A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

4.6 – Esse Extremum Ut {The Worst That Can Happen}

“You’re going to use your Storm to spy on royalty?” even with her back turned, Elena could hear the scepticism in Ele’s voice.

“That’s not what I’m saying at all and you know it.” Elena’s stomach growled, and she turned her attention back to the contents of the icechest. The pair had been at it all day and late into the night, late enough that dinner was hours in the past and she was hungry again. Somewhere beneath the ice was a leftover hunk of cheese, and she was going to find it no matter how numb her hand became.

“Maybe I’m just misunderstanding it then-”

“You’re not misunderstanding it either, stop being so exasperating.”

“Okay, maybe I’m hoping that if you keep repeating it you’ll hear how dumb you sound.”

“There’s nothing dumb about it! You’ve been shooting down my ideas all day, but this one is solid.” The kitchen was too dark at night to see the bottom of the icechest, so Elena fished around blindly for the cheese, “it’s still trying to figure out our Storm, it’s just working backwards from how we’ve been trying. Instead of figuring out why and when it works, we take an instance where it worked and try to duplicate it.”

“By finding out what Milian royalty is doing.”

“The Storm told us about the laws that govern the studio didn’t it?” Frustrated, Elena slammed the icechest shut.

“You’ll wake someone up.”

“If I do it’s your fault,” Elena waited for a few moments, listening for noise before she continued, “De Luca told us we were more or less correct about the studio laws. If the Storm got that right, it can get other laws right. If we can figure out laws, we can figure out other things. Plans, plots, secrets, or court…stuff. Court stuff.”

“You understand why this makes me nervous, right? That the best-case scenario of your plan involves learning very powerful peoples’ potentially dangerous secrets?”

“That’s what we need! Something big and huge and dangerous and…fine. FINE. You come up with something then.”

“Come on Elena,” Ele sighed.

“No, go ahead. You seem to have fun poking holes in my ideas, let’s hear one of yours.”

“I don’t have any-”

The pair’s bickering was interrupted by a quiet knock on the kitchen door. Elena and Ele exchanged glances. It was rare for them to be awake so late, and had their sleep schedule not been so unbalanced lately the kitchens would’ve been empty at this hour. She crossed the short distance and opened the door.

Standing in the courtyard was a squat young man, his upturned nose and bright brown eyes giving him a charming air. His grin was mischievious and roguish, and it made him look quite distinctive. Behind him, a large woman stood with muscular arms crossed, her brown hair done up in a tight bun. Both wore nondescript clothing, the sort that was worn by merchants or laborers.

“‘ello luv,” the small man said, his strange accent so thick Elena could barely understand it, “you ’s prettier than I ‘eard.”

“Slug.” Elena had meant for it to come out as a question, but when she spoke the words there wasn’t a doubt in her mind. The knowledge was supplied so fast that Elena briefly wondered if her Storm had provided it.

“Right you are in one,” Slug answered agreeably.

“Elena get away from the-” Ele began, but before he could finish his warning Slug had punched Elena in the shoulder. She staggered back, caught completely off guard, and the motion was enough for the small man to follow her into the kitchen and kick the door shut behind him, his eyes never leaving her. The stocky woman slipped through the kitchen door after him.

“I didn’t mean to…to,” Elena’s vision lurched in the midst of her apology, and she stumbled again, her legs almost giving way. Her shoulder throbbed, and a glance downward revealed a small transparent tube sticking fast, its contents empty. If her past experiences with Cross’ bolts were any indication, she would be passing out within a few seconds, and she could already feel the ground rising up to meet her. Her lungs tightened, and she panted hard to take in shallow breaths. “Ele get help,” she managed to gasp, and without responding her Echo sprang through the kitchen wall.

“Fran, be a darlin’ an’ catch the Echo, ’fore ‘e wakes up the whole bloody studio,” Slug said casually. The burly woman took off through the same wall Ele had, and Elena shivered, waiting for the fog of darkness to sweep her away. Long moments slipped by, and then suddenly she was being lifted, hauled from beneath the shoulders up to rest on the stool in the corner, the favorite seat of Erik.

“Oof. I’d never call a lady fat, Miss Cog, but I can say wif certainty that I ain’t strong enough for this kinda liftin’,” Slug was behind her, arranging the stool so that she leaned against the wall, but when he took a step back he wore the same charming smile on his face. “Now that’s done wif, we can get to the fun bits. Can you talk?”

Elena’s whole body was locked in place sitting on the stool, her jaw included, but she managed to move her tongue enough to say something between her clenched teeth.

“Please, I didn’t mean to break your bolts,” she whispered.

“Good good. What about somefin’ louder? Can you scream?”

She knew it was useless without even trying. Each breath was such a struggle through her tight lungs that it was all she could do to whisper.

“I didn’t know there were rules,” she wheezed.

“See tha’s where we run into problems, Cog.” Elena strained to understand Slug’s accent as he turned and dragged a chair to sit facing her. It reminded her of the Englisso traders that had visited her hometown, but it was somehow less civilized, more raw. “Cos I somehow doubt De Luca sent you to Gitti’s without tellin’ you th’ rules.”

