A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

5.3 – Tortilis {Twisted}

The floor beneath Elena’s feet rocked back and forth in a soothing, steady motion, but the room in front of her was frozen and still. When Elena finally stopped screaming, the room was quiet. Elena felt as though she should run, but where would she go? How could she escape a dream world when the one who controlled it was standing right there, torturing their fellow Twisted?

“I…very much wish you hadn’t seen this little tableau,” Black Furs sighed, breaking the silence, “I had hoped to perhaps give you a more gentle introduction…”

Elena had to open and closed her mouth a few times before the words in her head came together into coherent sentences, and a few more before she could force them out of her throat.

“An introduction…to torturing people?” she managed. There was nothing she wanted nothing more than to tear her eyes away from the scene, but the horror of it kept them captive.

“Ah…no, not exactly,” Black Furs shifted uncomfortably, looking more like a child with his hand in a cookie jar than someone interrupted in the middle of cold-blooded torture. Ribbon Face was watching her closely, but he had leaned back, casually folding his hands in his lap as if he were watching a play, and the Plain Woman looked back and forth between Black Furs and Elena. Even Little One, for all the pain that her appearance and shuddering breaths betrayed, was also chuckling, as if enjoying the others’ mild discomfort. All of it was too surreal, and Elena felt another scream welling up in her throat. She forced it down, tried to make herself observe what was happening.

It was difficult to get her thoughts in order. The sight of the girl strung up on the wall brought back all of the panic that she had felt when Slug had immobilized her in De Luca’s studio. All of the pain and fear and helplessness that had washed over her in waves that night returned and threatened to overwhelm her; but back then she had been surrounded by a studio of De Luca garzoni, there had been the possibility of rescue. There was no timely escaped Rhetor to help her here, and the only people who could possibly reach her would be more Twisted, more of these monsters.

Elena’s legs gave out from beneath her and she went crashing to deck, shocks of pain shooting through her knees, but still her gaze was trapped, focused on Little One hanging on the wall across from her.

“A little damage control perhaps, Wanderer?” the Plain Woman nudged, and in her already fragile state Elena winced at the sound of her voice.

“Yes, yes, I’m trying to think of how best to explain,” Black Furs sounded annoyed, “somehow I don’t think ‘this isn’t what it looks like’ will exactly cut it for our newest Twisted.”

“I am not Twisted,” Elena said in a shaky voice, “I am not like you, I’m nothing like…like…like this!”

“Elena, please try to understand-”

“Wanderer doesn’t think of this as true torture, Elena,” Little One’s voice was more grim, but a million times calmer than Elena had been in the face of Slug. “The effects of the dream wear off the moment one wakes, and so he reasons that his actions shouldn’t be judged as one would in the real-world.”

The matter-of-fact words combined with the wreckage of her body was almost enough to paralyze Elena again, but she was too shocked to keep a burst of outrage from her lips. “So you’re fine with being tortured?” Her voice was so high-pitched it was almost a scream itself, “just because you won’t feel it when you wake up doesn’t mean it’s not torture!”

“Of course I’m not ‘fine’ with it,” Little One paused to spat a mouthful of golden blood in Ribbon-Face’s direction, and he scooted away to avoid it, “but this entire thing is a function of who we are. It’s what we do, how we operate.”

“Let’s all back up, please, just for a moment,” Black Furs made placating gestures, “Elena, this all came about a little sooner that I had wanted, I’d hoped to prepare you a bit more, but I assure you I can explain-”

“Get her down!” Elena shrieked; if Little One refused to give a normal human response to anything then she would do it, “you can’t talk to me calmly in the same room that you’re torturing a little girl, you can’t!”

“It does create a rather odd juxtaposition,” the Plain Woman smiled, and Elena hunched over and dry-heaved, her stomach roiling. There was a sound like old rope unwinding, then a thump as Little One’s body hit the deck in a pile. Elena took deep breaths. She would wake up eventually, she had to; there was an attack on the Studio, Isadora or Dolce or Frell would be waking her up any moment. Until then, it seemed from their attitudes that the Twisted didn’t plan on hurting her. Then again, with how calm they all were about stringing up a child, maybe they would.

“First of all, Little One isn’t a child any more than you are made of puzzle pieces,” Black Furs was saying, “honestly I would’ve expected a real child to be able to figure that out. The rest I can explain but you must first take a moment and actually listen to me! Give me a modicum of trust, for once!”

“Not a child…” Elena’s head was spinning with horror, but she realized that must be the truth, of course it was. The golden child was far too knowledgeable, far too well spoken; Elena had simply made an assumption based on her initial impression, and then had never questioned it.

My initial impression of the Twisted was that they were monsters, she remembered, it looks like I was right about that one.

