A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

7.01 – Incubant Nimbum {Brooding Stormclouds}

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Elena could barely stand to look at the neat little sheet of numbers on the board on her lap, but the alternative was meeting Master Asclepius’ gaze. She resolutely continued to stare, making a listless mark here and there where the numbers on the sheet were wrong. Taxing information, already handled by several different accountants and not even something she had to address herself, but for now it was an alternative to laying silently in bed or attempting conversation with the Master who gently worked around her.

“Has she been good, Ele?” Master Asclepius had no doubt picked up on the mood in the room, as his voice was a little too chipper and forced.

“She’s only left bed to walk to the water closet for the past month,” Ele nodded, “I think the pain has been keeping her more well-behaved than either of us could order her to be.”

“While I’m sorry you’ve been suffering, I’m rather glad that something was able to keep you still, at least,” Master Asclepius joked.

“Nothing quite like pain to remind me to sit still,” Elena murmured, furrowing her brow. It was hard to navigate the swathes of information that Milia represented, following the pathways along the data and taking great care to only access what she needed.

“And your good behavior has paid off for you, it sounds like.” Master Asclepius straightened, stowing away the ear-trumpet he’d been pressing to her back, “your new stitches seem to be holding well, and more importantly I don’t think the damage you caused with your previous disobedience will be permanent. And before you say anything, I know, I know, your previous disobedience saved our lives.”

Elena returned Master Asclepius’ grin with a wan smile of her own, but didn’t say anything. Her quill hovered over the parchment, pausing at a few of the numbers reported by Studio Isotta. The unfurled power of her Storm that spread out across the whole of Milia was a constant buzz in her head, but it still refused to penetrate the Studios themselves.

Each of the eight Studios are subject to the rule of the Princeps, Elena tried again to force her power to extend over them, although she didn’t hold out much hope that the hundredth attempt would work, the Princeps is subject to the rule of Little One and I, therefore the Studios belong to me. They are mine, thus my Storm applies directly to them.

Her Storm stubbornly refused to extend so far, and Elena grit her teeth with frustration and scratched an angry acknowledgement across the parchment. The accountants could double-check Studio Isotta’s accounts.

“Are you paying attention, Elena?” Ele asked, not unkindly, “this is important.”

“I’m sorry, Ele, Master Asclepius,” Elena looked up as if startled awake and set her quill down.

“I said that you’ll finally be able to get out of bed today,” Master Asclepius smiled encouragingly, “after a month of bedrest, I’m sure that comes as a relief.”

“Yes,” Elena said. In reality, she didn’t much care whether she was out of bed or not, but answering that way might’ve led to Asclepius asking questions about why she felt so lethargic, and what would she answer then?

I’m helping run a city that I help take by force from its rightful rulers. I’m working with the woman who tried to kill you, who tried to kill me, who killed scores of loyal Italozan troops to demonstrate the gravity of the rebellion she herself raised up.

I’m working with Arta’s killer, which puts her blood on my hands as well.

Master Asclepius was talking again, and she shook herself and paid attention. “-very lucky, given that the amount of activity you engaged in the last time could’ve been enough to kill you. I wouldn’t count on the same luck this time, not with a re-sown set of stitches, do you understand? No lifting anything that weighs more than a kettle, no running, don’t even bend over if you can help it. Ele, I’m counting on you to help remind her if she forgets.”

“I’ll remember,” Ele nodded.

“Excellent. I’ll check in on you again before the Eye leaves for Florenzia, Elena,” Master Asclepius patted her on the hand, and Elena mustered up another smile for him if only because it was what he was expecting. “Ele, could I speak to you in private for a few moments?”

A few months ago, Elena would’ve been driven half mad with curiosity, but now she barely glanced at the pair as they left the room. Her quill hovered again over the parchment as she let her mind wander. The city of Milia was so much bigger than she had imagined, even when she had first arrived here in the city almost a year ago, when it had seemed like the walls stretched out forever.

Before her Storm had spread its wings, Elena couldn’t have even imagined how many “ten-thousand people” really was, and now she knew how many times that amount filled the city walls. Running in between the alleyways and among the streets of Artisans, the city had only seemed ‘large’, but now she had the full feel of it, the hundreds of shops and the hundreds of shipments that entered and left just to support it and keep it running every day.

With the complexity of such a city running through her mind, it was easy to let it wander if she wasn’t paying attention, and these days it was easy to not pay attention to anything, easy even to forget to eat or to sleep. At the thought, her stomach growled, and Elena glanced over at the tray of food that had been brought to her the evening before, hardly touched at the time, and now congealed and inedible.

