A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

3.7 – Proditione {Betrayal}

Elena’s eyes fluttered, and even though the sky was overcast it was bright enough to make her wince.

“Elena, are you alright?” There were silver bells in Emerald’s voice, still, but it didn’t make Elena flinch away in fear as it had earlier.

“I…I think so?” It came out more as a question than a statement, but Elena did feel a bit better.

“It’s pretty uncommon for people to be disoriented by a Rhetor’s Storm, but I’ve heard of it happening. You got a little loopy there for a bit.”

“You were a bit unsteady on your feet,” Ele said, watching her closely, “and you blinked a lot.”

“Did I?” Elena tried to remember, but her recent memory seemed blurry. She recalled Emerald opening her mouth to speak, recalled bracing herself for whatever horrors a Rhetor’s voice would overwhelm her with…then fuzziness, as if the memory were locked away behind a wall of water in her mind. Emerald had said something to her, and Elena had picked up a fist-sized stone from the ground, one she was still holding. Ele had spoken to the Rhetor, then to her…Elena furrowed her brow. It was too difficult to recall the sequence of events.

“What did you do to me?” She asked. It was unsettling, not knowing what had just happened to her. A shiver ran through her, this time more due to the cold than to fear of Emerald.

“We should head back to the Studio while we talk,” Ele said, noting the shiver.

“I did what you asked, Elena,” Emerald said as the three of them began trudging through the snow in the direction of the Street of Grey Artisans. “I used my Storm on you, something harmless and innocuous. I had you pick up that snowball and I told you it was a rock.”

Elena stopped in the middle of the street and looked down at the half-melted rock in her hand.

“You can…do that?” she asked with quiet awe. The rock was smooth and dark, and the cold of it was starting to make her hand grow numb. “You can just tell me what to think and I’ll think it?”

“It depends on the willingness of the person I’m talking to,” Emerald put her hands in her pockets and glanced up and down the street, her short black hair flicking back and forth as she did so. “You wanted me to use my Storm, so it was more effective.”

“That seems…dangerous,” Elena said, but she frowned as she tried to reconcile her own feelings about her Rhetor companion. Ele was quiet, looking at his feet as he walked, but Elena caught the pair of them exchanging a quick glance between each other.

The fact of the matter was, the simple facts of the case should have been terrifying, but instead of the fear that she should be feeling, the worry that she had felt just a few minutes ago, she felt…trusting. Calm. Emerald wouldn’t betray her trust, she was as certain of that as she had been of anything. The rock in her hand continued to melt, and she poked it with a gloved finger. It broke into pieces with a wet crunch, the smaller ones melting into small puddles almost instantly. She knew it was a handful of snow, the facts of the case were simple and straightforward.

Emerald made me trust her. There was no other explanation for the missing suspicion, for the fact that despite her obvious danger Elena couldn’t imagine the Rhetor turning on her. She threw the pieces of the rock into the rest of the snow, biting her lip. Does she think I’m stupid? That I wouldn’t realize what she’d done? Even worse, she realized, trying to remember the blurry conversation, was that Ele had seen it happen and wasn’t warning her.

“Not too dangerous. It’s only dangerous if I were to use it to hurt people,” Emerald said, “I wouldn’t do that.”

Elena believed her, but the belief made her frown. Though she couldn’t find Emerald suspicious, apparently she could be angry at her. Little One had been right; Elena was far too trusting, far too willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. Now she had no choice.

“Everything alright, Elena?” Ele was close enough that Elena jumped. “I’ll tell you the secret like I promised, but I thought we could wait until we got back to the Studio. You seem like something’s on your mind.”

“You’re quite quiet,” Emerald agreed, “what are you thinking?”

They’re not sure that I know, Elena realized, looking at their innocent faces. They don’t think I’ve put two and two together. Of course, the last time Elena had seen Emerald they were still at Studio De Luca; she had become much less naive since then. But Ele should know me better than that. I may still be too trusting, but I’m not stupid!

