A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

4.1 – Pannus Anima {Patches of Soul}

The answer that I expected to a question I didn’t care much about either way. Why did it put me in such a bad mood? Ercole had been musing on the thought all the way out of the studio, but he finally figured it out at the doorway. Just having to be in this filth-hole of a Studio is enough to put me in a bad mood.

When the group reached the carriage that awaited them Ercole paused, hand on the doorhandle.

“I think we’ll walk,” he said.

“Are you sure?” Master Malatesta asked, “it’s rather cold.”

“I’ll be fine, Master, I just need some fresh air. Better for us to be gathering information anyways.”

Beyond Master Malatesta, Hundred-Eye looked on without comment. She didn’t care whether he walked in the cold. She didn’t care whether he lived or died. It was remarkable, really, how well and how quickly she had fit in with the rest of his studiomates.

His Echo cared, at least, but Ercole could sense that Erica too was annoyed with him, and when she opened her mouth to speak he held up a finger to forestall her.

“One moment, if you please.” He pulled Voicemap’s clicker from his pouch and held it up to his lips. The wooden box was small enough that he could hold in in the palm of his hand without others catching sight of it, but even so he glanced around him before squeezing the sides in.

Within the box, Ercole knew, two tiny strips of metal now touched, and…that was as far as he could understand, even after Voicemap had explained it several times. She had finally given up trying to explain to him how it worked, content that he understood that it worked.

“Cog wasn’t interested in the offer. Master and Hundred-Eye are headed back to the studio, I’m going to scout for a bit,” he said into the box. Bracing himself, he let the sides go and felt the two strips of metal within separate.

“It’s like lightning in a box,” Voicemap had told them, but Ercole personally believed that she didn’t know what she was talking about. It stood to reason that being struck by lightning would burn like fire, whereas her clickers felt like every muscle in his body were being pinched from his hand to the ground.

Lightning or no, the pain told him that the little ears of wood and metal would replay his message to Voicemap within a few seconds. As usual, the fact that he didn’t know how it worked was a constant source of annoyance for him, but he could hardly be expected to be both a master Artifex and a master Machinator as well.

“I hope that you’ve learned something today, Ercole,” Erica said as soon as the message was sent.

“Learned something?” Ercole frowned. “Do you mean I should view Cog as a cautionary tale? A warning about keeping my temper? I think I do well enough at that, I don’t need to see Cog flying off the handle to teach me that lesson.”

“What I mean is that your attitude has consequences for the studio.” Erica sounded exasperated, and Ercole struggled to follow what she was saying.

“Consequences? You don’t think I had anything to do with Cog not taking our offer, do you?”

“She certainly seems to have taken a dislike to you.”

“That’s ridiculous! She took a dislike to me because I beat her, there’s no mystery in that. No, there are two possible reasons she didn’t take our offer; one, that she let her emotions cloud what’s best for her, or two, unlike most of the garzoni in that hellhole of a Studio she actually knows her place.”

“Judging from some of the things she yelled I doubt it’s the latter.”

“No,” Ercole agreed, “but I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that was it until proven otherwise. She knew that she’s a DaRose garzona, and she knew that she’d never fit in at Studio Malatesta. If anything, she’s to be commended for her decision. I told Master Malatesta that she’d say no.”

“It’s statements like that that make people dislike you, Ercole.”

Ercole rolled his eyes. The desire to disagree warred with the desire to avoid an argument with Erica. The real reasons that people disliked him was simple. Non-Malatestans disliked him because he represented Studio Malatesta, the Studio that made them look pathetic (technically De Luca held the foremost position of the Studio hierarchy, but everyone knew that Studio Malatesta struck the perfect balance between the hierarchy games that the studios played and the true hierarchy in the courts). As for his fellow garzoni, they disliked him because…well, because…

“Are we scouting, or what?” he frowned.

“I’m going, but just…think about what I’m saying, alright? Would it kill you to act a little less arrogant?”

