A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

4.1 – Limax Venenosa {Venomous Slug}

The heavy autumn heat had finally broken, and the air was crisp and cool as it blew through the open courtyard of Bernardo De Luca’s Studio. The skies were a cloudless blue, the leaves had turned their bright oranges and yellows, and the courtyard was filled with the sound of laughter.

“Look, I’m trying to have an adult conversation here, and just because you all took it the wrong way doesn’t mean you should laugh at me,” Carlo had to raise his voice to be heard over Niccolo, Nicci, Vittoria and Vi’s mirth as Elena approached the group, a small wooden case beneath one arm.

“You…you can’t seriously expect us to believe that you didn’t know how that would sound,” Niccolo was gasping.

“It wasn’t so bad…or at least it wouldn’t have sounded that bad if you weren’t so dirty-minded,” Carlo retorted.

“What’s so funny?” Elena raised an eyebrow as she joined the group.

“Elena, perfect timing,” Niccolo waved, “alright Carlo, we’ll put it to the test.”

“Or we could just drop the whole thing,” Carla seemed much less amused at Carlo’s discomfort, but Niccolo shook his head.

“No no, Carlo thinks we’re such dirty-minded creatures, and maybe he’s right. Why don’t you say to Elena what you said to us, she’s about the purest girl in the world, if she finds it dirty you know it was a poor choice of words.”

“I’m not that pure,” Elena protested, although she wasn’t entirely sure why she was arguing. Maybe it was Vittoria’s comment from a week ago about her ‘possibly underaged bum’.

“Look, you see? She’s literally blushing at the very thought of being impure, you can’t have a more clean slate to test than that. Go ahead Carlo,” Niccolo challenged, “share your horrible smutty thoughts with this beacon of innocence.”

“I was just saying,” Carlo didn’t meet Elena’s eyes as he spoke, “that Cross hadn’t been beaten before, so she might have a grudge against you because you were the first person to get her coin, that’s it.”

“That doesn’t sound dirty at all,” Elena said, confused.

“Now tell her in the exact words you used,” Niccolo prodded.

“I think I said something like ‘Elena was Cross’ first…” Carlo blushed furiously, and Vittoria and Vi began giggling again.

“The words he actually used,” Nicci said, “were ‘I hope Cross doesn’t get as obsessed with Elena as I was with my first, you know how intense the first time can be’.”

“Oh wow Carlo,” Elena tried to hold back a laugh.

“It didn’t sound so bad in my head…”

“What’s in the box Elena?” Despite the fact that she had been spending even more time with the full time garzoni over the past week, Elena still couldn’t tell the difference between Vittoria and Vi, but one of them turned to her to ask still smiling.

“Oh! That’s actually why I came out here in the first place!” Elena opened the box with a flourish. Carefully nestled inside was a set of brushes, each a light wood with little green swirls painted along their handles. “I know it’s not a huge surprise since I made a set of brushes for Carlo, but I made these for you Vittoria.”

She held the box out towards her best guess at the right girl. The pair exchanged a glance, and Vittoria kindly reached over and took the box from Elena.

“They’re lovely Elena, thank you,” she smiled.

“I wish they were better,” Elena mumbled.

“Frederica’s knives actually solved problems for her,” Ele explained, “but as far as we know you and Carlo weren’t having trouble with your old brushes…so it was a bit of a pointless project.” He gave Elena a look.

“Nonsense, these are works of art in their own right,” Vittoria said. “Even if they weren’t, I like them more than my old brushes because they were a gift designed by a fellow teammate.”

“You consider me a teammate?” Elena asked with surprise.

“Of course! You’re by our side every day, you’re one of De Luca’s garzoni, why wouldn’t we consider you a teammate?”

“Well…you could say the same of the other provisional garzoni, couldn’t you?”

“I suppose I could call them teammates, in a way…” Vittoria said thoughtfully, “…but it’s so much easier to be around you when we don’t have to guard what we say.”

“I didn’t know you considered us teammates…I-I don’t know what to say-” Elena stammered.

“A teammate we still won’t be taking out with us this week,” Niccolo cut in.

“Even though I could help you?” Elena wheedled, “I could be the deciding factor some time, you never know! I did get a coin last time.”

“Look at the little provisional, she gets one coin and suddenly she’s all full of herself!” Niccolo said. Elena stuck out her tongue at him, and he grinned. “You got a coin by accident, my favorite little Fabera, and your last little sojourn cost the studio far more than you gained.”

“Which wouldn’t have happened in the first place if you hadn’t been so cloak and dagger about everything,” Elena grumbled, “I wouldn’t have smashed the arrows on the roof if I had known we were supposed to be all nice and friendly when we fought.”

