A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

3.5 – Fractis Brachiis et Fiducia {Broken Arms and Trusts}

“Stop ringing that bell Ele.” Elena rolled over in her bed, cracking her eye just enough to confirm it was still dark. Some analytical part of her brain sleepily assured her that even a hint of a sunrise would be reflected in the walls, so she was fine to go back to sleep. “So tired,” she groaned.

“Didn’t ring no bell, why would I ring a bell?” Ele mumbled.

“Liar.” Elena grumbled, but found herself falling back to sleep before she could even finish the accusation.

 


The bell rang again, sharp enough that Elena winced as she woke up.

“Elena…the bell.” Ele’s voice was enough to rouse her, and moments later Elena realized what exactly the bell indicated: someone had either left or entered by the kitchen door, setting off her contraption and waking her up. The realization was enough to wake her up, and she scrambled out of bed.

“Did it go off before?” She asked, wincing at the sudden cold of the room after the warm coziness of her blankets.

“I think it did,” Ele was near the door, his head cocked to one side. “I vaguely remember it but we fell back asleep. Must’ve been louder this time; someone opened the door harder.”

“What do we do now?” Elena hissed. “Is it another intruder? Should we lock this door?” Ele put a finger to his lips, but Elena had heard the noise as well, and she fell silent immediately. A clicking sound was moving down the hallway, like stilts on the tile floor. It moved slower than it had on the night she was shot, but it was unmistakably the same.

Elena glanced around her room for something she could use as a weapon. The only thing that would serve the purpose was the heavy wooden mallet she had used to hammer the hooks into the wall; she’d forgotten to return it when she had finished.

“You’re not a fighter.” Ele breathed as she hefted it in one hand. She knew he was right, and she hoped she didn’t have to face another intruder, but the weight of the hammer was comforting in her hand. As it came closer Elena could make out the sounds of grunts and heavy breathing.

“Careful for Elena’s doorframe.” Someone whispered, and Elena let out a tiny breath of relief. The noises were from someone who knew her, someone in the studio. She could fling the door open now if she wanted and she would probably be safe.

Instead she pressed her ear against the door. This might be a good chance to get answers. The heavy clicking noise reached the outside of her door and then moved on without pausing, and she could hear that there were several figures moving cautiously in the hallway.

“One…two…three…four…” Elena began counting at the rate their footsteps had passed, trying to gauge in her mind how long the hallway extended before it hit a corner. When she figured enough time had passed, she quietly opened the door and peeked out. The timing hadn’t been precise enough to see them go around the corner as she’d planned, but she at least hadn’t opened it when they were still in her hall.

“Should I go through walls? Try to eavesdrop?” Ele asked in a whisper.

“Sure, but be careful, there are other Echoes in the studio.” Elena whispered back. She tossed the wooden mallet onto the bed in her room, carefully shut the door behind her, and moved to follow the mysterious group.

They had apparently crossed a larger distance than she’d thought, because the next hallway was empty. Elena ran down it in a quiet jog, and peered around the corner to finally catch her first glimpse of them.

Walking slowly and patiently behind the group of people was a gigantic tan spider, about the size of a very large dog. Elena clamped one hand to her mouth to keep from shrieking. It was the source of the clicking noises, but it took her a few moments to calm down before she realized why. It was made entirely of a light-colored wood, and its heavy footfalls along the stone tile of the studio made the noises she had thought were created by stilts.

The fact that it was made of wood did little to comfort Elena. It was lifelike and terrifyingly smooth in its movements, its body swaying as it walked behind the group of people. For a split-second Elena thought of what it would look like charging towards her, and she shivered and pushed the thought from her mind. She turned her attention to the people in front of the spider, almost forgotten after seeing the horrible creature.

Two people were carrying a third between them, holding the third’s body at the ankles and the shoulders, while a fourth walked in front of them. Even though they wore dark yellow hoods and scarves that concealed their faces, one of them was clearly Niccolo; his distinctive bow was slung across his body to keep it out of the way. From their frames the other two were girls, and Elena could only assume they were Frederica and Vittoria. Did that make the still man they carried Carlo? Was he alright? Around the foursome their Echoes milled as well, dressed in dark colors that seemed to blend into the dim halls.

The garzoni were carrying their comrade into one of the other private dorm rooms, although Elena didn’t know which room belonged to which. She ducked back around the corner in case one of them chose to look around while they fiddled with the door and entered. After a few moments, the gentle “click” of the latch confirmed that they had closed it behind them.

They hadn’t left anyone outside of the room to guard it, not even the spider. Elena was able to approach the door silently, close enough that she could hear the voices within.

“On the bed. No, other way. Careful…watch his arm.” A few moments of silence marked what Elena assumed was placing the body on the bed.

Dulcia et crustulam the boy could stand to lose some weight.” Niccolo groaned.

“Really Niccolo, you’re cracking jokes right now? Jokes, instead of apologizing, or saying how this will never happen again?” Carla’s voice carried barely-contained fury, and Elena shivered at the sound of it.

