A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

5.5 – Studio Reditus {A Return to the Studio}

It had been a steady slow jog from Studio Foscari to the Street of Yellow Artisans, but Elena’s heart didn’t actually start pounding until they finally arrived. She stared up at the pretty walls of yellow stone, thinking not for the first time that the building itself was a work of art. On her first day in Milia, the towering studio had seemed to radiate beauty from its every line, but it had seemed more welcoming back then. Now it looked secure, menacing, exclusive.

“Thinking it looks like home?” Owl asked from beneath his grey hood beside her.

“Just the opposite actually,” Elena frowned, “it was my home for months, but now it seems like…Just another studio trying to crush me.”

“Ah, don’t be too hard on them. They’re just playing the same game we are now, you can’t blame them for doing what we’re told to do.” The pair watched as Snugglet, the Foscari garzona, set up the ladder they had used to paint the cathedral. It’s top was just a touch lower than the edge of the wall, close enough that when the girl scampered up its rungs, it only took a small hop to swing herself over the edge. Elena tried to imagine what it would feel like dropping the entire length to the ground inside the courtyard, but Snugglet knew the limits of her Storm-made shoes better than anyone else’s.

“I was promised a roving wooden spider for my first raid,” one of the Foscari garzoni said quietly, “doesn’t it patrol the walls?”

“You’ll see it, don’t worry,” Arturo muttered, “it always shows up.”

“Usually at the worst possible moment,” Arta added.

The door to De Luca’s foyer opened, and Snugglet beckoned them inside.

“Split off into your groups, remember what we talked about,” Isadora hissed as the students of the two studios poured into the foyer, “try to get coins but…well, don’t get your heart broken if we lose all of ours without taking a single one. This is Studio De Luca.”

 


 

“It just doesn’t sound like her, that’s all,” Elena whispered, trying to both move quickly and quietly. The dorm rooms were all either locked or empty, and she half-expected to run into her former studiomates at every corner they turned.

“And I’m telling you, Maple is a lot more bloodthirsty than you think,” Arturo replied, “as you’re going to find out, now that you’re on the other side.”

“I don’t doubt that she can be a jerk,” Elena thought back to her friendship with the prickly girl, “I just can’t picture her being as mean about it as you say she is.”

“You’ll find out,” Arturo repeated grimly. The two travelled silently down the length of the hallway, and Elena glanced over her shoulder nervously. The lack of interaction was starting to make her jumpy, especially since she had yet to even hear a sound.

“So, your Foscari friend, Woodpecker,” Arturo said quietly.

“Owl.”

“Sure, whatever. You know he’s just trying to get up your skirts, right?”

Elena was so flabberghasted that she stopped in her tracks, turning to give Arturo an incredulous look.

“That’s not true at all!” she hissed, “he reached out to help all of Studio DaRose, he helped us build traps, he even shared Foscari’s rulebook when they got it! We wouldn’t have an alliance with Foscari if it weren’t for Owl!”

“I’m not denying any of that, but I have pretty good intuition when it comes to this sort of thing, and I’m telling you he only did all of that so he could get up your-”

“Your intuition is probably clouded by the fact that you have feelings for me!” Elena hadn’t meant to say it, but it had burst from her lips before he could make the accusation again. She bit her lip. Arturo’s face darkened, and he stopped walking.

“Who told you? Arta?”

“I worked it out on my own,” Elena said, deliberately failing to mention how much assistance she’d gotten from Isadora, Dolce, and Ele to come to that conclusion, “I didn’t really know how to bring it up-”

“It’s fine. I’m cool with being friends, really I am. And maybe someday if things don’t work out with you and Niccolo…but anyways, sure I may like you, but that doesn’t mean Owl doesn’t want to get into your skirts.”

“Can you please stop saying that.”

“What, so you can pretend it isn’t true? Like apparently you’ve been pretending with me?”

Elena thought of several things she could snap, but her thoughts were interrupted by Arta and Ele slipping through the wall of the hallway, both out of breath.

“Window is holding her own against about Dolce and Festo and two of the Foscari in the library,” Arta said, “she’s had fighting training from somewhere, not Lanisti-level, but enough to handle all four of them. I wasn’t about to stick around to see if her Echo could handle me too.”

