A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

4.3 – Ambustum {Burns}

The boiler sat in the corner of the room, thick and squat, like a huge teapot of dirty silver. From its top sprouted a flue, which split into several cylinders of thin copper, all leading to the wall. Just within the first bend above the boiler’s body was where the clog started; a giant brick of dirt and grime that had accumulated over the course of decades. It wasn’t the only thing wrong with the boiler, but it was the easiest problem to fix, and it was something Elena could work on while she waited for the hotter pieces of metal on the inside to cool. There were probably better tools to use to clean the flue than the broken piece of wood, but her Storm was assisting her, telling her where to poke, where to scrape, what to do.

A chunk of black gunk fell into the grate, and Elena carefully scooped it out onto the floor next to her. Her clothes and skin were covered in ash and soot, but she was far too distracted to care. It was almost unnerving, the sixth sense that told her how the massive contraption was shaped on the inside. From where she knelt next to the boiler she couldn’t actually see up into the flue, but she knew that it curved just so at a certain point, that there was a blockage there, there, and here.

Because it’s mine, her mind whispered, triumphant and possessive and not-at-all like her. Was it her Storm, whispering those thoughts into her ear? The tyrannical guardian that Little One warned her of, doling out power to her, but only if she acted as it wanted? It’s mine to take care of, she told herself carefully, it’s mine for right now, until Master DaRose takes it back. The Storm’s buzzing in her head didn’t diminish, and Elena breathed a sigh.

Exciting as the knowledge about the boiler was, after twenty minutes of careful scraping the novelty had begun to wear off. Elena let her mind wander, cautiously allowing more and more of the Studio to come into focus while at the ready in case it became too much to handle. Her headache wasn’t as bad this time, but the sheer amount of information was still overwhelming.

The door to the boiler room swung open. Her back was to it, and it hadn’t made a sound, but it was one of the doors to her studio, and Elena was as sure that it had opened as she was the sky was blue.

“Elena?” Arturo said gently. “I thought I’d find you here, but I didn’t think I’d find you shoulder deep in the boiler though.”

“Hi Arturo! It’s actually not broken as badly as you might think. I don’t think I even need any new parts for it, but that will depend on whether or not I can get the little metal fins out to straighten them without taking the whole thing apart.”

“That’s our Fabera, fixing things around the place like crazy,” Arturo chuckled. “Do you want a hand with that?”

“Thanks,” Elena moved over to one side and gestured to the tile of scrap wood she had been using to scrape the ashes from the boiler’s bottom. “Up through the top there’s an opening, and all of this gunk has been collecting there for years. I’m scraping it off up top, you can scoop it out from the grate and onto the floor. I’ll sweep it up later when we’re done.”

“Doesn’t sound too difficult.” Arturo knelt down beside her. Elena hadn’t realized how close it would put them, cleaning the boiler together; so close that there were only inches of space between them.

Arturo has feelings for me, Elena remembered with a start, I hope I’m not sending him the wrong message, asking for him to work so close… she watched him out of the corner of her eye, but he seemed focused on the work, carefully transferring grit and soot from the grate to the ground by the boardfull. He barely paid her any attention, and Elena relaxed slightly.

After a few minutes Arturo broke the silence. “Listen, Elena, the reason I came by was to see if you were okay. I heard that your dumbass boyfriend brought another girl to your date, and then you spent the rest of the day and night locked up in your room. Are you alright? Do you want to talk about it?”

Elena unwedged her hand from the boiler flue and stared at him, confused.

“How did you hear about Niccolo and Leanarda?” she asked, “I was the only one there.”

“Oh. Um. Ele told me.”

“I didn’t realize the two of you talked much.” Elena neglected to mention that Ele disliked Arturo since the first day they had met. Of course, the two must’ve talked about it, otherwise there was no way he could’ve known. “I’m fine, I suppose. So much else happened yesterday that I hadn’t really given it much thought, to be honest. I suppose I should talk to Niccolo about it.”

“Nah, I wouldn’t give the guy a chance, not after he’s blown it so thoroughly.” Arturo leaned back on his heels to dust his hands off, “I don’t think he realizes what a great girl he’s got.”

Elena blushed, turning back to her work to avoid his gaze. “That’s…nice of you to say.”

“It’s the truth. He should treat a special girl like you better.” Arturo leaned in to clean the very back of the grate, straining to reach.

It really wasn’t anything to get angry about, Elena thought, at least, not angry with Niccolo about. She suddenly noticed how close Arturo’s work forced him to be to her. His face was inches away, his eye catching hers. A part of Elena wanted to be captivated by his eyes, to be carried away by the closeness in the warm little room. He was watching for her reaction, closely. His breath smelled like mint.

Which was not the curiously pleasant scent of violets and leather, she reminded herself firmly, shaking her head ever so slightly to clear whatever crazy thoughts had been building within.

