A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

5.8 – Contritum Elici {Broken Cog}

Elio and Festo were talking about Elena. Normally she would try to convince herself that they weren’t, she would attribute it to her own paranoia and try to ignore it, but the two Mortalis boys didn’t even attempt to hide it. They kept shooting glances in her direction, muttering quietly, and occasionally one of them would chuckle in a way that made Elena’s stomach flip-flop. She shook her head and focused on the ceremony in the courtyard.

The season of Rains had swept over Milia over the course of a single day, as sudden as it did every year. The sky above courtyard was grey with rolling clouds, somehow not diminishing the sunlight although the sun couldn’t be seen. Elena pulled a strand of wet hair that had plastered itself across her face and refocused her attention on the scene in front of her.

The Milian Page stood ramrod-straight, holding a roll of parchment in front of him but not actually reading from it, while a servant stood at his side holding an umbrella to shield him from the warm rain. Both of them carried the bored air of someone for whom their duty had become rote, routine, and their lethargy was contagious. Elena yawned.

“…the unfortunate truth that often the hierarchy becomes more about martial aspects of the Stormtouched, rather than appreciating the full gamut of artistic endeavours.” the Milian Page droned, “The Prince of Milia, in his wisdom, wishes to correct this imbalance by inviting to the court those Stormtouched who have shown mastery and finesse in their craft.”

Elena had never heard the invitation ceremony, and it surprised her how fake the whole thing was. The courts of Milia most certainly didn’t want to ‘correct an imbalance’, or else they would’ve abolished the entire studio system. It wasn’t coincidence that the one Master the courts had decided ‘showed mastery and finesse in their craft’ was the one newly at the head of the Studio hierarchy.

“Master Omerto DaRose,” the Page continued, “the Prince of Milia cordially invites you to the Milian Courts, to stay as his guest.”

Elena’s unusual cynicism softened a bit when she turned her attention towards the Master of Studio DaRose. The man hovered excitedly like a moth, trying to give the Page his full attention but turning every few minutes to ensure that no rain touched his complex machine. He seemed equal parts nervous, excited, and terrified, and Elena gave a small smile as his chest puffed out with pride. His machine whirred on just as it had when she had last seen it, its little gears spinning, spiderweb-like wires coiling and winding and uncoiling within, but it’ s subtle whispering voices were obscured by the hiss of the rain around them.

Isadora and Dolce, the most senior of the DaRose garzoni, held a waterproof canvas above the machine to keep it dry, and the rain rolled down their arms and plastered their grey uniforms to them. Isadora glanced in Elena’s direction, then returned her gaze forward, and Elena felt a sour pit in her throat. It had been this way for the past three days, ever since Arturo had stormed to his room in a rage.

Arturo roomed with the other boys, Festo and Elio. Isadora was Arturo’s best friend. Dolce…well Dolce had always treated her with a mix of coolness and disinterest. Now…now they all did. There was no hostility, no whispered plans or dirty looks or nasty pranks, just…coolness. Perhaps it would’ve been different if she had had a chance to tell her side of the story first, but that wasn’t something that would even occur to her at the time.

Someone smarter would’ve thought of that, Elena thought despondently. In front of her, the Page and his servants were carefully transferring Master DaRose’s whispering box into the carriage, as DaRose himself hovered and fussed. I should’ve run to find Ele as soon as Arturo ran off and asked him what to do, Ele would’ve known. Maybe Ele should’ve been the Stormtouched and I should’ve been the Echo. He would’ve been a lot better at it than I am.

Master DaRose paused at the carriage door, looking at his assembled garzoni uncertainly as if he had just seen them.

“Ehm…you’ll all be alright, without me around for a little bit, won’t you?” he asked, concerned. The DaRose garzoni exchanged glances, Dolce giggled, but Isadora simply nodded once.

“You can trust us to manage the studio while you’re away, Master DaRose,” she said gently.

“I’m sure I can,” DaRose broke into a smile as he closed the door behind him.

As soon as the deep red Milian carriage had rattled away down the street through the rain, the DaRose garzoni seemed to relax a bit. Festo and Dolce exchanged a murmured joke, Arturo splashed Elio with the rainwater that rested on a nearby windowsill, Isadora watched them with folded arms. None of them payed Elena any attention.

Coolness.