“I’ll try to keep it in mind,” Ercole shoved his hands into his pockets and stared at the ground in front of him, keeping his face turned away from his Echo. Before she took off down the nearest sidestreet, Erica gave him a severe look, indicating that she could tell how likely it was that he would think about it. Somehow, she could always tell.

But what’s the point of being a Malatesta garzoni if I have to pretend I’m not? And how long will it take her to realize what it means to be a Malatesta?

For the sake of keeping Erica happy, he would change his behavior of course, he always did. It simply rankled at him that she seemed unwilling to accept the truth about the world and their situation within it. Would it always be this way? Even after they had graduated, even when they were in the courts themselves? Would he be expected to act as if position didn’t matter there? The thought was worrisome.

The Trombetta Bakery was across the street, and Ercole changed course to make for its doors. For weeks he had been spending money there as an investment for a rainy day, and he had the feeling that today was going to be just such a rainy day. Erica may have been wrong, but she always seemed to know when something would bother his fickle fellow garzoni and master. If he had done something that bothered Erica, chances are his studio would be similarly annoyed with him when he returned.

The thought was enough to put a sour frown on his face, but he took a deep breath and replaced it with friendly neutrality as he entered. The warmth of the bakery and smell of bread was comforting after the bleak grey day outside, and Ercole felt better already.

“Heya, it’s Ercole the wandering artist!” the enthusiasm was enough to make Ercole smile even before he saw the baker’s boy, grinning from ear to ear and dusting flour off onto his apron. He clasped Ercole’s hand in both of his, pumping it up and down, “master Trombetta was worried you wouldn’t come by this week, when we didn’t see you this morning, but I told him you were probably just running late, I told him we wouldn’t be losing such a regular customer so easy!”

“Hello Bortolo,” Ercole brushed the filthy smears of flour from his gloves without letting his smile waver. “I’m afraid I had some things to attend to with my Studiomates that kept me busy this morning.”

“Wow, important studio stuff, that is so cool! Was it artist stuff, or some of that secret stuff you were telling me about?” Bortolo was almost bouncing in excitement, gathering the rolls and loaves that Ercole ordered weekly. The Artifex winked and didn’t say a word, and Bortolo’s grin became even wider. “It was the secret stuff, wasn’t it? Awesome!”

Ercole tried to think of the best way to interact with the boy…it was becoming hard to think like these people, but if he was going to keep Erica happy he supposed he would have to get better at emulating them. He tried to think of the most low-class thing he could say.

“The girls think it’s pretty awesome too, if you know what I mean,” he said. Bortolo blushed, but his grin didn’t diminish. He gathered courage as he wrapped the rolls in paper, trying several times before asking.

“Do they really? Do you have lots of…of girlfriends then?”

“More than I even know what to do with,” Ercole chuckled. He laid two coins down on the counter, one gold and one silver. “As usual, one for the baked goods, one for the service,” he smiled.

“And as usual, thanks very much, Ercole.”

“I’m going to stay here for a while, warm my bones a bit before I head out again.”

“No worry, stay as long as you like. Do you mind if I…?” Bortolo gestured towards the back door, and Ercole nodded and watched him scurry away. The bakery was silent for a time, long enough that Ercole worried for a few moments whether or not Erica would stray too far from him. She, after all, assumed that he was walking this street as she searched the neighboring one.

“Good afternoon Mister Ercole!” The baker emerged from the kitchens, a thin layer of sweat on his brow. “I wondered if we’d see you this week, glad you came by.”

“Came by for the last time, I’m afraid.”

“Oh?” Trombetta stopped in his tracks, the furrows of his brow sending beads of sweat down the sides of his face, “always sorry to hear we’re losing a customer…is the bread not to your liking anymore?”

As if the bread would be to anyone’s liking, half grit and the other half dust.

“The bread is just as good as always, but whenever I’m here, that Bortolo makes me feel a bit…uncomfortable.”

“Well sir, if that’s all then I can talk to the boy! He’s not the brightest flame on the wick but he’s got a good heart.”

It’s ‘sir’ now, is it?

“I don’t doubt his heart, but truly I think it will just be easier to find a baker closer to the studio.”