“Elena, look at me,” Little One’s voice was quiet…or perhaps it was weak, but either way Elena looked at her where she leaned against the wall, through eyes that were blurry with tears. “Just listen to what the man has to say. Listen, and actually think about what you’re hearing, niña estúpida,” Little One managed a weak smile, which softened what Elena was pretty sure was an insult. “You’ll have to lose that pattina of naivette sometime, it may as well be now.”

“If Little One is quite finished,” Black Furs said testily, “Elena, do you remember what I said about the Twisted, when we first met?”

“You said we were different than the normal cogs in the machine,” Elena said dully. She had no idea what was going on, no clue what any of it meant, and she grasped onto Black Furs’ words like a drowning man would a piece of driftwood.

“Different, indeed. Tell me, Elena, do you think that a Lanisti and a Mortalis should both be punished equally, if they got into a barfight?”

Elena blinked at the non-sequitor, but all of the Twisted were watching her carefully, even Little One, as if she was being tested.

“N…no?” Elena stammered, “a…a Lanisti is more dangerous, he would have to be more careful about fighting.”

“That is the right way of looking at it. The Lanisti has been blessed with the Storm’s touch, but with that blessing comes more responsibility, a better understanding of right and wrong.”

“I don’t…”

“We, Elena, have been blessed even further by the Storm; we hold an even greater responsibility! It is a burden that each of us Twisted must bear, one that we cannot take lightly.”

“I don’t understand what this has to do with torturing Little One,” Elena said in a quiet voice.

“It’s all a matter of scale, Miss Luc-ci-a-no,” Black Furs said gently. “We expect little from the Mortalis, slightly more from the Stormtouched, but among ourselves? Among the Twisted we must hold ourselves to the highest standards. Only a Twisted can understand the responsibility we bear, and thus only a Twisted can pass judgement on us. It is up to us to hold each other to those standards.”

“You’re torturing her because you don’t think a Mortalis or a Stormtouched has the right to punish her?” There was something off about Black Furs’ logic, but Elena wasn’t able to put a finger on what was bothering her.

“We are the only ones who can fully understand what it is to be Twisted. Who else could we trust to hold us to our law?”

“Our” law, Elena noted, “but…the King is Mortalis.”

“And the King has advisors, Stormtouched advisors, to help him with matters pertaining to Stormtouched. He has already set the precedence for what we do; if he knew about the Twisted then he would do the very same for us.”

Elena’s panic was slowly starting to subside. There was still something vaguely wrong-feeling about Black Fur’s arguments, but it was true that the King had Stormtouched advisors and regents, ones tasked with holding Stormtouched accountable for crimes. The Guardhouse itself was one such regent, tasked with keeping tabs on the Rhetors. Her stomach still roiled at the thought of Little One being tortured, but Little One herself had said, it wasn’t permanent, it was only pain.

A lot of pain.

“Nothing here is real,” Black Furs said, as if reading her thoughts. “Deaths here are shallow deaths, the pain here only lasts for so long. In this world we are immortal, invulnerable, omnipotent. Think of the Twisted like the old false gods; you would hardly think Jupiter heartless for punishing Minerva, now would you?”

“I’d be flattered by the comparison, if you didn’t ruin it by calling yourself Jupiter,” Little One laughed, then winced.

“Little One herself once ran me through with a broadsword, on this very ship. When one has the power of a Twisted Stormtouched, a greater punishment is required for a transgression. Little One is being punished for her own good.”

“What did you do?” Elena asked Little One quietly.

“They worry about my loyalty to Italoza,” Little One wiped the blood from her chin, “or more specifically, they worry that they have no power to control me.”

“We worry that Little One needs our help,” Black Furs said exasperatedly, “she has left her rooms in the palace and vanished, and none of us know where she is or what danger she may be in or causing.”

“You still don’t know where she is?”

“Little One was reclusive, to an excessive degree. None of us have seen her in person, though we’ve heard of her of course. We don’t even know what she looks like-”

“You’re worried that you can’t keep tabs on me,” Little One grinned, her teeth smeared with gold.

Pavefactus hispania peulla do you think we enjoy this?” Black Furs exploded, “you know as well as we do that we simply cannot have a Twisted roaming around Italoza without the oversight of the rest of us! To give you free reign might be dooming this country, a country we all love!”

“Note carefully what happens,” Little One said to Elena, “to those Twisted who want to stay anonymous.”

“Now really, Little One, stop trying to sow dissention,” Ribbon-Face spoke up, “Elena is new to her Storm, she doesn’t represent nearly as big of a danger to Italoza as you do and you know it.”

“You want me to stop ‘sowing dissention’,” Little One chuckled again.

“I know that a lifetime’s habit is hard to break,” Ribbon Face began, but Black Furs cut him off with a gesture.