“I think technically they’re called ‘bolts’, not ‘arrows’.”

“I know, I know, Cross told me.”

“Well how do you like this?” Niccolo looked past her and raised his voice, “speak of the arrow-wielding devil!” Elena turned to door that led to the studio’s foyer and entrance to see where he was indicating.

Cross looked much younger without the green mask covering her lower face, perhaps due to her pouting lips or her small chin. The difference made Elena suddenly realize how much older the girl’s Echo was, seeing both the young blonde girl and the huge black man standing side by side. Cross held the handle of a low cart with wheels, on which sat a large chest. A large purple and black bruise adorned her right eye and half of her right cheek

“I should go back to my work,” Vittoria quietly excused herself, and Carlo and Carla followed her and Vi without a word, but Niccolo and Nicci stayed.

“I know you know the difference between arrows and bolts, Balance,” Cross folded her arms and frowned.

“What, just because I carry a bow you think I’m supposed to know all the minutiae of every ranged weapon?”

“No, just because you’re being annoying, I think you’re doing it on purpose. Also I just heard you telling the new girl that they’re bolts.”

“She’s figured out my secret weapon Cog, annoyance,” Niccolo grinned. Elena felt a thrill run down her spine when casually called her ‘Cog’. Master De Luca could say what he liked, Elena loved having a code-name.

“You’re not going to bait me that easily,” Cross said.

“Alright, alright,” Niccolo said, “you seem rather on-edge today Miss Cross.”

“No, I don’t think ‘on-edge’ is the best phrase to use to describe Cross, Niccolo,” Nicci said.

“No you’re right, she seems more…Cross seems agitated.”

“Cross is grumpy, perhaps?”

“Cross is annoyed?”

“Cross is irritated?”

“I get it,” Cross snapped, “I’m cross and my name is Cross, you’re definitely the first people to ever have made that joke. And if I seem irritated, it’s because I have to spend my Tuesday afternoon escorting a chest of coin away from our studio.”

“A chest of coin?” Elena glanced from Cross to her Echo Bello, “why is Gitti giving us a chest of coin?”

“Oh, and to top off the whole afternoon, the little new girl is here,” Cross glowered.

“Cross, I’m sorry, I really didn’t know what was happening-”

“You didn’t know how things worked, I know.” Cross folded her arms, “De Luca’s little marble boy explained things to us when he brought the coin. That doesn’t mean I was punished any less for losing the bolts. They’re worth a lot and our studio doesn’t have that kind of money to burn.”

“Master Gitti did that to you as punishment?” Elena gasped.

“No,”  Cross’ hand flew to her face, gingerly resting on the bruises for a moment, “Slug took the loss of his handcrafted bolts a little worse than Master Gitti did. He felt that Gitti’s punishment wasn’t quite enough to stick in my mind.”

“If your studio is short on money, why exactly are you returning the fine De Luca paid?” Niccolo had grown uncharacteristically serious again, “and don’t tell me it was Slug.”

“That was Master Gitti,” Cross said, “although partly due to Slug I suppose…but that’s none of your business. We don’t want the fine, we’re not accepting it, so just take it back and count yourselves richer and luckier. I wouldn’t even be here returning it if I wasn’t in the doghouse right now.”

Now that she knew what the money was for, Elena took a second look at the chest. It was huge, large enough that she doubted Cross could’ve carried it if it hadn’t had wheels. The fact that De Luca had been willing to pay so much to make up for Elena’s reckless behavior worried at her stomach.

“That’s how much the bolts were worth?” Ele muttered, clearly thinking the same thing she was, “I don’t care what they used instead of glass, De Luca was overpaying.”

“The cost probably has more to do with what’s inside than the bolts themselves,” Niccolo answered quietly. “It’s hard to put a price on a Machinator’s work. It tends to be one-of-a-kind, so they can charge what they want. Especially if they’re full of themselves…Slug wouldn’t happen to have a large ego, would he?”

“I already told you I’m not rising to the bait Balance,” Cross said wearily, “I’m not telling you anything you could use against Slug, and I’m definitely not giving you any ammo to use to sow contention in our ranks. We don’t turn on each other that easy.”

“If your eye is a sign of ‘not turning’, I’d hate to see the Gitti clan when they get contentious,” Niccolo paused for a few moments, allowing his words to sink in before he continued, “now if your Echo is done memorizing the layout of the courtyard, you’ve done what you needed to do and I think it’s time you left.”

“Can’t blame a man for taking an opportunity when he’s offered,” Bello smiled without humor.

“I defend from that window there,” Niccolo pointed, meeting and holding Bello’s gaze, “I’ll look forward to seeing you.”

Bello grunted and turned to leave. Cross looked as if she was about to say something, but instead turned and wordlessly followed, and the gnawing in Elena’s stomach grew more pronounced.