“No need for that, just tell me what he did and I’ll have words with him.”

“It’s hard to explain, it’s just a feeling…” Ercole paused for a few moments, feigning hesitance. It was ironic that there were so many actual complaints he could level, but none of them would go over as well. The boy got flour on his gloves, he addressed Ercole by name rather than an honorific, he was overly familiar, and he referred to the baker as master Trombetta, as if the garbage they baked could be considered art.

Instead he listed the complaints he had prepared. “Well, for instance today…he kept bringing up what he called ‘secret business’ of Studio Malatesta. I don’t know what you’ve heard on such matters, but generally we try to discourage that sort of rumor.”

“Of course, of course. I’ve heard…but then I wouldn’t dream of…yes.”

“And another thing; he seems to have no decorum or sense of the appropriate. Again, just today, the boy actually asked some searching questions about my romantic life; how many ladies I’d been with, things of that nature,” he dropped his voice to a hush, as if embarrassed to bring it up. “Even the way he snatches at the tips I leave…”

“Tips, sir?”

“It could be that I’m merely oversensitive,” Ercole waved a hand vaguely, “but this is quite a walk from my studio anyways. It’s nothing personal, you understand?”

“Well I do hope you change your mind.”

Ercole swung the door open wide as he left, glancing up and down the street as he did so. In the time it took the door to slowly swing closed he had ducked out of sight, pulled the hood over his face, and slipped back inside the bakery.

The Storm was warm and comfortable across his skin, like a blanket in the winter’s day, something that he would enjoy even if it didn’t indicate that he was clothed in anonymity. He didn’t know whether his Studiomates were aware that the suit of purple patches wasn’t his only work of art. It wasn’t any particular concern of theirs, but it occurred to him that he should at least let the planners know, Foresight and Voicemap and Claystorm. The information might be useful in their planning. In the meantime, he folded his arms, all but invisible, and waited for Bortolo to come back.

“Did Ercole leave? He said he was going to warm up for a bit, and I was gonna ask him more about his studio,” Bortolo scurried back into the room, but as soon as he saw the baker with his hands on his hips the bounce drained from his step. “What’s wrong?”

“Your mouth has gotten us in enough trouble as it is! He’s left alright, and he doesn’t plan on coming back!”

“W-what?”

“What were you thinking? Thanks to your prying into his studio, you drove him off! A weekly paying customer!” Trombetta didn’t raise his voice, but he had a disappointed tone that was clearly getting to the baker’s boy, whose expression ranged between confused and hurt.

“I was just talking, I thought we were…friendly. I didn’t think I was saying anything I shouldn’t.”

“You asked him about his love affairs? His love affairs? You don’t ask anyone a question like that, not anyone and especially a paying customer! And a prissy studio boy like that, what possessed you to pry into his personal business?”

I am not prissy! Ercole thought indignantly.

“I..I thought it was okay…” Bortolo stammered, “he didn’t seem to mind talking about it.”
“Well of course he took it in stride, rich kids like that wouldn’t let on that it bothered them, but you have to have some delicacy, Bortolo!”

Ercole saw it, the moment when the baker’s boy hesitant confusion turned to self-doubt and shame. The fact that he had caused it made the Artifex’s chest swell with the sense of power. The boy hung his head and scuffed one shoe on the ground.
“I really didn’t mean it master Trombetta, honest.”

“I know you didn’t, boy,” Trombetta sighed, “but you’ve got to be more careful, right? When someone comes in with that kind of money, you’ve got to treat ‘em carefully, treat ‘em like glass. In fact…maybe don’t treat with them at all. New customers come in, you come get me, alright?”

Ercole was impressed. It seemed that the baker had actually learned the right lesson from this little adventure. It wasn’t what the Artifex had intended, but it was a nice little side benefit.

The baker’s boy was doing a very poor job of holding back tears. The stress in Ercole’s shoulders eased, like a weight lifting from them, his sense of justice buzzing in his heart just as sweetly as his skin buzzed with his Storm.

