A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

3.2 – Studio Intrare Foscari {Entering Studio Foscari}

“The clock is ticking, Elena.” Ele’s voice was quiet, but it still seemed loud in the stillness of the empty studio hallway.

“I know, I know, what exactly do you want me to do?” Elena hissed, “they’re not here!”

“I’m just saying that we need to find them faster.”

“Well sitting here hounding me isn’t helping. Go scout the other side if you’re so worried about time, see if the others have found anything.”

In answer, Ele vanished through the wall with a frown. Elena continued on through the studio, trying not to regret sending Ele away and facing the silent studio by herself. Every door throughout the studio had been unlocked, and every room within empty. From the outside Studio Foscari had looked ugly, but the extra space clearly gave them a lot more room to work with.

From the rooms she had seen so far, dark and abandoned, the Foscari garzoni each had their own personal workshop; small and cramped but no worse than the workstations she had had as a De Luca garzoni. The bedrooms were cleaned to the point of spotlessness, possessions presumably tucked away in the several locked wardrobes and drawers that were in each room.

“They’re all gathered in some sort of main hall,” Ele said from just behind her, and Elena jumped in spite of herself. “The studio is just as empty all throughout.”

“Do you know how to get to the main hall from here? Without walking through walls?” Elena asked. Ele nodded without speaking and led the way, Elena trailing behind. “I didn’t mean to snap at you like that, I’m sorry,” she said quietly.

“It’s fine,” Ele said shortly without looking back at her.

It’s getting worse between us, Elena mused, it keeps happening, no matter what we talk about, it always leads to this.

“There you are, Elena. What do you make of this?” Isadora asked as the pair entered the main hall. Like the rest of the studio, the hall was utilitarian but not ugly; the only decoration was a large rug that stretched along the middle. The ceiling was so high that the light from Isadora’s Stormtouched scraps of parchment didn’t illuminate it, making the entire hall feel a bit cave-like.

Isadora, Arturo, and Arta appeared to have been in some discussion before she had arrived, and a little ways away Dolce, Elio, and Festo stood waiting for a decision. On the other side of the room, Iso stood with his arms crossed, looking bored.

“I don’t know what to think,” Elena said, “they’re not sleeping in their beds, they’re not staying up late in their workshops…is the entire studio at court or something?”

“Masters get invited to the courts, not students,” Arturo said, “and Foscari isn’t high enough in the hierarchy to be invited even to the Milian court.”

“Then where are they?”

“This is when it would’ve been nice to have the models you promised,” Festo said with a side-glance at Elena. “What was it you said? ‘All of the plans of the studio’?”

“I’ve been trying-” Elena started to protest, but Isadora cut her off with a gesture.

“Let’s not get into that again, we don’t have the models and arguing isn’t going to make them appear from thin air. We need to decide what to do, now. Chances are that Studio Malatesta is waiting for us outside as we speak, so what do we do? Ideas for plans, people.”

“There might be a back way out,” Festo said, “some studios have passages out. Again, it’d be nice to have the plans to the studio in this case.”

“Ideas for plans using things we have right now.”

Elena furrowed her brow, but was distracted by Iso, still standing on the other side of the room, crooking a finger to beckon her over. He didn’t seem at all concerned, but he tilted his head as she approached, as if sizing her up.

“They’re underground,” he said quietly, as soon as she was close enough to hear him.

“I…what?” Elena blinked.

“Studio Foscari are hiding underground. There’s a separate part of the compound just underneath this room, and that’s where they’re all sleeping right now. They aren’t even aware you’re here.”

“How do you…I’m confused.”

“The other Echoes don’t really think to look through floors,” Iso said patiently, “I had a hunch, I checked it out, and I’m telling you where they are.”

“Why are you just telling me this? Why not the rest of them?” Elena narrowed her eyes. Ever since Little One has screamed at her to be more careful, she had been trying to be wary of blindly trusting everyone around her. Iso didn’t seem offended by her paranoia, but he threw a contemptuous glance towards Isadora, absorbed in her quiet discussion.