“I think that’s all, at least the majority of it,” she said, rising and dropping her stick. “There’s some cooked-on grime that I can’t scrape out, but it’s a start.”

Arturo blinked as if just waking from a deep sleep, glancing back at the mess in the grate he had yet to clean with a sour expression. Elena stepped back and surveyed the boiler, her Storm buzzing behind her eyes as she did so.

Now that the flue was cleared, the contraption was capable of building up a huge load of heat given enough coal and wood, but the blockage had only been one aspect of the problem. Attached to the boiler’s base was a metal chamber for a tankard of boiling water, which would produce steam pressure that turned a series of metal fins in the cylinders above. The whirling fins would send the too-hot air rushing through hollow spaces in the floors and walls of the studio, but the fins were bent and rusted and wouldn’t turn. Without the spinning fins, the hot air would collect only in the boiler room.

“So all this is why the boiler room has been so cold this year?” Arturo asked, getting back to work. While he scraped, Elena slid the chair she had brought for the purpose next to the boiler. “Arta heard that this room used to be warm and comfortable all the time, but it hasn’t seemed that way to me.”

“It’ll be nice again if I can figure the next bit out,” Elena said, “otherwise this room won’t be very comfortable at all.” By sight she couldn’t figure out how the metal cylinders went from the wall to the boiler so evenly, but her Storm fired again with a burst of information; they slid together tightly, one into another. Retrieving her hammer from the floor, she began tapping gently at the seams of the closest cylinder. When it came loose she held it in the air carefully so as not to disturb the little pipes and gears within; even with the help of her Storm Elena found it hard to understand the actual mechanics of the Machinator’s work, and she wasn’t sure she’d be able to put those parts back together if she broke them. After she had removed and set aside the little circle of fins, Elena carefully put the first metal cylinder back and started working on the next one.

“Where is Arta, anyway?” she asked.

“Oh…ah…” Arturo looked around guiltily, “she’s around somewhere. She’s probably talking to…someone. Or doing something. I don’t know.”

Elena glanced over her shoulder at him, curious. “Why are you acting so strange, Arturo? What is Arta doing?”

“I told you I don’t know! I don’t always know where my Echo is, is that a crime?”

Elena set the second circle of fins down on her chair carefully and fit the second cylinder back into place, loosely so that she could remove it again when it was time to put the fins back. That he was hiding something was obvious, but she had no idea what it could be.

Does a Studio DaRose garzoni count as ‘mine’, if I’m taking care of Studio DaRose? she thought. Was it wrong, to use her Storm on a studiomate? After all, knowing about the other garzoni could help me to help them… She mused over the question as she worked. Maybe I could just open myself up to the possibility, and if my Storm tells me something about him, well that’s hardly my fault, that’s just the Storm acting on its own behalf.

Her Storm unfurled and stretched out almost instantly, and pins and prickles rippled along her head and down her neck. It took Elena a few moments to understand the information she was receiving, as if she was having to translate it from some foreign language that she could understand but not intuit, but when she did she was disappointed.

Although the data swamped her, she wasn’t learning anything personal about Arturo. Her knowledge was of him as an asset, an impersonal and dry knowledge. Arturo, the asset, had been a fairly good addition to Studio DaRose; his presence made Studio DaRose seem more dangerous to attack, though due less to his skill and more to…the fear he inspired?

That can’t be right, Elena furrowed her brow, Arturo is a good garzoni, but he’s not frightening. Definitely not next to Elio and his giant stick.

“Are other studios afraid of you, Arturo?” Elena asked. Arturo seemed surprised by the question.

“They’re certainly afraid of my Storm, if that’s what you mean,” he stood and stretched, “which works out well; it means they’re more likely to fork over coins instead of fight.”

“But…why?” Elena jumped down from the chair and observed the fins she had laid out on the ground. As her Storm had told her, all of them were warped or bent in some way. “Don’t you just touch them with your pictures to knock them over?”

“It’s…a little more than that,” Arturo smirked. “Hasn’t anyone told you what it is that I do?”

“I never thought to ask. I guess I’m used to Studio De Luca, where we tried to hide our Storms from the other garzoni.” As helpful as it would’ve been to have the details about Arturo’s Storm, Elena’s Storm seemed unable or unwilling to provide them. Elena filed that thought away: her Storm couldn’t tell her anything about Arturo himself, it could only tell her the effects of Arturo on her Studio.

On the Studio I’m taking care of, she mentally corrected, not my Studio. Out loud she asked, “well can you show me?”

“Sure. Let me run back to my room and find one of my pieces.”

“You’re carrying them with you,” Elena pointed at his belt, where the small leather tubes hung. He wore them everywhere, so that he could slip a sketches out at a moment’s notice.

“That’s…no, that’s not a good idea,” Arturo said uneasily.

