A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

1.2 – Secundo Itinere {A Second Tour}

Niccolo, Niccolo, Niccolo.

It was ridiculous that Elena’s heart was pounding in her ears, even more ridiculous that his name ran through her mind with every heartbeat. They had only been apart for a week, how pathetic was it that she was so excited? She didn’t ask out loud, because she was sure Ele would be more than happy to inform her.

“You’re drooling a bit,” her Echo said, as if reading her mind. Elena put a hand to her mouth, horrified, until she realised that he had been teasing. She didn’t deign to give him a reply, instead opening the door and trudging out into the snow that had been steadily dusting Mila for the past few hours.

When she had waited outside of those gates a week ago, the quiet of a snow covered Milia had seemed terrifying and lonely. Now it just felt quiet and peaceful, the rooftops and ground pristine and twinkling beneath the morning sun.

“Elena!” Niccolo called from the gate, and all of a sudden she was overcome with shyness. Isadora had called him her “boyfriend”, but Elena suddenly realized that she didn’t know if he felt the same way about her that she did about him. Sure he had kissed her, that night on the rooftop that felt like years ago, but that could’ve been nothing more than tension before showing day…

Elena opened the gate for Niccolo to enter, then stood awkwardly hugging herself until he had entered and she closed the gates again.

“Hi there, Fabera,” Niccolo grinned.

“Hi there, Sagittari,” Elena smiled.

“Well…that was anticlimactic.” Nicci said in a stage whisper to Ele.

“Ah, so Niccolo has been mooning around like a child with his first crush too?” Ele said.

“Yeah, it’s been pretty bad, but I should probably let him keep this casual-macho thing going on so Elena doesn’t know how much he’s missed her.”

“Yeah, it’s only polite,” Ele agreed, “that’s why I’m not mentioning how I can tell whenever Elena is thinking about Niccolo ’cause she blushes and stares off into space.”

“Honestly,” Niccolo said, “do you two even know how to talk without being snide?”

“They wouldn’t know, they’d have to try it first,” Elena made a face at Ele.

“I have missed you though,” Niccolo admitted.

“I’ve missed you too,” Elena hadn’t had any trouble talking with Niccolo back at the studio, but now it was harder to figure out what to say, how to act. “Do you um…do you want a tour of the studio?”

“I’d love one.” Niccolo held out a hand, and after a moment’s hesitation Elena took it in hers. Even in the cold of the courtyard, the warmth of his hand seemed to travel all the way up her arm and into her heart.

 

***

 

“It’s…a little bit messy,” Elena said apologetically as she opened the door to the dorm, “a tiny bit.”

“A tiny bit? It’s a disaster,” Dolce said from her bunk, where she was combing out her long black curls. “I’d say it was unusual, but that’d be a lie. ‘lo Elena.” Now that Elena looked around at the mess of clothing and supplies on the floor and desk she was growing steadily more embarrassed. She quickly changed the subject with introductions.

“Niccolo, this is Dolce, a fellow DaRose garzona. Dolce, this is my…um…” Elena shot a glance at Niccolo. She had no clue what to call him, and the pause became more awkward by the millisecond, “…this is Niccolo. We know each other from De Luca’s studio.”

“Nice to meet you, Elena’s ‘friend’,” Dolce smirked. “Isadora would’ve liked to meet you too, but I think she’s gone out into the city to get a bite to eat.”

“Lovely to meet you too.” Niccolo said, glancing around with a good natured smile. Elena kicked a discarded undershirt beneath her bed, thoroughly regretting bringing him here when the room was in this state. “Your room isn’t that bad, I’ve seen worse,” Niccolo reassured her, “At least it’s not full of little wood shavings like Frederica’s.”

“But then, from what I hear, you don’t have to share your room with your fellow garzoni,” Dolce said. Elena didn’t know the girl well enough to tell whether there was bitterness in the statement or not, but either way the comment made her a bit uncomfortable.

“If it makes you feel any better Dolce, speaking as the one person who does share a room with him, it’s pretty miserable,” Nicci grinned. Dolce continued combing her hair, her gaze moving back and forth between Niccolo and Elena, not so much as pausing at Nicci. “Oh!” Nicci finally said, looking uncharacteristically flustered. “Oh…I get so used to interacting with Stormtouched, I sometimes forget some studios have Mortalis students…not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, I just…sorry.”

“Let’s move on,” Elena said quickly.