“I’m sorry that you had to walk in on this, Elena,” Black Furs said kindly, “but she has been warned, many times, she had every opportunity to avoid this fate. We tried our best to compromise, to help even, with whatever scheme she’s enacting. The fact that she won’t tell us where she is…it’s…”

“Worrisome,” Little One’s golden eyes seemed to flash with a triumph that Elena wasn’t sure she liked the look of, “that was a lovely respite, but you’ll probably want to get back to things, I think, Wanderer.”

“You could make this so much easier if you’d simply work with us, Little One. You don’t even have to tell us who you’re pretending to be, just tell us where you are so that we can keep tabs on that general location and watch out for danger.”

“I’m afraid that will remain a mystery,” looking far too cheerful for a tortured child, Little One winked at Elena.

Oh. The bottom dropped out of Elena’s stomach. Little One was in Milia; she had never been more sure of anything. Little One was in Milia and Elena knew nothing about who she was, what she looked like, or what she planned to do.

“Then I’m afraid we have no choice, as you well know,” Black Furs sighed, “Lucrezia, will you please go with Elena somewhere else? I think she understands why this is a necessity, but I don’t believe she has the stomach for watching it. I barely have the stomach for it myself.”

“No need,” Little One winced as her wrist was caught by a barnacle that grew from the wooden wall behind her, “she’s waking up.”

I don’t know if I understand at all, Elena thought, as the ship rocked back and forth, back and forth, faster and faster around her, I don’t know if I understand anything, anymore.

Her head spun, and the ship shook back and forth, shook back and forth, shook back and forth-

And she woke with a start, Dolce standing over her with one hand on her shoulder.

“Good afternoon, Faba-sleepy-bera,” Dolce grinned. The light that illuminated her was too bright to be anything but daylight. “You missed your friends in Studio Gritti.”

 


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7 responses

  1. Stormblessed

    “I don’t know if I understand at all”

    I feel that is very apt as far as us readers are concerned too.

    Like

    2015-04-19 at 9:59 pm

    • AvidFan

      Think about it like this: Time is a river, and has many forks that lead to different futures. The mortalis have very little to no control over which path they take, and any path they take will have very little effect on the greater scheme of things. The storm touched however have more control, and their storm creates even more forks depending on what it is (such as the radios, which could make larger changes were they to be reverse engineered). But the Twisted Cogs have a ridiculous amount of control and create their own forks in the river. Take Little One for example: There WAS going to be some kind of revolution or rebellion due to the storm touched, but she started it early and controlled how it affected Italoza. Then with Cog, the studios were set in their ways and their ranks were set in stone. But the instant she made the studio HERS and thus was able to use her storm, the tiles changed as the future gained more forks, and she was able to cause an uproar, which will likely upset the rankings.

      The mortalis can no more police the Twisted Cogs than a raft can change the course of a battleship.

      Like

      2015-04-19 at 11:58 pm

      • Mina

        Barnacles can hobble a battleship, just as much as a rowboat.
        IF Little One’s strength is the long term, she’s weaker than she looks in the short term.
        (Otherwise, the author’s built a god character, which is poor writing.)

        Like

        2015-04-20 at 11:40 am

        • AvidFan

          Yes, but it takes a LOT more than a single barnacle. :)
          It takes a lot of mortalis to make a difference, and much of the power the Storm Touched and Twisted Cogs have is to manipulate the mortalis thanks to theirs storms abilities. This is one of the things that makes a Rhetor so dangerous, since it does not take a lot of effort on their part to manipulate large groups of people.

          Quick thought: What would a Rhetor Twisted Cog be like? (I’m going to guess terrifying)

          Like

          2015-04-21 at 10:08 pm

  2. Just found this webserial this afternoon.
    Now i am hunched under my blanket at 3:22 in the morning trying not to make spelling errors and falling asleep on my tablet.

    Liked by 1 person

    2015-04-20 at 12:25 pm

    • Cap'nSmurfy

      This is exactly what I did upon discovering twisted cogs. Some novels are just unhealthy good. :-)

      Like

      2015-04-20 at 7:46 pm

  3. Back: Wanderer/ Big Fur/ Whatisname has fallen into a classic, elitist, tyrannical trap and doesn’t seem to know it. Little One, I think, has his number (Heck, she’ll have seen this coming from day one): betcha she was playing her hand to have Elena wake up to all this without his careful coaching and lead-up. Her Storm will help her work out where his logic chain is broken… when she gets around to puzzling it out and has an hour free in which to think. :P

    The Twisted cannot police themselves in isolation, yet turn around and systemically use others as chess pieces without outside evaluation, checks or balances — even from “lesser” Mortalis. That way horrible instability lies. -_-

    If they continue, it’ll be the Rhetor “solution” all over again (bigger, bolder and more messy) when the majority wakes up to the problem. And, it’s “when”, not “if”. And, all Stormtouched could burn: Twisted are harder to identify than the Echo-free Rhetors.

    Liked by 1 person

    2015-04-21 at 8:55 am

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