A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

5.1 – Regimen Trium {The Rule of Three}

The screaming woke Elena up out of a deep sleep. Low, husky screaming, punctuated every now and then with a few muffled crashes. As familiar as the wake up was becoming, it was still startling enough that Elena’s eyes flew wide open, stinging with exhaustion. She stared at the bunk above her, focusing on taking deep breaths. Each one felt like an effort, and as still as she lay, her joints still ached. For a few moments she considered rolling over, ignoring the muffled distant crashes and the movement in her room, and trying to fall back to sleep. She couldn’t, of course, but it was a nice fantasy.

Three seconds, Elena. That’s all you get, but you can have that much. Three seconds, and then you can face this. Three…

Dolce was already jumping down from the bed, Isadora muttered something and grabbed for the baton she’d taken from the Crivelli mortalis the night before. Dolce gave Elena a glance as she slid her mask into place, but Elena had told herself she had three seconds, and she wasn’t going to give up on those seconds for anything.

Two…

“Come on, Cog, we have to show a unified face here, and every DaRose helps,” Dolce’s hand on her shoulder was surprisingly gentle. It was hard to figure out exactly what made the girl tick, sometimes. One moment she would be gentle and kind, a friend who made Elena feel comfortable and at home in Studio DaRose. The next moment she would let fly a nasty comment with a smile, or casually do something cruel. It made being around her very disconcerting, but then there were many things that contributed to Elena not feeling entirely at home in DaRose.

My mind is wandering, Elena thought, catching herself just as she began to drift off to sleep again. One…

Isadora was up and out of bed, and as her Storm lit the scrollwork painted along the corners of the wall, the room slowly brightened. Dolce was already up and at the door, waiting for the other girls and impatiently tapping her foot. It felt as if any more buzzing would shake her fragile frame apart, but Elena took a deep breath and dragged her Storm into activity. As she sluggishly sat up, the details of her Studio began to come into focus.

“Kitchen door is open,” she mumbled, grabbing at the mask by her bedside, “so’s the boiler room window, no one’s tried that before that’s new.” A long yawn punctuated her statement, and for a moment she closed her eyes. Her head had just begun to nod when Dolce slapped her in the face.

“Wake up!” There were dark circles beneath the Mortalis girl’s eyes, and combined with her grin made her look like a predatory animal as she pressed the hammer into Elena’s hands, “we’ve got some coins to take.”

 


 

Elena, Isadora, Dolce, Ele and Iso ran into the others in the hall on the way to the kitchen.

Less than a minute since the screaming started, Elena observed dully, we’re getting faster.

“There are some in the boiler room,” Isadora said shortly, “Mortalis, take care of it, we’ll be there shortly. Elio, Festo, and Dolce moved off in a jog down the hall, and Isadora, Arturo and Elena moved on towards the kitchen where the screaming was coming from.

When the door swung open the room beyond was so bright that they hurt Elena’s already stinging eyes, but only for a split-second. As they entered, the light cast off by Isadora’s designs lowered almost completely, plunging the room into near-darkness.

The DaRose garzoni moved quickly; they had the advantage for as long as their attackers were still adjusting to the sudden lack of light, but that advantage wouldn’t last very long. The figures were indeed stumbling around the kitchen, and Elena move to one side to allow her studiomates to enter with her.

The garzoni screaming on the ground, clutching at his hand, wouldn’t be a problem; they could keep him incapacitated for as long as needbe. His face was turning red, his mask damp where tears had fallen, and his screams were starting to come out more hoarse. Elena looked away quickly, remembering the pain in her own hand during Arturo’s demonstration. There were three other people in the room; their movements were fluid and they didn’t have Echoes.

“Studio Nencia,” Elena had to raise her voice to be heard above the screaming.

“Don’t be sure, just because they’re in black,” Arturo said from the other side of the room. The night before had been a disaster; facing off against Isotta’s cleverness was hard enough on its own, but the DaRose garzoni had been fooled by the red-lined robes and assumed they were fighting the more straightforward Studio Crivelli.

This was different, Elena reflected as she swung her hammer at the nearest black-clothed student. The hammer connected squarely with the figure’s shoulder, but they rolled along with the blow, taking the hit but using the motion to pull their entire body in a tight circle. Using the momentum that the hammer-blow had given, combined with the spin, the black-clothed figure’s other hand grasped Elena’s hammer and yanked it from her hands.

