A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

2.4 – Laminis Fortior Scientia {Blades Stronger Than Knowledge}

I have to decide whether or not to turn in Domenico, Elena stared through the mirror without seeing herself while Emerald braided her hair. I have to be sure that I’m there the next time Emerald and he talk to each other, if they’re willing to use their Storms on each other it’s too dangerous to let Domenico control Emerald…although I know Emerald would never hurt me…

Elena glanced at the Rhetor’s reflection. Her confidence that Emerald wouldn’t cause harm did nothing to assuage her fears that Domenico might, and she shuddered to think what two Rhetors could unleash upon Milia if she couldn’t reign them in.

I have to talk to my friends, find out what Ele has told them, find out if they need anything from me, see what they’re doing…I haven’t even asked what they’ve been doing around the castle, I’m such a bad friend-

Emerald gave a final tug to the braid, momentarily distracting Elena from her musings, and she rose to look at herself in the mirror. The dress she was wearing, a soft cream dress that hugged her hips but didn’t have much of the rustle and bustle that she had been expecting, for which she was grateful. She was already nervous about sitting in on the first meeting with Vecellio’s project, she didn’t want to add on worrying about courtly manners to her nerves.

But I’ll have to figure out that sort of thing at some point! she suddenly realized, if I’m planning on staying in the courts for a long amount of time shouldn’t I learn what dresses to wear, how my hair should look, I should take Frederica up on her offer to teach me those sorts of things…and of course I still have to keep an eye out for the Rebels who kidnapped me, and I wonder if the Storm is still watching what I do…

Emerald gently spun Elena too look her up and down, and Elena continued to muse, trying to keep straight all of the threads of thought in her head. Emerald smiled gently, then slapped Elena firmly across the cheek.

“Ow!” Elena jumped, blinking bewilderedly and raising a hand to her red cheek.

“You’re worrying about Domenico and I,” Emerald said, “and you’re worried about your new assignment at the palace, and you’re worried about things that I don’t even know about.”

“How can you can tell?” Elena asked, “and why did you slap me?”

“It’s impossible to miss, the way you’ve sleepwalking, and I slapped you to wake you up. Be here, Elena,” Emerald’s silver-bell voice was gentle, “focus on the now, and let the rest of your worries untangle themselves. You cannot be the best for your assignment if your head is somewhere else.”

Elena bit her lip, then turned back to the mirror. Emerald was right. She could only worry about the single task in front of her, and anything else would have to wait for when she could focus on it. The red in her cheek was already fading, and Elena turned her mind towards the Vecellio project, rewarded with a buzzing in her temples and fingertips. Careful not to try understanding the entire thing, only hovering on the outskirts of the project to familiarize herself with the basics, Elena nodded once and turned to the door.

She didn’t need to ask where Vecellio’s team was meeting, the location of the room was already firmly fixed in her mind, buzzing in the back of her skull.

 

***

 

The first thing that struck Elena about the room in which Vecellio’s team met was that it was dark. It reminded her of the hold of Lord Waldren’s dream ship, a comparison not helped by the fact that it was underground, lit only by the light of several lanterns and torches around the walls.

All three members of the project looked up when she entered, the heavy door scraping across the stones of the floor. Elena took in the sight of the three in the small silence that followed. Vecellio herself was tall and gaunt, standing over a table on which a map of Milia and a sheaf of paper lay haphazardly spread. Sitting at the table two men, one large and sweaty with a few whisps of grey hair on his head, the other wiry, with thick black dreadlocks and muscles that threatened to burst out of his palace uniform. Her Storm told her that the palace guard Cofrancesco and the Milian accountant Be Pullo both worked on the project, it was easy to pick out which was which. Between the accountant in his simple black outfit and the two palace guards in their uniforms, Elena felt extremely overdressed in her soft cream dress.

“Are you lost, child?” Be Pullo asked kindly. Elena took a deep breath and focused. First thing was first, she needed to not be thought of as a child, not if this project was hers now. Even they were told to follow her orders by the Prince, Elena knew that she wouldn’t accomplish anything if the team in this room didn’t respect her.

“Actually-” she began, but Vecellio has started speaking at the same time, and the older woman’s strong stern voice cut through the room with authority.

