A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

1.3 – Susurros et Tangite {Whispers and Strings}

“Come in,” said a muffled voice within the room.

The heavy doors of Master DaRose’s studio had always held an air of mystery behind them. It had been a busy handful of days settling into the studio, but wondering about him had always taken up some space in Elena’s mind. Now that she was finally meeting him she was nervous. Niccolo stood smugly to one side and gestured for her to go ahead, clearly pleased with himself, but Elena wasn’t quite sure whether to be equally pleased or angry.

What if I make a bad impression, barging in unannounced and unasked?

Arturo and Arta’s silent presence behind her was ominous, and she pushed the door opened carefully, as if it might explode.

The room was so dark that it took long moments for Elena’s sense of sight to return, but unfortunately her sense of smell worked just fine. The room reeked of body odor, machine oil, resin, wine, and the musty odor of a room that hadn’t been aired out in years. As her eyes slowly adjusted, Elena found that the sight of the room wasn’t much better, though it was stranger.

She had never before seen such meticulous, organized mess. Small piles of dishes sat in orderly stacks by the door, the food on them crusted and moldy. A desk on the far wall covered in books and dust and gears and half-empty wine glasses took up a large portion of the space at the end of the room. Two baskets of stained and dirty clothing, neatly folded, stood in the corner. Garbage and crumpled pieces of paper were arranged in careful piles on the floor. In the corner, a young woman with short black hair lay asleep in the bed, her arms and shoulders half-passed through the rumpled and mussed blankets. The only part of the room that seemed entirely given over to neatness and order was the high table in the middle of the room, at which stood Master Omerto DaRose.

He wasn’t tall, but he was so thin that Elena could see the outline of each bone beneath his thin skin. The clothes he wore were simple and elegant; a fashionable doublet and trousers, but they were wrinkled and it was clear he had slept in them, perhaps several nights in a row. He was standing at the table, working on a small box with delicate tools that looked like elongated lockpicks. Although the heavy doors squeaked when they opened, DaRose didn’t look up at Elena’s entrance. She wasn’t entirely sure what to say to get his attention, but she took a small step into the room.

“I thought we were going to wait to introduce Elena to Master DaRose,” Isadora said from the corner of the room where she was picking up a third basket of clothes, “and the De Luca Saggitari definitely shouldn’t be here.”

“We tried to stop them,” Arta said.

“It’s not the end of the world I suppose,” Isadora sighed. “Elena would’ve been introduced to him eventually, and she’d probably tell her ‘friend’ about him.”

“Is…is Master DaRose deaf?” Elena ventured a little further into the room, craning her head to look at what the Master was working on but unwilling to catch his attention if he couldn’t hear them.

“Not quite…” Isadora drew a handkerchief from her pocket and stepped forward, carefully draping it across the box that Master DaRose was working on. The Master looked up suddenly with a start, as if waking up, annoyance on his face.

“I rather wish you wouldn’t do that, ‘Dora dearest,” he said, “if you wish to speak with me you know I am perfectly willing to give you my utmost attention.”

“I’m sorry Master DaRose, that was rude of me,” Isadora said, “I just know how delicate the Instrument is to things like dust and moisture, I wanted to protect it while I talked to you.”

“Ah, and thus am I chastised,” Master DaRose’s expression softened, “what I mistook for discourtesy was in fact respect for my work…you have my humble apologies.”

“It’s no problem, sir.” Isadora turned to indicate the group in the doorway, “I just wanted to introduce you to your newest garzona-”

“Elena Maria Lucciano!” Master Omerto turned and fixed Elena with a smile, “otherwise known as ‘Cog’, the Fabera who joins us straight from De Luca’s studio itself. My dear, the joy in having you here is matched only by the anticipation with which I eagerly await the great works that will come from you.”

“Um…thank you Master DaRose…” Elena said uncertainly. His accent and voice was cultured and refined, and simply looking into the emaciated man’s sharp eyes was enough to convince her of his intelligence. Yet, when Isadora had spoken about him as if he wasn’t there, he hadn’t objected or even seemed to notice.

