A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

4.8 – Secundo Deseratur Subcinericius {A Second Helping of Pancakes}

Between the warmth of the studio’s kitchen, the smell of cooking pan-cakes, and the sunlight that streamed through the window promising spring, Elena was finding it very hard to approach the day with the gravity it required.

“Let me get this straight,” Emerald flipped the two pan-cakes in the pan with an easy motion as she spoke, “so you got to keep the entire studio’s coins, and your only punishment is having to take a few weeks off? I dunno, Elena, it sounds like you got off pretty easy to me. Maybe you should ‘screw up’ more often, get even more vacation.”

Elena frowned at the parchment she had been working on, trying to both follow the conversation and add up the numbers at the same time, “it’s not that simple, Emerald. For all we know we’ll have an attack to deal with every night this week.”

“And then you can take their coins again. I really don’t see the problem.”

“She’s not wrong,” Ele chimed in. “You worry too much, Elena.”

“You agreeing with Emerald, what a shock,” Elena muttered under her breath. Her relationship with her Echo had improved ever since Emerald had started cooking and cleaning at the studio a few weeks before, but Elena was beginning to resent his dogged loyalty to the Rhetor. Elena and Ele had been the most important fixture in each others’ lives for so long, it was strange to think that there was someone else who he might care for now. Someone, perhaps, that he even cared for more.

I have no right to be jealous, she thought, after all, he’s probably felt the same way since we’ve come to Milia…I’m supposed to be his friend, but I’ve been caught up in studio business, I started dating Niccolo…he probably feels just as betrayed by me.

It was a sobering thought, and Elena sighed as she continued to tally up the expenses of the Studio on the parchment in front of her. According to Isadora, Studio DaRose usually only squeaked by with enough money left over for a few luxury food items and enough art supplies to carry them through the next month. With the money that would be paid out by Studio Malatesta, assuming they didn’t lose several iterations of their own coins, they were actually quite far ahead of their expenses this month.

“But maybe you’re right,” Elena sighed. “Maybe things are finally turning around for Studio DaRose.” After a few moments the fate-tempting nature of what she just said hit her, and she clapped a hand over her mouth, “oh fortunam tentantes did I just say that out loud?”

Dolce slumped into the kitchen just as Emerald slipped the first few pan-cakes onto a plate.

“Morning Miss Dolce!” Emerald smiled.

“M’r’n’n,” Dolce mumbled. The girl was clearly asleep on her feet, and Elena felt a twinge of guilt. She had many small plans in motion to improve the studio, but one she hadn’t told her studiomates about was this; an attempt to get her studiomates’ sleep schedules all in sync. Having Emerald around had made the task much easier, as she could now determine the time in which delicious hot meals would be available.

As if reading her mind, Dolce complained, “Osci tar, Em, do you have to make breakfast so early every morning?”

Emerald smiled and raised an eyebrow, then pointed out that she had no way of knowing when the garzoni would wake up, that all she could do was make food and give it to whoever showed up to the kitchen.

“Well, I didn’t think of it that way, but…yeah, I suppose the food is worth it,” Dolce said, taking the plate of pan-cakes from Emerald and joining Elena at the table. “Still…”

“Good morning Dolce!” Elena said cheerfully.

“Mornin’ Elena. You admitted to yourself that you’re a Rhetor yet?” Dolce said casually, with a mouth full of pan-cake. Emerald’s shoulders tensed, but she flipped the next pan-cake without turning.

“I’m not a Rhetor,” Elena protested.

“Talked Master Malatesta into giving up a studio full of coins while we faced down the whole studio, talked the Milian Page into letting us keep those coins, and used your Storm to do it? Sounds like a Rhetor to me.”

“Dolce, you’ve seen me build things. You wore the costumes I’ve made you, for goodness sake!”

“A Rhetor who’s good enough with her hands to pass as a Fabera, that strikes me as even more dangerous than a regular Rhetor.”