“I’m sure,” Elena snapped, ducking down as the figure flung her own hammer where she had been standing. No one but a Lanisti would try to clock me with my own hammer! Somehow the indignity of it bothered her more than the violence. The other Nencia garzoni were mostly still, apparently content to let their eyes adjust to the new light and only act in response to someone moving against them.

“For god’s sake Grabber stop torturing Bronzehand,” one of them, a woman from the sound of her voice, yelled over the man’s screaming, “he gives up his coin, there’s no need for this!”

“That’s not how it works,” Arturo’s voice was cold, but then all of the DaRose garzoni were on edge, worn to the bone. “You don’t get to give his coin up, he does.”

Elena and Isadora slowly circled the three Nencia in the middle of the kitchen, looking for an opportunity to strike that a Lanisti couldn’t turn against them. It was difficult to decide, given how many opportunistic strikes she’d seen turned against the attacker. The very first attack of this hellish week had been from Studio Nencia, and she didn’t want to repeat the same mistakes. It was also difficult to gauge with the man writhing and screaming on the floor.

“Please! Cog, call off your sadist, for pity’s sake!” The woman cried. Isadora shot a glance at Elena, but she was just as mystified.

Does Studio Nencia think that I’m in charge? She thought, or do they think I’m the weakest, the easiest to goad into being merciful? Elena blinked, an action that hurt and stung her eyes, then rolled her shoulder where an Isotta garzoni had punched her with a metal glove the night before. It was hard to feel very merciful; she didn’t want to look at the man on the floor, and she wished he would stop screaming in that way that seemed to bounce and echo around in her head, but if they thought she was naive enough to take their word for it, they were sorely mistaken.

The Nencia students’ eyes were starting to adjust, she could tell by the way the girl had turned and was looking in her general direction. Soon they would be on even playing field again, but it had allowed the DaRose garzoni time to get in position; Arturo on the side of the kitchen table opposite to the Nencia students, Isadora and Elena within a few steps of them. Arta, Ele and Iso were arranged in a loose circle on the other side, on the off chance that they could provoke a mistake by a quick movement or a useless charge. Lanisti didn’t have Echoes, but they could see and hear them, and the DaRose students had realized how hard it was for battle-trained fighters to ignore something that looked human charging towards them.

“You people are heartless,” the girl spat, “and entirely without any kind of honor,” she stepped over to the man on the floor with the same grace that marked the movements of a Lanista, gently reaching into his pockets and procuring his coin. She stood and set it on the kitchen table with a click, glaring across it at Arturo. “He’s out of the raid, Grabber,” she all but snarled, “leave him alone.”

Arturo shrugged, “the glue will keep the parchment stuck to him until he can wash it off,” he said, “I’d get him out of here as fast as possible.”

Horribile dictu est spuria,” the girl swore, “Copperhand get him out of here.” Another black-robed figure moved to lift the screaming, writhing figure off the floor, carrying him gently despite the thrashing. “Wash it off without touching his hand,” the girl advised.

At the door, Copperhand turned for a moment, and Elena didn’t need to see his face to know the hatred there, “make them pay, Goldhand,” he snarled, before vanishing through the door. The sound of screaming echoing off of the buildings outside slowly faded as Goldhand turned back to the DaRose garzoni. She cracked her knuckles, panning her gaze slowly from one DaRose student to another, perhaps to intimidate them with the knowledge that her eyes had adjusted to the light. Beside her the other Nencia garzoni stood very still, radiating hostility.

We aren’t making any friends, here, Elena thought, maybe we should’ve just let them all beat us.

Even in her sleep-deprived, blurry state, she knew it wouldn’t have worked. Even if Studio DaRose somehow kept enough coins to survive the month, there was no way they could come back from a lost of such magnitude, let alone work their way up the ladder.

“Now, DaRoses,” Goldhand said quietly, “you’re going to have to speak up when you give up your coins. It would be a shame if we didn’t hear you and ended up beating on you after you’d given up.”

“Takes a lot to make a Nencia garzona angry enough to do something underhanded,” Arturo grinned a toothy smile, stalling as he glanced at Elena. Elena shook her head an imperceptible amount; Goldhand might still be able to dodge, they had to wait for Isadora. She braced herself, every aching muscle on edge and prepared to move.

“DaRoses seem to have a particular gift for making people angry-” Goldhand began.

“Lighting up,” Isadora yelled, and Elena moved.

Using Isadora’s Storm had been a good strategy during their attack on Studio Malatesta, blinding their opponents and leaving them helpless. Against the Lanisti of Studio Nencia, it would’ve been even more effective, leaving them helpless for a few crucial seconds, enough to overwhelm them. Apparently the Nencia garzoni felt the same way and had been warned of Isadora’s power, because they both threw arms over their eyes, protecting them from any blast of light.

