A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

4.6 – Lectio prima {Lecture the First}

Six DaRose garzoni, three echoes, and seven Mortalis Malatesta students waited, still and silent, as Master Malatesta walked down the rows of seats, the heels of her shoes clicking sharply on the stone.

“This entire affair was unnecessary, and I’m putting a stop to it now. I would say that I’m disappointed in my students, but Studio DaRose appear to have permanently lowered my bar for disappointment. Which of you is responsible for this?”

Even though technically Lady Malatesta had no authority of any of the DaRose garzoni, Elena’s stomach twisted at the look on her face. She was one of the younger Masters of the Milian studios, closer to Elena’s age than to Master De Luca’s, but she radiated such authority that Elena felt like little more than a scolded child. The others were looking to her, which wasn’t a huge surprise; Elena had suspected that any blame for this adventure would fall squarely on her shoulders.

“We’re raiding Studio Malatesta. For your coins.” She had meant to sound official and confident, but even to herself it sounded like a meek excuse.

“Yes, it’s quite clear what you think you’re doing,” Master Malatesta said, “almost as clear as the fact that you hadn’t thought it through. Do you happen to know how long there have been Studios in Milia, Cog?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Nearly forty years. Four decades of students learning their crafts, engaging in combat and artistry. Do you honestly believe that in those forty years, no one in the eight studios has considered raiding during the daytime, in the open?”

“I…I hadn’t thought of that,” Elena admitted.

“So as soon as you had this brilliant idea, it never occurred to you that perhaps, just perhaps, there may have been students in the past just as clever as you think you are? You were so enamoured with the realization that no one has broken our secrecy that you never thought to imagine why no one has broken our secrecy? I would ask if it ever occured to you to ask Master DaRose permission for this little stunt, but clearly it hadn’t since I doubt he would give you permission.”

Elena’s face felt hot, the silence around her thick and choking. She wished she could command her face to betray nothing to the amassed students around her, both DaRose and Malatesta, but she knew everyone would at least see her red face beneath the mask. As if the attention of the students around her weren’t enough, behind Master Malatesta, Elena noted two men made of marble watching the scene unfold from the back of the dining hall. They looked a bit like Pietro, but were both adult, heavily muscled, and could easily enforce the Master’s request. Following her glance, Master Malatesta spoke, “those are Galeazo and Alfonso, two of my marble servants. Now that this tremendous display of poor thinking has reached a culmination, I hope they won’t be necessary in escorting you out of my studio.”

“Only two?” Arturo said from behind Elena, “you think that’ll be enough?” Elena appreciated the support, but she wished Arturo would be a little less blunt when talking to the Master artist, one who was occasionally invited to the Milian Court, and whose recommendation held weight with the Prince and Princess of Milia themselves. Had this entire thing been a bad idea?

“Perhaps not,” Master Malatesta said levelly, “but my third, Lalelle, is on her way to the Milian Court as we speak. Since she left nearly twenty minutes ago, I’m sure a page has been dispatched by now, and I’m sure things will look better for you if your costumed crew isn’t here when they get here.”

“Wait,” Elena said, confused, “we hadn’t even gotten here twenty minutes ago. How would you know to send someone…”

“Ercole,” Master Malatesta said with a long-suffering look, “go ahead, just this once.”

Elena didn’t need to see Patchwork’s face to see the smug smile on it; it was obvious enough in his voice.

“Already told you, Cog. Malatesta always knows.”

I didn’t think this through at all, Elena thought, not really. I was so excited that my Storm told me so much, I didn’t stop to think of what my plan DIDN’T take into account. Her shoulders slumped, and she looked helplessly from Malatesta to the students around her.

MY plan, the thought rustled in the back of her mind like an echo, a barely-heard brush of prickles in the back of her head. Elena frowned, focusing on what she had been thinking. The plan was hers, all hers, which meant she should be able to get information on every part of it. She should be able to change it and update it no matter what new information came up. The Storm stirred again, stronger this time, prickles and buzzings.

“Let’s go, Elena,” Isadora said quietly from behind her. A part of Elena knew she should’ve listened to her studiomate, or at least be influenced by the presence of stone-muscle, but she was too intrigued by what her Storm was doing.