“This will be Elena Lucciano, Be Pullo,” she said, turning her attention back down to the map, “recently in the Studio system, His Principe has placed her in charge of the project.” Without looking up, Vecelio indicated the single empty chair at the table.

“A little girl?” Be Pullo looked flabberghasted rather than offended as Elena crossed the room and took her seat, Ele a few paces behind her, “on a project to stop smugglers?”

“Stormtouched,” Vecelio said shortly by way of explanation, taking a notebook and piece of charcoal and handing them to Elena, “some sort of information-gathering Storm, from what His Principe said?”

“Yes, it tells me how things work, things that are…mine,” Elena said, hoping she wouldn’t offend anyone, “so, um…right now it’s telling me how this project works.”

“That’s precisely what we need,” Vecelio nodded without a change in expression, “start writing what you know, having the exact nature of the project written out will be helpful as a starting point, and will let us see a little bit about how your Storm works.”

Elena took the notepad from the woman. It was hard to read her, to tell whether she was angry or just no-nonsense. Elena was reminded of her first meeting with Frederica, and how her Caelator friend had seemed so stiff and unfriendly. The thought was encouraging, and Elena began writing, again carefully only taking the edges of details about the projects into her mind a bit at a time.

“As I was saying,” Vecelio leaned back over the table, resuming the discussion that had  “our Green Street source has definitely confirmed four of the lockets, which means only the tenth and eleventh are still unaccounted for.”

“It don’t make a difference,” the dreadlocked Cofrancesco spoke for the first time, his voice as smooth as honey, “we know all eleven entered the city, add ‘em to the list.”

“Until we know all eleven stayed in the city, we can’t discount our throughway theory,” Vecelio shook her head.

“The money doesn’t support the throughway theory,” Be Pullo noted, “Milia is definitely the smugglers’ endpoint, we know this for a fact.”

“We know it for a conjecture.”

“For a fact! My numbers don’t lie.”

“What is the ‘throughway theory’?” Elena asked. She had been trying to listen and write at the same time, and as a result had let her Storm guide her fingers while barely paying attention to what she was writing. “Is the theory that the smugglers are moving through Milia instead of living in Milia?”

“Close,” Vecelio nodded, “we’re more concerned about the smugglers’ money and goods, and whether those things move through Milia or stop here. Good, you can write and pay attention at the same time, I like that skill in a team member.”

“Excuse me, I’m sorry,” Be Pullo shook his head, the incredulous look back on his face, “I understand that you are a Stormtouched my dear and quite helpful and I mean no offense, but why would His Princeps put a child in charge of the project? How old are you child?”

“I’m sixteen years old,” Elena answered, her face turning red. She wanted to say something to rebut him, but as she groped for words Vecelio stepped in.

“Don’t question His Princeps on this matter, Be Pullo. Her Storm only works when she has ownership of a project, and so ownership of the project now technically falls on her. But that’s all it is, a technicality. In all but name, I’m still in charge of the project.”

“Oh…no…” Elena stammered, even as her writing faltered and the buzz in her fingertips died down immediately, “um…it…” they were all staring at her, and she could feel her heartbeat in her red face, “you can’t trick it like that. It’s gone now.”

The silence stretched for a long few moments, Vecelio holding Elena’s gaze. Embarrassing as it was, Elena didn’t look away. After a few moments longer, Vecelio spoke.

“This project is important, Lucciano. Both to me and to the city.”

“I know,” Elena said.

“I’ll give up control if you think you can do more good in the position than me, but if not, I might have you fight you on this with His Princepe. How good is your Storm? What do you have written so far?”

Elena looked down, fumbling the notepad and trying to read her scrawl.

“Um…project…networking project…started two months ago, a thousand florin budget-”

“Is there anything that will help us move the project forward? Or will it always be re-treading of things we already know?”

Elena skipped down further, “um…His Princeps considering adding a fourth member to the team?” she read, “supplies for a planned sting have arrived in the castle but haven’t been moved through because the guards switched duty as it came in? Someone named “Gallalia” sends messages to someone named ‘Merigania’ once every other week-”

The information settled with a faint stirring. Maybe she was remembering information that had filtered through earlier, or maybe in that instant she felt ownership of that little notebook. Either way, the words gained splinters of further context. The ‘someone’ was Gallalia Be Pullo. The other ‘someone’ was Merigania ‘the Smuggler Queen’ Delforo. The messages were detailed reports on the progress of Vecelio’s project to hunt the smugglers down.