“I plan on apologizing as soon as he wakes up, and I’m not saying ‘this will never happen again’ because I don’t much care for empty promises I can’t keep. It’ll probably happen again, because this whole thing is dangerous.  It might not, if he doesn’t go out again. That’s really up to you and Carlo.”

“You know we don’t really have the choice. It’s this or leave De Luca’s studio.”

“That’s a choice,” Niccolo pointed out. “Perhaps not a very nice one, but a choice nonetheless.”

Whatever exchange of glances occurred between the people in the room, Elena wasn’t privy to them.

I won’t be able to tell when they’re about to leave, she realized uncomfortably. One of them could be about to open the door right this moment. When someone finally spoke she breathed a sigh of relief.

“This…this evening could’ve gone better, friends.” The voice belonged to Vittoria, her voice just as dreamy and disattached as it always was.

“What was so different this time?” Carla demanded. “We’ve dealt with DaRose’s crew before, why did it go so much worse?”

Elena sat down outside of the doorway, leaning her head back against the stone and trying to both listen and process what she heard. DaRose’s garzoni had done something to Carlo? But why? And why had they been around DaRose’s garzoni in the first place?

“They were ready for us this time. They were expecting us.” Niccolo replied. “Which is really weird considering this was just supposed to be a random t-and-o.” There was a pregnant pause. “It was just random, right Frederica?” The pause stretched even further.

“That’s the reason then. It wasn’t random at all was it?” Carla accused. “You picked DaRose because of some grudge you had, and they knew about that grudge so they knew we were aiming for them. We all walked in there and the six of us were the only ones who didn’t have the whole picture.”

“Didn’t think anyone would need the whole picture.” Frederica said defensively. “We didn’t need some kind of ‘big picture’ last time.”

“What was it? What was worth it? Did someone say something about one of your stupid animals? Someone make fun of your face? Someone wore the wrong color shirt?”

“I’ve gotten better.” It sounded as if Frederica was talking through clenched teeth, growing quieter the more agitated Carla became. “I’m not that bad anymore.”

“Oh, you certainly have Frederica, you’ve gone from lashing out in the moment to lashing out with half-baked vengeance plans that put us all at risk instead of just you.”

“What are you yelling about Carla?” Carlo’s voice was a little weak, but Elena was surprised at how glad she was to hear it. She and Carlo may not have interacted much, but he was a fellow garzoni, and in Elena’s books that counted for a lot.

“Carlo! Are you alright? How bad is it?” Carla asked, her anger at Frederica apparently forgotten.

“My arm hurts like a devil is gnawing at it.”

“As far as we can tell it’s broken it two places,” Niccolo said, his serious tone sounding a bit odd and unsuited to him. “We’ll bring in a medico tomorrow, but in the meantime the splint will keep it set. Sorry we didn’t keep this from happening.”

“What the hell happened? It was just Grey Studio! Where they always that…organized?”

“No. That would be because they knew we were coming. Apparently Frederica here made a friend. She was just about to tell us about it.”

A sullen pause stretched again.

“It was one of the new DaRose garzoni, Arthur or something.” Frederica said begrudgingly. “I was there with Elena selling one of my statues, and they knew each other, and he figured out that she didn’t know anything. He hinted to me that he’d tell her. Couldn’t let him just threaten me to my face could I?”

“He threatened to tell her, without any provoking at all? He took a dislike to you just like that?” Niccolo punctuated his question with a snap of his fingers. Frederica’s silence must’ve been answer enough. “I didn’t think so.”

“Well I might’ve been poking at him a little, but he was a scumbag anyways! He was checking out Elena’s bum!”

Elena didn’t realize how engrossed she was in the conversation until she caught herself almost blurting out a denial. There was no way Arturo would do that…but even if he did, would it have been the worst thing in the world?

“Well, you can’t exactly blame the man, she does have a nice bum.” Niccolo chuckled. Elena blushed so hard she thought her face would catch on fire, and Vittoria thankfully broke in before that particular line of conversation could go any further.

“We need to discuss how we’re going to handle this setback, and then we need to get to bed. Tomorrow will be rough enough as it is, we don’t need to stay up even later fantasizing about possibly-underaged bums.”

I’m sixteen years old! Elena thought indignantly.

“Right you are. So, what does this setback mean for us as a whole?”

“De Luca will be furious.” Frederica’s voice was downcast.

“He will be.” Vittoria sounded just as regretful. “He might’ve not minded coming home to an unexpected win. He might not have even minded coming home to an unexpected draw. I don’t think any of us can honestly say this was a draw.”

“Now hold on…what if we turned it into one?” Niccolo asked thoughtfully.

“Even you aren’t that good at spinning bullshit.” Nicci sounded exhausted, the humor normally in her voice missing. “Grey Studio was a loss Niccolo, plain and simple.”

“Grey Studio was a loss, but we could go out again before De Luca gets back. Get a win under our belts to balance out the DaRose catastrophe.”