“In my estimation, we shall need to do some catching up, Miss Lucciano, both for your sake and mine. I am given to understand that you have some troubles with your Storm, and have a few ideas on the matter which we should explore as you settle into my Studio.”

“I’m already mostly settled in, sir, but I would be very grateful for any help you can give me.”

“Settled already?” Master DaRose said with surprise, “ah, I suppose I have been a touch remiss…but it makes no matter my dear, we will schedule some time to meet very soon.”

“I understand that you’re busy, Master DaRose, I wouldn’t want to intrude on your time.”

“Nonsense! One of my duties as a Master is to instruct and guide my students, Elena. I would never shirk that responsibility willingly! If I have been a tad careless, it is only due to a momentous breakthrough in a new method of automatic string adjustment on the- oh, but of course you don’t know. Behold!” Master DaRose swept Isadora’s handkerchief away from the small box on the table, gesturing her over to his side. Brimming with curiosity, Elena joined him at the table. The box’s lid was open, revealing internal workings packed full of tiny gears and very fine strings stretching all throughout, as if a nest of mechanical spiders had lived inside it for years.

“It almost looks like a music box,” Elena said after a few moments.

“More apt than you know!” Master DaRose chuckled, “I call it The Instrument, for that is in part the role that it plays. The machinery within is so complex it has taken me decades to build. It  uses its strings to simulate the variances of vocal patterns, you see, playing music that is a touch more esoteric than most.” With one of the long delicate tools, he reach into the box and depressed a switch. The little box whirred to life, little pieces moving and turning, levers swiveling, tiny pincer-like claws plucking strings soundlessly.

“I don’t hear any-”

“Hush!” Master DaRose ordered. After a few more moments of motion Elena began to hear it, whispers so soft they tickled at her ears. Dozens, maybe hundreds of voices, in tones from light and feminine to a deep base, all whispering to her.

“Can not an expression of sanctified self relay its own death?” the voices whispered.

“What does that mean?” Elena murmured.

“That is a question that only I can answer, someday,” Master DaRose said. “There are so many pieces of The Instrument that my Storm has puzzled out, but so many more mysteries yet to unravel. I hope you don’t consider me braggadocious when I say I don’t believe any other Machinator has the ability.”

“Does your Storm have something to do with sound then? Or…music boxes?”

“What?” Master DaRose looked startled, “no no my dear, my Storm has to do with The Instrument. I have far too much to do in working on The Instrument to concern myself with other, lesser art.”

Or with eating…or sleeping… Elena suddenly realized, looking at the deep bags under the Master’s eyes, his face so thin it resembled a skull.

“Never though a thousand stars burn their pinpricks of hell into the man whose tongue relays sounds of mourning,” whispered the box. Despite herself, Elena shivered. “Yea unto twenty score of morning’s light shall the truth of the papers of death be relayed along the backs of wolves.”

“For example,” Master DaRose depressed the switch again, and the whispers faded away, “right now my Storm is telling me that I’ll need to make a small adjustment here,” he indicated one of the scores of gears with the tool, “that will prevent the spring on the other side from slowly coming loose in a few months, but it has the added benefit of adding more counterweight to the string a few inches above it, you see?” Elena didn’t see, but Master DaRose was already making the adjustments.

“What does weight on the strings do?” Elena asked. The master ignored her, and after a few moments she tried again. “Master DaRose?”

“You’ve lost him now,” Isadora said.

“I don’t understand…” Elena said, “you can hear us, can’t you Master DaRose?”

“THE STUDIO IS BURNING DOWN! RUN!” Isadora screamed, directly into the Master’s ear. DaRose made a vague brushing motion, as one might with a fly, then returned to his work.

Ingenio mors ab, is that what Lorenzo is going to turn into when he grows older?” Niccolo asked from the doorway, horrified.

“The Storm affects different Machinators differently,” Isadora hefted the basket of clothing onto one hip. “I’ve heard that some of them are almost normal, but I couldn’t say. Master DaRose is the only Machinator I know in person.”