Elena straightened her shoulders and set her chin. She had dealt with worse. This wasn’t anywhere near as bad as her ordeal with Slug…deum, It wasn’t even as bad as Leanarda and Mella’s treatment of her in Studio De Luca…but she also didn’t have Carlo, Frederica, Vittoria, and Niccolo as friends to comfort her.

The thought of her old friends, and in some cases ex-friends, made her eyes sting, and she was grateful for the rain beating against her face, running down her cheeks.

“What’s the plan for the rest of the day?” Ele asked, “if we keep on drawing diagrams of the studio I’m going to go out of my mind, what’s the newest project to keep DaRose on top?”

“I don’t know, Ele,” Elena very carefully didn’t look in Arturo’s direction as the DaRose garzoni began moving into the studio itself. Ele might’ve picked up on how down she was, but if he had he was using his typical methods of cheering her up; being cheerful and trying to distract her with work. “Let’s get in out of the rain and get dried before we make a decision on our next project.”

When she reached the door, Isadora‘s hand shot out and grabbed her, her grip firm but not painful. Isadora and Elena waited as the others filed in, until the two girls were the only ones out in the pouring rain. Elena felt that she should be feeling some anticipation or nervousness, but instead she just felt dull.

“I know what you’ve been doing, this whole time,” Isadora raised her voice to be heard over the sound of the rain on the stone road. Elena considered what the other garzona might mean, then shrugged.

“Tell me,” she said.

“The servant is yours, and you tell her when to make food. We all ate whenever we wanted before, but now you’re always around when people gather. You decide when we wake up, and you keep us all grouped up for meals.”

Elena considered for a few moments, then shrugged again. “So?” she had been doing that, there was hardly a reason to deny it.

“You made the Mortalis their own masks and hoods, even though it breaks with Studio DaRose tradition. You led Arturo around by your little finger. You make sure that everyone knows that every wild and crazy plan is yours.”

“I wasn’t trying to lead Arturo on,” Elena felt a burst of annoyance, but then stopped confused. Isadora seemed to be gearing up for something, but she didn’t have the faintest idea what.

“Fine, we’ll pretend either of us believes that. The most revealing thing, is that you say it, sometimes, when you’re not guarding your words and paying attention, you say it. You refer to DaRose as ‘my studio’.”

Elena glanced at Ele, assuming that he would translate what the girl meant, but he looked just as confused as she did.

Isadora’s normally calm face broke into a scowl. “Your studio, that’s what you call it when you’re not paying attention. You think you can take over Studio DaRose, with all your clever plans. You don’t think anyone can see through what you’re doing, like you’re going to waltz in here and take over from those of us who have been slaving here for years.”

Elena tilted her head to one side, staring at Isadora for long moments as the rain rain down her face and neck. It should’ve been a surprising accusation; it was certainly unexpected enough. Indeed, next to Elena, Ele sputtered angrily, but Elena didn’t feel hurt or betrayed or even shocked. She closed her eyes and turned her face towards the sky and began laughing.

“I’m glad you find me funny,” Isadora said quietly, “but it doesn’t change the fact that this ends now.”

“It’s not it’s really not funny at all,” Elena giggled.

“Elena, are you alright?” Ele asked.

“It just…never stops, does it?” Elena asked, turning to him. She didn’t know if she was crying as she laughed, or if it only felt like it through the rain that coursed down her face. “I should’ve stayed in Carpi. Milia doesn’t want me, it never has.”

“Did you have a point to this discussion, Isadora?” Ele snapped, “Elena needs to get inside and get some more sleep.”

“Get all the sleep you want, then be ready to help out the Studio,” Isadora’s face returned to the closed neutrality she normally maintained, “as a garzona, not a leader. You’re a student at Studio DaRose, Elena, it doesn’t belong to you. You won’t be manipulating your studiomates anymore, am I clear? They’re not your resources. If anything, now that Master DaRose has left, Studio DaRose is mine.”

“Fine. I won’t. I don’t care, Isadora, I just…I can’t care anymore,” Elena said. She expected the Storm’s savage anger this time, the pins and needles stabbing through her temples and fingertips as the knowledge of the Studio slipped away from her. What was the use in keeping hold of it? No matter how hard she worked, no matter what she tried, no matter what plan she attempted, it would always end like this.

Friendless.

Powerless.

Alone in the rain.

NO! the voice in her head shrieked, no no my studio mine mine mine!

The needles of Storm hurt, but the smile twitched at Elena’s lips, even though there was nothing she felt like laughing at. There was no point in-

How much do I have to hand you on a platter before you reach out and TAKE, you stupid little bitch?

