A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

2.3 – Verba Fortior Laminis {Words Stronger Than Blades}

“It’s been such a long time, I’m sure you didn’t recognize me!” Domenico grinned, his blue eyes sparkling. Elena leaned back in her chair, her arms folded. It was too much, it was all officially too much. There was only so much a person could handle all at once, and Elena had effectively reached her limit.

The memory of that horrible night, paralysed by Slug’s Stormtouched concotion of poisons and potions, still plagued her nightmares sometimes, and while it was true that Domenico had saved her from torture, perhaps even saved her life, it was also the case that he did so by opening the boy’s throat with a knife right in front of her. He hadn’t even hesitated, he’d done it the second Slug’s back was turned. If Elena had any energy to be shocked or horrified any further, the sight of the maskless Rhetor in front of her would do it.

As it was, between speaking to the Storm, accidentally insulting the world’s more powerful Stormtouched, seeing her old Studiomate’s toes shot off in front of her, Elena didn’t think there was anything else that would shock her or throw her for a loop, and instead of horror or fright, she just felt…vaguely numb and slightly annoyed.

What was Domenico even thinking? Was he so confident that she wouldn’t turn him in to the guardhouse that he would expose himself to her like this, actively seeking her out no less? Of course, Domenico knew Emerald, so he must have assumed that Elena had no problem with maskless Rhetors. If she hadn’t turned in Emerald, he must’ve thought she wouldn’t turn him in either.

And, after all… Elena hated herself for even thinking it, but the man had saved her life. No one had forced him to enter the kitchen that horrible night, and as horrifying as his actions had been, she couldn’t deny that he had stopped Slug from hurting her. Permanently.

Elena shuddered. There was also the stark fact that Domenico was coldheartedly brutal towards those he considered his enemy. Eric the Rhetorguard had been strangled to death as he slept, and Elena had been conscious enough to hear the man taunting Slug’s Echo as she died. There was no doubt in her mind that if she turned him in to the Guardhouse, she would be painting a target on her back.

Her retinue was staring, and Elena shook herself, trying to return her attention to the moment.

“Of course, Domenico, it’s lovely to see you again!” she mustered. Whatever she ended up deciding, she should be polite now.

“Ah, I knew you’d remember!” Domencio crowed, setting a little dish of fruits on the table next to her, and stooping to pick up pieces of her broken glass, “you don’t live in a small town like ours and forget a face entirely.”

The accent was perfect Carpi, so perfect that it felt like home, even though the Milian accent wasn’t that much different. Even the man’s mannerisms were familiar and homelike, and his smile was as genuine a smile she had ever seen. If there was any calculation behind that smile, any worry that she would betray him, any note of anger that she hadn’t recognized him instantly, it was hidden behind the smile.

That’s the scariest thing about him, Elena thought, eating a piece of fruit without tasting it, I can’t think of anyone else who is that good of an actor…

“So, Elena, the two Masters wanted to talk to you,” Owl broke into her musings, “is there anything you can tell us about?”

“And where are Arturo and Arta?” Frederica asked, “we thought they went to find you.”

“Arturo was a little too curious for his own good,” Ele said, his gaze not wavering from Domenico, “the Masters caught him eavesdropping and shot him in the foot when he tried to run away.”

“What? That’s terrible!” Frederica said.

“What an idiot,” Owl frowned.

“That’s so cool,” Belloza breathed, “how far away was he when they shot him?”

“I don’t…the length of the hallway maybe?” Elena said, distracted. Domenico was gathering the others’ empty dishes, seemingly content with their brief meeting, but Elena needed to know why he was here, what he planned on doing, and most importantly if he was going to hurt anyone else during his stay.

“I’m so terribly sorry, sir and ladies,” Domenico broke in respectfully, “would you mind terribly if I stole Miss Elena for a few minutes? It’s been so long, there’s so much to catch up on…” Elena frowned; it seem that Domenico had questions of his own.

“We don’t mind,” Frederica said, and Belloza and Owl nodded.

“I don’t know if that’s…” Elena looked from Domenico to Ele, who was giving her a warning glance that mirrored her own feelings.

“If you’re worried about your fruit and drink, Miss, I can bring it for you.” Emerald said from behind her, and Elena jumped. The two Rhetor servants were giving each other looks of matching neutral pleasantness, but Elena could almost feel the crackle of electric communication that was passing between them, opaque to everyone else in the room.

