A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

4.4 – Lux {Daylight}

“It feels like it’s against the rules.” The top half of Dolce’s face was hidden by her mask, but her frown seemed even more intense for it. “It feels worse than anything they ever did to us.” Elena bit her lip, glancing at her studiomates shuffling their feet in the snow to her left and right. This would work, she knew it would work. Even if it didn’t work exactly as she had planned, why was it so hard for the other garzoni to understand that DaRose would never progress as long as they kept doing the same things?

“Elena’s Storm says it’ll work, and that it’s not against the rules,” Arta said. It wasn’t entirely true, but Elena flashed the Echo a grateful smile for her support nonetheless.

“Elena’s Storm is for building furniture, not planning or following rules,” Elio grunted.

“She found the Foscari kids, we can give her the benefit of the doubt this once,” Isadora said. Elena hadn’t missed the operative word “once” in the sentence, and she gulped, but she was also grateful to Isadora. On her own, Elena doubted her mortalis studiomates would’ve gone along with her idea, even with all of the gear she had made them over the past few weeks.

“It will work because nobody does things this way,” Elena said, trying to sound more confident than she felt, “but just because we’re the first to try it doesn’t mean we’re not allowed.”

“We’re blaming you if all of this goes sour,” Elio said.

“Sounds to me like you’re blaming her already,” Ele said, but the Mortalis could neither see nor hear him, and none of the others repeated his words. Elena glanced at her Echo standing at her side. He still hadn’t told her the secret that he had been keeping from her, but since Emerald had started working at Studio DaRose the building enmity between them had all but vanished, and Elena didn’t want to risk asking and upsetting him.

You should start standing up for yourself more, she scolded herself, you have a right to hold him to his end of the deal, especially since he lied to you about your end. Despite her own advice, when her childhood companion smiled at her encouragingly, standing up for herself didn’t seem quite so important. It reminded her of his silent encouragement when her mother lectured her, terrifying and quiet, and she couldn’t be angry at him in the face of his support.

“I’ve decided I really don’t want to do this,” Dolce half turned, glancing around her to see if anyone would follow. “It is worth it, you all? I mean yes, Studio DaRose is just barely hanging on to the bottom of the hierarchy, but I’ll taking ‘hanging on’ over ‘punished into oblivion’ any day!”

“There is no punishment! It’s all made up!” the fluttering feeling in Elena’s stomach snapped into her mouth without her realizing it, “that’s the entire point of this, the chance that we have to launch us higher in the hierarchy! No one understands that there are only a handful of rules!”

Dolce fixed her with a dubious look, and although her heart hammered, Elena held her gaze. With a grim shrug, Dolce turned back to the gate of Studio Malatesta and waited.

Only a handful of rules, Elena reminded herself, and this probably isn’t one of them.

 


 

“One of the biggest hurdles to learning all of the rules is that there are just so many of them,” Arta had explained as Elena dipped her rag back into the bucket of filthy water. The work was tiring, but she was making visible progress towards cleaning the little circle of fins that would eventually send heat throughout Studio DaRose. Arturo was around the studio, gathering up the rest of her Studiomates as she’d asked, but he had sent Arta in so fast that she suspected the Echo had been waiting outside. That also meant that Arta hadn’t entered when she was screaming, her hand on fire, but Elena was trying to ignore that particular fact.

“How are new garzoni supposed to know so many rules?” she asked, “why hasn’t anyone told me about them, in Studio De Luca or here?”

“Well we don’t exactly get them in a list,” Arta said, amused, “they’re little things you pick up from the ones who have been here longer than you. Isadora’s friend Aquilius told her about them, Isadora told us about them, now we’re telling you.”

Something about the system seemed not-quite-right to Elena, but she couldn’t put her finger on what exactly it was. She was already using her Storm to gain information about the fins in her hand, intuiting how they were supposed to work as she bent them back into shape.

“The biggest rules are the ones everyone knows,” Arta continued, “no serious injury to other garzoni. No fighting with someone who has given up their coin, no fighting if you aren’t carrying a coin yourself.”

“What makes those the ‘most important rules’?”

“You’ve seen the coin collector come by at the start of the month? After the coins have been tallied, each studio receives a letter from the Prince of Milia. It’s supposed to go to the Master of the studio, but…” Arta trailed off.

