. Besides, it sounds like you can do a lot more with the idea than I can.”

“But the blood on my hands! Becoming a killer-”

“Now listen, you,” Elena said sternly. She wasn’t used to scolding, and it felt strange on her lips, but she tried to channel her mother and continued doggedly, “you just told me you were about to revolutionize archery. If you can improve something that mankind has been stuck on for so long, you can find some way to make the technology non-lethal.”

“Non-lethal? Who ever heard of non-lethal archery?”

“There are several ways to be a non-lethal archer! Just look at Balance or Cross!”

“Elena!” Ele snapped the warning from the corner.

“What’s a balance or cross?” Lorenzo asked, and Elena swallowed nervously. She had forgotten that the provisional garzoni knew nothing about the true workings of the studios, and thus would know nothing about the code-names of Niccolo or Belloza.

“It’s a…just a few non-lethal archery practises,” she said, “my point is you shouldn’t just dismiss it out of hand before you’ve even given it a try.”

“How would I go about designing a non-lethal arrow?” Lorenzo’s tone was somewhere between scorn and panic, “how do you make a projectile that moves at those speeds without piercing flesh?”

“It would have to be large and rounded on one end,” Lore scoffed, “like a giant teardrop.”

“Exactly! I mean, sure, the distribution of force would make an excellent blunt weapon, but how ridiculous would it be?” Lorenzo added.

“A blunt weapon in sync with its user’s bow, unlike our current arrow design which could be reused by anyone…”

“And yes, that shape would make the sympathetic magnetics easier to pack into one end, instead of having to distribute the force throughout…but the heft of the projectile would change…”

“Not that the heft would make much difference given the magnetics’ effect.”

“…it would solve the tailspin problem…”

“…we’ll need a new kind of quiver…”

Elena watched them with a sort of jealousy as the pair began conferring with each other. She couldn’t feel it in any way, but it was clear that their Storm had picked up the idea and run with it. It was a good feeling to know that she had helped, she only wished she could help herself as easily.

Above her bed, the bell jingled gently, informing her that someone had just entered the kitchens. She turned to the window in surprise, and sure enough the first shafts of morning light were shining through it. Groaning, she turned back to the pair.

“I have to get ready to help in the kitchens, do you both need any more help?” The pair was so deep in discussion, their heads almost touching, that they might not have even heard her. “HEY!”

“Hmm? Oh! Thank you for your help Elena. You’re a good um…a good garzona. I’ll remember this, I promise you.”

“Of course, Lorenzo,” Elena smiled, “why were you up so early in the morning?”

“Oh, it’s morning already? I’ve been working on this bow idea all night…”

“You haven’t slept yet?”

“I um…I forgot.”




“I’m not saying it was the wrong thing to do, I’m just saying that the other provisional garzoni wouldn’t have helped you in the same situation.” Ele stood with his face to the wall as Elena pulled on her uniform, the rainsluice shower had helped wake her up, but it also left her damp and cold in the late-autumn chill of her rooms.

“The full garzoni have helped me,” Elena said, “they’re my friends, and I don’t see any reason I can’t be friends with Lorenzo and help him too.”

“He could be scheming along with Leanarda and Mella, how is that for a reason?”

“And that’s why he offered to give me my designs back? I’m dressed, you can turn around.”

“Damnit Elena I hate how often we have this conversation,” Ele had a frown on his face when he turned around, “you’re always so eager to trust and it’s going to get you into trouble.”

“When you’re actually correct in your pessimistic paranoia I’ll actually start listening to you.” Elena stuck out her tongue and shut her bedroom door behind her emphatically, smiling when he stepped through it with an annoyed look. Without turning to watch him she made her way down the short hall to the kitchen.

“I was right about Leanarda. I said she was trouble the very first day we met…her…” Ele trailed off as they entered the kitchens, and following his gaze Elena saw why.

An attractive man with blonde hair and dark circles beneath his eyes sat at the table in the center of the kitchen, a half eaten apple in his hand. He looked so familiar and yet so unfamiliar at the same time that Elena had a hard time placing him even though she knew she had met him before. At her and her Echo’s entrance he looked up and silently met their eyes. His eyes were a vibrant blue that went well with his hair, and it was the eyes that finally drove home that she knew this man.

She had just never seen him alone without his mask before.

“G-good morning Garnet,” Elena said hesitantly. As soon as she’d said the words a horrible feeling twisted in her gut; the thought that he could answer her out loud and there was nothing she could do about it. Instead, as he did every morning, Garnet inclined his head carefully, once, not conveying anything beyond an acknowledgement of her greeting. She knew she was supposed to be doing something, but she seemed locked into place.