“Of course Leanarda has fighting training,” Elena grumbled, “that’s just not fair.”

“The Mortalis would probably be willing to give you some pointers on fighting, if you wanted it Elena.”

“Lorenzo…um, I mean Lodestone has Isadora and Elio and a Foscari pinned down in the courtyard,” Ele panted, “he’s got more of those metal ball things he displayed for showing day, a lot more. He’s just sitting in the middle of the courtyard with them hovering around him, pounding anyone who sticks their head out; no one can get close.”

“That means Balance and Maple are hunting as a pair, picking people off,” Arturo frowned, “they’ve probably already tagged out the rest of the Foscari.”

“I don’t know why-” Elena began, when she was interrupted by the sight of a bird, flying near the ceiling around the corner and towards them. It careened in a tight loop and flapped hard to reverse its direction, but it had come close enough to see its little wings were made of wood. The sound of wooden clicks on tile came from around the corner, like a group of people walking on stilts. “Freder- I mean Maple is coming,” Elena whispered.

Elena shifted her hammer into a two-handed grip, and Arturo slipped paper from the pouch at his belt. The thought of him using his Storm on Frederica or Niccolo made Elena’s stomach clench, but she set her teeth and tried to push the thought away.

Studio De Luca is on the list, if we weren’t here then they’d be attacking us later this same night, she reasoned to herself, if the game is separate from personal feelings to them, I have to separate it from my own personal feelings. They were the ones who started this.

The spider careened around the corner so fast it should’ve slammed into the corner, but instead continued its motion sideways up the wall and charged at them. It was bigger than Elena remembered, about up to Elena’s knees, and in spite of herself she screamed. The spider sprang from the wall, over her head, and landed on Arturo’s chest, but the three figures that emerged around the corner took up her attention. They wore yellow hoods, yellow scarves covered their faces, and before Elena could even take in the situation one of them had raised his bow and fired an arrow at her.

The arrow hit her in the gut and bounced off, hard enough that it sent her flying backwards and onto the ground. Her hammer clattered to the floor and her head spun, but she forced herself to focus, even if she couldn’t breathe. Two of the three would be Niccolo and Frederica, but she couldn’t identify who the third figure was until it went bounding down the hallway to join the spider, wooden arms pumping and an expression of fierce joy on her wooden face; Frederica’s final project Freja.

Elena glanced at the arrow through a blur of tears. It looked more like a club than an arrow, a thin shaft with a sphere large around as a fist on one end. Without the aid of his Storm, Niccolo wouldn’t have been able to fire it more than a foot or two. While she was glad that there was no more damage than being punched in the stomach, when Elena finally managed to gasp for breath all of the various injuries she’d sustained ached in full force.

Her ribs hurt where the Isota garzoni had landed a hefty punch, her hip stung where a Crivelli had hit her with a whip, the fingers on her left hand throbbed where she had caught them in a trap she’d devised for Studio Nencia, and the ache in her head she was fully willing to blame on Studio Gritti’s knockout gas.

This has been one of the worst weeks of my life.

Niccolo and Frederica were approaching, but before they arrived their Echoes burst through the hallway, tackling Arta and Ele to the ground. It had all happened so quickly, in the space of a few seconds the four of them were completely incapacitated and the De Luca students hadn’t even exerted themselves. Frederica hadn’t even taken her hands out of her pockets.

“Oh, hey Ele!” Nicci had been sitting on his chest and pinning his arms to the ground, but she peered brightly into his face, “didn’t realize you’d be here!”

“Hey Nicci,” Ele groaned.

“Oh shoot, Elena?” Niccolo asked, although Elena noticed that he hadn’t put his bow away yet.

“Elena?” Frederica had approached close enough to recognize Ele, “one of you is Elena?”

“Hi Frederica,” Elena coughed. Frederica hunched down next to her and pulled the mask from her face.

“They sent you on this ridiculous raid?” she asked incredulously, “what were you going to do, build us to death?”

“That hurt,” Elena looked up reproachfully as Niccolo approached.

“Sorry sweetie,” Niccolo’s voice did sound regretful, but not nearly as sorrowful as it might have, in Elena’s opinion, “remember, you promised that you wouldn’t hold official studio business against me.”