“I was just thinking about the rock, that was so cool!” Elena said cheerfully. Emerald’s face brightened, and the three of them continued in silence. It was hard to keep the smile on her face when she would rather clench her fists and hit something. Niccolo’s easy manner with Leanarda was nothing compared to the anger that boiled in her stomach now. Ele, her own Echo, had chosen to help a Rhetor lie to Elena. He was so worried about his little crush that he hadn’t said a word of warning.

Between Niccolo and Ele, Elena was starting to wonder if she had any friends left at all.

“This city is always so beautiful in the winter,” Emerald said happily, “but I’d never realized how crisp and clean it smells.”

“You couldn’t smell anything through the mask?” Ele asked.

“Not a thing! They’re so horribly designed, but you know how people are about tradition. Even if anyone realized our discomfort and mentioned it, I’m sure no one would take them seriously.”

“That’s horrible!”

“It’s just a little thing, really, but the little things wear on you, you know?”

Elena grit her teeth listening to the conversation. She wasn’t sure which was making her angrier; Ele’s concern with the Rhetor he had chosen over her, or Emerald casually reminding her of a danger she could no longer worry about. She wanted the comforting weight of her hammer in her hand, even if she couldn’t hit Ele with it, and Emerald…

Elena pondered the thought of cracking the Rhetor over the head with her hammer. It appeared that she was allowed to think about that, even if she wasn’t allowed to worry that Emerald would harm her. It was a small thing, but it was something to keep in mind, especially since Emerald didn’t know Elena knew of her deception.

Should I still try to get her a position at Studio DaRose? Elena kicked a pile of snow in the street as they turned onto the Street of Grey Artisans. She’s not dangerous, but can I trust her to be my friend while knowing that she’s lied to me? On the plus side, at least, she knew what it felt like to have a Rhetor use her Storm. Elena doubted that she would forget the feeling of disorientation, the loss of memory, the feeling of blurring water in her mind.

When she looked up and caught sight of Studio DaRose, Elena knew that something was wrong. A carriage waited in front of the gates, the driver wearing muted purple livery and sitting at attention.

“Malatesta,” Elena muttered under her breath, breaking in to a run. Of all the things I didn’t want to deal with, of all the things I didn’t want added to this miserable day…

The small courtyard was empty, but the trail in the snow leading to the front door had several sets of footsteps. It would be brazen of a raiding party to enter through the front door, let alone arrive in a carriage, but Elena couldn’t imagine any reason Studio Malatesta would be making a polite visit. As far as she was concerned, anything Patchwork or Ripple wanted was something that she wanted to make sure they couldn’t have. As she paused just inside the door, shucking off her wet boots, she could hear voices in the dining room, and she nodded. It was one of the few places that the DaRose garzoni kept clean, and it was a much better place to deal with unwelcome guests.

Ele and Emerald were still outside, but Elena wasn’t in the mood to wait for them. She took a deep breath, steeling herself, and pushed the door to the dining room open and strode inside. The figures at the table all looked up when she entered, and all of the confidence and anger that had been building in her chest drained suddenly.

On the left side of the table sat a grave-looking woman with brown hair in a severe bun, her dress a deep purple. To the woman’s left sat a boy in purple with a mane of blonde hair, and to her right sat Vittoria. Vi stood behind Vittoria’s chair, and others who Elena assumed to be the others’ Echoes stood behind theirs.

The sight of her old friend was like a punch in the stomach. Elena hadn’t seen her since they had all left Studio De Luca, and she had often wondered where Vittoria had ended up, what she and Carlo had been doing since leaving. The purple robes Vittoria wore answered that question quite simply, and from Vittoria’s averted gaze Elena could tell that her friend was aware of how much Elena approved of her new studio.

Sitting across from the three Malatesta visitors, Master DaRose looked much more attentive than when Elena had last seen him, and it was the first time she had seen his Echo up and awake. She was a whispy thing with tousled hair and looked as if she was falling asleep on her feet next to Master DaRose.

Next to Master DaRose sat Elena’s mother, Joanna.

“What excellent timing, Cog,” the woman in the purple dress said with a small smile, “we were just talking about you.”


