A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

2.6 – Malleos Elena {Elena’s Hammer}

The hallway wasn’t actually wobbling or pitching beneath Elena’s feet. It wasn’t doing so in much the same way that her face wasn’t actually on fire, and her dress wasn’t actually so tight it was restricting her breathing and her arm wasn’t actually being ripped apart from the inside. Knowing these facts logically was doing very little to change her experience, all of the feelings that seemed to emanate from the burning pit in her stomach.

“The last time you made choices when under the influence of alcohol,” Ele reminded her quietly from her side, “you almost got an Arturo stuck to your face.”

Elena grimaced at the thought, and her stomach lurched. “I have to do this now, while I still feel angry,” she muttered back, “I think I’ll be too scared of what has to be done later.” She spoke just as quietly, so that the people around them wouldn’t hear her.

Too many people for her liking, in fact. Vecelio walked in front of her, leading the way to the dungeons, Cofrancesco would be meeting them there, Ele walked on one side of her, and close behind Master Apollo, Master Artemis, and Master Artemis’ Echo were following in a detached sort of way, as if going to watch entertainment.

They’re used to this sort of thing, Elena realized, it probably IS entertainment to them.

What ‘this sort of thing’ was, exactly, was still a bit fuzzy in her already fuzzy head. Her Storm was giving her small details about Be Pullo, but it could only extend as far as her ownership went, and she was only in charge of him as far as he was a member of the project team. Whether it was due to the alcohol or to the fact that he was quite clearly no longer a part of the project, Elena could almost feel the information slipping out of her fingers. She frowned and focused on what she did know, locking it down in her memory before the Storm’s certainty stopped helping her.

Be Pullo was given his orders by Merigania ‘the Smuggler Queen’ Delforo, but they didn’t meet face to face. He had given them reports on the project twice, once every other week. Be Pullo had been in league with the smugglers ever since assigned to the project, but he didn’t start altering the books until a week ago. After that the books were almost entirely crooked, and strings of numbers she didn’t understand passed through her head without context, accompanied by the true values that they should’ve been.

So, we’ll check all the books, she thought, as the flow of information began to dry up, but we can’t go farther without knowing how he and the Smuggler Queen exchanged messages…or when the next one will go out…or why he helped them in the first place…

“Here we are,” Vecelio announced, snapping Elena out of her musings. She hadn’t even noticed their path, and her surroundings surprised her. The hallway was long, in a dark and solid wood rather than stone. There were windows on either end of the hallway, sturdy bars blocking them but still letting in light. Elena had expected underground passages and damp slimy moss-covered rocks, and she blinked a few times, getting her bearings.

“-young girl carry out an interrogation,” the Masters has apparently been engaging in a quiet conversation, and Master Artemis glanced her way as they caught up.

“Not our business to interfere,” Master Apollo said with a smile, “and besides, I’m excited to see what it looks like, someone without any training doing an interrogation.”

“We’re letting her carry out an interrogation because she’s in charge of the project,” Vecelio said to Master Artemis, folding her arms, “that’s how the chain of command works.”

Elena’s stomach lurched again as she stared at the heavy doors of iron and oak in front of her. She hadn’t even thought of it as an “interrogation”, she just knew that she had to find out what Be Pullo knew. What did she know about interrogation?

“Is this really something you want to do, Elena?” Ele asked.

“I’m in charge of the network. It’s my job. It’s something I need to do,” Elena said, forcing her voice not to waver. Ele sighed and ran a hand through his hair, looking more tired than Elena could remember him.

“Alright then. Stay calm. Stay focused.”

Elena stared at the door, then turned to back Ele.

I’m scared. She didn’t want to say it in front of the Masters and Vecelio, but Ele nodded as if she’d said it out loud.

“You’re not Elena Lucciano,” he said, “you’re Cog. Go in there and be Cog. If you need to do this, then be who you need to be.”

Before Elena could respond, Confrancesco stepped into the hallway. He carried a slag hammer, it’s heavy head made of a cylinder of shining metal, it’s short handle polished and smooth with use. Too busy with her chaotic thoughts to come up with an answer, Elena simply took it when he passed it over without comment. She didn’t even know why she had asked for it, perhaps because the first time she had felt truly powerful was when she had used her little cloth-covered mallet fighting for Studio DaRose as Cog.

Be who I need to be, she thought. Could Cog convince Be Pullo to give me what we need?

Behind her, Master Artemis let out a small sigh. It was a quiet sound, but in the silence of the hallway it made Elena grit her teeth. Couldn’t Master Artemis see that she was trying her best? This was the first time Elena had faced this kind of pressure, she was only sixteen, why wasn’t she allowed a little slack?