No blast of light occurred. Isadora, Arturo, and Elena all moved at the same time.

Arturo slid his finger beneath the corner of the table, thumbing the switch on its underside. The spring hidden beneath was released, and the entire tabletop shot two feet forward. It collided into Goldhand’s hip with a sickening crack, sending the girl spinning to the ground. Elena reached her by the time the Lanista hit the ground, planting a knee in the center of her chest.

“Coin,” she demanded breathlessly.

The other Nencia garzoni had already realized his mistake and was turning to face them, but Arturo and Isadora both tackled him at the same time, drawing him to the ground with pure bruteforce over tact or style.

Elena had taken her attention off the Goldhand beneath her knee for only a moment to watch Arturo and Isadora take down the other garzoni, but it was enough for Goldhand to capitalize on. She grabbed Elena by the neck, arched her back to slip out from beneath Elena’s knee, and started to rise before she cried out in pain and collapsed to the ground again.

“Hip…” she gasped, “…think you broke my hip.”

“I’m sorry,” at the moment she felt nothing but a small sense of pride, dulled by an overwhelming exhaustion, but Elena assumed that, given other circumstances, she probably would be sorry.

Maybe you shouldn’t have attacked us for the second time in four days, she thought, maybe you shouldn’t have hit us with every studio. Out loud, she explained, “I didn’t know exactly how tight to hook the springs, I’d never built anything like that before.”

Goldhand was clenching her teeth at the pain, but she glanced over at the table, whose top hung haphazardly on one side over its base, connected with the heavy springs that had sent it shooting out.

“You turned your kitchen table into a weapon?” she said weakly.

“Give me your coin,” Elena was in no mood to explain her handiwork, no mood to do anything but get back in bed to snatch a few hours of sleep before the next attack.

Ire ad inferos,” Goldhand swore at her, then rested her head on the floor, staring at the ceiling.

“We’ve got Silverhand’s coin,” Arturo moved to stand next to Elena, “what about her, is she being difficult?” Without waiting for a response, he began rummaging in the prone girl’s pockets. The casual way he dug around made Elena uncomfortable, but she didn’t say anything until Arturo reached down the front of Goldhand’s shirt.

“Arturo!” Tired and angry and bitter as she was, Elena blushed with horror, “what are you-”

“Got it,” Arturo pulled a necklace from beneath Goldhand’s robes, her coin hanging from a thin gold chain around her neck. He yanked hard, snapping the chain and pocketing the coin. “If she didn’t want people reaching she shouldn’t keep it there.”

“Disgusting,” Goldhand spat, then winced again, “there’s a reason everyone thinks you DaRoses are scum.”

“Funny thing about scum,” Arturo grinned wide as he stood up, “it always rises to the top.”

“Come on Goldhand, I’ll help you,” Silverhand approached with a glare, pulling his studiomate up and wrapping her arm around his shoulder.

Elena’s Storm buzzed, the door to the boiler room was opening…now closing…now opening again. Elena breathed a sigh of relief. Three Mortalis students had been enough to subdue Nencia’s last Lanisti.

“You might want to go past the boiler room,” she said flatly, not letting any of the relief show through on her face. It was a struggle to remember small details when she was this tired, and Elena mentally listed all of the Nencia garzoni to think of the name of the one who must’ve been in the boiler room. “Your friend Ironhand will probably need some help walking as well. Be sure to let our Mortalis know you’re coinless before they hurt you.”

“Ironhand lost to Mortalis?” Silverhand asked.

“Let’s just leave, Duilio,” Goldhand gasped as he helped her walk, “the boiler room, that’s the one down the hall that’s too hot, where you lost your coin last time.”

Silverhand frowned, but helped her out of the room.

“Studio Gritti is next on the schedule to attack,” Isadora said as soon as they left. She looked so tired that she could barely stand up, instead leaning against the cold stove. “They don’t attack at scheduled times.”

“I’ll get another burner painting,” Arturo said, “Elena, do you have more glue?”

“Gritti garzoni wear gloves,” Arta shook her head, “to keep themselves safe from the effects of their tools. Burners on the doorknobs won’t affect them.”

Elena caught herself almost falling asleep on her feet. “Then what do we do?” she asked, “the screaming was our best alarm, if Gritti is coming it quietly then how will we know when they get here?”

“I’m so sorry Elena,” Isadora was looking at her sympathetically, but Elena was too tired to follow through with what the look meant for several minutes.