The growling stomach set her to thinking about Milia again, about the flow of food heading in and out of the walls of her city.

Her Storm was powerful, she knew that much, but it would’ve been easier to organize or make sense of in her head if she had something beyond the raw information that it provided. For instance, as her stomach growled again, her mind turned to the bakeries scattered throughout the huge city. There were sixty-two bakeries spread out through the whole of Milia, but what did that mean? Were there too many? Not enough? How could she use that information to help anyone?

“Today is Friday, which means the Princep’s Council is meeting,” Ele had re-entered silently, without Master Asclepius. “Now that you can get out of bed, you should attend. The longer you wait, the less impact your entrance will have.”

Elena nodded, wordlessly.

“That means you need to get out of bed and into the rainsluice now,” Ele prodded, and without answering Elena complied. Even if Master Asclepius hadn’t given her instructions, she would’ve moved slowly. She knew it was her imagination, but each breath invoked visions of tiny threads of the stitches stretched like a spiderweb across her lungs, tugging at her insides with every motion. By the time she reached the water closet she was already tired.

“What did Master Asclepius want to talk to you about?” she asked as she removed her clothes, just to break the silence.

“He’s worried about you,” Ele answered from outside the door, “his Storm has been telling him you have some kind of…injury in your feelings, or in your thoughts, but he’s not sure how exactly to help you with it. The only times his Storm tells him about injuries in thoughts is soldiers who have been in bad fights, he’s worried that you saw things in the Milian Quelling that did the damage.”

“The ‘Milian Quelling’,” Elena scoffed at the name people had reverentially given the bloody and chaotic mess of a month ago, but she was at least glad that ‘The Garzoni Pacification’ had never caught on. She pondered as she stood under the flow of warm water, halfheartedly scrubbing at herself. “His Storm is probably picking up on something that broke in my mind when I accepted Little One’s offer. A damaged conscience.”

“It was the right choice,” Ele murmured the well-practiced phrase, “you’re positioned to change the city for the better now, with enough power to make it happen.”

“I’ve had a month’s worth of time to change the city,” Elena shivered a little as she stepped out of the rainsluice. “I don’t have much to show for it.”

“Your new carting system has solved the lockups in the streets. The guard rotations mean the on-duty squadrons get more sleep without losing any coverage. All of that food that was being wasted from the castle would still be wasted if not for-”

“Nothing to show for it except for tiny, stupid changes,” Elena snapped, “I thought that my Storm would show me everything so clearly and I could fix it easily, but all it’s done so far is…show me everything.”

“The Princeps’ Council is starting soon,” Ele said, “perhaps the council can help you get a bigger picture to put things in better context?”

“I’m already going, you don’t have to wheedle,” Elena said.

“I was just thinking…maybe after the council, you could visit your friends,” Ele continued carefully, “they might be able to give you a bigger picture as well.”

Elena pulled on her clothes without looking at them, a bundle of velvet and silks in ivory and black. The council meeting would begin in ten minutes, and Her Princeps was already in the small room and waiting. Moving slowly, Elena could make the walk and arrive just in time. Her morning headache was already buzzing in her head alongside the Storm, and she doubted seeing her friends would make her feel better.

“You look good,” Ele nodded in approval as she emerged, “very adult and in-charge.”

Elena nodded in acknowledgement of the compliment without smiling, and turned to the door. “Time to introduce myself to the council.”

***

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7 responses

  1. Hm. This is gonna be interesting.

    Thanks for the chapter :D

    Like

    2016-02-08 at 1:23 am

    • Thank *you* for reading and enjoying!

      Like

      2016-02-08 at 6:22 am

      • No no no no no, thank you! I insist! (Just messing around)

        Like

        2016-02-09 at 12:50 pm

  2. AceOfSpade

    “your new stitches seem to be holding well, and more importantly I think the damage you caused with your previous disobedience will be permanent.”

    That sentence feel kinda weird though I’m not sure why… maybe because Master Asclepius goes from something kind of positive to something negative with just an “and” as a transition, I would have expected a “but”. English isn’t my first language though so that might just be me.

    Liked by 1 person

    2016-02-08 at 4:07 am

    • Eek, there is a very important “don’t” missing from the sentence “I don’t think the damage will be permanent”! Thanks for that catch AceOfSpade!

      Like

      2016-02-08 at 6:21 am

  3. Sengachi

    By the way, the “next chapter” date is still set for 2015.

    Like

    2016-02-08 at 1:45 pm

    • Whoops, so it was, thanks! (I’d been so good about not making that mistake when writing checks, too…)

      Like

      2016-02-08 at 1:50 pm

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