She realized she was holding her chin in the way Ele had coined her “Joanna face”, but instead of stopping, Elena furrowed her brow as her fuzzy thoughts came together.

What would her mother do, if she was faced with a man who was keeping her from what she wanted?

How would Frederica act, if someone had sliced up her arm?

If it was Little One standing here, would she let her age get in the way?

Master Apollo was behind her, excited to see what she could do. All Elena had to do was act like the Hephaestus he thought she was.

“I’m keeping this hammer,” she said, surprised at how even her voice was, “it’s mine now, I’m not giving it back.”

“Fine,” Confrancesco shrugged. Sluggish though her mind was, Elena’s Storm moved underneath the alcohol, not just telling her about the hammer, but letting her feel it. She slipped her grip up a few inches, until the balance was perfect.

Elena threw her shoulders back, held her head high, and threw open the dungeon door.

***

Be Pullo was sitting on the cot with his hands in his head when Elena reached his cell. The long room was laid out in a single hallway with rows of cells on either side, and he was in the very end, but he still hadn’t heard the small group approach. Elena stared down at him, her face impassive, her mind racing.

Be Mama. Be Frederica. Be Little One, she thought. Be Cog, be Hephaestus.

She tapped the bars with her hammer, breaking the utter silence with a loud ring, and Be Pullo jumped, letting out a little squeak. He stared at the assembled crowd with trepidation, and his eyes flicked down to focus on Elena’s arm, cleaned and bare with the sleeve cut off of her blood-spattered dress. He winced at the sight of the stitching on display.

“Yeah,” Elena said quietly, “it hurts like hell. You’re going to regret doing that.”

“Child, I do regret it! I truly didn’t want to hurt a little girl,” Be Pullo said, “but you must understand, I didn’t dare risk- is… are you Masters Artemis and Apollo? Vecelio you…you brought the Eye to question me?”

Elena didn’t follow his gaze, but her eyes narrowed. Her mother wouldn’t put up with being ignored like that, not if the King of Italoza himself was here.

“Hey!” she rapped the hammer sharply against the bars again, and the ringing brought his attention back on her, where it belonged, “you don’t have the luxury of worrying about the Eye, you’re dealing with me.”

Be Pullo was staring at her, which was good, but he wasn’t scared yet, just confused. Elena took a deep breath. She could work with confusion. Almost without thinking about it, she twirled the hammer absentmindedly in her hands. When she had first met Frederica, the Calaetor had spent an entire conversation spinning her knife, never looking down at it, keeping Elena nervous and off-balance.

“I don’t understand,” Be Pullo said.

The Storm fed her the balance and heft of the hammer, and Elena didn’t even have to think about it to keep it spinning, small little motions that made the metal head catch the light. Be Pullo’s gaze kept flickering back and forth between her eyes and the hammer head, distracted. Off balance.

“What does my Storm do, Be Pullo?” Elena asked suddenly.

“I…what?”

“You don’t remember?”

“Something about giving you information? It tells you things?”

“Close. I told you about it at the meeting, just before you tried to kill me-”

“Little girl -” Be Pullo interrupted, and without thinking Elena cut him off.

“DON’T. Interupt. Me,” she snapped. Be Pullo actually flinched back, eyes locked on the hammer which she now held tight and still. “And don’t ever call me ‘little girl’ again. My Storm tells me about things that are mine, Be Pullo. Things that I own. And right now, I own you.”

Be Pullo tore his attention from Elena to the Masters and Vecelio and Confrancesco who stood behind her, but Elena kept her face neutral, praying that they weren’t giving her away with their expressions.

“You’re wondering why I’m even here, since I already know everything,” Elena tried to emulate Little One’s cool tone, one that implied that everything was going according to plan, “it’s because, even though I know everything, His Princeps won’t believe my word alone. He won’t gather a squad of troops to eliminate your smuggler friends.” She could see Be Pullo visibly relax, and she thanked God that he was so easy to read. The man wasn’t trained to hide his emotions, or this entire ordeal would’ve been much harder for her. “Now you’re thinking that this makes you safe. It doesn’t. With the information I glean from your head, each and every smuggler will be caught. It will simply take more time.”

“You’re bluffing,” Be Pullo said shortly. His stammer had disappeared, but his sweaty fists were clenched in his lap.