“Maybe I should count myself lucky she can’t hear me,” Nicci said as Elena led them from the dorm down the hall towards the boiler room. “If she could’ve that would’ve been awkward.”

“You mean almost as awkward as ‘this is my um Niccolo’?” Ele asked mischievously.

Elena looked down at her feet as she walked, mentally cursing Ele with every swear word she knew.

“It’s alright,” Niccolo said from behind her. “We didn’t really get a chance to talk, back at De Luca’s. About what exactly we are, what we’re doing.”

“Oh god, this is a conversation that I don’t think I can handle,” Nicci said. “Do you want to give me the abridged tour of this place Ele? The one that takes us away from the lovebirds?”

“Sure,” Ele said, “I had some things I wanted to talk to you about anyways.” Something about Ele’s tone of voice made Elena look up sharply, but his face was guardedly neutral.

What is it that those two get up to, when Niccolo and I are alone? she thought. And why is he so secretive of what she tells him?

She shook her head. Whatever mystery was there, she wouldn’t be discovering the answer today. As the two Echoes walked off in the opposite direction, she struggled to come up with a response to what Niccolo had said. For his part, the large Sagittari waited patiently at her side for her to say something.

“Whatever it is that we have, I like it,” Elena remembered the kiss on the rooftops beneath the stars, and tried to force herself not to blush, “we don’t have to label it or try to make it something…”

“I like what we have too,” Niccolo said. “I like it a lot. If you don’t want labels, we don’t have to do that, I just wanted to make sure…you were as happy with the situation as I am.”

“I’m as happy as I could possibly be! I mean…I’m not happy about being in two different studios,” Elena admitted. “It would be nice if we could see each other every day. Or even to know that you were just down the hall from me. And I guess it would be nice to-” Niccolo leaned down and kissed her, gently and suddenly. Elena’s train of thought melted away, and it was hard to catch hold of a new one. His hand was around her waist, which was good since her legs felt weak, and he pressed her so close to him that she felt the heat of his body through the layers of clothes and nightshirt she wore.

“You were saying?” He said quietly once their lips had parted.

“Oh…I…” Elena gasped, “I was saying I was happy as I could possibly be? I think?”

“Good. I think I’m even happier than that.”

“Uh oh, we’ve got some fraternizing with the enemy going on!” Sometime within the past few minutes Elena’s world had shrunk until it included only her and Niccolo, and she jumped when Arturo’s voice broke into her awareness. He approached from the direction of the boiler room, an overly bright smile on his face. “Just kidding, of course,” he said, “you’re Elena’s friend, so I guess fraternization is allowed there, even if you are a dirty De Luca garzoni. Niccolo, right?”

“Yeah, that’s me,” Niccolo leaned away and let Elena go, and she suppressed the urge to whimper with disappointment. “Elena has just been giving me a tour of the Studio. You know, showing me weak spots, points of entry, that sort of thing.”

“What? Niccolo-” Elena turned to him, startled, only to be met with a wide grin. “Oh…you’re teasing again.”

“By this point, the studios have ‘interacted’ with each other enough that there are no real secrets when it comes to layouts,” Arta said. “I think we’ve even got some blueprints of De Luca’s studio in the war room.”

“I should’ve known, anyways,” Elena gave Niccolo a look, “he teases me all the time.”

“That’s not very nice of him,” for a split second Arturo’s face darkened, but then the bright smile was back in place as if it had never been gone. “Do you mind if we join you? We can fill you in on parts of the studio that you might miss.”

If she was honest with herself, Elena just wanted time alone with Niccolo, but she thought back to the discussion she had with the girls earlier in the morning. If Arturo did have a crush on her, it was generous of him to want to spend time with her and Niccolo after finding out that they were together. It would be rude to deny him when he was trying to extend a hand of friendship.

“Of course you can join us. We were just about to go to the boiler room,” she said.

“It’s nice to meet you, by the way,” Niccolo said, “at least, to meet you like this. We’ve probably technically met before. You’d know me as Balance.”

“Aaah, I thought we had finally gotten to see the mysterious Foresight face-to-face,” Arta said.

“That mystery must persist, I’m afraid,” Niccolo said agreeably. “Just your friendly neighborhood archer. I’m sure you all must hate me here.”

“You’re hardly the worst we have to deal with,” Arta smiled, “it’s hard to be too angry at you when we have to deal with the likes of Cross.”

Cross is your least favorite Sagittari? Come on, what about Seashell?”