Elena recoiled at the voice, crystal clear and loud enough in her head to be heard over the sound of the roaring rain. For long moments she stood frozen, her mouth hanging open. The vague impression of ownership that she had felt from her Storm had always been near enough to her own thoughts that she’d barely noticed it, but this…

Elena laughed. She threw her head back and roared with laughter, laughed until tears ran down her face and mixed with the rain.

“Elena! Elena what’s wrong, what’s going on?” Ele asked, frantic.

“I don’t know anything!” Elena gasped, “I never knew! Nothing about the Storm, nothing about the Twisted, I don’t even know how to stay in a studio without turning them against me! I don’t….I thought….”

It was no use, she was laughing too hard to keep on talking, so hard she had doubled over and was gasping for breath, her hands against the rough stone of the road.

“Is she alright?” Isadora asked, leaning over her, “Elena, calm down, Elena?”

“She’s going into hysterics,” Ele said, “I can’t touch her, help her!”

Isadora grabbed Elena by the shoulders and led her firmly inside, and Elena’s painful, body-wracking laughter slowly died away as she let herself be led towards the dorms.

“Get some sleep, Elena, you’re an absolute mess,” Isadora sighed, pushing her into her bed and covering her with a blanket.

Are you there, Storm? Will you grant me wishes if I asked nicely? Will you be my friend now? Elena giggled a few more times as she drifted off to sleep.

 

***

 

“Elena. Elena wake up, and please don’t be all…laughy,” Ele whispered gently. Elena had already been slowly rousing herself, but at Ele’s words she opened her eyes and looked around. The room was dark, lit only by a shaft of moonlight. Isadora slumbered gently in her bed, but she was obscured by Ele, standing at Elena’s bedside, staring wide-eyed at the other figure in the room. Across the room from Ele, a woman in the maroon uniform of a Page of the Milian Court observed Elena. Her hair was tied back in a tight bun, and a pin with the Milian laurel held it in place.

“Hello Miss Cog,” she said quietly, as soon as Elena focused on her, “I am a page for the court of Milia.”

“I…hello,” Elena said, unsure of how to react to a Milian official in her dorm room in the middle of the night.

“I wonder if you might take a few moments to join my masters and my Stormtouched just outside of your studio.” The Page phrased it as a request, but pages spoke for the members of the court, and Elena knew she wouldn’t have a choice even if she weren’t insanely curious.

“My clothes are all damp-” Elena began, but then stopped. It was Rains, there was hardly a point in changing to dry clothes, “I’m coming out now.”

“Thank you, Miss Cog,” the Page smiled, then took a step back and passed through the wall.

 

***

 

In the dark, the rain felt even more oppressive, and Elena shivered and wondered just how late in the night it was. The moonlight lit the empty street, even though no moon could be seen through the dark thunderclouds above.

The carriage seemed black in the moonlight, but the uniforms of the four servants and four pages kept their colour even with the damp. The servants each held umbrellas over the man and woman who emerged from the carriage, so that not even a droplet of water had a chance of falling on them.

The man was extremely thin and extremely pale, a small scar on his chin the only thing that marred his otherwise handsome face. He wore a deep purple that seemed to vanish in the shadow of the umbrellas, and leaned heavily on a wooden walking stick. He held out a hand to help his companion down, but when her hand passed through his Elena realized that she was his Echo, the gesture more symbolic than helpful. The Echo wore matching purple, and had a matching scar, but hers ran from her chin up and over her left eye. Elena had never seen an Echo with a scar before.

“This is Miss Cog and her Echo, Lord Waldren,” the Page’s Echo who had summoned them said respectfully.

“Thank you, Page Lau,” the man said evenly.

It took Elena’s tired, battered mind several long moments to spin slowly into gear. Several long moments to take the vague feeling of recognition she felt at the voice and match it up to a face.

Or rather, a blurry darkness that was a lack of face.

“I have heard so much about you, I feel as if I already know you,” the man leaned on his walking stick to extend a hand, “but it’s wonderful to finally meet you face to face, Miss Elena Luc-ci-a-no.”

 


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13 responses

  1. Anonymous

    Huh. I wonder how he got there before the Little One? Or was she ever heading there, was she heading somewhere /else/..? To do something, or so that she couldn’t be physically caught and could do something later..?

    Still the questions about the Echos and her eloquent Storm and the gale-devils.