“Please,” Elena sniffed dismissively, her mother’s half-sneer on her lips, “do you honestly think I’d be here if you weren’t of use to me? The choice is simple enough even for you to understand, Be Pullo. Stay quiet and face execution once we round all of you up, or say out loud the thoughts that I can hear rattling around in your head in front of these witnesses. Only the latter choice gives you a chance of surviving this mess.”

The silence stretched in the cell for what seemed like a long time, as Be Pullo’s gaze travelled over the group.

“I don’t believe you,” he finally said, and although Elena’s heart dropped she kept her expression still, “I am my own man, you don’t own me, so your Storm won’t work on me.”

“Oh yes?” Elena raised a single eyebrow in the way Frederica did that was so chilling, “then how did I know you were passing messages to Merigania Delforo the Smuggler Queen?”

Be Pullo chewed on his lip for a moment, then put his arm behind his back, “how many fingers am I holding up?”

Elena almost gawped at him, almost, but she restrained herself. He was Mortalis, of course the thought of Echoes hadn’t occurred to him.

Go Ele, go…go go go.

As if shoved forward by the force of her will, Ele slipped through the bars and ducked down just behind the large man. “Three fingers,” he said.

“Three,” Elena repeated.

Be Pullo visibly paled, and passed a shaking arm up to dab at the sheen of sweat on his brow, “I’m…I’m…I’m thinking of a number between-”

“If you want to play games I have no time for you,” Elena said dismissively, then turned to Vecelio, “tell His Princeps I was wrong, we won’t be getting confirmation from the prisoner.”

“Yes Miss Lucciano, although he’ll be disappointed,” Vecelio took up the lie without hesitation.

“Wait…wait no, I’ll talk!” Be Pullo said.

“I don’t know that we’ll have a use for him,” Elena ignored Be Pullo with the ease born of ten years pretending not to see or hear her Echo.

Vecelio nodded, “a public execution might bring some smugglers out of hiding to save him.”

“I said I’ll talk!” Be Pullo cried.

“I doubt it,” Elena said, “far less nuisance to just kill him here, I think.”

Deia, I’ll tell them anything you want! You can’t kill me, you don’t have the authority, you’re just a little girl-” Be Pullo gasped as the room went deathly quiet. Elena turned, slowly, towards the cell. He had actually stuffed his fat fingers into his mouth, a look of horror frozen on his face. “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to call you that, I didn’t mean it,” he whispered through his fingers.

Elena took in the scene, forcing herself again to think like her mother, to think like Little One. She had two armed guards and two armed Masters with her, and as long as she kept them close…

“Master Apollo?” Elena said quietly, “open the cell for me.”

“Ahem,” Master Apollo cleared his voice, “are you sure that’s wise-”

“I said open the cell!” Elena snapped, and then her mind balked and froze in horror. She had been so focused on channeling confidence and ego that the words had come out of her mouth without thinking, an order snapped at one of the most powerful Masters in the world.

Ego Deus vel in caelo dulce, Elena thought, not turning around, her face still expressing nothing,  dilectissimi sagitta perforari…

“Of course, Miss Lucciano,” Master Apollo said respectfully. He stepped forward and unlocked the cell, swinging the door open carefully. When his back was turned to Be Pullo Elena could see that his eyes were laughing, and he flashed her a wide grin. Elena forced her heart to beat again, then slowly, calmly stepped into the cell.

Be Pullo’s eyes were so wide that they bulged from his head, flicking back and forth between Elena and Master Apollo. “Wh….who….who are you?” he whispered. His whole body was shaking uncontrollably, and as she approached he moved backwards until his back was pressed up against the wall.

“Tell them how you communicate with the Smuggler Queen,” Elena said quietly.

“Notes left beneath my door! At night time!” Be Pullo’s voice came out in gasps, “and I leave them just inside mine!”

“Tell them why you worked with the smugglers.”

“M…money, they gave me so much money…the castle pays me so little…”

“Where is the money?”

“My brother, he’s holding it for me in Venecchi!”

Elena wasn’t quite sure what else to ask the man, so she took a gamble. “Tell them the rest.”

“They keep their agents in the castle separated into groups, none of us know who the others are! I only know about the Purple Street Sforzi Warehouse basement, but I know there are other stores of goods in the city.”

“What else?”

“The…the thief you captured was from another group. He most likely knows of a different store of goods. That’s it, that’s all I know!”

Elena almost turned away from him, but there was something in his eyes, something that made her feel in her gut that there was something more. She stepped within arm’s reach of the man and lifted the hammer to press its head against his chin.

Be Pullo’s mouth moved but no words came out, and he pressed away from her as if the head of it was a blade at his throat.

“Are you really trying to lie to me, Be Pullo? Do you forget I already know everything?”

