A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

5.02 – Lux in Caliginem {Light in Fog}

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The single room was bright, lit by rows of lanterns all along the walls, warmed by a blazing fireplace on its far side. The rich red wood of the walls, ceiling and floor, were matched by the large table in the center of the room, the only piece of furniture. At the table, arranged in a semicircle opposite the door, the three remaining Twisted looked up when Elena and Ele entered.

The ribboning that used to affect Master Coastering’s face now occurred all over his body, making him look like a stick figure maypole, ribbons floating where his arms and legs should be. Little One remained unchanged, still the small child with hair and eyes of solid gold. In the middle, Fulvio’s pitch black body leaked droplets of ink onto the table and floor beneath her.

The Twisted watched her enter, but none of them made a move, so Elena took the opportunity to review her surroundings. Along the walls hung maps of the known world, of Italoza’s neighbors and her trade partners. A few of the maps were marked with the movements of troops or goods, and it was clear that they hung on the walls for utility, not decoration.

On the table itself lay a large map of Italoza, with several other papers rolled in one corner, and on the map little circles of wood rested, color coded by some method Elena didn’t know. By the time she crossed the small distance to the table, taking her place opposite the three Twisted, Elena had identified where she was.

This was the Twisted’s war room.

She hadn’t seen him from the door, but she noticed in the corner of the room, curled in a ball, the Storm slept soundly. Fulvio turned to follow her gaze, then turned back to face her.

“The Avatar of the Storm is resting, using his power solely to keep this Dream World together.” Fulvio broke the silence, “or rather, dream room. There was no reason to waste his energy on building an elaborate world for three people. This will will allow us a few more weeks of his time.”

“You’re awfully forthcoming about your strategies, today,” Ele said, glancing down at the map.

“The three of us, we gentle last vestiges of a once illustrious number, have been discussing the unpleasant business between us,” Master Coastering waved a collection of ribbons that might’ve been a hand had they been all assembled. “We have decided that perhaps it is a time for being forthcoming. We Twisted are not typical political figures, there is no reason that our dealings with each other, even warlike dealings, should be typical.”

“In essence,” Fulvio cut across Coastering, “it is time to review how we’ve handled this conflict, and settle it amongst ourselves, given the damage this pointless feud has caused.”

“Forgive me for not sharing your distress at the damage,” Elena lifted her chin ever so slightly.

“You should. I am not just talking about your murders of the Twisted, I am talking about your effect on Italoza.” It was impossible to read Fulvio’s expression, but her tone sounded nothing like the horrible irreverent cheer she had used a scant week ago when she stabbed Belloza.

“I’m sure you’re about to enlighten us as to that damage,” Ele said.

“If you were truly the empathetic hero you pretend to yourself you are, you wouldn’t need me to explain it. A rebellion in Milia. Assassinations of a peaceful diplomat and the leader of the Faberi Guild. Another assassination in Rimi, a fourth in Venecchi, an attempt on the life of the King himself. A single one of these events in a year might’ve rocked the perception of Stormtouched in our country, how do you think all of them, one after another, have looked to the people of Italoza?”

Elena very carefully hid her reaction. The inky woman was right. Except to consider the fact that she was a wanted woman, the people of Italoza hadn’t factored into her plans. Everything she had done had been to help them against the forces of the Twisted, but…how would they know that?

“It’s looked like utter chaos,” Little One answered Fulvio’s question. “It’s looked like a single small faction of Stormtouched have swept through the country, slaughtering its leadership and impervious to retribution.”

We know that you’ve simply been fortunate and unpredictable,” Fulvio said, “to Italoza, it looks like purpose. Like a single faction bringing Italoza to its knees. It’s making people scared, and it’s making them ask the sorts of questions we don’t want them asking. Whatever ill-advised plans you have Coastering, Mia, and myself, we have a better offer.”

“Is it too early to reject it?” Ele asked Elena, “are we allowed to do that, just tell them ‘no’ before they tell us?”

Fulvio continued after a disdainful pause. “Rather than causing a scene, further frightening the people, causing more death, let us settle this between us Twisted. The three of us will be in the monastery outside of Florenzia in five days’ time. That should give you enough time to reach it traveling from Venecchi.”

Elena narrowed her eyes. “And you’re volunteering this information because you…want to make it a fair fight? I know you think I’m a naive little girl, but I’m almost insulted.”

“We’re volunteering this information because a private end to this messiness is much more preferable to another public, nasty incident.”

Elena tapped her fingers on the table and stared at the map laid out on the table. Ele folded his arms and let her think, but she thought she knew the sort of advice that he would give. She did want to spare any collateral damage from future fights…her battle was with the Twisted, not with the innocent people of Italoza. On the other hand, the fact that the Twisted were asking this of her was worrisome. They wouldn’t be selling it so hard if there wasn’t a catch.

