A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

5.4 – Fenestrae Animae {Windows to the Soul}

Dear Cog,

 

Speaking officially, on behalf of Studio Gritti, the punishment for Studio DaRose’s transgressions did not entirely match those transgressions. We feel that aligning all of the studios against one it’s not in the best interest of Milia, and thus are abstaining from our part in tonight’s raid. This should not be considered an offer of alliance, but rather a measured decision for the good of the Studio system.

~ Studio Gritti

 PS. Speaking unofficially, off the record, we all think that was pretty messed up, attacking a studio in the day like that. How would you have felt if you were trying to make some art and had to contend with raids? But…That being said, the Gritti garzoni owe a debt to Cog, and thus any studio that houses her. Master Gritti was reluctant to give us permission, but after a discussion regarding the nature of our studiomate, we have permission to give you a break this once. The Gritti garzoni and Cog are now even.

~ Cross

PPS. They don’t know I’m adding this part. Cog, you and I are not even. You gave me my coin back, you got rid of Slug for us, and from what I hear you seem to be one of the only kids in all of these studios that cares about art. I know you had to go along with your studio when you attacked Malatesta in the day. If you need a favor, or if you’d just like to get a drink sometime, come and find me.

~ Belloza

 

“I like her,” Owl passed the paper back to Elena add they climbed the final floor of stairs, “the switch between her callsign and her name is a very effective way of making herself seem more genuine.”

“You don’t think she’s genuine?” Elena panted. The climb was bad enough, steep wooden steps that were just a little too steep for her legs, but the bag of metal supplies on her back made it even worse. Ahead of her Owl moved carefully so as not to disturb the painting materials that he carried or accidentally smack her with the ladder; he definitely had the more awkward items to carry, so she didn’t voice her discomfort.

“I have no reason to think she’s not genuine, after all the gas did put the DaRose’s to sleep, they could’ve taken all of your coins without much effort.”

Instead of the opposite, Elena thought, reaching a hand in her pocket to feel the weight of the coin that she’d found on her bedside. The image of a slug had been engraved into it, and more than anything it had convinced Elena that the message from Cross was legitimate.

“Finally, I thought we’d be climbing stairs all day,” Owl sighed and set the paints and brushes down carefully at the head of the stairs, the ladder along the floor. Elena set the heavy bag down alongside them, and joined Owl. The door at the head of the stairs seemed more sturdy than was strictly necessary to keep people out of a church’s roof, but perhaps the good priests of Domine Cathedral were worried that their Stormtouched mural would be vandalized.

“Seems like a mundane lock,” Owl noted, “shouldn’t be a problem for you, should it?”

“That’s why I’m here,” Elena grinned and retrieved her lockpick from the pouch at her side, “I haven’t run into a lock yet I couldn’t pick.”

“I know, if I recall correctly you picked mine in the middle of me bragging that it couldn’t be done.”

“If you could’ve seen your face when I opened it,” Elena giggled as she knelt down by the door, and Owl gave his small smile. They were rare enough that Elena tried to get them, and she felt a sense of reward as she began working on the lock.

The two Faberi waited in silence for a few moments as Elena did her work. Her Storm buzzed comfortably in her fingertips and temples, much more bearable when she was only thinking of the workings of a single lock and lockpick rather than an entire studio. The first pin sunk into place.

“Remind me, when you officially trust Studio Foscari, to ask you how it is that your Storm works,” Owl said, “I’m imminently curious about it.”

“We trust Studio Foscari,” Elena sat back on her heels and looked at Owl dumbfounded, “why would we be working with you if we didn’t trust you?”

“Really? You probably shouldn’t; just because we helped you once doesn’t mean we don’t have nefarious plans for down the road. We don’t, but just taking our word for it seems a bit naive.”

“Yeah, I…I get that a lot, actually,” Elena frowned, “but I’d rather be naive than paranoid and distrustful of all of the nice people around me. If you have questions about my Storm then just ask.” She turned back to the lock, and within a few moments the second pin slipped into place with a satisfying click.

