A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

3.5 – Absquelarva {Without Masks}

Although snow still covered the streets and rooftops of Milia, the sun was shining and the wind’s bite was less intense. Even so, even with her arms wrapped around herself, Elena shook as if she was freezing. The alleyway behind Marchelli’s blocked the light breeze, but her teeth chattered against each other.

“You look more terrified of me now than when we first met, the day you arrived here. I sat down to eat with you, do you remember?” Emerald asked gently. Her voice was beautiful; now that she was paying attention Elena could hear a silvery underlay to her words, so subtle that it might just have been her imagination. Imagination or no, she flinched every time the Rhetor opened her mouth.

“You were wearing your mask then,” Elena whispered.

“After spending months together I would think that you’d know I wouldn’t hurt you.”

She sounded so hurt and sad that part of Elena wanted to console her, to reassure her, but how could she be sure it was due to her own emotions and not the touch of Emerald’s Storm on her mind? Elena shivered again, trying to shake the imaginary feeling of crawling insects across her mind.

That’s ridiculous, I wouldn’t be able to feel anything. I wouldn’t even know that I’m being influenced. She could have me already and there’s nothing I could do about it…

“Please stop talking to me,” Elena whimpered in spite of herself.

“If it makes you feel better I can talk to Ele instead,” Emerald turned to her Echo, “it’s killed me, not being able to thank you for all of the lovely things you say to me. The things you say about me.”

“It’s good to see you again, Emerald, it really is,” Ele said carefully, “but…and I don’t mean to hurt your feelings…”

“I get the feeling you’re going to anyway,” Emerald said sadly.

“I just don’t know if Rhetors’ Storms can influence Echoes, that’s all. We know so little about you…”

“Don’t worry, we’ll change that,” the sad look vanished, replaced with a conspiratorial wink. It was startling to see her entire body language shift in an instant, almost as unsettling as her voice. “Now that I’m coming to work for you at Studio DaRose it’ll be just like old times. Even better, because we’ll actually get to know each other, without a million watchful eyes.”

“A million eyes like Rolf? Erik? Garnet?” Ele asked pointedly. In an instant Emerald’s face was contrite once more.

“I’m sorry, that was tactless of me, mentioning them.”

“Mentioning the Rhetorguard who died, the Rhetor who killed him, and your own conspicuously missing guard? Yes I think it was.”

“It’s not…stop, please, both of you,” Elena managed. “This is all confusing and I can’t think with you two talking.” Ele and Emerald both paused, watching her with concern. She rubbed her temples and tried to take deep, calming breaths.

This would be the perfect scenario for my Storm to help, she thought, but of course it wouldn’t help her here.

“Rhetors aren’t tactless, they’re good at conversation the same way I know my way around a hammer,” she finally said. “You brought them up on purpose. Why?”

“We don’t know whether or not-” Ele began.

“No, she’s right,” Emerald said, holding up a hand to stop Ele. “I…I thought it was better to bring them up now. I’m sure you have questions, I’d rather address them now than wait and have to revisit them when I’m working in Studio DaRose.”

“You also keep saying that,” Elena clenched her teeth, “like if you say it over and over it’ll make it so.”

Ele was looking at her curiously, and even Emerald looked taken aback.

“You’re not normally this astute,” the Rhetor said, “you’re more paranoid than when we last met.”

“I’m confused and I’m scared and I’m tired of people who have advantages over me!”

“I said you were paranoid, I didn’t say you were wrong.” Emerald took a deep breath and sighed. “The body language, the little tricks of swaying people…sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it anymore. But for you, I’ll stop. Tell me what I can do to set your mind at ease.”

“You can answer my questions without trying to influence me at all.”

“Alright,” Emerald said, her face settling into a neutral expression, “I’ll do my best.”

“What happened to your Rhetorguard? Did you kill him like Garnet did to his? The last thing we heard was that he was taking you to the Guardhouse, but we didn’t know why.”

“I spoke,” Emerald’s eyes flashed, “I spoke to Garnet to keep him from killing Rolf and freeing me. That was my crime.”

“So you killed him?”

“I would never hurt Rolf, although he clearly didn’t have the same feelings about me,” Emerald said bitterly, “I knew he wouldn’t kill me, but I thought that extended to not turning me over to people who most certainly would. I kept thinking he would change his mind, see how unreasonable the Guardhouse’s rules were. I really thought he would turn back before taking me in. Two nights before we would’ve reached the Guardhouse I realized that he was serious. I escaped.”