“Well then you shouldn’t take it personally when I say, on behalf of Studio DaRose, you’re a jerk for shooting your girlfriend.”

Nicci chuckled, and Niccolo rubbed the back of his hooded head in a sheepish gesture.

“Can’t argue with that, I suppose.”

“Ahem,” Arturo said dryly, “I don’t suppose you could actually kill me for real so I don’t have to watch this nauseating interaction?”

Elena pulled herself up to sit with her back against the wall so she could see her studiomate. The huge wooden spider had wrapped all eight legs around him, while Freja was silently removing his coin from his pocket. Behind them, Arta was very carefully not fighting as Fred held her shoulders in a lock that he could probably turn painful easily.

“Oh…yeah. We’re going to need your coin, Elena,” Niccolo said awkwardly.

“Wait, hold on,” Frederica turned to Elena, “you only made me six knives.”

“I…what?” Elena was confused by the sudden change in subject.

“My old set had twelve knives, but you made me six, I’m guessing because you needed the lilium iron from the other six to make up the handles? Anyways I don’t normally use the other six as much, but I do use them. I need them for specific kinds of carvings. Would you be able to design the other six? I could pay you for your materials and your expertise.”

“I…yes? I guess?” Elena said. Arturo and Niccolo both exploded, their protests overlapping each other.

“-just giving money to DaRose-”

“-helping out another studio-”

“- could use other merchants we’re not competing with-”

“-not like we’re De Luca’s servants-”

“-Master De Luca won’t want to pay for-”

“SHUT UP,” Frederica bellowed. She dug into the pouch at her side and pulled out a silver coin with a maple leaf engraved in it, pressing it into Elena’s hand, “here, call this a deposit. Let me know what materials you need for this and I’ll get them to you.”

“Frederica, you can’t just give away your coin like that,” Niccolo protested.

Frederica turned with a flash in her eye. “I like her knives,” she snapped, “I make better art with her knives. Art first, then all of this nonsense. Now you’d better go, you’ve got more garzoni to shoot.”

“But we haven’t taken-”

“Take a walk.”

Elena couldn’t see Niccolo’s expression through the mask, but after a few moments he turned without a word and stalked down the hallway. Nicci climbed gingerly off of Ele and followed, giving them a small wave before she vanished around the corner.

“Don’t take it too hard,” Frederica reached out a hand to Elena, “he takes the raids way too seriously. I suppose this is as close to art as he gets, being Saggitari and all. I wouldn’t hold it against him.”

“I won’t,” Elena winced at the tight pain still in her stomach, but accepted Frederica’s help to her feet.

“Do you have time to stay and talk about the knives?”

“I wish I did, but we’ve got a second appointment tonight.”

“You’re crazy,” Frederica chuckled, “all the Studios have been pounding you all week, and you’re doing two raids in one night? How do you even manage it? Who are you attacking?”

“We manage it by being made of sturdier stock than the other studios, and we’re not giving you a chance to warn the studio we’re attacking,” Arturo snapped. The spider and Freja had let him up, and Fred released Arta. Arturo was brushing himself off and eyeing the wooden creations.

“Grabber takes it too seriously too,” Frederica grinned, “what is this now, Grabber? Three to one?”

“This one doesn’t count, you had Balance with you,” Arturo said with a scowl.

“Yeah, well you had Elena with you, it was two versus two fair and square.”

“Cog,” Elena said, “I’m Cog.”

“That’s weird, I would’ve guessed you’d go with ‘Hammer’ or ‘Builder’ or something Fabera-like. Or ‘Mosquito’ ‘cause you’re annoying,” Frederica was still grinning, and Elena couldn’t help but smile back.

“If you’re done fraternizing with the enemy, Cog,” Arturo said, “we should go meet the others at the entrance.”

“We’ll talk about the knives soon,” Elena promised Frederica, and the two DaRose garzoni made their way down the hallway in the direction of the exit.

 


 

There were few actual injuries in the group that waited outside of De Luca’s gates, some garzoni clutching arms or walking with a limp, but there was an air of discouragement from the group that grew each time another few of them walked out from the studio with a dejected air. Before the hour was out, every DaRose and Foscari garzoni had emerged and joined those outside of Studio De Luca.