It wasn’t the instant buzz she was used to, it was more as if the lightning in her temples and fingertips was…waiting. Aware, but distant, slightly dispassionate. Little One had told Elena to think of the Storm like a powerful custodian of her power, but she had never felt its presence like she did now.

Master Malatesta is trying to ruin my plan, Elena thought tentatively, she’s trying to break something that’s yours, are you going to let her get away with that?

Her head pounded, the pain so bad that for a moment Elena worried she might vomit. The information wasn’t overwhelming like it had been when the Studio became ‘hers’, but it was insistent, ruthless. If her plan was a design, the hesitence she was displaying was a flaw in it, the hunched shoulders and hangdog look just as unadvised as building a table with broken nails or a hammer made of paper. She straightened her shoulders and met Master Malatesta’s gaze.

It had been very easy to miss, under the stern and unflinching glare of those steely eyes, but Master Malatesta hadn’t ordered them to leave. She hadn’t even had her marble servants throw them out. In fact, if asked about it later, Master Malatesta could honestly say that she hadn’t interfered in any way other than speaking to the group.

She doesn’t know. The connection formed half from the Storm, half from her mind, like lightning leaping from a metal tip to the ground. Not for sure. She thinks this is against the rules, but she doesn’t know for sure, so she’s trying to bluff us out of here. Just like the crowd outside could hurt Malatesta’s outside reputation, if Master Malatesta were reprimanded by the page in front of both her and DaRose students, Elena couldn’t imagine what that would do to her image.

She doesn’t want to risk it if she’s not sure, and she doesn’t want to get involved on the off-chance that I’m right. If this is allowed, and she fights or forces us, that would be breaking one of the real rules.

The thoughts passed through her mind in a few seconds, as Elena held Master Malatesta’s gaze. The woman didn’t flinch, but her eyes narrowed by a fraction of an inch, as if reading Elena’s mind.

“We’ll leave then,” she said, “as soon as we get our coins.”

“Excuse me?” Master Malatesta’s eyes narrowed further, but she made no move otherwise.

“We don’t have to keep going through the studio, if you’re admitting defeat. But we should still get our coins.”

“Elena what are you talking about? Let’s go,” Isadora whispered furiously. Elena didn’t turn to look at her, instead holding Master Malatesta’s gaze like the prickles in her temples were telling her to. The room was so silent that Elena could pick out the individual breathing of the mortalis students around them. After a few moments, Master Malatesta sighed.

“Galeazzo, go to the treasury and prepare a bag for the departing DaRose please. One of each coin.”

“Mistress?” The younger of the stone men looked startled.

“Sooner rather than later, Galeazzo.”

“Master Malatesta, we could take the DaRose’s, we don’t have to give up coins like that,” one of the older mortalis students said hesitantly.

“No need, Gabino,” Master Malatesta said evenly, “Studio DaRose is about to be penalized harshly enough; if they are so desperate for a goal that they’re willing to suffer such consequences, we may as well be gracious and allow them to achieve something.”

Giving up an entire studio’s worth of coins is worth it to her on the chance that I’m right, the buzzing Storm told Elena. The pain in her head was so bad that the entire studio was blurry, viewed through tears, but she could see when the stone man returned, carrying a bag that jingled as he moved. He handed it to Master Malatesta, who considered Elena for a few moments.

“If nothing else,” she said, holding the bag out to her, “at least today has displayed how lucky we were that you didn’t take us up on our offer.”

 


 

The bag of coins was heavy at Elena’s side, and it jingled satisfyingly with every step that she took. People followed the group of costumed students down the street at a distance, whispering and pointing. The sun was bright overhead, and it sparkled in the piles of snow that had begun to slowly melt. Despite it all, the DaRose garzoni all walked with a heavy step, shoulders slumped, faces downcast.

“Everything I said before still applies now,” Elena said to her quiet studiomates, “we didn’t break any rules, and we got a bagful of coins!”

“Master Malatesta seemed pretty confident that we had,” Isadora said shortly.

“If she was that confident, she wouldn’t have given us these!” Elena jingled the bag of coins, trying for a cheerful smile. None of her fellow garzoni returned her smile.

“How did you know that she’d give up the whole studio’s coins, anyways?” Arturo asked, “with how angry she was, it wouldn’t have even occurred to me to ask.”