“He didn’t! I snuck out, I just followed my teammates! Please, Slug listen-” Elena’s pleas were cut short when Slug’s Echo came back through the wall, holding Ele in an armlock with one hand, the other arm slung around his mouth.

“Thankee Fran,” Slug said.

“Wot did oi miss?” Fran’s accent was even worse than Slug’s, so much so that Elena couldn’t even follow it.

“Cog ‘ere was jus’ explainin’ how we should go easy on ‘er, on account of she didn’t know there was rules. Problem is, even if she didn’t know there was rules, she still mucked up me bolts didn’t she? What you think, Fran, let ‘er off easy?”

“Not bloody loikely. She finks she got one over on us, give ‘er a reason to fink otherwise,” Fran said. Ele made a jerking motion to try to get out of her grasp, but she held on to him easily. “Oi, Cog, if yer Echo don’t stop muckin’ about, oi’m ganna break both of ‘is legs. Oi don’ fink oi’ve heard of an Echo tryin’ to make the Trip wivout ‘is legs, but I don’ reckon it’s pretty.”

“Ele stop,” Elena breathed, “just stop, let them hurt me, it’s better than seeing you get hurt.” Ele stopped, but his gaze flicked back and forth around the room, as if searching for something that could help.

“You ‘ear that Slug?” Fran said, “mebbe oi should break ‘is legs, jus’ to teach ‘er a lesson.”

“No, none o’ that Fran,” Slug ran his hands over his belt, and Elena noted that he had several small clear capsules hanging on his belt, each similar to the one that stuck out of her shoulder, “Cog ‘ere broke me bolts, Cog pays the price for it.”

“Get on wi’ it then.”

“Gettin’ to it Fran, gettin’ to it,” Slug murmured, finally selecting one of the small vials from his belt. Like the bolts, the vial had a small fang on one end, and he stepped forward and stabbed it into Elena’s shoulder, just below the one that already hung from her skin. It hurt, but she was anxious enough that the pain barely registered. “Right, tha’s the enhancer.”

“Talk it through, Slug, tell ‘er wot you’s doin’” Fran said, jerking to hold Ele up a little straighter.

“Ah, right you are me darlin’. See Cog, we used to know this doc when we was younger, genius man. ‘e used to give me advice, said ‘if’n you’ve ever got to work on a patient an’ you can’t put ‘em to sleep first, talk to ‘em. Tell ‘em what it is you’re doing. It makes the work go smooth’.” Slug looked Elena up and down again as he spoke, less like a man looking at a woman and more like a butcher looking at a pig. “It took me a while to figure, but wouldn’t you know it, it don’t just work for doctorin’, it works just as well for hurtin’!”

“Surprised to learn that, we was,” Fran broke in.

“Surprised as anythin’. So, what I just injected you wiff was some of me own venom, compliments of me Storm. First one is obvious, borin’, it’s a paralytic. Second one is more interestin’. In a few seconds you’ll feel a lovely little heat rush, then we can really get started. In the meantime, a little gab never hurt anyone, don’t you fink? So what’cha do, where ya from?”

“I’m from Carpi,” Elena said, “De Luca will-”

“I wasn’t actually askin’ where you’re from,” Slug rolled his eyes, “or ‘bout what you fink De Luca’ll do. Th’ chest of coin he sent over, tha’s all he’ll do. On that subject, ‘ere’s somethin’ interestin’; did you know there’s five ‘undred gold’s worth of venom flowing through your bloodstream right now?”

Elena was at a loss. Pleading wasn’t working, nor had explaining the situation. She couldn’t move, and if Ele tried to make a break for it he risked even worse danger than her. Slug kept on talking conversationally, “‘s funny, you bein’ in this situation on account a thinkin’ you was above me. Ironic, I call that, ‘cause now your blood’s worth five hundred, technically, you is better than me, jus’ like you thought.”

Elena was trying hard, but his accent was so thick that it was hard to follow what he was saying.

“Never…said…I was better…than…anyone,” she gasped. Was it becoming harder to breath, or was it her imagination?

“Didn’t haffta say it,” Slug looked down at his nails, “smashed the bloody bolts, didn’t’cha? Rules don’t apply to Cog do they? Cog’s master’ll pay a fine, an’ who cares about Slug’s effort? No one. No one cares.”

“Cross cares.”

“Aye! ‘xactly!” Slug’s facade broke for just a moment, and he jabbed a finger towards Elena’s face, “Belloza cares. She cares on account of I taught ‘er to care. Taught the whole studio to care ‘bout what ‘appens to me. That’s what you do when someone don’t think about anyone but themself, you teach ‘em to care. You think you’re better’n Fran an’ me, well Cog, you’ll think different after your lesson.”

“So you’re not going to kill me?” Even she knew it was naive to feel hope at the words, but Elena was grasping at any straw she could.

“Nah Cog, I ain’t gonna kill ya,” Slug chuckled, “no matter how much ya beg me to.”