“I have an Echo! Just ask Isadora or Arturo!”

“If they put masks on Rhetors, I wonder if they’ll have to put you in both a mask and cuffs that cover your hands,” Dolce said thoughtfully. Elena stared at her, aghast, until she noticed the twinkle in the other girl’s eye.

“You’re messing with me,” she realized aloud.

“It’s barely any fun anymore, if you’re just going to believe anything I say.”

“That’s a pretty serious accusation to joke about,” Emerald said lightly, without turning.

“Depends on who it’s coming from,” Dolce shrugged, “even if I did believe it, who’s going to listen to the mortalis DaRose kid? No, I’d be more worried about accusations from someone who matters, like our esteemed friend Patchwork, or Elena’s boyfriend. Ah, speak of the devil.”

Elena could see the top of Niccolo’s tousled hair through the glass at the top of the door as he knocked, and she jumped up to let him in.

“Hello there, my favorite Fabera,” Niccolo’s grin seemed to wipe away some of the stress of the past week, and Elena felt herself grinning in return.

“Hi, my favorite Saggitari,” she said.

“Wow he’s your favorite?” Nicci asked, “he’s my Stormtouched and he doesn’t even make my top six.”

“Hey Nicci,” Ele had been lounging on the stool in the corner, but he sat up straight as the other Echo entered, “do you want to go for a walk?”

“Sure thing, that sounds nice.”

Elena watched the two Echoes leave, curious. They weren’t even subtle about it anymore; what did they talk about, when they went off on their own? Was there something romantic going on between then? Elena had thought Ele was infatuated with Emerald…she glanced at the Rhetor at the stove.

Elena clearly hadn’t been the only one to notice Ele’s behavior with Nicci. Emerald watched him depart with a face so neutral that it had to be guarding some deeper emotion. Unfortunately Elena had no idea what emotion that was; whatever was going on beneath those brown curls was a mystery to Elena.

Niccolo followed Elena’s gaze.

“Ah, I don’t think we’ve met, I’m Niccolo, Elena’s boyfriend,” he said, reaching out a hand.The phrase “Elena’s boyfriend” made her heart beat faster, and she smiled happily.

“I’m Em, the cook and housekeeper here. It’s nice to finally meet you, Niccolo,” Emerald shook his offered hand, “Elena tends to smile whenever your name is mentioned.”

“I do not!” Elena said.

“Do too,” said Dolce around a mouthful of pancake.

“Actually..Have we met before?” Niccolo narrowed his eyes, “your face seems remarkably familiar, but I can’t quite place it…”

Elena’s heart beat faster for a different reason now, her stomach lurching. Emerald had helped in the De Luca kitchens for weeks, of course Niccolo would recognize her. How could she have been so absentminded? Her mind raced, trying to decide what to do.

“No, I don’t think so,” Emerald sounded far more lighthearted and easygoing than Elena could’ve managed, “I only arrived in town less than a week so.”

“Aren’t you friend with Elena from a while back?” Dolce asked, licking the honey from her fingers.

“Yes, we knew each other back in our hometown, Carpi,” Emerald continued to lie with apparently the utmost ease.

At least she remembered my hometown, Elena thought with a kind of horrified calm.

“Well it’s nice to meet one of Elena’s friends! You’ll have to tell me some stories when you have the chance,” Niccolo smiled, but the curiosity didn’t fade from his face, “but I swear I’ve seen you somewhere before…”

Elena was already mentally preparing damage control. Ele had managed to convince Elena to not turn Emerald in to the guardhouse, but somehow she didn’t think convincing Niccolo would be quite so easy. As worried as Emerald’s presence made her, as complicated as it had been, and as frightening add it was to have an unmasked Rhetor under the same roof, Emerald had been Elena’s friend in Studio De Luca. Niccolo had no such hangups.

