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I Dream of Thorns

By bellaepko

Drama / Thriller

Chapter 1

"WAIT! WAIT! TAXI!" Leonardo Da Vinci called to a cab, running with his portfolio but the car sped away and he was left frustrated and worried. He looked to his watch, finding he was already half an hour late to an art exhibition and he was to be a big part of the show. The wet streets combined with a cool spring evening gave little to calm the artist, whose mind didn't know how to stop. 

His phone began to ring and he picks it up, not paying attention to the caller ID, "Yes, yes what?!" he yells, waving again to a cab but it simply continued driving. "Leo, you're late again" Vanessa says, hushed but annoyed. "Yeah, I know, none of the cabs would take me!" Leo says, waving for another but the light only goes out and Leo growls, horribly frustrated and angry. 

"Some of the guests are getting antsy, they're going to move on with the show if you don't get here right now!" Vanessa scolds and Leo slumps, "I know, I know, I seriously can't get there on time!". 

This time, Leo waves and a cab came. He put the phone between his ear and shoulder as he loaded his portfolio into the backseat and gave the driver his destination, promising fifty percent extra if he drove quicker. "You found a cab" Vanessa states over the phone and for once, Leo breathed. "Yes, I did. I don't know how long it'll take me to get to the gallery but stall them. Get Nico to do some sort of dance to keep them entertained before I get there"

"You know I won't do that" Vanessa laughs and Leo smiled, "I'll be there when I be there, stall them for me" with that, he hung up and prepared the fare the cab driver. 

Leonardo Da Vinci is an eccentric character, as others would describe him. He paints in Renaissance style, makes weird contraptions and experiments different things, especially things dealing with flight. He someday dreams of constructing a pair of wings that can make man take off into the air like a bird, a few of his designs work but need further fixing. Normally, a struggling artist would have help from his parents but in truth, he doesn't have any.

Leo's mother ran off when he was a baby and his father disowned him, saying he was an accident, something that shouldn't have happened. With Leo around calling him "Father" would ruin the man's reputation in government, especially with a woman he did not know enough to get into bed with. But Leo didn't mind, he was used to being dumped around everywhere before he found refuge in an art studio. Verrocchio, the maestro, took Da Vinci under his wing, shining up his artistic abilities and opening him up to a world beyond what he sees.

While everyone fell in love with modern art, Leo made modern art, from the past. His Renaissance style became highly requested among students or people of importance who wanted to capture "Modern beauty of the past". This new career made money, enough to pay for Leo's lifestyle and his art supplies. Although Leo was content with his career and passion, he sought acceptance from his father.

He remembers being at an exhibition, much like the one he was going to now. It was city-hall planned so lots of important people would be there, some of the most admired models and critics would come and award the best artist with a big blue ribbon and a check for ten thousand euros. 

A month before the event, Leo immersed himself into research for something that the modern world would enjoy; which was Western themes. Using this idea, he brought brush to canvas in his ancient style, combining both his research and way of painting. He concentrated on the details, adding symbolism, emphasizing different points and giving the painting a voice, speaking out towards the audience. 

The day came when Leo stood at his section, observing the other works presenting at tonight's exhibition. Submissions included pottery, paintings, absurd looking sculptures and photographs- some with no theme, and some looked like the artist tried too hard. Leo looked over his works one more time as the judges went down the line, observing, scrutinizing and criticizing the works before them. Leo hoped he'd put enough into his paintings, holding his breath when the judges came.

They walked a little, looking at the brush strokes, one of them turn to Leo, "You painted this?" and he nodded. "Wonderful concept, the modern ideal created in an ancient art are properly displayed here, I commend you for that". The three judges jotted down notes before moving on.

At the end of the judging, the artists came as a group before the stage. Many of these artists were dressed presentably while others were a contrast of enormous black boots with puke-colored-hair that hung like a curtain of oil on their faces. Leo looked down at himself, he wore a shirt with a bull skull on it, an aged leather jacket, crisp jeans and polished loafers.

"To be honest with you all, the decision was not a hard one to make" a judge's voice booms over the speaker. Leo admired the judges, for their brutal honesty and how they are not afraid to say what they feel.

After a lengthy speech, talking about how well each artist did and how each deserve a chance at success, the judge finally raises the ribbon.

"Leonardo Da Vinci" he says. Leo was shocked, mainly because this was his first won exhibition, one with a prize and one he can be admired for. Leo went up on stage, shook hands with the judges and accepted his ribbon and certificate. He stood for a photo and noticed his father in the back of the hall. He stood, sulking and glaring at Leo as though he was disgusted. Leo waved but his father only turned his back. 

