A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

3.01 – Tinnio {Clink}

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Authors Note: A big thanks to all the new Patrons! Thanks to your support of free webfiction, Twisted Cogs will have a special bonus chapter released this Thursday, July 7th

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The mask’s lock went “clink” as it closed around Elena’s face. It was a familiar feeling by now, but no less uncomfortable. The little butterflies of panic she felt were ever present whenever she wore the thing, but by now she knew how to distract herself from her mask.

And it was her mask, now. Elena’s Storm flew over the lilium iron clasp and the complicated locking mechanism that nestled at the nape of her neck, giving her a steady flow of complex information to reinforce what she already knew, that the mask wasn’t coming off unless it was unlocked.

The Storm’s flow of information helped, both to reduce the nagging itch and claustrophobia down to inert neutral numbers and also to tell her how well she was adapting to the sudden shift that had thrown her and her friends into this situation. She had worried, when they’d first arrived, that a week wouldn’t be enough time for her Storm to accept things as hers.

As usual, Owl had already left for the walls, but no one else was awake. Elena sat in her bed and closed her eyes, hugging her knees and letting the Storm stretch out as far as it would go. Her rooms were warm but secure, her rented house was rundown and ramshackle, but unnoticed. Her little street was full, but only of the crush of pedestrians making their way to and from their various tasks.

She focused on the people. They weren’t hers, but they were on her street, and thus she could tell where they were but not what they were doing. Little points of information locked away from her, but there was enough knowledge for her to tell if they were pausing, watching the house, or moving in circles so that they wouldn’t be conspicuous by standing still in that sea of people.

“All clear, Elena?” Frederica whispered from the bed in the corner. Elena nodded without opening her eyes. “How far can you reach? Can you see the councilroom yet?”

Elena concentrated, not just on her street, but on her area of the gargantuan city. A few alleys and roadways, several blocks of shops, two or three streets in every direction around them. Impressive, for a week’s worth of familiarity, but a mere drop in a rainstorm compared to the full breadth of Rimi. Elena held up three fingers as she turned her Storm to the Castle.

Even more frustrating. The hall that she travelled every morning, leading to the council room from behind, that was apparently enough ‘hers’ for her Storm to inform her about. The paths from the councilroom to the kitchens, both of them, the Storm also gave her information about. It was only when she tried to focus on the councilroom itself that the Storm gave out, leaving her with only blank speculation.

She opened her eyes and shook her head.

“If the plan is to make up a plan as we go, we’ll need to figure that out sooner than later,” Frederica said, and Elena nodded. The week they had agreed on was up now, and Owl had been nervous about staying in the city even that long.

“Mflbreakfast? Breakfast,” Belloza said from beneath her pile of blankets.

“We don’t have much time…” Frederica said.

“I’m hearing you say ‘breakfast’,” Belloza sat up, shaking hair out of her face, “it’s been a week, hasn’t it? Don’t we have to talk about our progress?”

“We’ll be without Owl, but I suppose it wouldn’t hurt,” Frederica said.

“And also-“

“Yes, over breakfast.”

***

The coin made a satisfying “clink” when Belloza set it on the counter. Rimi coins were heavier than Milian florins, harder to pickpocket in a city where jostling crowds were the norm. Elena was careful not to turn her head in response to the sound of the coin, given that the patrons were nervous enough as it was.

“They don’t have the right to be nervous,” Elena said without moving her lips, shivering at the way her words made her throat move against the knife Frederica held to her throat.

“You’re better off here than in some of the smaller cities,” Emerald said, “where did you say you grew up, Carpi? Rhetors couldn’t get a meal in a town like yours.”

“I know some of you want to stay sharp, but Emerald I figured you and I could start the day off with an ale,” Belloza set down the drinks and a few tarts for everyone. “Cookie loves me, she won’t mind a little wobble, and Emerald just being here makes it clear her bosses don’t care a thing about what she does.”

“Drink what you like, we have to discuss making our move soon,” Frederica said quietly.

“It’s Elena’s move, really,” Belloza pointed out, “all the rest of us can do is be in the right position when she needs us, and we moved into position a week ago.”

“A part of me has been hoping for a single moment of inspiration,” Elena admitted, still not moving her lips even though their half of the room had cleared out, “hoping that my Storm would be able to tell me a lot more than it has. It’s probably time to stop waiting and start moving.”

“If Owl were here, he’d say something like ‘we should’ve started moving a while ago,” Emerald said.