“Seashell may be bad in the moment, but with Cross I have to helplessly watch Arturo sick and vomiting the next day.”

“That’s more Slug’s fault than Cross’.”

“Oh I had plenty of blame for the both of them, don’t worry.”

“You’ve got some good points, but I can’t believe I think you’re both missing Deluge,” Arturo said.

“Oh my god, yes, Deluge,” Arta agreed.

Ah taeter, Deluge,” Niccolo wrinkled his nose, “okay, I agree, next to that asshole I suppose I’m positively pleasant to fight.”

Arturo, Arta, and Niccolo chuckled as Elena tried to keep up with the conversation.

“I really missed a lot as a provisional garzona, didn’t I?” She said, a little wistfully, “not knowing about all this stuff.”

“Don’t worry, Elena. We’ll get you out into the field soon enough,” Arta said, “and when we do, you’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”

Niccolo didn’t say anything, and when Elena looked at him sidelong he seemed deep in thought.

“This is the boiler room,” Arturo threw open the door and stepped inside. The cold that seemed to permeate the very stones of the studio melted away as soon as they stepped inside, and the low and steady sound of the boiler seemed to thrum in Elena’s bones.

“It’s like being inside a giant heart,” Niccolo said.

“It is the studio’s heart, that’s what makes it amazing,” Elena said, looking around. The room was dim, and the ceiling quite low, but it was large enough that all of the garzoni could gather comfortably and spread out their work. At the far end sat the boiler, a huge contraption of thick black metal that hummed as the gears within it turned. “The boiler uses the heat and steam as power to draw water from the city, and the warmth is spread out among the studio.”

“You might want to turn it up a bit more,” Niccolo said, “I like the temperature in this room, but the rest of the studio is a little cold.”

“That’s what separates De Luca from DaRose, I guess,” Arturo snapped, “we don’t have the money to throw at every little inconvenience and issue, so instead we have to find ways to work around it. When the boiler breaks and can only warm one room consistantly, we make the best of it and turn this place into the heart of the studio, a place for us garzoni to gather together and do our art.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply…” Niccolo said, “…I didn’t realize it was broken.”

“Hey no worries,” Arturo’s face suddenly softened. “It’s just kind of a sore spot, when you have to fight for the things you have, you know?”

“Arturo-” Arta said quietly, but before she could finish a figure stepped through the closed door of the boiler room.

“Ah, I didn’t realize anyone would be here this early,” Iso frowned. His short dark hair had a habit of falling into his face, making him seem even more guarded than his closed off expression did.

“Hello Iso! Elena, Arturo and I are showing Niccolo here around the studio. He’s visiting from De Luca’s.” Arta’s face had broken into a smile as soon as Iso had entered, and he returned the smile, the first one Elena had ever seen him give.

“If you’re leaving anyways, I’ll just read my book here then. You seem to have lost your Echo, Elena.”

“Ele and Nicci wandered off together a while ago,” Niccolo said, “what about your Stormtouched? Whose Echo are you?”

“I am no one’s Echo, Mister Niccolo.” Even in the warmth of the boiler room, Elena felt as if the temperature had dropped a few degrees. “I do not belong to anyone.” After a few moments of silence, the Echo relented, “but I do have the misfortune to be shackled to within a hundred feet of Isadora. One of the studio’s garzona here.” He offered no further comment, sitting down with his back to one of the room’s dark stone walls and opening his book.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend…again,” Niccolo said.

“He’s…touchy,” Elena whispered, ushering him out of the doorway. “He and Isadora…they don’t get along. I’ve been here a week and I haven’t seen them say a word to each other.” Niccolo was quiet until they had emerged into the hallway again.

“I can’t imagine what that would be like. What happened between them?”

“Neither of them will tell us,” Arta said. “They’ve been like that for years, for as long as we’ve known them. Whatever happened was clearly painful enough that neither of them want to talk about it. We don’t ask anymore.”

“Suddenly having a snarky Echo doesn’t seem nearly as bad,” Niccolo shot a glance over his shoulder as they departed.

 

***

 

“And that brings us back to the Dorms where we started,” Elena said, swinging Niccolo’s hand back and forth happily as the four of them walked down the hall.

“The place looks a lot nicer in the light, without people trying to thrash me,” Niccolo said lightly. Elena frowned, but Arta and Arturo both seemed to find it amusing.

“Don’t get used to it, Balance,” Arta smiled. “It’s going to be even harder for you De Lucans, now that we have Cog.”