“You escaped. Just like that?” Elena frowned, “from Rolf?”

“Is it so hard to believe that after twenty-five years of perfect behavior from the model Rhetor, he would let his guard down just a little? Not enough to break the rules, but enough that he didn’t consider how close the beds were to each other? It only took a single mistake.”

“It sounds believable, but I don’t even know if I can trust what you’re saying!” Elena wanted to pull her hair out in frustration, “I don’t know if it makes sense because it makes sense, or because you’re using you Storm!”

“But I’m not using my Storm!”

“But your voice is so pretty…”

“I wouldn’t use my Storm on you, Elena!” Emerald protested, “you’re the only person in the world I can consider my friend! You treated me like an equal even when I wore that horrible mask.”

“Wait, maybe you should!” Ele said suddenly.

“Ele, no what are you talking about?” Elena’s stomach went cold, and the trembling that had subsided came back full force at the thought of a Rhetor’s Storm used on her.

“Think about it, Elena; you don’t know whether or not Emerald is using her Storm on you…if she did it with something harmless, innocuous, then you would know how it feels.”

“I don’t…I can’t…” the panic fluttered in Elena’s chest, and her breath was only coming in short gasps, “I don’t…”

“Emerald, can I talk to Elena alone? Please?”

Emerald nodded silently and walked across the street, looking through the window at the wares of the candleshop across the way.

“Ele I can’t, I can’t do it I can’t let a Rhetor use her Storm on me, not even Emerald,” Elena gibbered.

“Elena wait, listen…” Ele shifted his weight from one foot to the other, clearly trying to choose his words. “I don’t…I don’t ask for a lot.”

The statement caught Elena off-guard, enough so that she stopped her panicked babbling.

“You ask for stuff,” she said, confused.

“I give you advice…okay I boss you around sometimes,” Ele admitted, “but I don’t ask for things, for me. I’m asking for a favor now. I’m…I’m begging, actually.” There was no snark or sarcasm in his face, but instead he had an earnest vulnerability that looked strange on him. “Please don’t send her away, Elena.”

“But…she scares me,” Elena said in a small voice.

“It’s the one favor I’ve asked of you, Elena. Our entire lives I’ve tried to help you.”

“That’s not fair.”

“I know it’s not, but I’ll do whatever I can. Please don’t turn her away.”

“Why Emerald? Is this really because of your stupid crush? A pair of green eyes?”

“Emerald says you’re the one person who looks at her and actually sees her…besides you, she’s the only one who actually sees me. Do you know how rare that is? Someone who likes me?”

“Lots of people like you! What about…” Elena groped for a moment, “…what about Nicci, she likes you. You two go off and talk all the time.”

“Nicci?” Ele blinked, then laughed, “Nicci doesn’t like me, she’s just teaching me because she doesn’t want me to die.”

“To die? What are you doing that would make you die?” Elena gasped.

“I’ve said too much already, I’m not saying more.”

“The only thing you won’t tell me is how you change your clothes, Ele…are you risking dying to do that?”

“This isn’t what we’re talking about, Elena, we’re talking about Emerald, the one favor I’ve asked. Let her use her Storm on you, prove to yourself that you’ll recognize it when she does, and you’ll be more comfortable letting her live and work in Studio DaRose.”

“That still won’t prove that she didn’t do something to Rolf.”

“What can I do to convince you to do me this favor?”

“Tell me the Echo secret you’ve been hiding and I’ll let her use her Storm on me.”

Elena hadn’t even meant to say it, didn’t realize she was thinking it, but in the sudden silence that stretched between them she felt as though she couldn’t take it back.

“If any Echo finds out that I told you, they’ll kill me.” Ele’s voice was so grave that Elena almost lost her nerve, but a glance across the street steeled her again. If she had to give ground then he could too. She stayed silent, folding her arms across her chest. “Fine. Let her do it and I’ll tell you. We’ll be even, after that?”

“We’ll be even,” Elena promised. And maybe things between us can finally go back to normal.

Emerald seemed to be completely engrossed in the candles, but as soon as Ele waved her over she approached, practically beaming.

“Have you two worked things out?” She asked. Elena shivered at the sound of her voice, too beautiful, like soft silver bells formed into words.

“Elena will let you use your Storm on her, once. That way she’ll know what it feels like, so she’ll know if you try it in the future.”

