A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

3.6 – Severiorum, Lienosus, Torto {Cranky, Grumpy, Twisted}

Normally it was the pleasant banging of pots and pans just down the hall that woke Elena up, but today it was the jingle of the bell above her head, warning her that Cook had entered the kitchen.

I should’ve taken the bell down. She mused, staring at the ceiling. The pots and pans are a nice reminder that I’m part of De Luca’s studio. The bell is a reminder of last night.

“You’re making your Joanna face.” Ele observed from the seat in the corner of the room. “That usually means you’re about to be either snobby or cranky.”

“They haven’t told me anything. All of this hidden secret stuff going on at the studio, what I thought was my studio, and they haven’t told me anything. From their point of view I’m just a child who they don’t need to give any real answers.”

“Ah, cranky then. Good. I think we both deserve to be a little cranky.”

“Do you realize you’ve only been hurt once in your life, and we still don’t know why it happened?”

“I’m quite aware of that,” Ele rubbed his jaw and winced, “and I’d like an explanation myself.”

The pair shared a look before Elena swung her feet out of bed, glancing around the small room with a brooding glare. The jangling bell meant that Cook and the Rhetors had entered the kitchen, so she should go and start helping them right away. Instead she continued brooding and thought about De Luca and the full garzoni.

“You’re thinking about doing something stupid, aren’t you?” Ele asked.

“I’m thinking about it,” Elena admitted.

“Something like following them tonight, and seeing for yourself what they’re up to?”

“Something exactly like that.”

“Good.”

 


“Leetel garzona, you hev the face of a demon this morning!” Cook seemed genuinely distressed when Elena entered the kitchen.

“I’m sorry Cook, I just had…had trouble sleeping last night.” Elena faltered, taking a bowl of cream from the ice chest without being asked. “It’s put me in a funk.”

“You and me both, sister.” Erik scowled from his customary stool in the corner of the kitchen. Now that she noticed, the Rhetorguard did look rather horrible. There were deep circles under his eyes, his hair was greasy as if it hadn’t been washed in days, and his left eye twitched.

“When was the last time you got some sleep Erik?” Ele asked, taking an empty stool across the large kitchen table from Elena. Garnet was peeling potatoes, but Elena thought she could see his eyes flick from Ele to Erik.

Oh, that’s right…Rhetorguards are Mortalis…

“When was the last time you had a good night’s sleep Erik?” Elena repeated her Echo’s question.

“A full night? Can’t remember the last time,” Erik snarled, “Garnet over there seems committed to working himself to the bone day and night, which would be fine if it didn’t mean I had to be up at all hours alongside him.”

“Garnet, he makes the kitchens run smooth like butter,” Cook interjected, “every moment he ees finding recipes, he ees preparing food, he ees cleaning kitchen, cleaning tools, coming up with lists of foods to buy-”

“Garnet’s been writing you lists?” Erik roared, sitting up fast. Elena was startled at the transformation; one moment a worn out man sat hunched in the corner, the next Erik was standing, tall, threatening, his hand on the hilt of his sword.

“No no! Garnet he no write anything!” Cook waved his hands wildly, “he ees good Rhetor! Every morning I em asking him, ‘Garnet do we need dairy today?’ He nod yes or no. ‘Do we needing cheeses today?’ He nod yes or no. Ees long process but we make work.”

“Oh,” Erik seemed to uncoil as he sat back down. “I’ve seen you two doing that before. When you said ‘making lists’ I…well I was mistaken that’s all. Sorry Cook.”

“Seems like he should be apologizing to Garnet.” Ele noted. Elena agreed, but kept quiet. The entire kitchen seemed to follow her example for a while: Cook uncharacteristically quiet as he got out the utensils and built a fire beneath the large stove, Garnet peeling potatoes in his customary and enforced silence, Erik brooding in the corner. It felt unnatural and awkward enough that Elena breathed a sigh of relief when Emerald and Rolf walked through the door.