“Very well then; how on earth are you so versatile? I’ve heard and read about hundreds of Stormtouched, and none of them have the range you do. Stormtouched have one domain, a single domain, but yours doesn’t seem to operate in one category.”

“Oh, that’s easy; I can work on anything that’s mine.”

“Firstly, that’s not a ‘domain’, the Storm can’t distinguish vague abstract concepts like ownership. Secondly, the lock isn’t yours, it belongs to the church.”

The buzzing in her fingertips flickered for a moment, and lockpick slipped. The second pin fell back down, and for a brief moment Elena wasn’t sure how to move it back.

“Can you please not do that?” she snapped, refocusing. The lockpick was hers, it was made and maintained and owned by her, and her Storm would ensure that it worked. She twisted once by a fraction of an inch, and the second and third pins clicked into place simultaneously, and the lock sprang open.

“Fascinating,” Owl murmured, “I have so many other questions already,” He moved forward to swing the door open and examine the lock. Elena took a step out onto the roof and looked around her. The roof of the church was even higher up than the roof of De Luca’s studio, and she looked around at the city of Milia that stretched out beneath her with wonder.

“It’s so beautiful,” Elena breathed.

“Careful not to get too close to the edge,” Owl cautioned without looking up from the lock. He had removed his tools from the bag and was already hard at work, removing thin rivets and fasteners from around the lock, “There’s a chance her field of vision is wider than it has to be and she can see you on the edge.”

Elena turned and looked up at the spire that loomed above them; the belltower. The huge painting of Christus riding a Stormcloud and gazing out across the city was beautiful, but the eyes of the figure were painted for function rather than beauty; Vittoria Arcimboldo, Elena’s old De Luca studiomate, could see through them, and she had been tracking movements through the city for Studio Malatesta.

Elena retrieved the ladder from the top of the steps and set it up next to the belltower, then began putting the paints on the wooden pallet they had brought. As she worked she also watched Owl as he carefully removed the lock from the door and began assembling his own from the components in the bag.

“You’re really careful with that,” she said, pulling a brush from the bag and approaching the ladder to climb.

“There’s a misconception among some Stormtouched, that because Faberi are more concerned with the mundane items around them, we’re somehow ‘lower’, and what we do isn’t true art. I vehemently disagree, and with everything I do I try to dispel the myth that Faberi’s work isn’t art.”

“Art through locks,” Elena mused thoughtfully, climbing the ladder. Just beneath the chin of the figure of Christus, she paused, “are we ready to start the clock?”

“I don’t see why not.”

Elena climbed the final step, holding herself directly in front of Christus’ gaze, and therefore directly in Vittoria’s field of vision. Carefully, she began to re-paint the eyes.

“It’s funny,” she said, “Cross would probably like you too, you seem to care just as much about true art as she does. You both remind me of one of my friends.” Elena thought fondly of Frederica as she worked, “she’s a little prickly and grumpy, but she had opened up a little when she realized I loved art just as much as she does.”

“Do you really?” Owl asked.

Elena stopped painting and looked down at him, aghast. “Of course I do! All I’ve ever wanted was to make art in the Milian Courts!”

“I don’t mean to offend you, really,” Owl carefully put his lock into place in the hole where the old lock had rested, “but it was your idea to attack Malatesta in the daytime. Disrupting people trying to make art.”

“That was in very specific circumstances,” Elena protested. The eyes were so detailed and beautiful that it was difficult to copy them exactly, even painting directly over them, but she was trying her best. “Normally I care more about art than any of the Studio stuff, but that…was different.”

“Did you know that DaRose has a reputation for that sort of thing?” Owl was using his tools now, thin drivers and hammers to fasten the lock into place, “none of the Stormtouched make any art, they just sell other Studios’. One or two of the Mortalis paint things, but they’re more concerned with lazing around and the intra-studio fighting.”