“It took me a while to see her, we weren’t expecting that delay,” Elena said, “now that I’ve been watching her I can follow her patterns. If she’s not used to people actually seeing her, she’ll be overconfident. She’ll have weaknesses we can exploit.”

“Better come up with a good weakness to exploit by the end of the day, or Owl will scold you before he finds us a new place,” Belloza said through a mouthful of tart, “I mean, I’m fine staying here as long as you want, we’re doing alright for money, but Owl…”

“Owl is smart,” Elena murmured, “we haven’t really run into anyone hunting us yet. When we do…” she let the thought drop, focusing instead on eating.

The sooner we dispatch Lucrecia and leave, the better, she mused, they aren’t going to get any easier.

***

The glass bottle made a loud “clink” sound as it hit Lord Cassiano’s cup, and Elena froze, worried that he would berate her for interrupting the council’s murmured conversation. Luckily he was paying attention to what Lord Tirone was saying, and hadn’t seemed to notice. Elena finished pouring his drink and set the wine bottle next to his cup before retreating back to her place in the shadows.

As she’d assumed when the Quartermaster had laid out her duties for her, Elena’s job wasn’t particularly difficult, it just required patience and concentration. She stood at attention, watching Lord Cassiano for any sign of the signal he would use to summon her, bringing him his meals and refilling his wine glass every now and then. In the week she’d been working as the council’s Rhetor servant, they had only moved the Rhetors out of the shadow for intimidation once, during the negotiations between the council and a courtier from Vennechi. Elena wasn’t sure what typical jobs that Rhetors took on, but if she planned on serving for the rest of her life she would be worried.

As it was, she only had to worry about focusing on…someone. By this point, she was used to the feeling of blankness that filled her mind when she tried to remember what exactly she was focusing on, it was enough that she follow the steps she laid out for herself.

First, she focused on the raised table in front of her, at which the council members sat. She forced herself to ignore the sheer power and presence that radiated from them, and focused on the table itself, committing the unimportant details to memory. Without letting herself wonder why, Elena made note of the grain of the wood, the color of it, and its curvature. When she had thoroughly exhausted the table, she moved on to pay close attention to the mundane and the pointless around it.

The bracket on the wall held three torches, almost burnt down. The raised chairs were of a lighter wood than the table. The plain woman had pulled the personal letters away from Lady Rosa’s grasp and was reading them intently. More interestingly, one of the stones in the column nearest to the table had been set in place just a little crooked.

How odd, that I’d never noticed that before, Elena thought, but re-focused. One of her rules for this room was that if her attention ever seemed to stick on something, she had to move her gaze backward and focus on the boring a second time. The torches were still half-burnt, the wood grain still the same, the plain woman was looking at her over the top of Lady Rosa’s letters, and it turned out that the raised chairs weren’t a lighter wood, they had just happened to catch the light in a way that made them look-

The inanity of what she was thinking struck Elena at the same time as the gaze of Lucrezia. It wasn’t just a plain woman at the table, it was the plain woman, Lucrezia Lucente, and the fact that Elena could suddenly realize that meant that something had gone horribly wrong.

I’m looking right at her, she realized, that can’t be a frequent occurrence, not with her Storm…

Would it be more conspicuous to look away? Lucrezia didn’t look angry or upset, indeed there was a soft smile on her face as she tilted her head to one side, locking gaze with Elena as if the girl was a novelty. Now that she could keep the woman in mind with any kind of clarity, Elena realized that the Plain Woman was actually quite beautiful, although not as breathtaking as the other men and women at the council table. She practically breathed a casual confidence and grace, and it was only when she lifted a finger and beckoned that Elena was reminded that she should be very, very worried.

Assume she hasn’t recognized you, Elena told herself, if she has, it’s all over anyway…

After a few steps, Elena stopped, bewildered. Now that she thought about it, Lord Cassiano hadn’t signalled her, so she had no reason to move away from her position. Hoping that none of the Lords and Ladies had seen her shift, she returned to her position. There was something wrong nagging at her stomach, but she couldn’t place it.

Elena focused again on the unimportant, on the torches and the cup of wine and the woman who watched her amusedly and the grain of the table. She couldn’t help but feel as if she’d missed something important.

***

Frederica’s metal gauntlet made a “clink” when it settled on Elena’s shoulder. The action looked controlling and forceful, but it was so comforting to Elena that she wanted to place her own hand on top of it. Even if she didn’t know it would stand out, the other Rhetors’ glares when the other Rhetorguards made the same action were enough to tell her how out-of-place that would be.