“Emerald apologizes for her lateness, but apparently finding the perfect hairstyle was more important to her than showing up to her work on time,” Rolf said good naturedly as they came in, “Emerald you may respond with the unladylike reaction I know you’re just dying to- ah, yes, there it is.” He finished as Emerald gave him the middle finger. Elena grinned. The pair’s odd, one-sided banter was good natured, and despite her response there was a smile in the corner of Emerald’s eyes.

“Emerald she ees forgiven, for you two are welcome in my kitchen,” Cook said, “you both happy, not like cranky leetle garzona and surly rhetorgaurd today. And her hair look nice.”

“Surly are we Erik?” Rolf chuckled, turning to the man in the corner, “you could always improve your spirits by-”

His face turned cold as his voice trailed off. Elena glanced in Erik’s direction to see the man sleeping peacefully, his hands clasped and resting on his belly. Rolf crossed the distance of the kitchen in two long strides, and without a word slammed his fist into the other Rhetorguard’s face.

Erik fell of the stool heavily, yelling inarticulately and flailing. He grabbed at his sword and drew it halfway before Rolf set a heavy boot on his sword hand, pinning it to Erik’s stomach.

“I’m sure you drew your sword with the intent of falling on it, due to your failure,” Rolf said quietly, “but I have some words for you before you go about that.”

“Didn’t mean to fall asleep,” Erik protested, “I can explain; it’s been a rough couple-”

“No, now is not the time for you to speak,” Rolf interrupted. “And I don’t much care for what you meant to do. You left your Rhetor unguarded, what explanation is there for that? You left your Rhetor unguarded while holding a weapon.”

“It’s just a potato peeler-”

“Garnet.” Rolf whirled to face the silent blond man. “Do you think you could kill a sleeping man with a potato peeler? If you tried really, really hard?” Garnet shrugged, continuing to peel potatoes and clearly not interested in engaging in the discussion. Elena suddenly shivered at the sight of how easy the small knife stripped the skin off of the potatoes before he deposited each in a bowl of water.

“There are people around!” Erik still tried to protest, but Rolf talked right over him.

“It’s your one sole purpose in life Erik. The one thing you have to do, the one job you have, is keeping eyes and ears on Garnet at all times. If you’re that hard pressed for sleep, then keep him chained up longer and sleep in some morning.”

“You chain them up when they sleep?” Elena asked, horrified.

“It’s the only way to ensure they don’t sneak off or cause trouble when their Rhetorguards are sleeping,” Rolf explained before turning back to Erik. The heavy man was breathing hard under Rolf’s boot.

“Don’t report me to the Guardhouse.” It was strange to hear the imposing armored man plead, surly though the pleading was. “It was one mistake. It won’t happen again, I’ll make sure of it. Don’t tell me you haven’t made a mistake before.”

“Of course I haven’t. I’m a Rhetorguard.” Rolf stepped away from Erik with a look of disgust. “I won’t report you. But if I had reported you, Garnet would get accolades. I don’t know exactly how you’re going to repay him, but figure it out. You know he’s observant enough to see you sleeping, but he didn’t take advantage of it.”

“Didn’t see fit to wake me up either.” Erik grumbled, getting to his feet and brushing himself off.

“That’s not his responsibility, it’s yours.” Rolf reached up and yanked down the rolling pin Emerald had been reaching for, a sour expression on his face.

“Now all my helpers cranky and surly,” Cook grumbled, “too much to ask to see happy face? Happy wave?”

Emerald waved at Cook, her eyes smiling.

“That doesn’t count as a direct question Emerald, watch it,” Rolf snapped the warning. The kitchen remained in the chilled silence that followed.

 


Elena stared at the ceiling, her eyes sore from her second night of little sleep in a row. The day had gone by in a blur, working on the paintbrushes and resolutely ignoring the full garzoni. Carlo had apparently “fallen on the stairs,” and every time she glanced at his empty workbench with its loose half-painted tiles lying on it she felt her stomach tightening.

The full garzoni had certainly noticed something was wrong, but Elena had had nothing to say to them, and eventually even Niccolo had left her alone. She could never remember being so angry.