“Oh. I have to stay awake so I notice when the doors open.”

“I don’t know of any other way. You’re the only one who can stand guard over every entrance at once, anything else will involve several of us staying awake.”

In the hazy blur of being awake, Elena couldn’t think of any counterargument, but she whimpered.

“We’ll take your shift in the store tomorrow, and you can have a break from building and fixing and sleep all day, I’m sorry.”

“But there’s so much still left to make,” Elena sighed, rubbing her eyes, “but you’re right. Better help the Studio last through Gritti’s attack than prepare for attacks down the road. I’ll try to stay awake.” Elena blinked, and her eyes stung and her head throbbed and her muscles ached, and it felt so good to close her eyes that it took concentrated effort to open them again. “I’ll try to stay awake.”

 


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Wanna know a great method for staying awake when you’re as tired as Elena? Voting for Twisted Cogs on TWF!

 

 

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11 responses

  1. A big thank you both to patrons and donators! Thanks to your generosity, there is a Twisted Cogs Bonus Chapter in the queue! As usual, I’m not sure when in the next few weeks this update will fall, but rest assured it’s a’comin!

    Liked by 1 person

    2015-04-12 at 10:37 pm

  2. EchoStep

    GO ELENA!!! KICK ALL OF THEIR BUTTS! God, I have been waiting for Elena to completely wreck all the people who had turned her away. It’s so satisfying to see her making a name foe herself. Though I still hope she doesn’t get together with Arturo, he’s a complete nut job. Thnx for the chapter Mad! XD

    Like

    2015-04-12 at 10:50 pm

  3. Panster

    I loved this chapter. It’s so rare, and so satisfying, to see Elena finally doing well with her problems.

    And, their ruthless defense is pretty darn awesome.

    Like

    2015-04-12 at 10:56 pm

  4. AvidFan

    So, the “honourable” studio is complaining that they’re using some slightly underhanded tactics, while being part of an underhanded plan to raid, and most likely destroy, their studio, that leaves them with little sleep and therefore a poor frame of mind and an extremely bad mood…
    KICK THEIR ASSES ELENA.

    Like

    2015-04-13 at 12:09 am

    • But, of course! When you use slightly sneaky tactics… it’s just strategy. But when somebody else does, it’s dishonouable cheating! :P

      Like

      2015-04-13 at 9:18 am

    • Unmaker

      “cheating is what the losers call technique”

      Quirrell, HPMOR.com, Chapter 78

      Like

      2015-04-13 at 10:45 pm

  5. DeNarr

    Huh, so the Rhetor’s aren’t unique in not having an echo.

    Liked by 1 person

    2015-04-13 at 9:23 am

  6. Anonymous

    I just finished binge-reading up to the current chapter. I loved it, very nice web serial! Character motivations and interactions, character development, worldbuilding, neat ideas for the ‘magic’ of the world, they all drew me in.

    I especially like the way the characters feel more human than most works. Most of your characters have sympathetic sides while also doing some bad things, and you show enough for their motivations that what they do makes sense. Rather than ‘protagonists’ vs ‘antagonists’, we get people warts and all.

    I also like the balance between immediate and delayed revelations you use in your various foreshadowed mysterious plotlines. Rather than hinting at a secret for chapters and then splurting it out in a big infodump, you often do slow, gradual reveals (e.g. increasingly exact hints) that fit naturally into the narrative and feel more satisfying that way.

    If I have to give a critical comment or two…the story does seem to lean heavily on “lack of communication between allies” tropes to set up conflict. You know, the “character is drawn into a situation while uninformed, and then makes a decisive but rash action that disrupts the established order, but you can’t blame them because no one told them what the deal was”. And “characters are forced to keep secrets from each other which then inevitably comes back to bite them, leading to feelings of mistrust and betrayal”. Just in the last short while we have Elena breaking her promise to Ele to not reveal info to the Twisted (and then lying to him about it), Ele keeping his secret from Elena even after promising to tell it, Elena leading the studio on a highly provocative day raid without asking the Master for permission, Elena bringing Emerald in as a servant without sitting down with her to set ground rules for when it’s okay to use her Rhetor power (thus almost causing a disastrous reveal in front of two Masters), etc. This might be a personal preference, but I like stories where allied characters most often anticipate this, find a calm moment to sit down the newbie/friend, hash things out and get on the same page…and STILL have lots of interesting conflicts, because of their different goals and different ways of using that information.