Elena took a deep breath. The prospect of being in a room alone with Domenico was terrifying, even if he had saved her life. With Emerald there, she would feel a little safer; after all she could no more imagine Emerald allowing harm to come to her than she could imagine the moon falling from the night sky.

“I’ll be back,” Elena said to her friends, “Ele, you can fill them in on the conversation with the Masters, you probably have a better idea of what we’re allowed to tell them anyways.”

“Elena…” Ele said warningly, but paused and simply frowned instead of continuing.

Domenico smiled again, indicating the door, and Elena followed him out, trailed by Emerald.

***

“In the entirety of the wide world there is to escape, you chose to hide here?” Emerald hissed the second the door closed behind them.

“The Guardhouse has Hunters searching for me all over Italoza,” Domenico chuckled, his accent suddenly more cultured, more refined, “I’m sure they’re searching Milia as well, but only as an afterthought. Besides, they’re looking for someone rising high in power very quickly, what do they care about a popular servant in the Milian Palace, a stone’s throw from Garnet’s last known location.”

It was as if a mask had been suddenly ripped away when he said his old name, the genial smile falling away for just an instant and revealing an almost bestial snarl. It was gone almost as quickly as it had appeared, but judging from the worried look Emerald shot in Elena’s direction, the other Rhetor had seen it too.

“Here we are,” Domenico opened a door and ushered the ladies inside a small green room, “we’re quite safe to talk here, there are no spy holes.”

“Are there spy holes in other rooms of the castle?” Elena asked.

“Oh yes, they’re littered all over, and half the time the upper class doesn’t even know about them. Being a servant is glorious fun, let me tell you, especially when you’re a servant who everyone adores.”

Elena frowned. He was using his Storm then, using it regularly on the other servants of the castle. She didn’t know how to make him stop, but the thought of him freely manipulating the minds of the helpless people around him made her skin crawl. What if he chose to use it on her friends? Or on the Prince of Milia himself? She shuddered, but stayed silent, trying to think of a way to bring it up without offending him.

“The Guardhouse has much harsher penalties on escaped Rhetors who use their Storm, Domenico,” Emerald said gently, clearly thinking along the same lines as Elena, “it might be best to just…”

“To what? Live without a Storm, like a Mortalis?” Domenico smirked, “and of all the people to lecture me about the Guardhouse. You’ve clearly escaped your own guard, my sister-in-storm, you can’t expect me to believe you still hold the Guardhouse in such high regard? You’ve come a long way from Studio De Luca, risking death by guard instead of coming with me.”

Elena let the two of them talk, taking in the new information. So Domenico had tried to take Emerald with him when he escaped, and Emerald had refused? Why would her guard Rolf take her to the Guardhouse if that’s what had happened?

“I suppose I did have an epiphany, yes,” Emerald admitted, “but it’s a far cry between not wanting to die and dominating the minds of those around you, Domenico.”

Domenico closed his eyes for a moment, a smile playing on his lips, “deiae bosca et muhia, that Storm of yours. I’d forgotten how beautiful my name sounds in your voice. Like the music of glass against stone.”

Elena was used to Emerald’s voice by now, but she had always thought her Rhetor friend’s tone sounded like pretty little bells or faroff coins jingling.

Even his metaphors are violent.

“I’m glad you still like it,” Emerald smiled, “I was worried that you’d be angry that I didn’t join you when you asked.”

“A triffle upset, perhaps, but I can’t fault you for acting according to your conciense,” Domenico said.

“You respect my concience but you find it within yours to use your Storm on Mortalis servants?”

“All this indignation, and you don’t even know the half of what I’ve done.”

“I’ve heard a few rumors,” Emerald said gravely, “there’s a young kitchen maid that seems particularly smitten with you, she was telling me about the mysterious man who had just joined the staff.”

“Which one?” Domenico smirked, “it’s so hard to keep them all straight…it’s like a feast prepared just for me.” When he saw that neither Elena nor Emerald was smiling with him he grew grave again, his voice quiet. “When the Guardhouse stripped us of our humanity, they made the choice of what we became, sister,” he said, “if they treat us like subhuman animals, dangerous beasts, then they have only themselves to blame when we act as such. The prey cannot fault the predator when they are the ones who created us.”

“It’s wrong, Domenico,” Emerald said, just as quietly, “please don’t force us to do something we’ll regret just to stop you.”