“I have no doubt about that. I’ll bet Master DaRose was quite excited to have you, Elena.”

“I’m…sure he was too.” Despite herself, Elena looked away. It was the one thing she had hoped Niccolo wouldn’t bring up.

“You’re ‘sure’? Where you not there when he made the decision?”

“I um…I haven’t actually met Master DaRose yet,” Elena admitted.

Niccolo blinked.

“What do you mean you haven’t met him yet? He’s the Master of the Studio, he’s your patron, he’s supposed to be training you!”

“He’s just been very busy lately-” Elena began.

“Master DaRose has a lot of things that take up his time-” Arturo said at the same time.

“There’s a lot that Master DaRose has to handle…” Arta said. Niccolo looked back and forth between the three of them, until his gaze finally settled on Arturo.

“Master De Luca is just as busy…every master artisan is busy,” Niccolo narrowed his eyes, “but the students are an important part of the studio. I can’t see one of the Masters just ignoring one of their newest Stormtouched students. What’s going on?”

Elena bit her lip. It had seemed a bit odd to her that Master DaRose hadn’t shown any interest in her, but the other garzoni had seemed so casual about it that she hadn’t given it much thought.

“Different studios work different ways, Balance,” Arturo said condescendingly. “I’m sorry you have to find out that your precious De Luca methods aren’t universal.”

Elena saw Niccolo glance down the hallway, in the direction that had taken them past the large door of DaRose’s private rooms. His hand tightened on hers.

“Niccolo, what are you doing?” She asked.

“There’s something they’re hiding, something not right,” Niccolo said. “Normally I’d mind my own business, but this is important…I’m introducing you to Master DaRose.”

He started moving quickly, pulling her along firmly but without jerking her. Arta grabbed at him as he passed, her reflexes fast enough but her hand passing through his arm.

Maledicere umbrabilis digitos meos! Arturo stop them!” she shouted, but Niccolo and Elena had a head start, and Arturo took a few moments to get moving even after Arta warned him.

“What are you doing? You’re going to get me into trouble!” Elena was equal parts excited, nervous, terrified and intrigued as she ran a few steps behind Niccolo.

“You’ve never even met the man, how do you know what he wants or doesn’t want you to do?” Niccolo said over his shoulder. “Tell me you aren’t curious to know what’s really going on!”

She was curious, and the door was only a half-hallway away now. Niccolo skidded to a stop in front of DaRose’s private room, gave Elena and the pursuing Arturo and Arta a wink, and pounded on the heavy doors.


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If your room is as messy as Elena, Isadora, and Dolce’s, you should vote for Twisted Cogs on TWF as a show of solidarity!


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10 responses

  1. shit. shes not a garzoni, and darose doesnt know she’s there.

    Liked by 1 person

    2014-12-14 at 11:09 pm

  2. Hmm, I wonder if she’s going to fix the boiler.

    Like

    2014-12-14 at 11:50 pm

  3. Hamish

    Just a somewhat unrelated comment… I have reason to believe Da’Luca is a Rhetor.. mayyyybee

    Like

    2014-12-15 at 7:38 am

    • Anonymous

      No, rhetors don’t seem to have Echos, which DaLuca has. I think he’s an Artifex that can paint people’s thoughts and feelings based on his interlude chapter, which makes him powerful and useful, but also not someone you would want constantly hanging around the court in Milan.

      Like

      2014-12-15 at 5:45 pm

  4. She’s definitely going to fix the boiler, maybe a whole new HVAC. ;) Maybe DaRose’s studio isn’t led by a Master, but that name is just a front for a collective.

    Like

    2014-12-15 at 2:26 pm

  5. Oh, Elena. That poor fabera badly needs to take a level in people skills.

    Like

    2014-12-17 at 1:36 pm

  6. Eduardo

    The master is dead and the pupils run the place

    Liked by 1 person

    2014-12-17 at 7:36 pm

  7. Okay. You have earned your first official squee from me with this chapter. I would have PREFERRED it not to be in the middle of my office, but that one’s on me. :P

    I forgot about the Mortalis, and that other studios took them on as apprentices. De Luca was just so different, then, that I keep getting thrown by all the little changes.

    And ohhhhh snap, I didn’t even know what to think, then I read Alex Hollins’ comment and now I’m like ohhhhh snippety-snap.

    Like

    2015-04-14 at 11:55 am

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