Would he stay quiet for Elena? Was their relationship strong enough that he would risk the wrath of the guardhouse to protect a friend of hers? Did she dare even ask him? Elena was frightened to find out…

“Did you work near Studio De Luca at all? Is that it?” Niccolo asked.

Emerald stated quite firmly that Niccolo hadn’t met her.

“My mistake then,” Niccolo said cheerfully, “I must be thinking of someone else.”

Elena frowned. He had dropped the issue so fast…natural satisfaction with the answer, or was Emerald using her Storm again, mind-controlling Elena’s boyfriend just as casually as she had been prepared to do with her mother? It was all Elena could do not to groan and rest her head on the table. It was hard, being the friend of a maskless Rhetor.

“You look so miserable, Fabera of mine,” Niccolo sat at the table with the two DaRose girls, leaning back so that only two chair legs tested on the floor.

“It’s because she’s worried about being outed as a Rhetor,” Dolce said sagely.

Dei, Dolce please stop,” Elena did groan this time.

“What’s this now?” Niccolo looked back and forth between them, “you’re no Rhetor, Elena, I’ve seen your Echo.”

“I know that! Even Dolce knows that, she’s just teasing me because my Storm told me how to take Malatesta’s coins, and that method just so happened to involve talking to Master Malatesta.”

“So…Your Storm put words in your mouth?” Niccolo set his chair back down slowly, and was giving her an uncomfortable look.

“No! Honestly, Niccolo, not you too! I’m a Fabera, my Storm build things and it fixes things. So, I built a plan to get us coins, and then when that plan broke down I fixed the plan, that’s all.”

“But…that’s not how it works,” Niccolo spluttered, “just because you phrase it in a way that includes the words ‘build’ and ‘fix’, doesn’t mean it’ll work like that! Faberi are craftsman, you can’t just…TRICK your Storm into doing what you want it to do.”

“I didn’t trick it, it was more like convincing it,” Elena said in a small voice, “I’m learning how to tell what it wants to do.”

“Elena you’re talking about your Storm like it’s a person,” Niccolo said, “and it’s really creeping me out.”

“That’s your girlfriend for ya, and our studiomate,” Dolce said with an unpleasant smile, “leave it to Elena to make ‘not a Rhetor’ the more unsettling option.”

Elena’s cheeks burnt red, and she looked down at the parchment on the table. The two of them ganging up on her seemed hardly fair, but she didn’t know what to say to refute them.

“My plan got us a whole studio’s worth of coins,” she said sullenly.

“And we’re quite grateful for that,” Dolce said with a magnanimous gesture of her fork, “we can be grateful and creeped out at the same time.”

“That’s…actually why I’m here, Elena.” Niccolo ran a hand through his hair, looking awkward for the first time since Elena had known him. Somehow he managed to make even awkward and abashed look handsome, and she lost track of what he was saying.

“Hmm?”

“It’s just…Some of the studios aren’t very happy with the daylight attack of Malatesta. Or the fact that you got a studio’s worth of coins without losing any of your own. There are a lot of phrases being bandied about…‘Not how the game is supposed to be played’, ‘upsetting studio balance’, ‘getting too-’” he broke off suddenly, looking embarrassed.

“Getting too full of ourselves,” Dolce finished helpfully with a single raised eyebrow, “wow, that must be really hard for you De Luca and Malatesta kids, huh? Having to deal with the traumatizing thought of us lower classes rising through the ranks. You poor things.”

“It’s not just De Luca and Malatesta who are upset by this,” Niccolo said, his cheeks turning red, “and I want going to say ‘getting too full of yourselves’, I was going to say ‘getting too intense about the combat, at the expense of the art’.”

“Sure De Luca, I believe you.”

Elena folder her arms and stared Niccolo down. “So you came here as a messenger to give us De Luca’s official position on our actions.”

Is there ever going to be a time when he comes by just to see me?

“No, this isn’t official. Master De Luca hasn’t sent the official response yet, I just wanted to make sure that…that you won’t take it personally when he does. That Studio De Luca’s official actions won’t affect our relationship.”