“And let the meretrix stulta over there think I care?” He rolled his eyes at Elena’s shocked gasp, “sorry for the language. I don’t care about studio politics or any of this play-fighting you all do, so to be honest I couldn’t care less if you beat Foscari or not.”

“Then why tell me at all?”

“You seem like you need a win. And Arta likes you, that’s enough reason to help you.”

Elena wasn’t quite sure about his reasoning, but he seemed genuine enough.

“They’ll know it was you who told us, they can see us talking to you,” Ele said quietly.

“That’s why you’re going to wait until they leave to go down there. Tell them you found it on your own, don’t bring my name up. I don’t want her to know I helped.”

“That doesn’t seem very-” Elena began, but Isadora called over to them.

“Elena, Ele, Iso, we’re leaving. If we move out in a group we might be able to outrun Malatesta or maybe even fight them, if they haven’t brought everyone.”

“You guys go ahead, I’m going to check one more place,” Elena said with a sidelong glance at Iso. “I um…have a hunch,” the lie felt bad on her lips, but she consoled herself with the fact that Isadora didn’t seem to be fooled at all, fixing Iso with a look for a long moment.

“Chances are we’ll be just as well off without her as we will with her,” though Elio muttered it quietly, it was still loud enough for Elena to hear, and she winced.

“Alright,” Isadora finally said, “the rest of us, let’s get moving.”

As soon as the other garzoni had left, Elena surveyed the large main hall. If there truly was an underground portion to the studio…she hurried over to the rug in the middle, snagging one corner and dragging it away. After only a few feet of the thick material had been pulled back, Elena could see the trapdoor; as long as the door to a room and set smoothly into the floor.

“We owe Iso a favor,” Ele said quietly as she left the rug in a bundle to one side.

“I’m just happy he seems to be one of the few in the Studio who doesn’t hate me,” Elena frowned. The trapdoor wasn’t locked, but it was heavy, and Elena strained to carefully pull it open, revealing a set of steep stairs that descended into darkness. She pulled her hammer from its loop on her belt, set the glowing scrap of Isadora’s parchment down outside the trapdoor, and carefully descended, using her free hand to follow the wall of the hallway.

The underground hallway was so dark and so quiet that Elena felt as though every footstep would be loud enough to wake those sleeping at its end. At the end of the hallway there was a soft flickering light around the corner, and she tried to make her footsteps even quieter as she approached and peaked around the corner.

A boy with messy black hair and glasses was sitting cross-legged with his back against the wall, a book in his lap. He looked up from the book with wide eyes as soon as Elena looked around the corner, and he grasped for the wooden baton that rested next to him with something approaching panic. Without stopping to think, Elena lunged forward, stumbling and nearly tripping herself to step a foot on the baton. The two of them stared at each other in silence, both of them wide eyed and frozen.

“Um…g-give my coin,” Elena stammered, “give me your coin, I mean.”

“You sound like it’s your first time,” the boy said, his eyes flicking towards the dark hallway behind her.

“Give up your coin, or take a hammer to the chest,” Ele said from the shadows. The boy hesitated for a moment, seemingly weighing his options, but finally fumbled in his pocket, retrieved a silver coin with a beetle engraved on it, holding it out to Elena. She eyed it suspiciously; this was too easy, there had to be some trap. “Wow this really is your first time, isn’t it? You get to take the coin now, and I have to step out of the studio fight. Your studiomates really should’ve told you how all this works.”

“I know how it works!” Elena said indignantly, snatching the coin from him. The boy raised both hands in a gesture of surrender, made infuriating by the matching shrug.

“Alright, no offense meant, miss…?”

Elena opened her mouth, but then shut it again so suddenly it almost made a snapping noise. What would Little One tell her to do in this situation?

“No offense taken,” she said, turning to look past the boy. He had been guarding a small door set into the stone, a large lock at its center with ornate swirls worked into the metal. If the flickering light of the boy’s lantern was enough for him to read by, it should suffice for her to work.