This time the silence was so thick with tension that Elena could hardly breathe. Vecelio didn’t move a muscle, taking in both Elena and Be Pullo. Cofrancesco was much more open, he had risen to his feet and was peering at the two of them. Elena turned hesitantly to see Be Pullo’s reaction.

He was a large man, a very large man, the sort that one would think would have trouble sitting and standing easily. He had no business rising so quickly, hurtling towards Elena as if hurled from the chair itself.

She didn’t even see the knife until he was almost on top of her, and she certainly didn’t have time to do anything but throw up an arm and cry out.

The impact knocked her backwards, tumbling chair and all onto the floor. Above her there was motion and yelling, a shout and a single sturdy impact as Cofrancesco took a single step forward and slammed his arm into the man’s throat. The floor shook as Be Pullo hit the ground, knife sent spinning, gasping for air, and only then did Elena’s arm start to scream with pain.

It hurt, from her elbow up her arm and across the palm of her hand and between her index and middle finger, it hurt worse than any pain she’d felt before. It had all the hurt of her broken wrist with an extra sting of fire that seemed spread across the entire surface.

“Lucciano do you have an Echo?” Vecelio was moving around the table, while Cofrancesco turned the large man over and pinned his arms behind his back, “Lucciano’s Echo, please go for help, medical and guards, we can’t leave Be Pullo alone with just one of us.”

Gingerly, Vecelio examined Elena’s arm, careful not to touch the wound. Panic began setting in now, worse even than the pain. She was a Fabera, her Storm worked through her hands, and this was even worse than what the Rebel kidnapper had threatened to do.

“Is…is it…” she attempted, but her arm hurt so badly and her teeth were chattering, her body shaking as if she was cold.

“I’ve seen worse,” Vecelio said soothingly, removing the jacket of her palace guard uniform, “you’ll be alright.”

Elena looked around for Ele, hoping for the comfortable familiarity of his face, but he had already run off, and instead she looked down at her lap, her cream dress stained red with blood.

Vecelio looked calm as she began ripping strips from her jacket. “Welcome to the project, Lucciano.”

***

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***

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7 responses

  1. You should COMBINE the vote button and the renaissance kittens. Make it so the people have to vote to see them, and you’ll soar up in the rankings!

    Like

    2015-07-09 at 2:07 am

    • Also, nice chapter, if a mite short. I would’ve liked a little more detail on the project, and the two members besides Vecelio, before all hell broke loose.

      Like

      2015-07-09 at 2:08 am

      • Glad you liked it!

        I always find it interesting the perceptions of chapter length. I’ve had some chapters that were much shorter than average which no one mentioned, but some which are average length that feel shorter. For instance, this one is actually only a few paragraphs shorter than the average chapter length, but it feels way shorter!

        Like

        2015-07-09 at 2:12 pm

        • Kunama

          It’s not number of words, it’s plot progression/character development.

          Like

          2015-07-09 at 8:43 pm

    • AvidFan

      Kittens + Vote button?
      … I don’t think Skynet is the main concern anymore.

      Interesting chapter. It saddens me that this isn’t likely to be the worst trauma she receives before this is over…. But at the same time, maybe it will give our innocent Elena a bit more backbone (backbone is required to rule the world after all). It’s probably earns her a bit of respect at the very least.

      Like

      2015-07-09 at 9:16 am

  2. Panster

    Seeing as how this serial is awesome….

    Is it better on topwebfiction for us to vote once a week to count as a new vote, or refresh it by voting every time you have a new chapter up?

    Like

    2015-07-09 at 10:50 pm

    • d’aw, how sweet! Either way is perfectly fine, both of them tally your votes in the “votes this week” counter. I suppose if you wanted to maximize the effect of your vote, refreshing it every chapter would make sure it doesn’t slip a little on the last day of the week.
      Also, I tend to look at my stats and see how many people voted after a particular chapter, so if there’s a chapter you like a lot, clicking through to refresh your vote is a good way to let me know!

      Like

      2015-07-10 at 8:00 am

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