A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

2.1 – Parte altera nummi {The Other Side of the Coin}

“You turned down an offer to be Queen of the World?”

“That’s really the part you’re going to focus on here, Ele?”

“It’s a pretty massive part to focus on!”

“Ele, I couldn’t, you know I couldn’t, I can barely manage my myself, let alone anything else.”

“You don’t think that, as Queen of the World with the backing of the Storm, you couldn’t have a giant panel of advisors?”

“I don’t know, Ele, I panicked, and even now…” Elena struggled for the right words, “…I feel as though…it’s wrong. The whole thing feels wrong.”

“The Storm’s offer?”

“All of it. He says he chose me because I was raised by mama and because I surrounded myself with the Twisted, so I should be used to feeling like the world belonged to me. But what kind of ruler would that create? What does it say about the Storm’s plans that he wants an entitled queen who thinks she’s better than everyone else?”

Ele remained silent for a few moments, mulling her argument over. Elena, for her part, mused over some of the other things the Storm had said in their brief conversation.

“Was he right, Ele?” she asked quietly.

“Right about what?”

“A lot of people have have been calling me a child recently. What’s the old saying? ‘If one man calls you an Artifex, he’s a madman. If everyone calls you Artifex, look into buying some brushes’?”

“I’ve always said you could stand to be a bit more careful, a bit more cautious about peoples’ intentions about you,” Ele said cautiously, “but it’s not a bad thing to be friendly and trusting.”

“But now that we’re in the courts…maybe being cynical is something I could stand to work on.”

“That doesn’t sound like you, Elena,” Ele shook his head, “you were just saying that the version of you the Storm wanted made you uncomfortable, don’t try to change yourself to become more like that. Be the Elena you want to be.”

A leaf that moves not, until moved by a wind, Elena frowned at the memory of the Storm’s words. “That’s the problem, Ele,” she said, “I don’t know the Elena I want to be-” her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door. “Come in!” she called.

“I thought I heard you two talking!” Emerald smiled as she entered, “the others were all worried sick about you, even when Arta and Arturo explained that you passed out the last time your Storm gave you too much as well.”

“Thank you for worrying about me,” Elena smiled.

“I’m going to go get the others, they’ll want to tell you about what you missed!” Emerald said, “the Prince had a talk with them after he was sure you were alright.” She slipped out of the door just as suddenly as she’d arrived, and Elena rose from her bed and stretched.

“You shouldn’t feel pressured to be the person the Storm or the Prince want you to be,” Ele resumed their conversation. “Just focus on finding your feet here in the courts. That’ll be enough to occupy you for some time I think.”

There was a heavy knock at the door, like a fist, and Elena spun and grinned, moving to open it. “Did Emerald forget something?”

“Alright maybe a bit more cynical,” Ele sighed as Elena threw the door open.

Standing at the door were two men and a woman, all of them wearing matching uniforms of grey pants and doublets. One of the men was tall with black hair tightly bound in a pony-tail, the other rotund with short-cut brown hair. The woman was very pale, and completely bald. Even without their dark grey clothes, Elena could’ve guessed the three were together. They all carried themselves tall, yet warily, as if they knew they could handle an ambush but wouldn’t let that be an excuse to be caught off guard. All three were also very serious, and held an air of deadliness that made Elena’s hair stand on end.

These were not people to take lightly.

Why would I assume it was Emerald coming back? Elena thought as she stared at them, this is exactly the sort of thing that the Storm and the Prince were talking about.

“Cog?” the man with the ponytail asked.

“I think they’re just calling me ‘Elena’, here,” Elena replied.

“What they call you depends entirely on your plans for your time at the courts,” the bald woman smiled, but the smile was weighed by the gravity in her eyes. “May we come in, Cog?”

Don’t be naive, Elena reminded herself, think about what’s happening and think through why.

“Who-” Ele started, but Elena was already asking.

“I’m sorry, who are you?” she asked. The question sounded incredibly rude on her lips, and she winced in spite of herself.