“I’m Owl,” the boy tried again, “nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too, Owl,” Elena pulled the lockpicks out once again and began working on the large lock, “you’ll forgive me if I don’t give my name to the enemy.”

“Hey, whoa, enemy? I’m trying to be friendly to the new girl here, you can cut me some slack. Look, I’ll even give you some free advice; you’re wasting your time because that lock is Faberi-made. Give it as much time as you want, you’re more likely to break your tools than get past it. There, you see, I just saved you a few hours.”

The lockpick was hers, hand made. It wasn’t custom-created for this lock like many of her past creations, but the Storm had guided every second of its creation. Elena could feel the pins as if it were her own fingers manipulating the tumblers within the lock, and she wasn’t worried.

“You have Faberi here?” she asked, ignoring his advice.

“There’s nothing wrong with Faberi,” Owl said with a frown, “we like our Faberi, they contribute just as much to our studio as anyone else. You’re awfully hostile, has anyone ever told you that?”

“No! I meant…there’s nothing wrong with Faberi,” Elena said.

“You’re darn right there’s nothing wrong with them. Hell, if more studios would stop looking down their noses at Faberi, I think a lot of them would benefit. There’s a lot they can offer a studio.”

“Like secret underground sleeping rooms and difficult locks?” Elena smiled at the door.

“Like mostly secret underground sleeping rooms and impenetrable locks.” Owl had gone back to his book, apparently completely unperturbed by his recent loss of coin and Elena’s attempt to steal more. Elena didn’t respond, feeling a thrill of excitement as the last tumbler clicked into place. She twisted with one sharp, smooth motion, the door gave a soft “click”, and with a gentle push Elena swung it open.

When she turned triumphantly, Owl’s thunderstruck expression was worth all of the work that had gone into the lockpicks.

“You don’t have a coin, so you aren’t allowed to warn or wake anyone,” Ele reminded him as Elena slipped into the room beyond.

“I know the rules,” Owl whispered, “I’m not new.”

The room within was a wide circle, with beds arranged all along the curved wall. Patchwork had told Elena that most garzoni slept with their coins out in plain view, and now she could see that he had been telling the truth. Next to every bed was a bedside table, and on each table among various personal effects the silver coins reflected the flickering lantern light from outside. A part of Elena felt bad, going from bedside to bedside and taking the coins as their owners slept peacefully in their beds, but there was no way she could’ve overpowered all of them in a fair fight, and besides…if she was being honest with herself, she was having a lot of fun.

“Bye Owl,” she whispered on her way out, “it was nice meeting you.”

“Nice meeting you too, mystery lockpicker,” Owl grumbled, but the corner of his mouth twitched in a smile.

Elena was so excited she practically skipped up the dark stairs. Feeling a momentary twinge of guilt she carefully swung the trapdoor closed, and she did her best to pull the rug back into its place on top.

How do they get it put in place when they’re all down there? She wondered as she made her way out of Studio Foscari, running her fingers over the coins in the pouch at her side. Her musing was interrupted as soon as she stepped into the snow outside.

Dolce sat in the snow, holding one leg tight to her body. Further off, Festo held a handful of red snow to his face, glaring. Arta and Iso stood to one side, Arta looking worried and Iso watching with dispassion. Almost directly in front of the studio, Elio, Arturo, and Isadora were fighting Ripple.

 


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3 responses

  1. If you’re liking Twisted Cogs, consider voting for it on TopWebFiction!

    If you’re looking for something else to read while waiting for the next chapter, my friend Tempest has just published the eBook version of his serial, MageLife on Amazon! Check it out, leave a review, and send him some love!

    Liked by 1 person

    2015-02-01 at 9:38 pm

  2. Unmaker

    Typos:

    give my name ot the enemy
    give my name to the enemy

    there’s nothing wrong with Faberi,“
    opening quote at the end instead of closing quote

    Like

    2015-02-02 at 9:19 pm

    • Thanks! Wow, that second one is a super subtle typo, I doubt I’d have caught that on my own.

      Like

      2015-02-04 at 11:15 pm

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