“I’m a garzona. A real garzona.” She muttered under her breath for the seventh time. “Why would De Luca bother taking me on but hiding something so huge that Carlo would break his arm over it? How is Vi so sure that I’ll be safe when I’ve been shot in the hallway of this very room?”

“You’ll find out the full story tonight.” Although she couldn’t see him while staring at the ceiling, Ele’s quiet voice was calm and comforting. “But whatever the true story is behind all this, you’ll be better equipped to handle it if you get some sleep.”

“Can’t sleep,” Elena said, “the last time I fell asleep I missed the bell, and I can’t make that mistake a second time. I know they’re going out tonight, this could be my only chance.”

“Suit yourself,” Ele said, and the room lapsed into silence again.

Elena’s eyelids drooped, and she focused on the bell hanging above her head to keep herself awake. She tried to gauge how much of the room she could see in the tiny curved reflection of the little bell, then when that had exhausted her interest she tried to work out how large she could make the bell before someone might overhear it in another room.

Is there a unit of measurement for the amount of sound a bell makes? Her mind swam through the thought heavily. If there isn’t there should be…I’m sure some Machinator somewhere has come up with something…

 


“…but I almost forgot to tell you the most amusing part of the entire story! The best thing is, this entire time, Lady Bellini wasn’t pregnant at all!

“I’m sorry…what?” Elena wasn’t quite sure she had followed the story, at some point she must’ve tuned the man in the black furs out.

“I know! She had been faking it the entire time, using a pillow and bribing the servants! Hah!” The man in the black furs had such a pleasant laugh. It was halfways between a chortle and a chuckle, and Elena couldn’t help but to smile in response. “Ah, me,” he finally sighed, and looked through the window of the carriage.

Elena followed his example, watching the empty fields and twisted trees pass slowly by as she tried to adjust to the slight swaying motion. The silence was stretching awkwardly, although the man in the black furs didn’t seem to mind. He had settled his large mass back into the pillows in the carriage, his face hidden in the shadows of the dim interior.

“The carriage is moving a bit slowly,” Elena said conversationally. It was proving hard to get her bearings, but at least her companion didn’t seem to mind her awkward attempt at small talk.

“Mmm, that’s because it’s a litter my dear, not a carriage,” the man in black furs corrected. “Isn’t it interesting that long before humans asserted their dominance on horses, we’d already had other humans carrying us around?”

“I…I suppose?” Elena wasn’t really paying attention, focusing instead on the buzzing in her temples, taking in her surroundings for what felt like the first time. The interior of the litter was dark, but it was very luxurious with cushions and blankets on both of the wide seats. Across from her the man in the black furs was watching her, although she didn’t know how she could tell without seeing his face. Why couldn’t she see his face, sitting so close to him?

“Would you like a bit of candied orange my dear?” Black Furs offered her a small tin, but Elena shook her head. She’d never much cared for sweets since the disastrous day she had tried to convince her mother to give Ele some sweets for Christmas. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place when Elena realized that Ele was nowhere to be seen.

“Is everything alright?” The man in black furs asked lightly. “My candied orange seems to have given you an epiphany.”

“I only just realized,” Elena said almost apologetically, “I think I’m probably dreaming.”

“Do you think so?” Black Furs leaned forward, his mass shifting quite suddenly. “Now why would you think something like that?”

“Well because…I don’t remember getting here, my Echo is nowhere around, and I can’t see your face.”

“Oh my goodness, really?” Black Furs was pleased, she didn’t need to see his face to see that, a kind of happiness and excitement that was almost frightening in its intensity. “Wonderful. Oh how exquisitely excellent. How fortuitous, what are the odds? What are the odds indeed? I must gather the others.”

“What others are you gathering?” Elena asked, smiling and humoring Black Furs. As far as dreams went she could do worse for a companion than the large chortling mystery man.