Apart from Elena and one of the Foscari garzoni, no one had managed to emerge without losing their coins. Snugglet passed a bag around to each garzoni who exited, and they searched for the second of the two coins each had left with.

“Alright, we knew that most likely this would end this way, they are Studio De Luca after all, and there’s a reason De Luca is at the top,” Owl said to the dejected group of his studiomates, “but let’s not forget the second part of the night; there’s a point to our actions here. We should get moving.”

The group moved more slowly this time, keeping pace with the members who were limping or had been winded from the raid on De Luca. Elena glanced up at the moon overhead nervously. She hadn’t realized how much work it must’ve taken to arrange for back-to-back attacks on Studio DaRose, but now that she was on a plan involving timing, the past week seemed impressively coordinated.

“I got Maple’s coin,” Elena murmured to Isadora as the group moved, “so that’s one less that we’re down.”

“Mmm, Arturo told me,” Isadora seemed more reserved than she usually was, “we also managed to get Window’s coin, eventually.”

“You don’t seem very enthused about the plan.”

“It’s a good plan, provided Owl is telling the truth about rules. Provided two studios can raid together, provided ambushes are allowed.”

“If Owl lied to us, Studio Foscari will get in trouble too-”

“I said it was a good plan,” Isadora said shortly, “better than the daylight attack plan. What do you want, a medal?”

Elena wasn’t sure how to respond, but her attention was taken up by the final Foscari garzoni, running down the street towards them.

“They left, about five minutes ago,” he panted when he joined up with the group, “they’re headed for DaRose, right on schedule. I don’t think they know about your raid.”

“Good,” Owl nodded, “we’ve got about ten minutes, let’s get moving.”

The group picked up their pace, travelling the back alleys and along the shadows that lined the streets. Vittoria’s mural could no longer watch over the city, but until they found out what other methods their enemy used, it was better to play it safe.

It took them only a few minutes to arrive at the gates of Studio Malatesta.

 


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10 responses

  1. Only six or so chapters away from the end of Book 2! How exciting!

    Shout out to all of my lovely readers, it’s been a joy hearing your thoughts and comments throughout Twisted Cogs!

    Like

    2015-04-26 at 8:38 pm

  2. Ohh, clever. Instead of waiting for the other studios to come raid them, they’re sneaking around and hitting them while the heavy-hitters are gone.

    Like

    2015-04-27 at 12:12 am

  3. DeNarr

    Did they attack DeLuca just to get that loss “out of the way”?

    Like

    2015-04-27 at 9:38 am

    • It’s also a message: “We may be the bottom of the heap; we may lose — but, you can’t dictate how, when or where on only your terms: we still determine what the outcome will be, to.”

      Like

      2015-04-27 at 12:58 pm

  4. Panster

    This story is just getting better and better!

    Like

    2015-04-27 at 10:16 pm

  5. I kind of thing thats part of the whole raiding system too. Those garzoni who can look past it, and still rely on each other for art, are more likely to be popular later with the court scene.

    Like

    2015-04-29 at 12:13 pm

  6. Stormblessed

    I didn’t comment on this chapter when it went up, but the interaction between Frederica and Elena is just SUPER ADORABLE here.

    “I like her knives” is the best line in the chapter.

    Again, really adorable. It’s been a while since I’ve read anything this adorable in a web serial.

    Liked by 2 people

    2015-04-30 at 11:22 pm

    • I really like their friendship/alliance. :D It actually feels stronger than Elena’s love life.

      Niccolo only goes to DaRose to talk to her when he’s being sent with a mission.

      Frederica stopped the mission (the raid) to chat – sure, about work, but that kind of work is what brings ’em together.

      More Frederica!

      Like

      2015-05-11 at 1:57 pm

  7. Arturo is just so frigging creepy. It just shines through with how he keeps harping on practically every interaction Elena has with a guy. It’s the gross kind of jealousy, not the entertaining one Elena had towards Leanarda.

    Considering how well Arturo comes through even without that other chapter of his where it got SUPER creepy, it is damn impressive to read him. :D Ewww, Arturo. He always grossed me out, but after Elena joined DeLuca, I figured he was gone for good.

    Ewwwwwwwww.

    Like

    2015-05-11 at 1:55 pm

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