“I heard them once!” Be Pullo squeaked, “the people who leave the messages, I heard them talking in the night, I wasn’t supposed to! A man with a deep voice and a woman whose voice was…was…cold! A voice like ice! Please, that’s all I know!”

Elena hid the surprise from her face. The description matched the pair of rebels who had kidnapped her, but she didn’t let herself jump to any conclusions.

“That’s not all you know!” she pressed, “tell them the rest!”

“I swear that’s all I know!”

“Tell them!” Elena shouted.

“You know there’s nothing else,” Be Pullo whimpered, “why are you doing this? What more do you want?”

Elena met his gaze for a few long moments, then stepped back, letting the hammer fall to her side. Be Pullo collapsed on the bed, still shaking.

“I think that’s it,” Elena sighed, turning to leave the cell, “I don’t think he’s hiding anything else.”

“That was amazing, Elena,” Master Apollo grinned as she shut the door behind her, the lock shutting with a click.

“You…you ‘think’?” Be Pullo raised his head from the bed, “what do you mean ‘you think’?”

“Confrancesco and I will take troops to the Sforzi Warehouse,” Vecelio was already walking towards the door, “we’ll make arrangements for the rest when we get back.”

“You did well,” Confrancesco said, placing a hand on her shoulder as he passed. With a glance towards Vecelio’s retreating form he lowered his voice, “it feels good to finally make some real progress. Get that rest the medico told you to get. You’ve done your share for a while.”

“You didn’t know,” Be Pullo said with horror, as Confrancesco followed on Vecelio’s heels, “you didn’t know any of it. You tricked me.”

Elena wasn’t quite sure how to respond to the man. She suddenly noticed that she was shaking, shaking so hard that the hammer dropped from her hands, the pain in her arm pounding.

“You tricked me!” Be Pullo shrieked, throwing himself from the bed and into the bars of his cell, reaching through them to try to grab her. Elena skipped back, bumping into Master Apollo who steadied her. With both hands on her shoulders, he steered her towards the door, and the two masters, two Echoes, and Elena left the screaming man behind in his cell.

Deium, Master Apollo I’m so so sorry-” Elena began.

“Don’t worry about it,” Master Apollo grinned, “it worked. When you ordered me around I think he was more scared of you than the Eye itself.”

“Still, I would advise you not to pretend to have more authority than the Eye again,” Master Artemis added, “Master Zeus will probably let it slide this time, but he is not known for his patience.”

“Technically he’s not known for anything,” Master Apollo chuckled.

“Apollo! What’s gotten into you today? You usually have less trouble guarding your tongue!”

“Oh come on, you can’t tell me after that display that she’s not going to become Hephaestus.”

“Whatever she may become, she’s not there yet,” Master Artemis said severely.

“Either way, you did well, Cog.”

“I just…tried to think like some friends I know,” Elena said, “so really, I had help.”

“You did it all on your own. Take some credit where it’s due,” Apollo patted her on the shoulder. “I’m sure those friends would say the same.”

“Yeah…” Elena said, slightly distracted by a thought that had occurred to her.

When I reached for someone to act like, someone I admire…why did I pick Little One?

***

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***

If you enjoyed seeing the hammer brought down, consider voting for Twisted Cogs on TWF!

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6 responses

  1. Whew! Technically 4 minutes late, so I hope it was worth the wait! :D

    This one wraps up Arc 2! Thank you all my lovely readers, and extra thanks to you guys who have been sharing Twisted Cogs on Reddit and in your blogs!

    Like

    2015-07-16 at 12:06 am

  2. CaptainPedantic

    Awwwwwww yeaaaaaaaah!

    Like

    2015-07-16 at 2:45 am

  3. Soronel Haetir

    I would have just had Elena claim Be Pullo as evidence. Evidence belongs to the project and the project most definitely belongs to Elena. I doubt anyone would deny that now.

    Like

    2015-07-16 at 2:53 am

    • Unfortunately, you can’t trick the storm that way: once in the recognised system of justice, a prisoner belongs to more than one part of the state. Sure, Be Pollo becomes a source of data Elena’s project can use, but exclusivity is off the table. :/

      Like

      2015-07-16 at 5:41 pm

  4. DeNarr

    Because Little One is awesome and you know it, and so you strive to be awesome like her :P

    Liked by 1 person

    2015-07-16 at 9:10 am

  5. Isa Lumitus

    That was awesome. Somehow, I’m guessing that the people watching that were more than a little creeped out, though.

    Like

    2015-07-25 at 6:42 pm

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