“Oh you shall see you shall see, and won’t they be delighted to meet you!” Black Furs said distractedly. Figures began appearing on the benches on both sides of the litter, suddenly and without fanfare as if they had been there all along. The litter was rather large, and there was plenty of room on both sides of Elena and Black Furs, but it filled up quickly as more and more arrived. Unlike Black Furs, Elena could clearly see their faces, and she very much wished that she couldn’t.

One man had no arms, and a face that seemed oddly distant. A girl a few years younger than Elena had almost no face at all; no eyes or nose, but a too-wide mouth that curved up into a grin. The man who appeared next to Elena had strips of skin peeling away from his head. Next to Black Furs was a woman who appeared plain and normal in every feature, but for some reason Elena couldn’t quite meet her eyes. There were others, but Elena couldn’t process the sudden attention of so many inhuman creatures. Her stomach roiled, and she quickly looked down at her hands in her lap.

It was too much, too many, and every face was horrifying in its own unique way. The interior of the litter darkened even more as the bodies filled the tight space, and Elena felt that somehow even the ones on the very edges were focused on her, even though she couldn’t see them.

It’s only a dream, it’s only a dream. She told herself firmly, willing herself not to think about the warm bodies pressed against her on both sides.

“Friends you won’t believe the luck!” Black Furs was saying excitedly. “I was just getting ready for bed, and I thought I’d take a little stroll and unwind, maybe share some gossip I’d recently learned about Lady Bellini…oh, by the way Lucrezia remind me to tell you about Lady Bellini sometime-”

“You didn’t bring us here to talk about Lady Bellini, Wanderer,” the girl with only a mouth interrupted, “who is the child?”

“I was just getting to that! Well, I was sharing my gossip and this young lady talked to me.” Black Furs leaned back triumphantly, clearly expecting a reaction. The interior of the litter was silent, and Elena could hear her own breathing, shallow and shaky. It was the only sound of breathing in the litter.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand the significance.” The man with the peeling skin said from next to Elena. She suddenly noticed that the skin floated gently around his face, like ribbons caught in an unseen breeze. The very sound of his voice was enough to make her flinch.

“The significance is that she realized she’s in a dream! You realize you’re in a dream don’t you my dear?”

“Y-yes,” Elena stammered. “I..I would actually like to wake up now please, if that’s alright.”

“Don’t you see?” Black Furs was chortling again, though in the present company Elena couldn’t find it quite as pleasant. “She’s one of us!” That statement did garner a reaction. The…things murmured to one another, too fast and too quietly to be heard individually. Elena didn’t quite care what they were saying, she was just glad for the momentary reprieve from the attention.

“You are a very special young lady, although you probably know that already,” The girl with only a grin said. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Miss or Mister….?”

“Elena,” Elena introduced herself. Tears began to well up in her eyes, all she wanted to do was to wake up, but she fought them back and introduced herself properly. “Elena Lucciano. It’s a pleasure to meet you too.”

“El-en-na Lucc-i-a-no.” Black Furs said the name as if each syllable were a delicacy he was savoring. “It’s been some time since we’ve met another of us.”

“I don’t think I’m like you,” Elena whispered. “I mean I know this is my dream is trying to tell me I’m becoming a monster or something, but I don’t think I’ve gotten that bad.”

“A monster?” Said the plain woman, and her voice, though completely unremarkable, left Elena feeling as if she was going to be sick.

“You misunderstand, Elena dear.” Black Fur said kindly. “We may look a tad monstrous here, yes, but that’s not what I meant. You are like us because you don’t fit, you see?”

“I’m fitting in just fine!” As she thought over the past few weeks of life at De Luca’s studio, even Elena didn’t believe her protests.

“It’s alright you poor dear!” Black Fur reassured her, “not fitting in is a wondrous thing! Just think of the whole of Italoza…indeed, think of the whole of the world. It’s like a giant machine, with a million little gears all spinning in unison to keep it running. Each of those gears so unimportant, so pathetic, so incapable of changing anything!”

“Keeping a huge machine running doesn’t seem very unimportant,” Elena pointed out. The calmer she spoke, the more panic seemed to surge in her chest, and her breathing was so rapid she felt as if she should pass out.