Elena opened her mouth to object, but she couldn’t think of anything to say. It was true that Arturo and Isadora didn’t sell their pieces, and the others spent more of their time sleeping, lounging around the studio or going out to enjoy the city.

“I’m not saying that’s you,” Owl continued, “but people are affected by the people around them. Are you sure you’re not starting to take the game more seriously than the art? Do you still love the art most of all?”

Elena looked up at the mural whose eyes she was painting over and felt a stab of guilt.

“You’re not very nice, Owl,” she said softly.

“I prefer to be honest with my friends when they need it than nice to them,” Owl said, furrowing his brow as he concentrated on calibrating something deep within the lock.

“Your ‘friends’?” Elena smiled, putting the final touches on the eyes.

“Hmmm?”

“You called me your friend.”

“Oh. I suppose I did.”

Elena climbed down from the ladder and looked up at the mural with its new eyes. They weren’t quite as good as Vittoria’s originals, but someone looking from the ground probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. More importantly, Vittoria would only be able to see paint through it now, and Studio Malatesta’s ability to survey a quarter of the city was gone, for now.

From the ground the mural would look exactly the same. Unless she was willing to tell the priests that their beautiful mural was a Stormtouched tool to spy on the city, Vittoria would have no excuse to ask the priests for access again, and if she tried to sneak in at night as Owl and Elena had done, she would encounter the Faberi-made lock. Of course Studio Malatesta would probably find a way around it within a week, or the priests would try to visit the roof only to discover they were locked out, but Studio DaRose only needed a few days.

“Done,” Owl said shortly, “let’s get going before we have a surprise visit; I’m sure Malatesta is already on its way. We can only hope they’re not on their way up the stairwell right now.”

“Ele is on guard outside,” Elena reminded him, “he would’ve warned us.”
“Ah. I forget that normal Stormtouched have Echoes, sometimes,” Owl helped her wrap up the paint supplies into a bundle and close the ladder. For the hundredth time Elena considered asking him what had happened to his Echo, but it didn’t seem like the right moment.

The pair carried the ladder and paint supplies into the stairwell, and closed the door to the rooftop behind them. The new Faberi-made lock clicked shut with a note that was almost musical, and Owl nodded once with satisfaction.

“You might be right,” Elena said as they descended the stairs, “maybe I’ve started to get more caught up in the game than the art.”

“It’s never too late to change that.”

“After all of this is over…I’ll start focusing on art more. Maybe you can help me with that.”

“I’d be happy to,” Owl gave her another small smile over his shoulder, “like I said, I enjoy proving that the art of a Faberi is just as valuable as the art of any other Stormtouched.”

 


The moon was just beginning to rise as the pair emerged from the Church. Ele emerged from the shadows as they passed, matching their stride.

“Did anyone see you?” he asked.

“Hundred-Eyes probably did,” Owl said.

“I meant anyone else. I’m guessing not, from the way Elena is practically skipping.”
“I think that’s just her bouncy personality. She’d probably skip if we were being escorted to jail.”

“I am right here you know, I can hear you,” Elena said indignantly, but she couldn’t help but smile. It was true, for the amount that her studio had been put through over the past five days, she was in a wonderful mood. The stars overhead seemed to light their way just as much as the sliver of moon that was visible over the tops of the buildings.

“Do you see those stars there, those nine?” Elena pointed above them as they walked, “my boyfriend Niccolo told me that’s the Faberi’s constellation. Nine bright stars that make up a hammer and saw, crossed. I think of it as mine, but it’s yours too!”

The silence seemed uncomfortable for a few moments, and Owl spoke slowly.

“Do you remember how I said I’d rather be honest than nice with my friends?”

“Yes?”

“There is no Faberi constellation.”

“What are you talking about? It’s right there, Niccolo told me.”