“This whole thing is all my fault,” she said quietly as the door closed behind Cross.

“No Elena that’s not-” Niccolo began as Ele at the same time said “Don’t be silly, you-”

“Stop, please just…just stop. If I wasn’t so reckless, if I had actually listened to Ele’s advice, then Cross wouldn’t have gotten in trouble or gotten hurt, De Luca wouldn’t have had to offer such a huge amount of money.”

“Well as long as you’ve learned your lesson, namely that you should listen to my advice, you should be fine in the future,” Ele tried to joke lightly, but Elena wasn’t in the mood.

“That doesn’t help Cross.”

“Come on Elena,” Niccolo said gently, “let’s get some lunch from the kitchens, I heard Cook in there and you know he’ll give you a sweet roll if you ask him, he loves you.”

“I will,” Elena glanced towards the door of the courtyard, “but there’s something I have to do first. I’ll meet you there.”

“Make sure you do,” Niccolo called after her as she ran for the door, “lord knows Cook won’t give me a sweet roll unless you’re there! I like sweet rolls!”

“What are we doing?” Ele asked as the pair ran through the hallway and out into the street.

“I can’t leave it like this. I have to make things right somehow,” Elena replied. She caught sight of Cross and Bello turning the corner, and ran again at a full tilt to catch up. “Cross!” She yelled, and the girl turned and frowned. Before she could say anything, Elena began rambling. “Cross I meant what I said back there, I’m so sorry I got you in trouble with Master Gitti, and I’m so sorry I made Slug mad at you…I’m just sorry for everything.”

“You didn’t do it on purpose, I get that,” Cross said begrudgingly. “You didn’t mean for any of that to happen.”

“It doesn’t matter what I meant or not, what matters is what happened. Here,” Elena dug through her pockets and brought out the coin, silver and engraved with the words “Cross, Year One, Gitti’s Studio” around the edge, an image of a stylized cross in the middle. “It’s not fair of me to keep this when I wasn’t playing by the rules.”

“Do you know what that’s worth?” Despite her protests Cross accepted the coin, but she stared at the girl with a bewildered expression. “You didn’t know the rules when you took this, you couldn’t have played by them, why would you give me this?”

“All the more reason it’s not fair of me to keep it,” Elena said awkwardly. She was suddenly unsure of what to do with her hands, and she stuffed them in her pockets to avoid thinking about it. “I don’t deserve it…I don’t care what it’s worth, I just want you to know how sorry I am.”

Cross flipped the coin over and over in her hands, staring at it as if she was turning a decision over in her mind.

“Don’t.” Bello’s deep voice broke in with authority. Cross looked up at her Echo and bit her lip, then back down at the coin, clearly torn. “Belloza, don’t,” Bello repeated, and his Stormtouched gave an agonized glance back and forth between him and Elena.

“Master Gitti didn’t take De Luca’s chest of coin because if she did, by the rules, the offense would be repaid,” Cross blurted, lowering her voice and speaking fast as if worried she would change her mind.

“What?” Elena asked, startled.

“This is going to bite you in the ass Belloza,” Cross’ Echo muttered.

“Master Gitti doesn’t want the offense to be repaid. If the offense is repaid then Slug stays angry, and he would take it out on the rest of the studio,” Cross continued in the same hushed and hurried manner, “instead she’s letting him take action, a vengeance on his own. If Slug breaks one of the rules towards De Luca’s studio, then your rule-breaking is considered even.”

“Maybe that’s fair,” Elena mused, “I did break the rules, I ruined his artistry, that’s one of the worst things I can imagine. Maybe I should go tell him I’ll accept whatever punishment he thinks is just.”

“New girl, look at me,” Cross hissed, and Elena took a step back at the intensity from the other girl as she indicated her bruised eye and swollen cheek. “Does Slug strike you as the kind of person who is interested in justice? Don’t…just don’t…” she clearly struggled for words for a moment, but then stepped in close, inches away from Elena. Even so close Elena could barely hear the words the other girl breathed, though she could see the fear in her face. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking of Slug as if he has any humanity in him.”

Elena stammered for an answer, but Cross was already gone, walking away with a light pace, almost a skip in her step, as if she didn’t have a care in the world. If she could see the young archer’s expression, Elena was sure it would be happy, without a trace of the fear she had just seen.

“We’re staying as far the hell away from Gitti’s studio as we possibly can,” Ele said, “you can call me ‘paranoid’ as much as you like-”

“No. You’re not being paranoid,” Elena turned and began walking back to De Luca’s studio in a daze.

“I’m not?”

“Cross is in her first year as a garzona, Ele. She’s only been there for a month.”