    Also, I have to admit that I liked the first studio better than the second one. The first studio had an enchanting focus on Elena trying to discover her skill to create her own unique and fantastic art of a kind that doesn’t exist in reality, in the midst of other specially-skilled artists, all while trying to negotiate the hierarchy and competitiveness of the studio to make friends and allies and win the favor of the Master artist. Elena also seemed to have a cool plotline of revolutionizing the studio by introducing the idea of synergy, getting the loner/secretive/competitive artists to work together to create something truly great. Even thought it didn’t work out in her first studio (the Master recognized it as good but not good enough to win a spot, and didn’t think to ask other students to try the same strategy), I had high hopes that she’d continue pushing this forward in her second, gain new friends and allies, and get them to cooperate to create something unique and beautiful.

    But the new studio has Elena and her studio-mates barely do any art-making at all on screen and we don’t see them show much concern about what people think of their art, to the extent of having a negligent Master they mostly ignore. We don’t see them pour as much emotion into grappling with the nature of their Storm to create new and beautiful art. Instead they seem to pour most of their emotion and craft into building utilitarian tools for conquest and battle, in a play-fighting system to win tokens that reminds me more than anything of middle school sports competitions or cabin raids by kids at summer camp. It has powered battles, even a few synergies in those battles, and that’s all cool…but I was more enchanted by the Elena who struggles to fulfill her dream of creating beautiful unique artwork from the realm of fantasy, than by the Elena who struggles to win schoolyard scuffles by bopping immature kids on the hip with a super hammer.

    Like

    2015-04-14 at 8:37 pm

    • I’m glad you seem to be enjoying a lot of it! It’s always a little difficult as an author to know whether or not the emotion I’m going for is coming through, so this kind of feedback is always amazing to get, and I really appreciate you taking the time to type it all out!

      Your thoughts on the difference between Studio De Luca and Studio DaRose is very interesting to me, because that is almost the EXACT impression that I have been going for. Many of the characters are willing to villify Studio De Luca for their snooty attitude, but the fact of the matter is they’re not at the top of the hierarchy by random luck, and there is a very good reason Master DaRose has never been to the Milian Palace. The students of Studio DaRose *are* mostly more concerned with the game than the art itself, and I really am trying for a school vibe (although I was aiming more than ‘high school’ than ‘middle school’)…as one might expect from a group of kids with no adult supervision given weapons and power and told to go nuts.

      Now whether or not the story at Studio DaRose is more or less interesting than it was at Studio De Luca, that’s another issue entirely :D But it’s certainly been a learning process to have these two (in my opinion) vastly different environments that both have to feel like they exist in the same world.

      Thanks again for your lovely and in-depth feedback, and I hope you enjoy the story to come!

      Like

      2015-04-14 at 9:00 pm

      • Thinker6

        You’re welcome. Looking forward to see where your story goes! I personally liked the De Luca studio better, but this one is still interesting.

        And ha, I actually didn’t realize that was the authorial intent, but I can see it. It makes sense that the studio with an absentee Master and run by the kids would be more like an uninhibited schoolyard. I guess what really surprises me is that all the other studios seem very much into that, too. I mean, we see people from studio A fighting studio B in raids, but as far as artistic competition we mostly see a handful of snippy comments, we don’t see them competing or critiquing each others’ work in marketplaces and exhibitions.

        I guess it raises a question of exactly what the court set up the system to accomplish. Training artists and craftsmen? Or training superpowered warriors? There are loads of different ways they could have fostered competition for status, but the court set up the system to do it with battles, and made them secret instead of turning them into profit-gaining public crowd-pleasing events. I would have thought that Stormtouched fights would become a form of popular entertainment.

        Hmm….now I’m thinking Little One or like-minded fellows had a hand in setting this system up with ulterior motives. Perhaps a way to handle commoner Stormtouched, to train them to fight in case they’re needed to help repel outside invasion, while still keeping them under control so they will see serving the court as the highest honor, and will be unlikely to organize with each other (or the public) to rebel?

        Like

        2015-04-14 at 10:04 pm

  7. Isa Lumitus

    I think Arturo needs to expand his horizons a bit. Making people feel like they’re being burned alive is all well and good, but surely a budding young sadist can come up with some others.

    One idea is a swarm of insects that burrows into flesh. If his storm can do it, something to make a person randomly lash out at non-existant foes could be nice. If he’s willing to be a bit risque, he could draw a tentacle rape scene.

    Speaking of power perversion potential… I wonder if he’s tried to make a durable drawing, using a bedsheet as a medium?

    Like

    2015-07-24 at 2:35 pm

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