“And then you’ll let me work at Studio DaRose with you?” Emerald asked brightly.

“It really isn’t all up to me,” Elena said, “but…I’ll do my best.”

This is a horrible idea, the thought nagged at the back of her mind.

“Your best is good enough for me!”

Emerald smiled, opened her mouth, and Spoke.


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13 responses

  1. This increasingly has the feel of running down a hill, trying to keep pace with a landslide. And Elena was doing so well, too… I guess it was inevitable something would come down on her.


    2015-02-11 at 10:21 pm

    • Jat

      Remember that our author sits down every day with the idea that if your name is Elena, you’re going to have a bad day.


      2015-03-30 at 4:19 pm

    • can a landslide ever come to rest at a point higher than from which it started?

      we have magic which doesn’t seem to be *immediately* breaking the laws of physics…but by providing information perhaps the Storm is directly reducing informational entropy, collapsing waveforms, stretching strings and producing mesons from mesons and the Storm’s work doesn’t have to produce waste heat how can we render a position with greater potential energy to be more stable?


      2015-08-29 at 2:50 pm

  2. Sometimes, I forget about how sad Ele must be. To go your entire life with only one person ever acknowledging you exist. Then he goes to studio De Luca, where others do acknowledge him, but then it’s only because they see him as competition. Now he’s at a new studio and his relationship with Elena is getting worst and it’s all because of a secret that could kill him. And instead of Elena being understanding, her increasing paranoia is only being compounded by this. This truly makes me hope he gets a happy moment sooner or later, maybe involving a smutty interlude with Emerald. ; )


    2015-02-11 at 11:17 pm

  3. Jeezus, little one is going to FLIP HER SHIT!


    2015-02-12 at 10:39 am

    • AvidFan

      You sure? Remember that Little One was closely acquainted with a Rehtor for years. Might have been her using them to start the rebellion that actually made it required of them to wear a mask. Plus, she doesn’t need to know. But she WILL know… She’s creepy like that… Maybe she won’t care too much if Elena tells her the big secret? Although… Little One may already know. :/


      2015-02-12 at 8:00 pm

    • Bobby

      *shrugs* Emerald could use her Storm at any time. Getting permission doesn’t actually make it any more or less likely that she’ll brainwash Elena or whatever.

      Unless what you meant is that Elena should have committed violence on Emerald as soon as they were out of sight in the alley, because that’s what she should have done if she wanted to minimize her exposure to Rhetor influence.


      2015-02-14 at 5:10 am

      • >*shrugs* Emerald could use her Storm at any time. Getting permission doesn’t actually make it any more or less likely that she’ll brainwash Elena or whatever.

        the more likely that Emerald is to use her storm *only* when given permission, the less likely she is to brainwash Elena.


        2015-08-29 at 2:53 pm

  4. AvidFan

    Hmm. I really don’t see why they would kill him. I doubt he would be the first echo to tell someone, but mainly because they can’t do anything to Elena, and then she could tell other people to get revenge. Sure, other echos could convince people to try kill her, but I don’t see that as being very effective.
    Although, she may be the first twisted cog to find out… And THAT could be dangerous.


    2015-02-12 at 7:56 pm

    • DeNarr

      Or maybe none of the Twisted have echos anymore.


      2015-02-13 at 9:15 am

  5. This is such a lovely, vivid story and a fascinating world. Just finished reading it up til now in a single goal.

    Thank you and keep up the great work! I’m curious to see why archers are so much more worth than Lanisi swordsmen in the game between studios though – I know which one I’d rather have in my team for sneaky close combat in tight quarters.

    I also feel that Ele is slightly overdramatic, being mysterious for the sake of being mysterious.

    The rest of the story though has me gripped and I can’t wait to see what’s next.


    2015-02-16 at 8:53 am

    • I’m glad you’re enjoying it! I’m also glad people seem to be picking up on little cultural things like the difference between how Saggitari and Lanisti are valued, it makes worldbuilding all the more fun!


      2015-02-16 at 8:15 pm

  6. Anonymous

    And suddenly the roles are reversed and Ele is the idiot and Elena the reasonable one. As a pair it’s like they feed on each other’s weaknesses. When one person screws everything up then gets it together, the other person takes over and screws everything up, ensuring that they will both always be screwed over. What an invincible duo.


    2015-07-31 at 5:06 pm

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