“But…how…how does Studio DaRose even run?” Elena spluttered. “Do you have to cover up his work every time a decision has to be made? Does he take The Instrument with him when he goes to court? How does anything get done?”

“We can usually get a few general ideas out of him when we make him eat,” Arta said, “but there aren’t so many momentous decisions that need to be made around here. For the most part we all just sort of…get by. We make enough money selling art in the shop to keep afloat, barely. It helps when we’re able to defeat garzoni from other Studios; we trade their trophy coins for actual coin instead of favors. As for going to court-”

“Not every Master can be De Luca,” Arturo finished, his voice oddly flat. “There’s a big difference between how the ‘favored’ masters are treated and the rest. Master De Luca is invited to court. Master Malatesta is invited to court. Master DaRose has never been invited.”

“Doesn’t the Milian court send an invitation to the Studios based on their rankings, not personal favoritism?” Niccolo asked.

“I guess you would know, since you’ve been on top for thirteen years,” Arturo turned towards Niccolo, fists clenched, “so maybe if we want to get to court us lesser studios should start aiming for Yellow Street more often.”

“That’d be good,” Niccolo casually hooked his thumb into his belt, a few inches away from his knife, “staying on top is easier with Grey Street feeding us a constant supply of trophy coins.”

“Like, when we took out Foresight a few months ago? Didn’t seem like we were feeding you trophy coins then-”

“That’s enough!” Elena cried. “Arturo, that’s my friend you’re talking about, and Niccolo, that’s my new studio you’re talking about!” Neither of the boys broke their gaze, but Niccolo at least dropped his hand from where it had been hovering. “Niccolo, didn’t you say you wanted to go to Marchelli’s for lunch? Since the tour is over, do you want to go now?”

Niccolo turned his attention away from Arturo, and he luckily missed the momentary murderous glare on the tousle-haired Artifex’s face before he arranged it into a mask of neutrality.

I’ll have to figure out some way to fix this…I can’t have Niccolo coming over here if it’s going to threaten an inter-studio fight every time.

“Of course, we can go right away. Sorry, Elena,” Niccolo said a little sheepishly. Elena took his offered arm, and with one more backward glance they departed, leaving the master of her new studio alone in his dark room, silent and unconcerned.


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If you hate it when the truth of the papers of death are relayed along the backs of wolves, you should vote for Twisted Cogs on TWF! That’ll teach ’em!


4 responses

  1. DaRose’s preoccupation almost reads like something on the autism spectrum. Of course, given that it’s clearly related to his Storm (or at least strongly suggested to be), trying to diagnose it in real world terms is probably pointless.

    At least Elena’s actually supposed to be there! I was in agreement with those suggesting that DaRose didn’t actually know of her presence. That’s a relief, anyway.

    Her divided loyalties are increasingly becoming a plot point. I’ll be very curious to see how such a naive, relentlessly kindhearted Pollyanna girl scout goody two shoes copes with having to fight her friends from De Luca’s studio.


    2014-12-18 at 1:09 am

  2. elyandarin

    If his Storm is focused on building one specific thing, and he’s been tinkering with and improving that thing all his life…
    Then either his Storm is really weak – or that is one seriously powerful little music box.
    And those whispers sounded suspiciously prophetic to me. Um. My interpretation:
    The box prophesied its own destruction. A rhetor with sadness-related powers will be important. Nasty news will arrive in about a year.

    The box seems obsessed with relays for some reason. Maybe since it’s not completed, some words are substituted for others, obscuring things further.

    Liked by 1 person

    2014-12-19 at 8:55 pm

  3. Eduardo

    Sometimes a power controls the powerful.


    2014-12-20 at 11:28 am

  4. Owl

    “If you hate it when the truth of the papers of death are relayed along the backs of wolves”

    Cause of Death: Severe blood loss from mastication by Lupine species while trying to tie paper to the back. (Misadventure)



    2014-12-21 at 12:43 pm

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