“Carlo isn’t going anywhere.” Carla snapped. “He’s got a broken arm, he’s going to take things easy unless specifically ordered by De Luca.”

“That’s fair,” Niccolo acknowledged, “but we can manage without him. We only did this badly because DaRose knew we were coming. No one would expect us to go back out the next night, especially once they start hearing about Carlo’s arm. No matter who we choose, we’ll have the element of surprise.”

“And it would seem impressive, pulling off a win with just the six of us.” Vittoria said thoughtfully. “What do you think Frederica?”

“I should’ve told you about Arthur, you all are right.” Frederica said. “I would’ve liked to have my bird finished, but I can make do. And I’m sorry.”

“Just keep it in mind for the future Maple,” Niccolo said good-naturedly, “we’re on your side, you know?”

“Yeah, not like whatever idiot provisional broke my bird.”

“Speaking of the provisionals, we should make sure they’re all asleep.” Vittoria said, and Elena was on her feet in an instant. “Vi, would you mind checking on them?”

“Of course,” said Vi, her voice identical, “I can see-”

Elena didn’t hear the rest of the sentence, she was already careening down the hallway back to her room. Echoes could move through doors and walls; if Vi headed for Elena’s room first she would get there before Elena did.

Luck seemed to be with her, and she gently closed the door behind her and threw herself into the bed, biting back a curse as she landed on the wooden mallet she’d left on the bed. It was hard to regulate her breathing after the mad dash, but Elena closed her eyes and tried to focus on taking deep breaths. Long moments passed, and Elena worried and wondered where Ele had gotten to; she’d half-expected that he would be waiting for her when she returned to the room. What would they do if the others caught him wandering around the studio?

“Elena, are you awake?” Vi’s voice was sweet and quiet, but it was so unexpected that Elena almost jumped.

Creepy silent Echoes… She just barely managed to keep her breathing steady, her face peaceful. She wasn’t quite sure how much time passed before Vi spoke again. “Oh hello Ele. I was just checking up on Elena to make sure Vittoria and I hadn’t woken her.”

“She’s been sleeping all night,” Ele said smoothly, although his voice was a little cold. “I thought I heard something in the courtyard outside so I went out to check on it.”

“That was probably us. We couldn’t sleep so we went for a walk.” Vi said. Elena cracked an eye to see the Echoes watching each other, sizing each other up with shrewd eyes. A long pause passed, long enough that Elena began to grow uncomfortable.

“You’re a very good liar,” Ele finally said bluntly.

“And you’re a very good Echo,” Vi replied, “Elena is lucky to have you to protect her, but you don’t have to be so paranoid about her.”

“There’s more going on in this studio than you or your Stormtouched are letting on.”

“Obviously. But you should believe me when I say she’s perfectly safe. No one in the studio wants to harm her. In fact for most of them it’s quite the opposite.”

“Like I said,” Ele moved past Vi and stood between her and Elena, “you’re a very good liar. I’m not sure I’d believe anything you say. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’d like it if you left.”

Elena sat up, but by the time she did Vi had slipped through the door, leaving as silently as she had entered.


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10 responses

  1. Thanks much to all my great readers. I’ve been loving all the comments recently, they make me smile and want to write even more gooder!

    We’ve got one more SFW bonus chapter and one more NSFW bonus chapter to go, so keep an eye out for another unscheduled bonus update sometime between now and next Wednesday!

    Like

    2014-09-10 at 8:50 pm

  2. Curse you for making me stay up marginally later than I intend to reading!

    Definitely some kind of fight club.

    Like

    2014-09-10 at 10:33 pm

    • The first rule about art studio is you don’t talk about art studio. The second rule about art studio is you don’t talk about art studio.

      Like

      2014-09-11 at 10:33 am

  3. zeuseus

    Yay Ele. Being all badass

    Like

    2014-09-10 at 11:56 pm

  4. CaptainPedantic

    Eeeek! The suspense! The intruige! I cannot stop squirming in my seat right now!

    Like

    2014-09-11 at 1:35 am

  5. Argyle

    Speaking of broken things. . . The link to this update in the table of contents is not working. Maybe you linked the echo by mistake. Great story.

    Like

    2014-09-11 at 5:57 pm

    • Hehe I must have; thanks. Silly Echo chapters!

      Like

      2014-09-12 at 6:57 am

  6. and now… she gets to start improving weapons.

    For herself.

    Shes…. BATWOMAN!

    Hey Maddirose, leaking pen here. Finally got around to reading TC this morning, and been sneaking away on breaks at work to read on my phone. Caught up… sigh….

    I have to say, as much as I liked your last serial, this one is even better! loving it.

    Like

    2014-09-14 at 6:36 pm

    • I’m so glad to hear you’re liking it! Orbital Academy was fun, but it was definitely a learning experience. I’m glad some of what I’ve learned has leaked through to improve TC!

      Like

      2014-09-14 at 11:51 pm

  7. Typo:

    Where they always that
    ______________

    Were they… ?

    Like

    2016-12-12 at 11:38 pm

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