It was the worst possible time to ask questions, but suddenly it was all she could do not to ask any one of the many that had sprung into her head. Besides the obvious ones like “where is Erik?” or “how are you here alone and unsupervised?”, there were stupid trivial questions like “why doesn’t your face have tan-lines?” or “if you can’t remove your mask, does that mean you’ve never kissed a girl?” She blamed his handsome face for that last one, but there was nothing playful or flirtatious about his manner; he simply sat there, eating the apple, watching her.

“We’re going to go get something we forgot, Garnet,” Ele recovered faster than Elena did, “we’ll be right back, and just-”

“Right, that’s taken care of, you almost finished with your breakfast?” Erik entered the kitchen, wiping his hands on the cloth shirt that stuck out of his Rhetorguard’s breastplate, but when he saw Elena and Ele standing there he froze. “What…what are you doing here?” He asked guiltily.

“What were you doing NOT here?” Ele asked. The corner of Garnet’s mouth tilted up in a smile, but Erik of course couldn’t hear him.

“We came in early to help with breakfast,” Elena stammered, “sorry.”

“Why are you apologizing? Where the hell was he? He just left Garnet here without a mask? What was he thinking?”

“We just came in early, and I had to use the restroom…I figured,” Erik shrugged, “no one was around for him to talk to, I thought it’d be fine…he didn’t say anything to you, did he?” Elena shook her head. “Good, good, I didn’t think so, he’s a good Rhetor, that’s why I trusted him to…look, I’d take it kindly if you didn’t tell Rolf about this. He thinks I’m a poor Rhetorguard as it is…”

“I WONDER WHY?” Ele yelled.

“…and even though this didn’t hurt anyone, I doubt he’d see it that way. He’d turn me in to the Guardhouse, and they’d be even less understanding. Chances are they might even strip me of my armor. I’m not much of what you’d call a skilled worker, I don’t…” Erik fumbled with his gloves, as if he didn’t know what to do with his hands, “…don’t know what I’d do if that happened. I’ve got a niece on the city outskirts, and if I didn’t have the money to take care of her…” He trailed off awkwardly, seeming torn between the desire to avoid their gaze and to look at them guiltily. After a few moments he walked over to Garnet with knife drawn, holding it to the man’s neck as he finished his apple.

“As far as reasons go to not turn him in, ‘I shouldn’t be trusted with a Rhetor’ is a pretty bad reason,” Ele said. Elena looked back and forth between Garnet and Erik, the former continuing to meet her gaze as he chewed, the latter nervously watching her out of the corner of his eye.

“What d’you say Miss Elena?” Erik prodded.

“I…I think I’d better start with the cream so I can have it done by the time Cook gets here,” Elena said.

“Elena! Are you kidding me?” Ele said, “he’s a Rhetorguard! He has one job, to guard Rhetors! It doesn’t matter that Garnet behaves himself, just how badly does a person have to mess up before you’ll treat them even the slightest bit forcefully?”

Elena ignored him. She could’ve responded; Erik had been around the Stormtouched garzoni enough to be used to them and their Echoes, but she wasn’t entirely sure how to defend her decision. She wouldn’t be responsible for stripping Erik of his armor, especially when no one had been hurt. Whoever his niece was and whyever she needed money, Elena wouldn’t be the one to remove Erik’s means of supporting her. Besides, having two Rhetorguard in the studio made her feel safer, even though she now knew that she had never been in danger from Cross in the first place.

“I’d give you the ‘you’re going to get in trouble being so trusting’ speech, but for some reason it seems like I’ve already used that today…oh yes, it was just a few minutes ago. Is it going to take a disaster for you to actually listen to me?”

It felt like a long time since Elena had pretended Ele didn’t exist, but she slipped into the old habit easily, pulling the bowl of cream from the ice chest and settling down at the table across from Garnet, who was carefully putting his mask back on.

He worries too much. I would rather take a risk and keep friends around me than be as paranoid as him and not have anyone, she whipped the cream a little more ferociously than she needed to. If it was up to him, I wouldn’t have any friends, I’d be suspicious of everyone I ever talked to, but oh at least I would be “safe”. How much danger could I really be in, tucked away in the most prestigious studio in Milia? What is he so terrified will happen to me?

She glared at Ele, who was too busy glaring at Erik to notice.

What’s the worst that can happen?