“There are many names used to describe us, but we represent the crown,” the man with the ponytail said, “and phrasing ‘may we come in’ as a question was more of a nicety than anything. Anyways, we’re here to settle a wager on some of the things we’ve heard about you. If most of them are lies, she owes me a hundred florin,” he jerked his head at the bald woman, “but if most of them are true, we’re buying you a drink.”

“But more importantly, we’re here officially,” the bald woman said testily, “because we understand that you were recently kidnapped, and we have a few questions about those who did it.”

“Ah, yes, that too. Can we come in?” the man with the pony-tail asked again.

“They’re scared,” the other man murmured, “don’t push them so hard.”

The man with the ponytail glanced to either side and then sighed, “fine, sure, let’s not push, let’s talk here, in this insecure, easily overheard hallway.”

Elena had been holding the door, and she wasn’t entirely sure how the large man moved so quickly, or how he managed to twist himself enough to slip beneath her arm, between her and the doorway, and into her room without ever touching her.

When Elena turned to gawk, the bald woman took advantage and slipped in as well. “Lord Waldren has informed us that you were kidnapped and interrogated yesterday,” the bald woman said as the man with short-cut hair simply walked through the door, “we would like to hear the story firsthand, if that’s alright by you.”

“You can’t just barge in here, you…you pair of bullies!” Elena protested, when something suddenly caught her eye. “You’re carrying a bow,” she said flatly, “both of you are.” The bows were slung across the bald woman and pony-tailed man’s backs, and she hadn’t noticed them before. What non-guards carried weapons so openly around the palace? Elena looked uneasily in Ele’s direction, and he looked just as nonplussed as she did.

“Again, we’re here on behalf of the Prince,” the man with the ponytail said, “we’re allowed to carry weapons.”

Elena was rather proud of herself for noticing the choice of words; “on behalf of the Prince” rather than “the Prince sent us.”

“Does the Prince know you’re here?” Ele asked. None of the three answered, but they exchanged glances.

“The Principessa knows we’re here,” the Echo said.

Elena looked back and forth between the three in their grey uniforms, wishing she had the skill at social maneuvering that Black Furs did. On the one hand, she could ask them to leave and find out for sure whether or not they were as dangerous as they looked…but the very thought was enough to make her shiver.

She didn’t realize she had been backing away from the trio until she bumped up against the dresser on the wall behind her. The little figurines of glass  that sat on it wobbled shakily, and Elena could sympathize with them; off-balance and fragile.

“I understand that the whole thing seems frightening,” the bald woman said, not unkindly, “but look at it this way; if we were allied with the rebels who kidnapped you, we wouldn’t need to hear the story from you now would she?”

Both she and the Echo with the bow seemed to be purposely keeping still, letting Elena adjust to their presence, but the other man didn’t have any such compunctions, roaming around Elena’s room idly, observing everything from the balcony to the bundle of clothes Elena realized with a blush she’d left there from the day before.

“You’ll have to forgive us if we seem a little…intense,” the Echo said, “I’m still wondering why they haven’t introduced themselves yet.”

“To be honest I was enjoying not being recognized for once,” the bald woman said.

“Hm? Does she not know who we are?” the man with the pony-tail stopped at the head of Elena’s bed and grabbed one of her pillows, fluffing it for a moment and then tossing it across the room, where it landed next to the wall. Elena stared back and forth from the man to the fluffy pillow on the floor, trying to figure out if he had just threatened her or not.

Her confusion was interrupted when he pointed suddenly at the door, and the bald woman sprang in the direction he pointed, throwing out an arm. Just as she reached it, Elena’s friends entered, led by Belloza.

“Hold it,” the bald woman said, her already-extended arm catching Belloza across the collarbone and stopping her short, “Cog, do you know these people?”

“Hey, what’s the matter with yo-” Belloza began to complain, then froze as she looked up at the woman.

“They’re my friends, they’re okay!” Elena protested, “let her go!”

“Elena!” Belloza actually squeaked. A blush was crawling along her cheeks, and the others garzoni, when they filed in, did so quietly. “Don’t talk to her like that!”