“You’re pointing at Scorpio, which if you ignore five of the fourteen stars looks I guess a little bit like a hammer, although I don’t know where you see a saw.”

“I don’t really see any pictures in stars,” Elena admitted, her smile waning a little.

“Saggittaruis, the archer, was already a constellation before the first Stormtouched. The Sagittari like saying it’s ‘theirs’, but really it was just part of a system that existed long before they did.”

“So Niccolo lied to me?”

“At least it was a nice lie. Romantic even, depending on your definition of romance I suppose.”

“Well now I’m angry at him, making things up just to make me want to kiss him,” Elena frowned as they arrived in front of Studio Foscari. The snow had all melted but for little piles of slush here and there, so the grey and white uniforms of Studio DaRose were easier to make out in the street in front of the large studio.

“You’re back!” Isadora’s voice was the only way Elena could recognize her studiomate among the twelve masked and hooded students in grey and white, “who are you angry at?”

“She’s angry at her boyfriend for making her think the Faberi have a constellation,” Owl said, accepting a grey hood and mask from one of his studiomates.

“Good,” Isadora’s voice sounded grim, “you’ll have an opportunity to use that anger tonight. Let’s go pay Studio De Luca a visit.”


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9 responses

  1. Sorry for the typo-heavy bonus chapter, things are rather hectic for me at the moment! I hope to go over this chapter for another editing pass sometime soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    2015-04-21 at 10:03 pm

  2. AvidFan

    So Cross doesn’t know that she was the ringleader.
    Elena is revealing the secret of her storm to anyone who asks.
    Owl might be a Rhetor.
    And Elena’s boyfriend is an ass.

    Sounds about right.

    Like

    2015-04-21 at 10:25 pm

    • Yeah, the thing about Owl and the echo was weird. That didn’t ring any warning bells?

      Like

      2015-04-22 at 12:31 am

    • Unmaker

      First point, I agree.

      Second point, she already trusts Owl to some degree in other things, so he isn’t “anyone.” But yeah, that seems stupid.

      Third point, unless Owl is incredibly skilled for his age, he is a Faberi. And Ele has said he could be destroyed, apparently for what seems like trivial things like keeping secrets about Echos. So Echos can ‘die’ and the patterns for which talent gets them and which don’t is not clear (the fact that talents like Elena’s exist shows the whole system is poorly understood). To me, the evidence is in favor of Owl being honest about his situation.

      Fourth point, what guy doesn’t tell fibs to make his girlfriend happy? Not smart, but infatuation seems to make brains leak out ears.

      Liked by 1 person

      2015-04-22 at 10:43 am

  3. daniel73

    Well I am glad Elena got some indication that being nice can pay off from crosses note. I’m really liking owl. He seems like such a straightforward guy

    Like

    2015-04-21 at 11:31 pm

  4. Niccolo is going to get spanked, I see.

    Like

    2015-04-22 at 8:50 am

  5. Unmaker

    Let’s see: trespassing on church property and destruction of church property (defacing the painting, changing the locks). Studio Malatesta can bring the church in to punish Elena for essentially no cost to them… unless the church doesn’t know that the mural has additional properties, in which case they might keep quiet.

    And while changing the lock is a nice touch, unless the rest of the cathedral is built like a fortress, it seems unlikely that there isn’t another way for Hundred Eyes to get back to the mural and fix it. The only thing that Elena can hope for is that fixing the mural is seriously non-trivial.

    And what is this plan to go on a raid? Unless the new rules have come out, they put themselves at risk of infracting them unknowingly.

    Like

    2015-04-22 at 10:32 am

    • You make a very good point here; this was actually not supposed to be as ambiguous as it came across; I blame a hectic week for how unclear this bit was. To make it a little clearer I’ve added the following paragraph to the scene on the roof;


      From the ground the mural would look exactly the same. Unless she was willing to tell the priests that their beautiful mural was a Stormtouched tool to spy on the city, Vittoria would have no excuse to ask the priests for access again, and if she tried to sneak in at night as Owl and Elena had done, she would encounter the Faberi-made lock. Of course Studio Malatesta would probably find a way around it within a week, or the priests would try to visit the roof only to discover they were locked out, but Studio DaRose only needed a few days.