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25 responses

  1. Alternate title: “Why would you ever ask that question…”


    2014-10-12 at 9:29 pm

    • Jat

      See, it’s questions like “what’s the worst that can happen” that just cry out for answers.


      2015-03-30 at 1:49 am

  2. Ohhhh, the lack of savvy here is breathtaking. It’s like she’s TRYING to bring down the wrath of God on herself, now.

    I alternately want to protect Elena from he world and box her ears. It’s a confusing mix.


    2014-10-12 at 9:39 pm

    • Jat

      I’m a parent. Your reaction to Elena makes sense to me. By the way, I’m a fan of your story “The Gods are Bastards.”


      2015-03-30 at 1:52 am

  3. Bobby

    Garnet… Garnet, I’m sorry, you seem like a nice guy, and I’m sure it can be pleasant to have more freedom… But that guy is criminally stupid and he really shouldn’t be left alone with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    2014-10-12 at 11:23 pm

  4. Tempting fate there. Wow.

    Also, who is saying the line beginning “why are you apologizing?…” I figured it out, but it could be more clear.


    2014-10-13 at 3:19 am

  5. zeuseus

    oh dear. Erik = worst man at his job ever.

    And now I really want to know more about Rhetors. Obviously they are stormtouched who have some sort of mind affecting verbal skills, but I want more details, even some references to noodle incidents or something.

    Liked by 1 person

    2014-10-13 at 3:52 am

    • It seems the’re powers involve the art of song and stories. Even hand communication is limited, so it appears that they can transmit their powers via writing.

      I’m seeing artists like our two Artifex, The senior who can see through the eyes of her paintings and the guy who can tell the future through his, and I’m thinking Rhetors are like that too but with words.

      Maybe one could speak names and they’d drop dead, or list villages and they’d be burned up in wars. A song about the king descending into madness followed by a reign of decadence?

      In contrast, songs of happiness that bring the listener joy, a play which gives all participants food fortune in childbirth, or a list of groceries that will never go out of date if bought in that order by the reader.

      I can imagine plenty of speaking powers that would be nasty enough to justify a rule of “Shut them up quickly”

      I’d argue that’s why they don’t have shadows or echos; the communication is their pwer


      2014-10-13 at 8:02 am

      • Isa Lumitus

        My assumption on rhetori is a bit different, but I might be lacking some key information. To make a D&D reference, I’ve been assuming that they can cast suggestion at will. Or to put it another way, they have something like Lelouch’s geass, from Code Geass.

        That sort of mind control is the only thing I can think of to justify how frightened other people are of them. Though I’m inclined to think that if the rhetori have that kind of power, the civilization in this story is foolish to keep them alive.

        And I assumed that the reason they have no echoes is because the echoes of rhetori are killed. Ele got knocked out, which proves that they can be harmed. It’s not much of a stretch to figure that echoes can be killed. Possibly as an attempt to hamper their power.


        2015-07-23 at 5:47 pm

  6. Whosian

    Elena’s only job in the kitchens is to whip cream? Surely working in the kitchens entails more than just whipping cream.

    Liked by 1 person

    2014-10-13 at 5:05 am

    • Sometimes Elena whips half-and-half. :)


      2015-04-13 at 9:51 pm

  7. DeNarr

    Can we please get a description of what the Rhetors actually do? This is getting ridiculous to the point of pulling me out of the story. If Elena didn’t know what they did, then I would be fine. But they obviously know, so there is no reason to keep the readers guessing.


    2014-10-13 at 12:00 pm

    • DeNarr: They have vocal mind control. I literally figured that out the first chapter they were introduced. Rhetor is two letters short of rhetoric. Rhetoric is another word for speech and arguments. Therefore their power is voice based. They wear masks and are feared. Obviously that voice of theirs is cause for concern. And perhaps their super powered arguments can convince people to do whatever the Rhetor wants.

      Don’t rag on the author if you yourself haven’t figured out something like this.

      Liked by 1 person

      2014-10-13 at 1:08 pm

      • DeNarr

        While I’d agree your speculation makes sense, it is still speculation. The fact that the others have been explicitly described, while the Rhetors have not, means that it is an intentional thing being done. It is obvious that is has something to do with them speaking, yes. What’s not obvious is what happens. Your guess of mind control is just a guess without story/author confirmation. I’m not even arguing you’re wrong, I’m just saying that it’s annoying to have to guess at something that the main character obviously knows.