“But the Master of our Studio usually isn’t usually in a state to read the letters addressed to him?” Elena guessed.

“Isadora usually handles the correspondence. The letter lets the studios know where they fall in the hierarchy of the City’s Studios, and reminds them of those main rules. If the Studio has broken the rules, the letter informs them of the fines to be paid. I’ve heard that when Studio Masters are invited to the Court, it’s in those letters, but Master DaRose has never been invited.”

The fin was straightened and relatively clean, and Elena stood on the chair to slip it back into its place.

“So the other rules you were talking about, those aren’t in the letters?”

“They’re pretty easy to pick up when you’ve been here long enough,” Arta began ticking off on her fingers as she spoke, “the fighting between Studios should be kept secret from the Mortalis, so we usually try to keep the fighting limited to within Studio walls, and at night. It’s considered bad form to lie about having your coin on you. Echoes don’t have coins, so really they shouldn’t be involved in the fights at all. Injured garzoni are off-limits, and backhanded methods for getting coins aren’t allowed either. That’s why we don’t worry about someone bribing, blackmailing, or threatening family members to get coins.”

“Echoes help capture coins all the time,” Elena scratched her nose thoughtfully. Her Storm was tickling at the back of her brain, but trying to focus both on what it was telling her and on the task at hand was proving difficult. “You and Iso help Arturo and Isadora, and I’ve seen Belloza…‘Cross’ from Studio Gritti, her Echo spots for her from the rooftops.”

“Well, it’s one of those rules that everyone knows but no one really follows, we all help our Stormtouched whenever we can,” Arta smiled. “Well, most of us. Iso helps the studio when can without it looking like he’s helping Isadora. Don’t let him catch you saying that, though, he’ll sulk. You’re the only other person in the Studio besides me that he’s taken a liking to, it’d be a shame to ruin that.”

“Iso likes me?” Elena was surprised; besides helping her locate the Foscari students, Isadora’s reclusive Echo had never given her the impression he cared about her.

“Hmm…perhaps you’d better not tell him I said that either,” Arta said thoughtfully, “I don’t know how he’d take it.”

The metal cylinders slid together with little effort, and when Elena turned back to the room Isadora was standing in the doorway, her arms folded. Elena frowned; when Arturo had entered the room she could sense it through the Storm, but this time her Storm hadn’t alerted her. Between the boiler and trying to figure out what it wanted to tell her about Arta’s lecture, she must not have noticed.

I’ll have to remember that, she thought, I can only focus on so much, Storm or no Storm.

“Knowing Iso, he’d probably take it poorly,” Isadora said.

“What…” Elena had begun to ask again about the relationship between Isadora and her Echo, but as if reading her mind the girl shook her head.

“Arturo said that you wanted to ask about my Storm?”

“I’ve just realized that I know so little about peoples’ Storms, and how things work around here,” Elena said. The next boiler fin made a sharp click when it slid into place, and she tried to remember if the first one had made that sound.

“Oh. Well mine is easy; pictures I paint of light cast light when I want them to. Simple.”

“You have good timing actually,” Arta broke in, “I’m telling her about the Studio rules.”

“She said that one of the rules was that Echoes couldn’t help in the fights?” Elena’s head was starting to pound again, but she wrestled to pay attention to both the information about the boiler and whatever it was that tickled at her mind.

“They don’t have coins, so they shouldn’t be fighting,” Isadora nodded.

“But Echoes do help.”

“Doesn’t matter, all of the studios do it.”

“That was kind of my point,” Elena mused. The last cylinder that housed the final set of fins took some force, but it finally slid back into place. The water tank at the side was already open, and she poured in the bucket of dirty water she’d used to clean the fins and latched it shut. She bit her lip as she loaded pieces of wood into the boiler’s base, furrowing her brow as she worked. “Everyone ignores that unofficial rule, but they don’t get penalized for it?”

“What’s your point? You think we should start reporting other studios?”

“No…” now that she wasn’t focusing on the boiler, Elena could focus her Storm. It wasn’t as definite as it had been before, more of a nudge, a hunch, a feeling of prickles. “I’m just wondering how many other ‘unofficial rules’ might not be rules at all. What other rules are we allowed to ignore?”