There was a banquet after some speeches on congratulations and "Better luck next year" and Leo bumped into his father, they had no choice but to socialize. "I won" Leo states, "I know, I can see that" his father hisses. "Should'nt you be telling me something?" Leo asks, swishing his wine in his glass while his father fingered the stem of his flute. "If you're looking for congratulations, from me you will not hear it". "Mr. Piero Da Vinci, I am not looking for your praise, I only look for your recognition that a bastard like me made himself a name, something he can live off of, something he can sell" Leo says coyly, "Here's a name: cocksucker- now go and sell that you filthy mongrel" with that, Leo's father tosses the champagne into Leo's face, storming away as it ran down his face. 

Since then, Leo hasn't seen his father, he hoped to see him again, constantly urging for some recognition. The cab approached the exhibition hall, at which guests were only still arriving in cabs and their own cars. Leo tipped and paid the driver as he had promised and jogged out with his portfolio. 

He took a rear entrance, going behind the mazes of bookshelves and into an empty lot which was for his use. Leo quickly folded out his stands and set his paintings, sketches, posing them and directing them towards the light as they should. He set down the last painting when an announcer says, "Now, if all artists could please stand at their exhibit and the audience to welcome tonight's judges". 

Three withering men stepped into the room, smiling and waving as guests clapped at each announcing of their names. Leo didn't bother to pay attention, he was set on the prize of another ten thousand euros. His rent was tight, getting only more expensive as he uses more of the utilities for ideas for art, for research and long nights painting where he needed full light. 

Very little people knew that Leo used opium recreational-ly, like Nico, Zo and his father but Verrocchio and Vanessa don't have a clue. His opium "addiction" (he doesn't like to call it an addiction, to him its a relaxing agent to help him calm down enough to work on a dead-lined project or to sleep) wasn't cheap. He get's pure opium from a seller that lived lavishly off his drug money, he's never been caught and he probably never will with his extended anonymous network going everywhere on earth.  

Leo anxiously tapped his foot, watching as the judges went up on stage to formally introduce the event reminding everyone, "We are critical, what we think is terrible, what we think is horrible, what we think is a disgrace to art, we will disqualify from the competition". To this the audience tensed up, some looking to the artists whose paintings lacked so much and some turned to Leo. His over-eccentric colors, form and style of painting- to them- wasn't something a judge would appreciate but Leo smirked at them. There were first, second and third party winners! Second place got tickets to an art museum in third place winners got brand new art supplies, first place winner got all of the above including the money. 

A small group of violinists strummed lightly before putting their bows and played softly as the judges made their way down the line. Leo was the last in the line and he bit his nail. He paid little attention to his surroundings, immersing himself into his own world. He admired the birds, how they flew, thinking about how he would construct a set of wings, what materials? Measurements? Surely people with larger masses would need bigger wings but would something like this ever be mass produced? A staccato note brought Leo back into the world, unaware of how much time has passed but the judges were two exhibits away. 

He stood straighter, fixing his shirt and making sure he looked presentable. The judges came up; finally; tape recorders to their lips as they spoke in quiet tones. Leo could barely hear them, he was told nothing until they moved on. 

"There will be a short interval, to which we await a decision" the announcer says. A small group of instruments now dominated the stage, all soloists as the percussion ushered the performers into Bolero's "Wiener Philharmoniker". The guests quietly chattered over champagne and the artists were dismissed, awaiting judgement. 

Leo went to a table of fruits to pick out an apple when Nico ran up from nowhere, "What're you gonna do with the money?" he asks. 

Nico was a bright young man who was lost, seeking guidance until he met Leonardo. Seeing Leo's personality, he took to Leo as an apprentice and then becoming a close friend and model/test subject. Leo's newest set of wings was tested on Nico, they proved to be inadequate and needed alterations. 

"I didn't even win the competition yet" Leo smiles, taking a bite from his apple, "Where's Vanessa?". "She's tending to the drinks, she said she wants to talk to you, but after the show" Nico says and the two talk a while before the band stopped playing and came off the stage. The announcer came back up, "Will the artists please return to their exhibits... and now, the judge's decision". 

The timpani gave a strong drum-role as the announcer pulled a small envelope from his breast pocket, "In third place... David Gole" the crowd applauded as a young man with pink hair and cargo pants bowed and said his quiet thank yous before going up on stage to receive his red ribbon. "In second place... Patricio Fernaldi" the crowd erupted into louder cheers when a polished man went up on stage, bowing in respect and beaming. Leo doubted that this boy painted, he could just tell.

"And finally... in first place we have, Leonardo Da Vinci!" The crowd dimmed in cheers, not everyone appreciated Leo's art but he could hear the cheers from Vanessa behind the bar and Zo somewhere off in a corner filled with women. Leo said his polite thank yous before accepting his ribbon and standing up on stage to overlook the massive audience that had accumulated.