        2014-10-13 at 3:22 pm

        • Bobby

          “The fact that the others have been explicitly described, while the Rhetors have not, means that it is an intentional thing being done.”
          Not quite true. It seems (judging from Pietro’s comment in chapter 1.4) that Lanisti are the melee weapon users to the Sagittari ranged weapon users, but they haven’t been explicitly described any more than the Rhetors.

          Actually, does anyone recognize the origin of the word “Lanisti”?


          2014-10-13 at 8:42 pm

          • DeNarr

            True. I actually forgot about them, since we haven’t really encountered one. I actually thought they were master soldier-trainers or something. If there was a Lanisti that the Garzoni were regularly interacting with, and in particular reacting to their power, then I would similarly think it ridiculous if we were never told their power.


            2014-10-14 at 8:54 am

            • Bobby

              Yeah, there’s a pretend Lanisti in Elena’s birth town, and what’s-her-name says she feels bad for the people overspending on a “fake Lanisti’s fake training”, so I originally thought they had something to do with teaching. But then in the next chapter Pietro says “we need no Lanisti when we can hire a swordsman”, implying they’re functionally identical to skilled swordsmen… or not. I just realized it could imply that a Lanisti can train swordsmen, so having a Lanisti is useless when you can just hire swordsmen who are already trained.

              Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, the only thing we actually need to know to understand what’s going on is that a Rhetor’s power is dangerous and tied to communication. The only reaction to their power we’ve seen is “it must not happen, ever”. The particulars (Do they mind control people? Do they send out sonic blasts? Is their every word a prayer to summon Cthulhu?) don’t particularly matter until they actually come up in the story. So I empathize with your distress, but I can’t say I share it or even really understand it except as a purely intellectual exercise.

              That said, they totally have mind control. I mean, all Stormtouched are supernaturally skilled at some sort of human endeavor. I’m having trouble thinking of something dangerous related to communication that ISN’T “they’re so good at it they can essentially brainwash people”.


              2014-10-14 at 6:29 pm

              • DeNarr

                Could also be that they have a seer-like ability similar to the Cthaeh from Name of the Wind. It seems to me that it would be unrealistic to capture and muzzle them if their ability was something that was immediately dangerous, like mind-control or sonically melting people. However, if they possessed information that was too dangerous to get out, then that would make sense for why they are not allowed to communicate, even via non-verbal means.

                Also, if it was mind control, I would expect them to wonder if Garnet has already mind-controlled his guard, causing him to be so lazy.


                2014-10-14 at 11:50 pm

                • Well I definitely don’t intend to be frustrating to my readers! The thing is, I don’t really explicitly state *any* powers. There’s no point at which Elena says “hmm, Saggitari are good archers!” for example. In Twisted Cogs, we encounter powers as they’re used, which is why we don’t yet know what Lanisti do, or what Rhetors do, or what Leanarda does, or how Niccolo’s power works.

                  I really am sorry if that pulls you out of the story, but I also don’t really plan on changing my writing style in that way. I hope you understand!


                  2014-10-16 at 12:08 am

    • It’s pretty obvious.


      2014-10-13 at 1:30 pm

      • panster

        Wildbow reads this too?! lol I follow twisted cogs and Pact

        Good chapter, as always!


        2014-10-13 at 4:32 pm

  8. Love how you’re building tension with this story. Can’t wait to see what happens next!


    2014-10-14 at 11:25 pm

  9. Oh no. She asked The Question. Guess we’re about to find out…..


    2014-11-16 at 4:27 am

  10. Ohhh myyyyy Goooood – Erik is the WORST at his job! I like how Garnet’s not taking advantage of this at all (I’m glad one of them’s responsible), but even with as little as I know about these guys, this is a huge problem! D:

    Tee-hee. It’s awesome. :D


    2015-04-13 at 9:49 pm

  11. >what’s the worst that could happen?

    shouldn’t that question be followed by idly considering terrible things that could happen? ol’ blue eyes bides his time with his lazy guard and one day begins crooning and enslaves the entire yellow house. from this base of operations he quickly manages to gain control of the other colors and the city of milia, and makes a run for the crown. the entire city is firebombed to prevent the rhetor’s spread.

    or he sneezes and accidentally lobotomizes everyone within a hundred yards by hitting the right frequencies to curdle some neocortex.

    since rhetori don’t openly practice their art, i’m sure the range and extent of powers are not fully understood (especially by our leetle garzona). if we are imagining the worst, we can assume, at the very least, unlimited control or total destruction of everyone within speaking range.


    2015-08-28 at 8:35 pm

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