Read The blackhope enigma Online

Authors: Teresa Flavin

The blackhope enigma

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“Soranzo is out for your blood, Fausto.”

The candles in the astrologer’s study flickered as he spoke, sending light dancing over a table covered with star charts and calculations.

“I know, Vito,” said the man with the hooked nose and dark eyes. “You are the third friend to warn me.”

“I fear for your safety, Fausto. Soranzo is not a man to be toyed with. He did not become one of the most powerful men in Venice without destroying the lives of those blocking his way.”

“And he is also greedy.” Fausto Corvo paced back and forth as he spoke. “I fulfilled my contract with him for four new paintings. I wanted that to be the end of my dealings with the snake, but he wants others — paintings he has heard rumors about.”

“Enchanted paintings?”

Corvo came to an abrupt stop.

“Yes, enchanted paintings — those that by their very nature challenge all that we once understood. And I wonder,” he added, turning to stare deep into the eyes of his old friend, “who might have started such rumors.”

The astrologer looked at him steadily. “None of our friends would do such a thing. We are all sworn to protect the ancient knowledge — and the way you have used it to bring your artwork to life.”

“I know that.” The painter’s eyes were like flint. “But there is a traitor among us who has whispered a tale to Soranzo about my work. I have my suspicions about who it is, but no proof. I am not sure I can trust anyone, Vito, not even my apprentices . . . and they are like sons to me.”

“The enchanted paintings,” asked Vito, “are they safe?”

“Yes, they are well hidden, but I dare not leave them for long.”

“That is a relief,” the astrologer said with a sigh. “Such enchantment is not meant for the likes of Soranzo, who would use it only to gain more power for himself at the expense of others. If he were to get hold of the paintings, who knows how he would twist your knowledge for evil means?”

“Rest easy, Vito. I will not allow the paintings to fall into the wrong hands, and neither will I allow that villain to learn how they were made. But his spies now watch my workshop at all times, day and night. I realize that the time has come for me to act. That is why I am here today.” Corvo waved his hand over Vito’s table of papers. “Have you examined the portents, as I asked?”

The astrologer stirred himself and held a magnifying glass over a complicated chart. “Yes, yes. The heavens will look favorably upon travel by water for the next three days. The moon is strong and will aid you. But after three days, there is major opposition from the planets. I fear the stars will then favor spies and traitors instead.”

Corvo let out a long breath. “So be it. We must move quickly.”

“Do you have all your arrangements in place?” Vito asked.

“Yes. My apprentices and I will scatter to the four winds, though I have not yet revealed their destinations to them. We will be transported beyond Soranzo’s long reach. That is all I can tell you. Vito, say good-bye to our friends for me. I will miss our discussions. But they know as well as I that my work must be protected at all costs.”

Vito embraced the painter. “Godspeed, Fausto.”

Corvo pulled up the collar of his cloak and smiled.

“Thank you, Vito.” Moving quietly and swiftly, he closed the door and descended the stairs into the darkening Venice night.

“That’s where they found the skeletons. Right where you’re standing.”

Startled, Sunni Forrest whirled around and found a lanky dark-haired boy smiling at her from a bench by the wall.

“Blaise! You scared the life out of me!” Sunni hopped away from where she had stood, in the center of a large, rectangular labyrinth picked out in black tiles on the stone floor. “Try saying hello next time.”

“I’ll just start over.” Blaise said, looking sheepish. “Hey, Sunni, how are you?”

“Fine. Just waiting for my heart to stop pounding.”

“I’m really sorry. You walked past without seeing me.”

“I’ll live.” Sunni let out a long breath. “I came in to look at the painting and didn’t notice anything else.”

She nodded at the picture on the wall behind her. A medieval city, crowded with twisting lanes and buildings, sprawled across the huge canvas under a sky of robin’s-egg blue. From the sailing ships moored in the foreground to the craggy hills behind the city, every inch teemed with tiny, brightly dressed figures. The plaque on the elaborate gold frame read, “Fausto Corvo,The Mariner’s Return to Arcadia, 1582.”

“I know — it’s like a magnet,” said Blaise. “Gets me every time. It had you in a trance, too, didn’t it?”

“A trance bordering on panic,” said Sunni. “I was wondering how I’ll manage to copy the whole thing into my sketchbook.”

“You just have to draw everything really small. That’s how I’m doing it, anyway,” said Blaise.

“You’re copying it, too?” A feeling of dismay crept over Sunni as she noticed the open sketchbook in his lap.

“Yep. I’m doing my project for art class on Fausto Corvo.”

That was typical. Blaise Doran would have to chooseherartist. Sunni’s afternoon was going from bad to worse.

“ButI’mdoing Corvo formyproject,” Sunni said. “It’s probably not allowed, two people doing the same topic.”

“No, it is. Mr. Bell said it was OK for some of the others to do the same artist,” said Blaise. “Anyway, so what if we both do Corvo? Our projects will still look totally different.”

And yours will totally look better than mine, Sunni thought. She pictured Blaise leaning over his drawings in their art classes, his hair falling in front of his face. Drawing, always drawing, even during break times and in the dining hall. Last year her project would have been the best, but then he had to sweep in from America. Now Blaise was always in the spotlight while she was shunted off to the wings.

Sunni dragged her shoe along the edge of a black floor tile. “But I wanted Corvo asmyartist. I’ve loved his paintings forever. There’s no other artist I like as much.”

“Then I guess we’ve got a problem.” Blaise tapped his sketchbook with a stubby pencil. “I’m Corvo’s biggest fan. I couldn’t believe it when we moved to a town that has one of his paintings in its castle. I’ve been here every afternoon working on my project, so I’m not changing artists now.”

“Well, I’m not changing either,” said Sunni, tossing her honey-brown ponytail over her shoulder. “I’ll leave you and come back another time.”

She was stalking toward the door when Blaise said, “Wait a minute, Sunni. Don’t get all upset.” He moved over on the bench to make room for her. “There’s space for both of us.”

“Lucky me.”

“I can show you my sketches so far. They’re not that great.”

“Oh, yeah, right.” Sunni pulled off her school backpack and sat down beside him, unable to resist a closer look at the competition.

She looked carefully at each drawing, her spirits sagging even further when she saw how much he had already done. There was one of Blackhope Tower, the sixteenth-century castle they were in, its silvery stone walls and turrets surrounded by skeletal trees. And another sketch of the two stone lions at the gate, dusted with snow.

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