“My Storm did,” Elena sighed and gave up on cheering her studiomates; it was hard enough to stay positive on her own with the knot in her stomach. “It helped me know how to talk to her. I still don’t have a really good handle on all of the ins and outs of it, but it sure helped today…what’s wrong?” She had glanced over her shoulder to find the others looking at her with various expressions ranging from confusion to mistrust.

“Your Storm told you how to talk to someone?” Dolce phrased it as a question, but her tone was flat.

“No…it just helped out with a plan I’d already had,” Elena said.

“You told us you were a Fabera. Fabera build things.”

“Well I did. I built a plan to get us coins, and then I built a way for us to succeed at that plan.”

“Did you really?” Festo cut in, “because the only Stormtouched I’ve ever heard about whose Storm tells them how to talk to people were Rhetors.”

Elena went cold, as if her blood had suddenly been replaced with the snow that they walked through.

“N..no,” she said carefully, “I’m a Fabera, I’m not a Rhetor. I sewed you clothes, I fixed the boiler…I have an Echo for goodness’ sake!”

“She does have an Echo,” Isadora confirmed to the Mortalis. “Rhetors don’t.”

“I’ve still never heard of a Fabera whose Storm helps them talk,” Festo said darkly, “even if she’s not a Rhetor exactly, isn’t it the same thing?”

Elena wasn’t sure what to say, though she felt like remaining silent was somehow even more damning. The weight of the bag that jingled against her leg was more distracting than enjoyable now, and she shivered despite the warm costume she wore.

“Look, I don’t…” she began over her shoulder, but her studiomates weren’t looking at her; they were looking further down the road where the sturdy grey walls of Studio DaRose lay.

In front of the gates stood a carriage of deep maroon wood, drawn by a pair of chestnut horses. Painted on its side was a stormcloud surrounded by laurels, the symbol of the Milian Courts.

 


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7 responses

  1. And the seeds of distrust have now been sewn.

    Liked by 1 person

    2015-03-25 at 11:34 pm

  2. nirg

    Enters rebel queen.

    Like

    2015-03-26 at 12:48 am

  3. Whoops. Somebody really should try turning her Storm on her Storm. Addressing the “how can I avoid getting killed trying to get to know how you work, Storm of Mine (you realise this is good for you, too, right?)?” issue. Before it gets her killed. :P

    Also: time to talk to what Rhetors you can Elena. You may need to to learn what you need to do to survive. :/

    Like

    2015-03-26 at 9:18 am

    • Unmaker

      I very much like the idea of using the Storm on the Storm… but it assumes the Storm is open to rational argument. Storms seem indifferent to whether they are used (they provide no training, encouragement, or hints to their users, beyond the reflexive abilities) but instead seem adamantly inflexible as to how they are used.

      Cheers for Elena in that aspect, as she has already clumsily used the Storm’s motivations to reinvigorate its effect.

      Like

      2015-03-29 at 10:34 am

  4. P

    Just wanted to ask, do the characters generally have meaningful names? Elena’s name for example. She’s called Elena Luciano, and Luciano sounds like it’s derived from the word “lux”, meaning light. Elena is a name that probably has something to do with light (or so it’s said, it seems unclear). So her name implies that she is something bright and seeing how the story is going so far, she’s proving to be exceptional. I’m curious to know whether her name is what it is on purpose!

    Sorry if someone has asked this before, first comment.

    Like

    2015-03-28 at 5:09 pm

    • Awesome question!

      A lot of the characters in Twisted Cogs have names of significance, but sometimes the significance is utterly roundabout and confusing…also, some of the names are completely random. I usually don’t tell people which is which, because I like hearing people’s thoughts on the significance of everything, even names!

      Like

      2015-03-29 at 11:36 pm

  5. P

    Or maybe you could name a character randomly and it turns out to relate to the character in some way.

    Nice, I’ll be wondering which are random and which are not from now on! Already have some thoughts on Arturo and Mia’s names. Mia meaning “one” in Italian (I think, it sure does in Greek) and the character also having the nickname “Little One”. Arturo I imagine it to have to do with art, since it sounds like it and less with the actual meaning of the name.

    Like

    2015-03-30 at 4:51 pm

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