“I had no idea,” Elena murmured. She let the words hang for a few moments. “I had no idea that I was causing so much trouble.”

“Now that you’ve been made aware,” Master Coastering said, “perhaps we can expect more-”

“Now that I’ve been made aware, I can start using that information.” Elena’s cut Coastering off with steel in her voice. “I can make things even more public. My team and I can start putting in appearances in various cities where our wanted posters are, we can start speaking up. Right now Italoza thinks the assassinations are random, we should be telling them exactly what the connection has been. Thank you, Fulvio. I had no idea how scared you were of the damage I could do, even if I fail to kill all of you.”

It was impossible to tell, but Elena imagined she could see a flash in Fulvio’s pitch-black eyes.

“Are you trying to threaten me, schoolgirl?” Fulvio said, quietly.

“You’ve passed me the weapons,” Elena replied, “it would be a shame not to use them.”

“Perhaps you’ve forgotten, or maybe it’s never occurred to you, how kind we have been in this dispute,” Master Coastering said, “if this war between us is to grow nasty, we have weapons of our own.”

Elena felt as though she might throw up, but she was careful not to let her fear show. “You’re talking about our families,” she said calmly, “we’ve already taken steps to ensure their safety.”

“Don’t be absurd, Elena,” Fulvio said, “attacking the families of rebels is something tyrants and despots do, King Pellegrino would hardly have us stoop to that level. Of course, as spymaster to the King, there are certain tools I could bring to bear.”

“Those tools being?” Elena clenched her hands into fists, bracing herself.

“Tools for crippling the enemy of Izaloza, the assassin Cog. It would be naive to assume that an assassin of her caliber completely abandoned all of her bases and hide-holds, so it is in our best interest to disassemble those bases. Studios De Luca and DaRose, in Milia. The little village of Carpi. None of their denizens would be harmed, of course, but if we couldn’t locate the exact bases of operation we would have to burn them to the ground to ensure Cog couldn’t make her way back as soon as we’d left.”

Elena nodded, teeth clenched. She should’ve expected that the Twisted would threaten every place she’d called home.

“And now, after the mess at Venecchi, we’ve discovered more about Cog’s team. Apparently, they’re working with an escaped Rhetor.” Fulvio smiled with inky-black lips. “It has been a very long time since the full resources of the Guardhouse have been brought to bear, but I don’t imagine they’ve grown weaker with age.”

“Don’t we have several junior members of the traitorous Eye as guests in our dungeons?” Little One spoke up, “perhaps exerting more pressure on them, they might be willing to divulge the plans of their more senior members? Of course, if that pressure ends up killing them…well, we can hardly be blamed for that.”

Elena tried very hard not to glare at Little One. She knew that the small girl wasn’t on her side, but Little One wasn’t truly on the Twisted’s either, and it rankled, her helping them get to her.

“Not to mention the young lady who has a connection to the assassin,” Master Coastering said, slyly, “what was her name? Ava?”

“It seems we have all sorts of tools at our disposal to hunt down this assassin,” Fulvio clasped her hands in front of her, “if this matter doesn’t end soon, it would be remiss of me, as spymaster, not to begin using them.”

“None of this is new information,” Ele broke in, suddenly. “You knew where Elena came from, you’ve had the junior Eye members, you’ve probably even known about the Rhetor. If you’re making this demand, it means you’re getting nervous.”

“Call it nervousness, or simply a desire to see this matter brought to an end.” Fulvio said. “It has been disruptive, needless, violent and nasty, and we have no desire to see it further. The matter is simple: meet us at the monastery, or we will deal with you as we should’ve from the start. Carpi burns, the junior Eye dies slowly, Ava dies, the Guardhouse is let off their leash for the first time in twenty years.”

Elena felt as though the threats were buffeting against her, and it was hard to keep masking her emotion. “You keep mentioning ‘Ava’, is that supposed to mean something to me?” she asked, trying to deflect. The Twisted exchanged glances, but Fulvio made a gesture and none of them answered.

“Discuss with your team, if you wish,” Little One said. “You have five days to decide.”

“You’re doing a particularly bad job and convincing us this isn’t a trap,” Ele said.

“We’re telling you to meet us at a specific time and place so that we can kill you, it’s a bit obviously a trap,” Fulvio said with an invisible smile. “But just because it’s a trap doesn’t mean you won’t be there.”


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2 responses

  1. jim

    If whats happening so far is already showing cracks in the kingdoms governing then escalation would be crippling. I’m pretty sure she’s going to the traps but those 3 if prepared would be killer.


    2016-11-21 at 6:58 pm

  2. Byzantine

    A trap, but I suspect Little One will use it to take out the other two.


    2017-04-04 at 8:04 am

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