He wanted to get in closer, to really see the emotion on the boy’s face, but it wouldn’t do to marr the experience by getting caught. Bad enough that he had to slip out, but the pair of bakers would probably blame the door swinging open on the wind outside. As he did every week, Ercole tossed the package of bread into the gutter as he strode down the street, stuffing his hands back into his pockets.

It was colder than he had remembered, perhaps due to the combination of Storm and bakery that had kept him warm, but his step was lighter and there was a smile on his face. Even the shock of lightning squeezing through his muscles unexpectedly wasn’t enough to dampen his mood.

“Everyone get back to the studio,” Voicemap’s voice emerged from his pocket. “Foresight has just checked his tiles and there’s something wrong with the studios, with the hierarchy…Something changed today, something big. We need to start preparing.”

Ercole brightened even further at that. When they had something to preoccupy them with, his studiomates could usually be rather bearable, and they wouldn’t try to harass him about whatever Erica was so upset about. Whistling a soft tune, he turned to the direction of Studio Malatesta.

 


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If you don’t have a soul made of patches, you should vote for Twisted Cogs on TWF!

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12 responses

  1. Stormblessed

    I liked the chapter, but I did skim a little bit. Because I just really wanted to see the immediacy of Elena’s storm triggering.

    Put such a character building/character progress moment at the end of a chapter and I just want to continue with it.

    That’s just the kind of reader I am.

    Like

    2015-02-25 at 11:19 pm

    • I somewhat feel the same but i am prepared to wait for the goodies ;)

      Like

      2015-02-27 at 3:23 am

  2. AvidFan

    And so it begins.

    Like

    2015-02-26 at 1:28 am

  3. tijay

    Ercie is a bit off a dick

    Like

    2015-02-26 at 2:03 am

    • A bit of a dick? He went to a bakery for what must of have been at least weeks just so he could crush the spirits of some random baker’s apprentice? That’s literal psychopathy, right there.

      Liked by 1 person

      2015-02-26 at 2:06 am

  4. Gnibbles

    Dang. I’ve seen some psychopaths but Ercole takes the cake. What an arse! So Elena’s take-over of Studio DaRose is gonna shake things up, eh? :3 *wiggles in anticipation* Eeeee!

    Like

    2015-02-26 at 10:21 am

  5. jester0fdeath

    The girl’s think it’s pretty awesome too,
    The girls think it’s pretty awesome too,

    Thanks for the chapter. It gives a frame to Ercole’s mindset, though you fleshed him out quite well with his actions previously. Also, I share Stormblessed’s anticipation for seeing Elena’s storm in action, so I look forward to that chapter ^.^

    Like

    2015-02-26 at 3:49 pm

    • Oh man, I can’t believe I missed this one! Thanks for the catch!

      Like

      2015-03-04 at 9:54 pm

  6. Anonymous

    And, the poor, delusional antisocial personality can’t get his head out his own brilliance for long enough to work out what the shift in his perceived perfect little world could possibly have been triggered by. I’d feel sorry for him, but he’s overdue a reality check. If he can process it. :P

    Like

    2015-02-27 at 9:55 pm

  7. thinkerbell

    How did the city states of Italy unite? The king is a mortalis so i assume he did not do it, is it goldentongue? Sorry if i butchered the names.

    Like

    2015-03-04 at 1:08 am

    • No butchering at all :) Man, it’s always the history buffs that are able to pinpoint plot and backstory intricacies that others might miss.

      As you have noticed by comparing the history of this world to our own, the point of divergence seems to be quite a bit earlier than the Stormtouched first showing up in the public eye…

      Like

      2015-03-04 at 10:02 pm

  8. Isa Lumitus

    Well, I see that the star cast member of Studio Evil Mind (Malatesta) is living up to his affiliation.

    And on a side note, the thing about Foresight reminded me of the Malazan Book of the Fallen. There’s some guy, who’s title is ‘Ceda’ who uses tiles for divination purposes. But then, the Ceda used tiles like a bulky Tarot deck, and we haven’t seen that out of Carlo.

    Like

    2015-07-24 at 3:07 am

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