“It’s okay, Arturo…if it makes people give up their coins I know it’s probably unpleasant,” Elena faced him and squared her shoulders, “but I’m a big girl, I want to know what our enemies deal with.” If I want to come up with strategies to fight, I have to know what tools we have at our disposal.

Arturo hesitated as he put on the glove that hung at his belt, then slipped a piece of parchment from one of the pouches. He still frowned, and he glanced back and forth from the parchment in his hand to Elena.

“I really don’t know how I feel about this,” he said.

“Please?” Elena asked. Arturo took a hesitant step towards her, paused, and then another. Elena bit her lip, waiting for him to move at his own pace, but she couldn’t help but grow more nervous the slower he moved. After a few moments more of hesitence she finally snapped. “Oh just do it already!”

Arturo held the parchment in his gloved hand, and grabbed Elena’s bare wrist.

A few weeks before Elena had arrived at Milia, she had broken her right wrist as a result of an unfortunate misunderstanding with her mother. It had been some of the worst pain she’d felt in her life, up until that point.

It was strange how many thoughts managed to worm their way through the agony. How was this possible? How was it allowed? How could Arturo be so cavalier about mutilating fellow human beings? Even though she had asked him to, how could he burn her hand so badly, the hand she needed to become an artist? There was no doubt in her mind that she would lose the hand; the burn was simply too intense to be anything she could heal from. As soon as Elena remembered how to scream, Arturo took a step away from her.

The pain was over, ending as suddenly as it had begun. Her hand didn’t even throb, indeed her throat hurt more than her hand did. Even so, the memory of the pain remained, and she scrambled away from Arturo involuntarily. The boiler room was quiet for long minutes, and Arturo watched her carefully. Elena’s mind spun, her thoughts scattered, and her hands still shook. There wasn’t so much as a mark on her, as if the horrible burning had never occurred.

“Are you okay?” Arturo finally asked.

“I didn’t know,” Elena whispered.

“You don’t know if you’re okay?”

“I don’t know anything!” Elena’s eyes were wide, her thoughts still scrambled, but one thought above all stood out, with prickles and buzzes in her temples. “I’ve been raiding with you for more than a month, and I didn’t…it didn’t even occur to me to find out…Arturo I don’t know anything about Studio DaRose, do I?”

“What do you-”

“How am I supposed to help if I don’t know anything?” Something like a calm hysteria was washing over Elena, a panic that demanded action. “How am I supposed to create things to help, or come up with plans, or fix anything if I don’t know…when I’ve been so blind and so…so STUPID?”

“Elena, calm down, no one is asking you to fix anything, and you’re not stupid. I should’ve gone to my room to get a nicer piece of art, that was my fault, you don’t have to-”

“Arturo, can you do something for me?” Elena interrupted, “a favor?”

“What is it?”

“I have to find out as much as I can, about everything. Who knows the most about Studio DaRose?”

“Isadora. She’s been here the longest of any of us.”

“Can you ask her to come here please? I have to talk to her. Arta too, if you can find her. I need to know…I need to…”

Arturo was already at the door when he seemed to think of something. “Are you sure you’re okay, Elena? What are you going to do?”

I’m not okay. Studio DaRose isn’t okay. But we will be.

Elena turned back to the fin circles, forcing herself to turn her back on Arturo, forcing her recently burnt hand not to shake as she picked up her hammer.

“I’m going to fix things,” she said grimly.

 


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If you’re hate boiler-steam-explosions, you should vote for Twisted Cogs on TWF!

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8 responses

  1. Prodigy_Newling

    Oh boy, that is an amazing tier of power, knowledge like that. If she can learn to control the knowledge she will be a dictator like no other, nigh omniscient in her domain.

    Like

    2015-03-11 at 10:46 pm

  2. I want to learn more about Arturo’s powers.

    Like

    2015-03-11 at 11:16 pm

  3. Stormblessed

    But what if I like boiler-steam-explosions?

    I know, I should vote anyways!

    Like

    2015-03-12 at 12:09 am

    • No no, if you LIKE boiler steam explosions you should wait until Sunday to vote. If the boiler blows up, that’ll be the day it happens.

      Like

      2015-03-12 at 12:46 pm

      • Stormblessed

        Its too late! I already voted! ahhhhhhhhhh

        *runs away*

        Like

        2015-03-12 at 6:05 pm

  4. Great chapter! Gettin’ stuff done!
    One niggling issue: she realizes how close they are twice. Felt a bit redundant.

    Like

    2015-03-12 at 1:15 am

  5. jester0fdeath

    Now this, this posted a smile on my face. Awesome job in contrasting Elena’s thoughts and the direction her storm is pushing her in. Looking forward to the future ^.^

    Like

    2015-03-12 at 8:48 pm

  6. EchoStep

    I want the other studios to fear the monster that Elena will become :)

    Like

    2015-03-14 at 10:09 am

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