 


 

“I can’t for the life of me imagine what you think you’re doing, but I’m sure it’s something stupid.” Patchwork’s voice in the quiet Malatesta courtyard shook Elena out of her reverie. He stood on the inside of the heavy iron gate, alone, his arms folded over his chest, staring the group down. He was dressed in similar clothes that he had worn a few weeks before when Malatesta had come to offer Elena a place, deep rich purples that went well with his long golden hair. “Dare I ask, or will I end up regretting it?”

The DaRose garzoni were quiet, and it took a few moments for Elena to realize that they were all looking at her. Normally Isadora or Arturo would assume lead of the small group, but Isadora had stepped a pace or so back, leaving Elena out front. They had agreed to try her idea, but they made it clear whose responsibility it would be should they fail.

“We’ve come-” Elena’s voice broke, and for a horrible moment she forgot what she was going to say.

“It’s Patchwork,” Ele murmured from next to her, so quiet even she almost missed it, “you beat him once, you can take him on again.” Elena took a deep breath, threw her head back, and started over.

“It’s not that hard to figure out, is it?” she said, lifting her hammer to her shoulder. “We’ve come to raid you. You may want to warn your studiomates.”

Patchwork raised one eyebrow, his arms still crossed, and glanced back and forth between the DaRose garzoni. The silence between the group of garzoni was broken only by the sounds of activity on the street around them, carts and passersby and merchants. His expression sardonic, Patchwork looked up at the sun above them, then back down at Elena.

“Six or seven hours early, aren’t you?” he asked, “or are you really so desperate that you don’t care about the grievous fines for breaking the interstudio rules? I wasn’t aware Studio DaRose had such disposable income.”

There were the beginnings of a crowd beginning to form, curious passersby with nothing important to do, confused messengers and merchants, little slices of Milian city life. Despite the fact that his gaze was locked on her, Elena could tell that Patchwork was just as aware of the building crowd as she was. It couldn’t have been a common sight; a group of six young students dressed in grey clothes and masks (nine, if they were Stormtouched and could see the assembled Echos as well) standing just outside of Studio Malatesta’s gates. As the silence had stretched further, Elena came to another realization:

He doesn’t know what to do. This scenario never occurred to him.

Elena made the decision in a heartbeat. If Patchwork needed more time to think, that was exactly what she would deny him. The crowd was growing, large enough that people were starting to come by just to see what others were looking at. Elena pointed at the lock hanging from the heavy Studio Malatesta gates.

“Grabber,” she said, her voice steady and loud enough for everyone to hear, “melt it off.”

 


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6 responses

  1. Stormblessed

    Ends too soon!

    Like

    2015-03-16 at 12:25 am

  2. EchoStep

    Plz give me more of awesome commander Elena and her motley crew!

    Like

    2015-03-16 at 6:06 am

    • Dibs on the band name “Awesome Elena and her Motley Crew”

      Like

      2015-03-18 at 10:10 pm

  3. Just because the rules aren’t written down, doesn’t mean you won’t get punished…
    This unwritten rules system has probably organically evolved over time, in order to cause a minimum of work disruption and hurt feelings. If the other studios feel DaRose is ‘cheating’, they’ll retaliate by preferentially targeting DaRose, or snubbing them socially, or by breaking the unwritten rules only against DaRose, for example by taking their family members hostage, as mentioned above.

    …Of course, Elena can probably ward off most retaliations using her Storm, and DaRose is *already* pretty snubbed socially, so this might turn out OK.

    Still, I figure the ultimate outcome will be that the official rules get expanded, the official letters containing them will now have to contain one or two additional pages to cover said expansion, and every secretary/official/etc will blame Elena for saddling them with extra paperwork…

    Like

    2015-03-16 at 7:26 am

    • DeNarr

      Yea, I have to agree that I’m not that impressed with Elena here. They daytime is when the gazoni are making their art. If they are fighting during any point, they won’t really have time to create the awesome art that she professes to have a love for.

      Like

      2015-03-16 at 9:15 am

      • Mind you, you could argue that this was bound to come. Sooner or later, DaRosa was going to bite back thanks to an unofficial rule. That being, of course, “When any studio takes a hit or feels slighted in some way, humilate DaRosa.”. Worms are known for turning if you abuse them enough. :/

        Like

        2015-03-16 at 3:33 pm

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