“Belloza you know who these three are?” Elena asked, as the bald woman lowered her arm and released the Saggitara. Instead of answering, Belloza just stared at Elena, her face bright red, eyes wide. “She touched me,” she whispered, absentmindedly lifting a hand to touch her shirt where the woman had grabbed her.

“Some of us have done research on the courts before we came, Elena” Frederica said with a pointed frown. “You and I need to sit down to catch you up some time soon.”

“Ah well, anonymity was fun while it lasted,” the bald woman sighed.

“Frederica, please?” Elena asked.

“Elena Lucciano, these are Master Artemis and Master Apollo,” Frederica said, indicating the bald woman and the man with the ponytail, “and Master Artemis’ Echo. They’re two of the most powerful Saggitari in all the world.”

The additional information was not needed. Elena might not have known their faces, but she had known of them, heard of them ever since she was a small child.

And she had called them a “pair of bullies”.

Elena slumped back hard against the dresser, and one of the glass figurines wobbled and fell off. In her dazed state Elena tried to grab it reflexively, but instead she wound up batting it even further away. It tumbled lazily through the air, catching the light as it spun, before falling in the exact middle of the pillow that lay on the floor.

***

Previous Chapter | Next Chapter

***

This has been an incredibly interesting social experiment, playing around with these vote buttons. We’ve seen the effects of a big “DO NOT PUSH” vote link, and we’ve seen the effects of a hidden vote link…I think it’s time to play a little VOTE RUSSIAN ROULETTE

If you are boring and just want to vote for Twisted Cogs, click here.

If you have a TASTE FOR DANGER AND EXCITEMENT, click on one of the links below, which will vote for one of the following web serials, all of which I highly recommend if you aren’t already reading them: (in no particular order) Stone Burners, The Other Kind of Roommate, Twig, Defection, Anathema and of course, Twisted Cogs. Once you’ve clicked it, please do vote, and no fair voting for multiples (unless you were going to anyways)!

[Vote 1] [Vote 2] [Vote 3]

[Vote 4] [Vote 5] [Vote 6]

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8 responses

  1. For those of you who don’t usually hit the Twisted Cogs front page…

    I don’t normally recommend stories that aren’t web serials, but I am making an exception today. If you enjoy Twisted Cogs, I can almost guarantee you that you’ll love The Steampunk Opera: The Dolls of New Albion, by Paul Shapera. It’s a story that follows four generations of a very special family of inventers, entrepreneurs, and revolutionaries in a wonderful twisted Steampunk world.

    It’s one of the most amazing stories I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing, set to some of the most breathtaking music I’ve ever heard.

    You can listen to and buy both it and its sequels (The Dieselpunk Opera: The New Albion Radio Hour and The Atompunk Opera: The New Albion Guide to Analogue Consciousness) for free on the author’s website, but I mention it today because of an IndieGoGo campaign raising the money to produce a stage performance of this work of art.

    If you’re already a fan of New Albion, I urge you to support the campaign.

    If you’ve not yet fallen in love with New Albion, I urge you to do so as soon as possible.

    Like

    2015-06-24 at 11:59 pm

  2. Woot! I got TOKoR. Thanks for the chapter! It’s interesting how Ele’s reaction wasn’t “Nope. You ignore what the Storm said”.

    Liked by 1 person

    2015-06-25 at 1:26 am

  3. DeNarr

    Hmm, I’m trying to figure out if the pillow thing was an example of Apollo predicting what would happen.

    Like

    2015-06-25 at 9:30 am

  4. daniel73

    Got twisted cogs. Think this means I won !!!??
    Enjoyed the chapter and I must say Elena is under pretty high pressure. Every time she tries to get a handle on stuff something new happens she has to deal with. I hate days like that and I hope she gets time to deal with a few of the things soon…

    Like

    2015-06-25 at 1:49 pm

  5. Panster

    If you are a fan of Sesame Street, today’s letter is “O” and today’s number is “2”.

    Like

    2015-06-25 at 11:49 pm

  6. AvidFan

    Thought I’d mention, the previous chapter link is linked to the chapter prior to the previous chapter. (At least on my tablet it is)

    Like

    2015-06-26 at 7:19 am

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