    Like

    2015-05-14 at 2:30 am

  2. Dogged

    How on earth can Isadora believe she led Arturo along? Elena had a boyfriend for heavens sake and that wasn’t exactly something she kept secret. What is Isadora willing to believe about her? I really hope Elena can find a better place for herself. The DaRose garzoni aren’t worth her time. Honestly at the moment creepy faceless man would almost be an improvement.

    Like

    2015-05-14 at 3:04 am

    • CK

      I think Isadora is reacting to the feeling that she’s losing control of something she’s worked for years to achieve, and losing it to some snippy little upstart, rather than actually believing that Elena has led Arturo on. Also, Arturo has been there longer and (unlike Elena) he plays by Isadora’s rules, so her sympathy is with him and against Elena regardless of what’s fair.

      This was a very sinister chapter, between Black Furs appearing in person and Elena’s storm actually talking to her, with words, and insulting her no less! Creepy.

      Like

      2015-05-14 at 4:24 am

      • jt

        Right — Arturo is certainly telling Isadora a strongly-slanted version of his interactions with Elena… which isn’t accurate, but meshes with her existing worries about Elena.

        Liked by 1 person

        2015-05-14 at 8:24 am

        • ultragunner

          And also the fact that they never had someone to boss them around. they’re only haopy about it when it was useful or necessary, but noe that the danger has passed, then all insecurities come bargin in their tiny heads

          Like

          2015-05-14 at 9:01 am

  3. I was too sleepy to leave a comment last night, so here goes this one!

    Firstly: I discovered that an industrious fan has created a Twisted Cogs Wiki! This is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, but it seems someone has beat me to the punch :D I naturally proceeded to add a whole page, and included a few tidbits of information that isn’t known in the story proper.

    Secondly: This is either the penultimate, or the penultimate penultimate chapter of Twisted Cogs Book 2! My goal for Book 2 was to expand upon the worldbuilding, but my goal for Book 3 is to fire up the intensity!

    Thirdly: I’m still making a formatting and editing pass for the physical-book version of Twisted Cogs Book 1, but it’s progressing well!

    Like

    2015-05-14 at 4:22 pm

  4. After a a whooole week of going to bed two or three hours late because of you ;_; I am finally caught up.

    Thank you so very much for the story. I have greatly enjoyed it, even if I find Elena et al. frustrating personalities (talk your problems out D:). I am sad, because I know things will only get worse for Elena from here on out before they get any better, but I’m excited because big things will happen.

    I am curious. Can we expect gay (or LGBTI to be more general) smut chapters? I find the chapters that are up superbly written, but they aren’t my cup of tea.

    Finally, you used Ercole again instead of Elio at the top of the chapter.

    Like

    2015-05-16 at 1:04 pm

    • Ah, the sleepless nights! I’d apologize, if I weren’t so giddy that you’re enjoying yourself so much!

      LGBTI smut chapters are definitely in the works for…some point in time. As an area I’m quite unfamiliar with, I’ve always been a little scared of attempting one (I think there was a kinda-sorta LGBTI chapter involving the crew in Studio Malatesta), because of course I want to make sure to do them justice. It’s definitely something I’d like to do though.

      Thanks for the catch. For whatever reason that slip-up happens so often to me. Pretty soon we’ll be reading about Ercola and her echo Ercole, and their adventures in Ercoloza :)

      Like

      2015-05-17 at 10:52 pm

      • Ooh. I missed the Malatesta chapter. It was great! I don’t think you have to be scared about not doing the theme justice. I’m still hoping for more gay smut soon, though!

        Ercole and Ercola learn to navigate the world of the Ercoletouched (not an innuendo???) as they deal with the drama in studio DaErcole and are pursued by the mysterious Twisted Ercoles.

        Like

        2015-05-18 at 8:30 pm

        • Not an innuendo, are you kidding? Every smut chapter from now on is named Ercoletouched and features…Niccolo. Because I like to keep my readers on their toes

          Like

          2015-05-18 at 9:55 pm

  5. dogripper

    Oh man, it keeps getting better

    Liked by 1 person

    2015-05-17 at 6:34 pm

  6. So… Is she legitimately that stupid and paranoid? It should be common knowledge that Elena’s Storm works on things that belong to her and she’s been using her storm on the studio openly. The need to maintain the mindset of possession should be obvious.

    Like

    2016-09-18 at 4:14 pm

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