“My only desire is to remain the king of my little domain, what harm could there be in that? Elena Lucciano has more self-respect and honor than to turn on me like that,” Domenico said, “I saved her life, and I can provide her even more help now with whatever her goals are. She wouldn’t kill me on account of a few scullery maids and kitchen boys.”

“You’re not going to just stop at them though,” Elena was terrified, but she could see the truth in Domenico’s eyes. Helpless and powerless for so long, there was no way he would stop, he wouldn’t be content with using his Storm on just a few people. He was addicted now.

“Probably not,” Domenico agreed with a shrug, “but that needn’t worry you my friend. I prey on sheep only, and you and your friends are most certainly not sheep. You needn’t feel guilty about not turning me in.”

“And me?” Emerald asked.

“You…you wouldn’t risk your own safety,” Domenico’s eyes narrowed, “you want to remain just as far from the Guardhouse as I.”

“What I want and what will keep people safe are two entirely different things,” Emerald said softly. The two Rhetors stood on opposite ends of the room, their eyes locked, and Elena felt as though she could only barely understand the tension between them, the conversation they were having without words.

“Elena,” Emerald said, without breaking the gaze, “cover your ears.”

“Come now, I hardly think there’s a need for that,” Domenico said, also not taking his eyes away from Emerald’s, “neither of us wish her any harm.”

“Very well,” Emerald said. She turned away suddenly, as if some conclusion had been reached, and pulled up a chair from next to the wall. Across from her, Domenico also sat down, throwing one leg over the other and reclining in a relaxed pose.

Domenico ordered Emerald not to reveal him to the Guardhouse.

“Sloppy,” Emerald said. “You haven’t done this for some time. Preying on your Mortalis sheep.”

“That’s fair,” Domenico conceded, “but there’s still time to get back into the swing of things.”

Emerald pointed out that he could work on it in silence, without speaking.

“I’m not the only one who’s sloppy,” Domenico smirked.

Emerald noted that charisma was pointless if it came from a Storm. True power, she noted, was marked by the force of personality within.

Domenico replied that one’s Storm was an extension of personality, a part of one’s charisma. Why wouldn’t one use it, he asked.

The more they used their Storm, Emerald pointed out testitly, the more likely they were to have the Guardhouse’s eye on them.

“Their eye on us?” Domenico grinned, “you sound as if we’ll be spending a lot of time together.”

“Two maskless Rhetors hiding in the same castle,” Emerald shrugged, a half-smile playing around her lips, “I’d be denying the inevitable if I said we wouldn’t.”

“Once we’ve straightened out this pesky little matter.”

“Yes,” Emerald sighed and ran fingers through her golden hair, then noted that she couldn’t be friends with a man who used his Storm to harm others.

“Well, you could,” Domenico said.

“I could, but I won’t.”

“What are you two…” Elena was trying to follow their argument, but her head was pounding all of a sudden, and she was dizzy.

“Don’t worry, we’re fine,” Domenico said, but Emerald held up a hand and rose, stepping over to Elena’s side.

“Are you alright?”

“That wasn’t me,” Domenico said to Emerald as he too rose, “I wouldn’t use my Storm on her.”

“I know you didn’t, she just seems a little wobbly,” Emerald helped Elena to the chair.

“Why do Rhetor fights make me dizzy?” Elena closed her eyes for a moment until the dizziness passed.

“At least they’re quieter than Lanisti fights,” Domenico chuckled.

“Can’t you both just…just talk it over? Without using the Storm to force each other into an agreement?”

Domenico stared at her blankly, and even Emerald was frowning.

“Don’t give me that look! If you both plan on being friends why can’t you actually talk to each other?” Elena realized that her voice was raised, but she was beginning to be fed up. In the space of a single morning she’d had to deal with rebels and secret societies, Masters and Arturo, fighting Rhetors and a maniacal Stormtouched killer who wanted to help her. She was exhausted from her dreams, she was famished, she still saw Arturo’s toes flying through the air when she closed her eyes, and to top it all off Arianna Vecellio’s network project had just started their meeting without her.

“Oh no!” Elena slipped from the chair and rose, “I have to go, I have to-” she looked back and forth between Emerald and Domenico. Something told her they weren’t just going to talk it out, that they’d be right back at it the second she left them alone together.

“Can you come help me get dressed, Emerald,” Elena sighed, “Domenico, the three of us can talk again soon?”