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10 responses

  1. A bit of a rough-n-tumble update today, lovely readers; I expect I’ll have a lot of typos to fix, but hey, at least it’s on time :)

    If you’re as sick of the cold and snow as I am, you should vote for Twisted Cogs on TWF! What do cold weather and voting for web serials have in common, you ask? Why, they’re both things that I’ve mentioned in this comment! Can’t argue with that logic!


    2015-02-18 at 10:53 pm

  2. Stormblessed

    Gah! It feels like nothing was resolved! It feels like the exact same situation as last section, but this time with added mother value!

    Emerald and Elena’s mom in the same place! Can Emerald prove herself to Elena here?

    Am I supposed to distrust or trust Emerald? I’m not sure!


    *runs away screaming while waiting for sunday*

    Liked by 1 person

    2015-02-19 at 12:22 am

    • Bobby

      If you’ll pardon the D&D speak: a Will save is reason enough to roll initiative. Distrust is the least of what Emerald’s actions warrant.

      Also wow, now that’s more like what I expected out of the Rhetors. Assuming Domenico was incapable of stuff like this and not merely unwilling to do it, I wonder how rare Rhetor with strong Storms like this are.


      2015-02-19 at 1:36 am

      • Unmaker

        When we saw Domenico use his abilities, he was dealing with a very unwilling, suspicious subject. Emerald says that willing subjects make things easier. If Domenico was caught using his Storm in that circumstance it would trigger immediate attack, so he had to use a light touch.


        2015-02-19 at 4:12 pm

  3. Dogged

    she could hear voice in the dining room
    she could hear voices in the dining room

    That was the only typo that jumped out at me.

    Feeling pretty sorry for Elena right now. She really needs some better quality friends (family too for that matter). I wanted to believe that Emerald wouldn’t do something like that and Ele just wow man wow.

    While I’m here I thought I’d chime in to say the most recent chapters (since Elena joined studio DaRose to be specific) have been I think my favourite in twisted cogs to date and I think you’ve really outdone yourself on them. Eagerly awaiting Sunday (Monday here technically).


    2015-02-19 at 8:07 am

    • Aw, how sweet! I’m really glad to hear you say that, since in this last arc especially I worried that some readers might find it a bit of a drag. Glad to hear that I’m on the right track!


      2015-02-19 at 3:17 pm

  4. Unmaker

    So now we know why Rhetors are so feared. They have mental control and mental illusion powers over anyone who isn’t on guard against them and the powers don’t appear to wear off quickly. Previously, all we have seen is superior persuasiveness and fast language abilities. Suddenly all the restrictions start making sense. Unless I missed something, there is still an open question as to whether their abilities work on Echoes.

    It is a good thing that Emerald is an amateur at mental control. She left loopholes that allowed Elena to quickly realize what happened.

    DaRose, Malatesta, and Joanna. This does not bode well. The ultimate screw would have Elena transferred to Malatesta. One positive possibility is that, perhaps in her current mood, Elena will finally break through her overly trusting reactions to her mother.

    “a Will save is reason enough to roll initiative”
    I don’t pardon that – I applaud it.


    2015-02-19 at 9:17 am

  5. Jat

    I’m a bit confused here, maybe naïve–but what, exactly did Emerald do wrong? She was asked to demonstrate her Storm in a harmless way, and she did that. How was she dishonest or backstabbing?


    2015-03-31 at 1:51 pm

    • Isa Lumitus

      Mostly? It’s that Elena thinks Emerald added a mental compulsion along the lines of, “Forevermore, you will be incapable of believing that I mean you harm, no matter what evidence you see otherwise.”

      IMO, Emerald didn’t do anything harmful, but that certainly wasn’t anything friendly.


      2015-07-24 at 2:05 am

  6. Isa Lumitus

    I feel the need to paraphrase an author that I usually refer to as ‘The Right-Wingnut’. “Sometimes, you’ll have a problem that you can’t solve. If you get another one, you might be able to make them solve each other.”

    In this case, Elena might be able to send Emerald off with her mother. Best case scenerio, Emerald gets the food/shelter/safety she wants, and makes Joanna a better person. Worst case scenario, the potential mind-rapist is far away, and aimed at the horrible bitch.


    2015-07-24 at 2:11 am

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