      Liked by 1 person

      2015-04-22 at 10:07 pm

  6. Anonymous

    Interesting. Some thoughts:

    We already know that Vi has a penchant for hiding eyes on normal places such that they don’t look like eyes at a casual glance. When she was up there, painting the symbolic eyes that she could boast about to others, I would be surprised if she didn’t take a spare moment to deftly scrawl half a dozen (tiny?) discrete eyes on nearby wall.

    If I were Elena, risking souring my relationship with others by marring artwork and knowingly being directly in front of her eyes to do so, I would have dressed in sufficiently-concealing clothing and a fake-coloured hood. I’ve lost track of which studios are which, but after ruling out grey/yellow/purple/white/green there are still three remaining to pin the blame on and sow discord without announcing undeniable culpability. This doesn’t apply if she’s deliberately taking this step as a continued declaration of war, but that would still be risky (in terms of her reputation regarding fighting/art).

    Owl’s perspective makes a lot of sense to start with; thinking back on the events that led up to her actions, though, Elena could have told him how he treated her (and other Faberi) like trash, and thus the reason that her actions were to take back her pride as an artist rather than losing track of the art. Granted, it might have been better to accomplish artwork that left him in the dust, but it seems that Owl might be more sympathetic after hearing the circumstances rather than after hearing an ineffectual protestation that that was ‘different’.

    Also, since this is my first comment (after reading through the entire thing so far in the past few days): I like the world a lot, but I’m really really glad that Elena is holding the Idiot Ball less in the second volume. The first volume was… constantly frustrating, shall I say, in that regard. (Specifically, completely separately from naïveté, her tendency to often do and say things which made opposite sense in context made it difficult to sympathise with her as a protagonist.)

    …hmm, what else to comment on at the moment… I’m a little curious about her thoughts on Arturo. It seemed as though she had a huge revelation about the torture he was carrying out and the ethical unacceptability of doing that to anyone no matter what, but then the next time the matter is addressed she’s happily letting people get his flames glued to their hands without showing remorse. Storm-related apathy for others, or has she just been overwhelmed with all she’s handling now, or a combination…? Hmm.

    Oh, right! I wondered why they didn’t ask Studio Foscari (white artisans) for a copy of (or to see) Foscari’s rulebook, which they presumably have already received. Maybe that’s the book that Owl was holding, but didn’t show to them at first? Maybe they can go for the yellow artisans now because the white artisans have decided they can show them the rulebook? (Chance of sabotaging them with tampered rules, but unlikely.) There’s the question of why they would go for the yellow artisans of all artisans, rather than the purples again say… maybe because the yellow artisans’ signature was at the top..? –But presumably this paragraph’s matter will be revealed in the next chapter. *looking forward to it, and hoping that there’s a lot of splendid Storm-wrought artwork things in the future rather than endless spiralling down into fighting*

    …I find myself thinking of the phrase ‘The world is mine’, and thinking that a lot could be accomplished by thinking ‘This is /my/ city, I can go anywhere and do anything, work anything out, no one can stop me, I permit everything to exist as it is because it pleases me’ and gain Storm insight about everything in a somewhat self-fulfilling prophecy; Elena might not be able to think in such a megalomaniacal way naturally enough, though, and perhaps something else might also interfere.

    Well. In the end, I’m sure the nature of Echoes/Rhetors/Gale-devils(/the Storm itself) is going to be the main meat of what Elena ends up tackling. (Hoping that the overall flow of thing isn’t too similar to Worm, though.)

    Good luck with your writing! *will be reading*

    Like

    2015-04-23 at 7:51 am

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