“I know that. What does that have to do with Slug?”

“How has she already gotten so much practice hiding how scared she is of him?”

The pair walked back to the studio in silence.

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17 responses

  1. Here we are ladies and gents, the first chapter of Arc 4! This is going to be the final arc of Twisted Cogs Book One, so I hope it’ll be something special that you’ll all enjoy.

    If you’ve been enjoying Twisted Cogs, consider voting on TopWebFiction so other people can find it!


    2014-09-28 at 11:50 pm

  2. Bobby

    “How is has she already”
    That would be
    “How is it she has already”
    “How has she already”

    HMM. Machinators are precious, huh. But not so precious that the De Luca studio has one, even though at least one lesser studio does have one. I hadn’t really thought about that before today.


    2014-09-29 at 3:44 am

    • Fixed, thanks for the catch!

      The sad truth is, sometimes the Storm is lopsided and uneven. It definitely *is* worth noting that De Luca doesn’t have any full garzoni who are Machinators, and no provisional besides Lorenzo!


      2014-09-29 at 7:07 am

      • tijay

        But given how can’t De Luca, (Peter Piotor?) the marble boy and Bea are,I think they rejected him on his propensity for violence

        Also what is De Luca’s first name.

        Since Bea is his echos name his name had to have something to do with that but the only name I can think off us Bernard, and that doesn’t sound right (a germanic first name with an Italian last)


        2014-09-29 at 8:34 am

        • Bobby

          Bernardo, Benito, Benedetto, Bertrando… Couldn’t find anything that started with Beo in my admittedly very quick look through baby names websites.


          2014-09-29 at 11:39 am

        • His full name is Bernardo Pacholi De Luca. I think in some of the earlier chapters people refer to him as “Master Bernardo,” which is something I’ll have to go back and edit since it’s doesn’t really show the proper amount of respect.


          2014-09-29 at 1:09 pm

    • Jat

      De Luca has one as a provisional garzono.


      2015-03-30 at 12:02 am

  3. Bobby

    So I’ve been thinking about how De Luca said Elena probably hadn’t built anything very complicated. Now, obviously, her power does have a physical aspect, it’s not all just designs in her head: she couldn’t have given a perfect edge to Frederica’s knife with absolutely no prior experience in knife-sharpening if her Storm wasn’t guiding her precisely enough. So she might not be as good at it as another Faberi who was focused on such things, but she can certainly manage.

    But in the same chapter, she completely bungles the pancakes. So did she mess them up because she wasn’t using her Storm, or because she _couldn’t_ use her Storm? Is her Storm less effective / not effective at all with cooking? Does Elena have any future at all as a master chef? Inquiring minds want to know!

    Secondary speculation. Marchelli: cooking-focused Faberi? (That or, you know, a person who learned a skill in a totally mundane way. I assume that must exist. Perhaps. :P)


    2014-09-29 at 12:19 pm

    • Damnit bobby I was hoping to catch everyone by surprise when I started my spinoff serial “Italoza’s Next Masterchef”, the first smutty-fantasy-reality-cooking-show serial on the web.

      Elena’s biggest problem I think is that she takes everything at face value, rather than questioning what she’s being told. It’s a trait that has gotten her in trouble before, but these are all very good observations that she would probably be making herself if she was focused less on being the best De Luca garzona she could be and more on being the best Fabera she could be.


      2014-09-29 at 1:29 pm

      • Bobby

        “People have all just stopped improving cooking technology; they content themselves puttering about with this or that spice and this or that sauce… I’m telling you, lodestones! Lodestones will revolutionize cooking! So many improvements, just waiting for us to figure them out!”


        2014-09-29 at 7:40 pm

        • Tag-team put-downs from Gordoni Ramsey and his Echo Gora.


          2014-09-29 at 8:25 pm

          • Bobby

            Hmm… If Echos can create pencils and books, can they create… a roast pork?


            2014-09-30 at 2:18 am

  4. Just wanted to leave you a little note to say the chapters keep getting better and better! (Also your story has an awesome new review up on Web Fiction Guide – congrats!) :)


    2014-09-30 at 1:15 am

    • d’aw, thank you so much, that means a lot to me! (and I saw it! so awesome! *squee*)


      2014-10-01 at 6:09 am

  5. Argyle

    I agree, very much enjoying the story. But it is cruel of you to make us wait until the beginning of LAST month for the next update.


    2014-09-30 at 10:26 am

    • Anonymous

      ummm, isn’t that just the difference in date-formats between European and US?


      2014-10-01 at 3:23 am

      • Hehe, oops. Nope that’s definitely Maddi apparently forgetting which month she is in. Thanks for the catch Argyle!


        2014-10-01 at 6:09 am

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