It was incredibly hard to keep her face stern as she looked at him, eyes wide and waiting for her response. His heart-melting plea was bad enough, even without the big brown eyes.

“Fine,” she said finally, “I understand, you aren’t responsible for what your Studio does. But you ARE responsible for what you do, so I’d better not hear any of that talk about DaRose being lower.”

“You won’t,” Niccolo promised, standing. “Now I have to go, I’ve got such a big day ahead of me that I probably shouldn’t have come by at all, but…I had to see you. I had to make sure that whatever happened, you and I would be okay.”

Elena opened her mouth to speak, but suddenly he was just in front of her, and she found she couldn’t speak, or breathe, or do much of anything. His lips pressed against her forehead, his soft voice whispered something about his favorite Fabera, and then he was gone.

“Wow, he’s smooth,” Dolce said, staring at the door after him with a half smile playing about her lips, “from calling you creepy to leaving you blushing and slack-jawed…maybe HE’S a Rhetor.”

 


 

Elena was the last to eat, after her studiomates had trickled in drawn by the smell of Emerald’s cooking. Each of her fellow garzoni had been woken up, and eventually their schedules would begin to sync up. She suspected that Festo had gone back to bed after he had eaten, but overall the plan to have the garzoni keep the same hours was going quite well. Dolce had brought in parchment and paints after she’d finished, and was working on a Mortalis painting on the other end of the table.

“And you’re really not going to tell me what the two of you talk about?” Elena asked. The pancakes were nearly as good as they had been at Studio De Luca, and Elena tucked into them with a vengeance.

“I just don’t see why you’re so intrigued,” Ele shrugged.

“You know, it’s really distracting, listening to one side of a conversation,” Dolce muttered.

Ele continued, “I can’t have any secrets?”

Elena was about to point out that he seemed to have nothing but secrets recently, and that he still hadn’t honored his promise to tell her where he got clothes from, when she was interrupted by a knock on the door she started to rise, but Dolce gestured for her to sit. “You’ve been making sure the rest of us eat, enjoy your food, I’ll get it.”

When Dolce opened the door, Elena observed over her shoulder. The boy was about her age, with short curly black hair, and wore glasses. He looked vaguely familiar, but it took Elena a few moments to place him in her mind.

“You’re the Foscari garzoni,” she said, “‘Beetle’ or ‘Bug’ or something, right?”

“It’s Owl, actually,” the boy adjusted his glasses, seemingly unphased by Elena’s guess, “and yes, I am from Studio Foscari. We have a proposition for you, one I think you’ll appreciate…but first you should probably read this.”

Dolce took the note from him and scanned it, her mouth moving as she read. Owl waited patiently on the doorstep, making no move to enter.

“It’s a..a schedule,” Dolce said, looking over her shoulder. The snarky, sarcastic girl looked taken aback, and the expression was so unlike her that it raised goosebumps on Elena’s skin. “A schedule for the studios. It has signatures from all of the Masters.”
“We believe the letter made its rounds in order of Studio Hierarchy,” Owl said, “which would explain why it reached Foscari last. After all of the others signed.”

“A hit list on Studio DaRose…or a raid order…or whatever you want to call it,” Dolce said quietly, “to teach us a lesson. They’re coordinating attacks. Multiple raids, from different studios every single night. We won’t be able to keep up, won’t be able to adapt or adjust.”

Elena wasn’t sure how to process what Dolce had just said. “All…all of the Studios?” she asked, willing it to not be true. Niccolo wouldn’t have just walked out without warning them, if it had been true.

Dolce seemed to read her mind, and she walked over to set the letter gently in front of her. The language was flowery and formal, but the content was just as Dolce had said; coordinated scheduled attacks, designed to leave Studio DaRose destitute and wipe out any advantage they had gained. At the bottom were signatures, pledges of cooperation from the Masters of the Studios dedicated to punishing DaRose for their breach of the unspoken intra-studio rules.