“Oh but it is. Those boring gears will live and die and no one will remember the best of them.” The Grinning Girl said dismissively.

“But sometimes in that sea of mediocrity you find one of us.” Black Fur said with relish. “We who can halt the machine or reverse the machine, make the machine do as we please. And because we do not let the machine control us, the boring gears call us bent or warped. That’s what we are, my sweet child. That’s what you are!”

“A broken gear?” Elena whimpered.

“Ooh sweet child, my poor aimless Elena Lucciano.” A single tear had fallen down her cheek, and Black Fur reached forward to dry it, tenderly and affectionate though she couldn’t see his face. “Just wait until you realize how much fun a cog’s life can be, when you’re just the tiniest bit…twisted.”

The bell above her bed jingled, and Elena woke up.

 


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12 responses

  1. This is not a threat, it’s just plain fact. If you do not vote for Twisted Cogs on TopWebFiction, a man whose skin floats ’round his face in ribbons will visit you in the middle of the night. He will stand next to your bed until you awake. And he will offer you candied oranges.

    If you do not care for candied oranges, please vote. Don’t do it for me. Do it because candied oranges cause indigestion.

    Liked by 1 person

    2014-09-14 at 11:46 pm

  2. zeuseus

    Ooooooooh. Yay! Weird Dreamwalking monster-people.

    Like

    2014-09-15 at 12:06 am

  3. thatguy

    And another twist for the twisted cogs yay I hope the next chapter has the art thief / fight club thing

    Liked by 1 person

    2014-09-15 at 12:53 am

  4. CaptainPedantic

    Yesyesyes! Its 2am here and I’m sugar high, and I am certain that there is some deeper story going on now and it seems so creepy and cold, I love it when the lore drops off like the sheer edge off the side of an iron grey clock tower!

    Like

    2014-09-15 at 3:19 am

  5. Bobby

    So… The one special thing we know about Elena is that she’s a powerful Fabera. From there it seems like it would make sense to conclude that these dreaming ladies and gentlemen are also Faberi. More precisely: the master Faberi who presumably exist but never get talked about. You could think of weirder things than lucid dreaming for people with super-brains to do.

    Points in favor:
    Her power was acting up just before she became aware, so someone else with the same power could presumably do the same thing.
    Wanderer likened the world to a machine which they could manipulate, which seems to go well with the Faberi ability to _understand_.
    Points in disfavor:
    I have no idea what’s the deal with the monstrous appearances.

    By the by: first time commenter here, I just binged through the whole archive. This is good! And now I have to wait for the next chapters. T_T

    Like

    2014-09-16 at 12:47 am

    • I love the theories, they make me happy :D

      Sorry you have to wait now, but not sorry to have ya around!

      Like

      2014-09-17 at 11:28 am

  6. Jat

    Quite a nice story indeed. Lots of intriguing mysteries, a subtle flavoring of magic instead of MAGIC HITTING YOU OVER THE HEAD AND NEVER GOING AWAY AND IT’S MAGIC ALL THE TIME, good strong characterization…yes. I am quite enjoying this story. Thank you.

    Like

    2015-03-29 at 7:15 pm

    • I’m very glad you’re enjoying the story! Thanks for commenting, it’s always very encouraging to hear that people are liking Twisted Cogs!

      Like

      2015-03-29 at 11:36 pm

  7. I laughed at Emerald flipping Rolf off. For a woman who doesn’t speak, she has such personality!

    Like

    2015-04-13 at 9:02 pm

  8. Fhoenix

    New reader here. maddirosex do you know, that you are awesome? Because you are. That dream-sequence was so delicious.
    I went and voted. Can I still get those candied oranges though?

    Like

    2015-05-15 at 3:36 pm

    • Ah, how kind! I really appreciate the feedback, and of course you can have some candied oranges (although, of course, they will be given to your dream-self)!

      Like

      2015-05-17 at 10:48 pm

  9. Reiskorn

    Aah, Twisted Cogs.
    Nice chapter!

    Like

    2017-04-01 at 9:24 pm

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