Still, it was good to have a friend with her, even though said friend had to act like a Rhetorguard. The knowledge of Lucrezia may have gone away while inside the councilroom, but the weight of stress on her shoulders never left. Slowly, Elena began to unpack the information she’d learned while it was fresh in her mind. Lucrezia read the letters of the other councilmembers, and did it casually enough that it definitely wasn’t the first time.

It wasn’t much information, but it did give more knowledge into how the woman worked. Her friends might be able to give her more insights into how-

Frederica’s gauntleted hand gripped her tight as the Calaetor froze, and Elena turned along with the action. A foot or so away, one hand lightly resting on Frederica’s arm to stop her, stood Lucrezia Lucente. A space around the woman had cleared, as Rhetor and Rhetorguard alike moved away from the little group.

This would be a great opportunity to kill her, Elena thought detachedly, if…we didn’t care about getting out alive afterward.

“Can I help you, miss?” Frederica asked.

“Ah, yes, we’ve never met,” Lucrezia smiled, “I am Lady Lucente. I wondered if I might have a moment of your time? Or more specifically, a moment of your Rhetor’s?”

“The Guardhouse-” Frederica began, but Lucrezia was already moving.

“The Guardhouse allows for we councilmembers, and we alone, to have private audience with Rhetors,” she said, moving through the path that cleared in front of her. Frederica paused for a moment, but then followed her, hand still on Elena’s shoulder.

Elena risked a glance over her shoulder to make sure that Ele and Fred were following, and then took a deep breath and allowed Frederica to lead her after the Plain Woman. Her mind spun as the pair followed Lucrezia up along the familiar hallways, but then down an unfamiliar corner, then up three flights of stairs.

She wants to have a moment alone with me, her heart pounded loud enough that Elena worried Lucrezia would hear it. If she knew it was Elena, Lucrezia would have her killed, and although the woman hadn’t seemed to recognize her yet, moments alone with her would not be safe. Yet, if they would be alone, could this be the moment of weakness that Elena had been waiting for?

“Will you join us please, Marielle?” Lucrezia asked, as if she had heard Elena’s thoughts and was trying to dash them. The three of them had arrived at a large door flanked by Rhetors and their guards. One of the Rhetors, pale with brown ringlets, inclined her head slightly and opened the door for Lucrezia.

“It’s nothing personal, of course,” Lucrezia smiled again, gesturing for Elena to enter first, “but it keeps the Guardhouse happy. Two Rhetors mean that if one of you kill me and try to escape, the other will raise an alert, if not sound the alarm.”

Elena forced herself not to shoot another glance over her shoulder, instead entering the room. It was large and stately, a living room of some sort, with couches littered around and a huge door on one side that led out to a balcony.

Lucrezia shut the door behind her, leaving the Rhetorguards on the other side. Elena glanced at the other Rhetor, but the girl seemed uninterested in the conversation, staring through the balcony window.

“You may go out there, if you like,” Lucrezia said, “I’m sure I’ll be fine here, what the Guardhouse doesn’t know won’t kill them.”

Marielle glanced first at Lucrezia, then Elena, and then turned and walked out to the balcony on the other side of the room, far enough away that she couldn’t hear a word.

“Now then, I’m so excited to talk to you at last, or at least at you,” Lucrezia’s smile was a full grin at this point as she turned back to the door, “I have a feeling I’m going to learn quite a lot, nonetheless.”

The door made a “clink” as the lock slid home.

***

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3 responses

  1. Another big “thank you” to all of the new Patrons of some of the wonderful Webfiction out there!

    Thanks to your support of Twisted Cogs and others, I’ll see you this Thursday!

    Like

    2016-07-03 at 11:57 pm

  2. Daemion

    If her storm makes her unnoticeable to other people, then she’s probably lonely. Finding someone who can actually see and hear her must be a very welcome surprise.
    Alternatively, finding out how someone was able to overcome her storm may help to prevent it from failing again.
    Worst case, she’s gathering intelligence before having the rhetor removed.

    Problem is, sooner or later she will recognize Elena. She may not be able to see her face now, but she can see the eyes and those should be the same as in the dream.

    Like

    2016-07-04 at 12:43 am

    • I got the impression she can remove the effect at will?

      “A space around the woman had cleared, as Rhetor and Rhetorguard alike moved away from the little group.” If the effect were permanent, people wouldn’t make room for her. They wouldn’t notice her.

      Like

      2016-07-04 at 9:49 am

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