Near the head of the signature list, just after Master Malatesta’s signature, was the inscription “Master Bernardo De Luca”

 


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10 responses

  1. Unmaker

    I think I am picking up a textual clue – when Emerald’s words are quoted, she isn’t using her Storm as influence (but may still be reading the other person), but when the text says that Emerald said something, she is using her Storm.

    It sounds like Foscari is offering to help DaRose covertly.

    Like

    2015-04-06 at 7:49 am

  2. Oh shit son, it’s time for Elena to play Tower Defence.

    Liked by 1 person

    2015-04-06 at 8:10 am

    • Why did this make me laugh so hard?

      Like

      2015-04-29 at 5:29 pm

  3. screw with their ability to check the time, and make them all get in each other’s way?

    Like

    2015-04-06 at 8:10 am

  4. John Galt

    Finding the words to describe how militarily advantageous it is to know when and who are going to attack someone like Elena in a fortified, defensive structure is proving difficult. Let’s just say that the other studies are basically signing up for a massive arse-whipping if she has enough time to formulate and enact plans customized to each assaulting force.

    Liked by 1 person

    2015-04-06 at 11:49 am

  5. Fromplebutter

    I’m just wondering. What happens if they run out of coins? This hasn’t been explained before.
    And a follow-up question: what prevents them from immediately spending all the coins so they can’t lose any? Spending the coins was mentioned previously.
    Also, what happens if no garzoni are home when a studio comes to raid? I assume this must happen occasionally that they are all out raiding when another raiding party shows up.

    Liked by 1 person

    2015-04-06 at 1:44 pm

    • AvidFan

      I’m probably wrong, but I presume they always have coins, but each person can only have theirs taken once a day. I presume that coins are a set value of money (probably including inflation), and that each studio has a set income based on their rank. Losing a coin takes money from this income, which will then go into DEBT if they lose more coins than they have money left.

      TLDR: Coins are probably like credit cards.

      Like

      2015-04-08 at 8:03 am

  6. CK

    I wonder if DaRose studio could unamimously take a holiday? They can’t be made to give up their coins if they’re not there… Now why do I suspect that that’s going to be against the rules? Oh, because it would be vaguely fair.

    Like

    2015-04-09 at 5:40 am

  7. I keep losing my place! D: I need better bookmarks.

    Also, I found a small typo:

    “and I want going to say ‘getting too full of yourselves”

    I think it’s ‘wasn’t’ in there instead of ‘want’. :)

    Like

    2015-05-11 at 11:22 am

  8. Isa Lumitus

    B-B-But… Niccolo did see Emerald before, right when she made contact with Elena at the restaurant.

    Also, Elena needs to make a plan to make people forget about the rhetor thing. Once she has HER plan, her storm should refine it. If not, she might be able to add it to HER plan to improve HER studio. After all, the most important thing for any rhetor (or pseudo-rhetor) to do with their power is to make sure no one knows what they are.

    And finally, the idea that DaRose is too focused on the martial side of things is an odd thought. After all, it was implied earlier that the only reason there is a martial side is to force studios to focus on one or the other. I imagine that the King is enthused about anything that keeps the supernaturally gifted subjects fighting amonst themselves. Given that, even if DaRose is destroyed, I’m sure a new eighth studio will be formed. And TPTB would be stupid to not snap up such useful tools as the ones that broke the prior status quo.

    Long term, I cannot see the synchronized attacks as a significant threat to Elena, except to her ego. The very concept that she could be a rhetor, though… I personally would find literally anything an acceptable cost for making that thought go away. It’s just a matter of how ruthless Elena is willing to be. I’d be tempted to rig the boiler to explode and kill the rest of the studio. Not sure if I’d act on that temptation, but it would be there.

    Like

    2015-07-24 at 5:07 am

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