Domenico bowed, “of course. I have other ways to keep myself occupied in the meantime. Other people to keep me occupied.” He smiled, but the message he gave was clear; he had no intention of changing his ways as things stood now.

Elena rubbed her temples as she followed Emerald out of the little green room.

When did everything become so complicated?

***

Previous Chapter | Next Chapter

***

Click here to vote for Twisted Cogs. What? No, it’s not a trap, or a hidden link, or a redirect. It’s fine. Why would you think otherwise? Just click it, don’t worry about it. This is DEFINITELY not a textbook example of a quadruple-bluff, I’m pretty sure you just made that up, it’s not a thing.

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11 responses

  1. Whew! This chapter has broken a record and is officially the most-rewritten chapter in all of Twisted Cogs. Expect lots of typos and fragments in this one, but I’m sure my eagle-eyed readers will catch them, and it is much appreciated!

    In case you missed it from the front page, I’m feeling a little world-buildy this week, lads and ladies! From now until July 8th, for every page added to the Twisted Cogs Wiki, I will also contribute! For every page completed on the Wiki, I will contribute extra bonus material not found in the series!

    Like

    2015-07-05 at 9:20 pm

  2. Anonymous

    conscience — not concience or conciense

    And I think in:
    > Was he so confident that she would turn him in to the guardhouse that
    > he would expose himself to her like this, actively seeking her out no less?
    you want “she wouldn’t turn him in”.

    Like

    2015-07-06 at 1:44 am

    • automeris

      I don’t know why sometimes when I log in my name gets filled in, and sometimes it doesn’t. I posted the above typos/corrections.

      Like

      2015-07-06 at 1:54 am

    • Fixed, thanks!

      Like

      2015-07-08 at 10:38 pm

  3. Weeeeeell. The vote button WAS indeed a redirect to the Twisted Cogs voting page >.>

    The Guardhouse has harsher penalties than death for rhetors that use their power? More death? Torture and then death?

    Oh my gosh I think I know why rhetors don’t have storms? Does the guardhaus kill them?

    Frederica being concerned for Arturo seems oddly out of character. Maybe she is just warming up in general, letting that other side of her be more visible?

    Thanks for the chapter! Glad to see you back.

    Like

    2015-07-06 at 2:14 am

  4. Hmm… She reacts almost like she’s getting overload when Rhetors duke it out? That might well be because she is. Her application of the Storm is also heavily pattern, verbally, culturally and socially-based, after all. She may also be one of the very few non-Rhetors able to directly detect their use of the Storm as a direct result of her stress on information analysis.

    Which suggests to me that Little One is also a handy-dandy Rhetor detector. <_< How many of the Twisted are the same way, I wonder?

    Like

    2015-07-06 at 11:34 am

  5. Unmaker

    I am with Elena here – enough is enough. What else can the universe throw at her? (Bad question, I know.)

    If nothing else, this adds one more person who knows what Emerald is and is untrustworthy.

    And it is really interesting that Elena can see the Rhetors’ attempts to influence each other. She isn’t exactly immune, but that is still far more than most people get, even most Stormtouched.

    Like

    2015-07-06 at 11:36 am

    • “What else” indeed!

      Probably nothing else though.

      Most likely nothing else.

      Like

      2015-07-08 at 10:39 pm

  6. Isa Lumitus

    This chapter, I wanted to set Domenico and Emerald side by side, and slap them both. Then I’d say, “Stulta, stulta rhetori!”

    Honestly! We know of two unmasked rhetori, and they both go to a Royal’s seat of power? That’s the place that cliche-evil rhetori go to, to usurp existing authority. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Guardhouse didn’t even bother having any agents elsewhere, if rhetori can be counted on to gravitate towards political powers.

    To use D&D terms, if rhetori get a charisma bonus, they certainly seem to get a similar penalty to intelligence and wisdom. If Emerald was smart, she’d leave the palace immediately, and maybe tip off the royal guard about Domenico on her way out. Domenico is clearly dumb enough that for Emerald’s own safety, he needs to die before he gives away critical information.

    Like

    2015-07-25 at 6:13 pm

  7. I need a damn bookmark thingy. I’ll be back later.

    HEY TARTRA THIS IS WHERE YOU TOOK A BREAK OKAY YOUR HAIR IS LOVELY TODAY BY THE WAY

    Like

    2015-08-31 at 10:12 am

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