The announcer, along with one of the judges, gave their praise but Leo wasn't paying attention. His eyes searched for his father but instead met that of a man all dressed in black, hair combed over his forehead in a side-sweep and eyes looking into Leonardo harshly but Leo didn't look away; he was intrigued. 

Something about him was attractive. Both romantically but also psychologically, he is not your typical onlooker, but a predator. As Leo continued to stare, the man's eyes softened, at this, the man walks behind a wall of men and disappears. Leo tries to follow him with his gaze but to no avail.

The judges dismiss everyone to a dinner and Leo was to mingle among the people. Tables were set in the empty space where the audience sat and more upbeat music began to play as the lights darkened and alcohol was served.

The artists, for the safety of their pieces, tucked them back away into their portfolios and joined the fun. Leo went to find Vanessa, looking at the bar where she and Zo spoke.

"Congrats Leo, we all gained a twenty euros" Vanessa laughs, showing notes. They've been betting with other people, getting richer, sure that Leo would win. "That's like stealing other people's money" Leo says, patting Zo on the back and handing Nico a note. "Who cares! We're making money, it's a business" Zo says. "Leo, some bloke's been asking for you. Tall, black clothes, if looks could kill; he's in the definition" Vanessa says and Leo nods, "I saw him the audience but he's gone right now. I'll try to find him and see what he wants". He was to walk away with his drink before Zo stops him and slaps a knife into his palm, "You never know" he says and turns back to talk with someone behind him.

Leo walked through the crowd, some people ate and others were up and dancing. He observed a few men kissing and some couples clinking glasses, his fascination with love was very recent. What makes people love? he asked himself one day when he lay in bed with no commissions to do and no duties for the day. 

He remembers his time with Lucrezia Donati, a relationship purely built on pleasures of the flesh. She was only there when she was in Florence, seeking out Leo for a night which was only spent in sex and almost nothing beyond that. Leo wouldn't say that he was ever in a relationship with Lucrezia, he didn't feel anything between them but the burning desire of skin on skin rather than bearing each other's hearts. 

Leo waved these thoughts away and continued on with his search for the mysterious man. Along the way he finished his drink and made way to a table with a bowl and ladle. He poured himself some of whatever was in the bowl and looked up to find the mysterious man in front of him. 

The man was about Leo's height, his eyes dark, his hair dark, everything about him was dark. His pale features gave Leo the idea of an inside job? Something with little labor. 

"My congratulations artista, you surely deserve such an award for such artwork" he says and Leo cocked his head, "Thanks, and who you might be?". "My full name matters little to you, everyone knows me by Riario" "Well hello Riario, I'm Leo, as you'd have probably guessed. You wanted to talk to me?" Leo stuck out a hand for a shake but Riario shook his head, "You must have been ill informed, I only wanted to give my congratulations". 

"Let me pour you a drink and we can continue talking" Leo took a cup but Riario put a warning hand on Leo's forearm, "That won't be needed, I have work tonight". "No no, I mean like, have a friendly talk, you're an interesting person, I'm an interesting person, we both can learn something new" Leo smiled and Riario held his lip to keep from smiling as well, "Fine, but I don't have anything interesting to say" Riario says. Leo pours the drink and finds them an empty table. 

Leo set down their drinks and pulled the seat out for Riario, cringing at how the gesture's meaning could be perceived in so many ways. He plays it off, flipping his own chair so he sat with the backrest between his legs and his chin resting on his hands. "Where do you work?" Leo asks Riario, who visibly took a breath and crossed a leg over, thinking of ways to assemble the words: "That is classified, all I can say is that it keeps everything in balance". "So like a government job?" Leo asks and Riario motions with his hand, "You can call it that, yes". 

"What are you doing in an exhibition like this one? I can tell you're not one for parties" Leo says, smiling and once more, he observes Riario holding back a smile, "Oh no, artista, I am very much one for parties but I am here for a task" "Oh, so if 'god forbid' you step one foot on the dance-floor, your task is done; no money going into your pocket?" 

At this moment, the music began to climax into deeper bass. Leo quickly glanced at a clock and noticed how the night has aged, it was only nine o' clock and the party was just getting started. 

"No, I have already fulfilled my task but I do not wish to humiliate myself" Riario says and Leo laughs, "Well c'mon them, we can humiliate ourselves together". Riario got up and shook hands with Leo, who was now confused, "Not tonight artista, we'll see each other again". With that, Riario took out leather gloves and made towards the exit. Leo chases after him, "When?" he asks and Riario smiles down at the artist, "For me to know and you to find out". 

Riario continued into the cool night as Leo's mind processes these events, his heart sinking. 

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