A sudden rush of heat made Elena’s head feel light, and for a few moments of blind terror her throat closed completely. All of a sudden every sensation was too much; the fabric of her clothes rasped across her skin, the weight of her body crushed painfully against the muscles of her rear where she sat, and the cool tile against her trailing foot seemed like ice. When she could breath again the breaths came raggedly, the air freezing as it scraped into her lungs.

“You’re blushin’, Miss Cog. Is that on account of the heat rush or ‘ave you just been overcome by me rugged good looks?” Slug asked. He reached out and pinched the skin on her shoulder.

Despite the shallowness of her breathing, the pain was so intense that Elena tried to scream. Her lungs locked up, and nothing came out but a strangled whimper. Across the table from them Ele tried to jerk out of the Echo’s grasp again, yelling something too muffled to be heard, but Fran only grinned and twisted his arm further.

“Ah, that’s th’ magic rush we was waitin’ for,” Slug said, “lowers th’ pain threshold, heightens th’ senses. Means we can ‘ave some fun without gettin’ into too much trouble afterwards when the Masters find out. ‘I swear I only pinched her a bit, gave ‘er a few cuts ‘n scrapes!’ Golden.”

Ele suddenly went limp, using the weight of his body to pull his mouth away from Fran’s arm.

“Help! Someone help, they’re killing-” he managed to scream before the other Echo clamped her arm back down over his mouth. Slug and Fran froze, looking nervous for the first time as they listened for a reaction. Elena struggled to move, to yell, but she was still panting with what little breath she could manage. Slowly, the pair relaxed.

“No need for all that, already said I weren’t gonna kill ‘er,” Slug said. “She’s just gonna be a mite more colourful tomorrow is all.” Elena glanced down, and sure enough a large purple bruise was already blooming across her shoulder where he had pinched her. “Oh don’ worry missy,” Slug said, following her glance, “I’ll leave the rest o’ the marks in places that can’t be seen.”

If there was ever a time for my Storm to help me, it’s now, the random thought floated through Elena’s mind, but no provident buzz or tingle arrived. When Slug leaned in close again, so close she could feel his breath on her skin, her thoughts became even less connected. His breath is too hot. I can’t even scream when he hurts me.

“Francis.” Fran’s warning was sharp, and Slug whirled. Over his shoulder Elena could see the doorway to the kitchen had opened, but the room was flooded in moonlight, and the silhouetted figure was hard to make out beyond his height and general figure.

“This situation may look a mite bad to you, stranger,” Slug spoke smoothly, drawing a small knife from his belt, “but I guaran-bloody-tee you this goes worse for ‘er if you don’ turn ‘round and leave.” He pressed the little blade against Elena’s throat, and even the small pressure was enough to hurt, the metal incredibly cold.

What will it feel like when he has me alone and can actually use that knife?

The man stepped into the kitchen and let the door close behind him, folded his arms and leaning against the far wall. As her eyes adjusted again to the dark of the room, Elena noticed that Slug had drawn more of the clear fanged tubes, and was holding him behind his back where the man couldn’t see them. When she glanced back at the man she recognized him, though he still looked quite different without his mask on.

“Did you not ‘ear me, tall dark an’ ‘andsome?” Slug gripped the clear tubes tighter behind his back, “walk away or Cog ‘ere gets ‘er throat slit open.”

“Can I watch?” Garnet asked.


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9 responses

  1. Normally this is where I say “if you’re enjoying Twisted Cogs and want more people to find it, I’d love a vote or two on TopWebFiction“, but it’s probably pretty hard to vote one-handed as you hang off the edge of this cliff :)

    In all seriousness, I’ve been looking forward to writing this and the next chapter of Twisted Cogs for MONTHS. I am so thankful to all you lovely readers for reading and commenting on the story so far, it’s made this whole writing journey such a wonderful experience!

    Liked by 1 person

    2014-10-16 at 12:13 am

  2. HAHAHAHAH OH HOLY CRAP

    Now we finally find out what the heck a Rheator is!
    I’ma take a guess and say slug is going to regret this.

    Like

    2014-10-16 at 1:07 am

  3. CaptainPedantic

    *squeals in terror and hides under blanket* and softly whimpers “nooooo…”

    Like

    2014-10-16 at 2:05 am

  4. Well, at least we’ll see what Rhetors can do.

    Like

    2014-10-16 at 2:38 am

  5. Panster

    Oh….snap. Wow. Next three days needs to go by quickly.

    Would it be too much to hope that Garnet’s gonna totally save Elena?

    Just sounding out Slug’s voice this chapter in my head makes me hate the guy.

    Like

    2014-10-16 at 2:38 am

  6. This is gonna be gooooooood.

    Like

    2014-10-16 at 7:57 am

  7. Aw snap!

    Like

    2014-10-16 at 9:02 am

  8. Jat

    There’s going to be a party. How nice.

    Like

    2015-03-30 at 2:03 am

  9. Well, my eyes just popped the hell open. :O

    Like

    2015-04-14 at 8:47 am

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