A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

3.3 – Sagitta Profectus Scopum {An Arrow to its Target}

The hallways passed in a whirlwind that Elena didn’t even notice, she didn’t process anything around her until she was at the stables. She had made a detour to her rooms, collecting the hammer that had lain on her dresser for months, and by the time she emerged into the open air the squadron of soldiers was already assembled. The rain seemed light, but it drenched her in the few moments it took to reach the twelve men and women in armor and burgundy uniforms. The soldiers prepped weapons and adjusted armor while stablehands saddled horses and helped the soldiers up. Captain Vecelio and Confrancesco were among them, and Confrancesco smiled encouragingly at her.

At the end of the stables, three figures already sat mounted and waiting to ride out. Elena slipped her hammer into her belt as she approached, Recognizing Master Artemis from her bald head, her Echo sitting on the same horse just behind her. Next to her, alone on his horse, Master Apollo sat talking to the the third mounted rider.

“Belloza?” the surprise startled Elena out of her reverie for a moment. Belloza looked down and smiled, while her large black Echo swivelled in his seat in the saddle and nodded.

“The word came down that you needed a squad,” Belloza smiled, “while I’m in the courts I’m allowed to offer my services to the guards whenever I wish.”

“I can’t ask you to do that,” Elena said, “this could be dangerous.”

“And yet here we are,” Belloza’s smile didn’t falter for an instant.

“If time is of the essence, Elena, you should fill us in on what we’re doing,” Master Artemis said from her perch on the horse. Elena glanced toward Captain Vecelio, but the woman didn’t seem perturbed, she simply nodded.

“Oh, it’s this ring of smugglers that we’ve been trying to track down-” Elena began, but Master Artemis interrupted her with a gesture.

“All of us, Elena,” she said quietly. Elena turned to find the entire squadron of soldiers ready, mounted and watching her in silence.

“Oh. Um…” Elena’s mouth was suddenly dry. The silence was filled only with the sound of raindrops pinging off of armor and sharp spears, and for the first time since she had felt the crates moving, Elena stopped and thought of what the situation actually meant.

These are dangerous smugglers. Some of the people in front of me might die. The expectant gazes seemed to be boring into her, and Elena couldn’t think of anything to say.

The crates, her crates, stopped. They were being unloaded, carefully carted into a building on the left side of the road, and one by one vanishing from her Storm’s sight as ownership passed from her project to someone else.

“If we don’t leave soon we’ll lose our chance,” Ele murmured, “just say something.”

“We’ve been trying to track these smugglers down for four months,” Elena blurted. When no one laughed at her, she took a deep breath and continued, “they’re moving a huge amount of goods in and out of the city, generating a large amount of wealth for whoever is behind this. That much wealth means they can afford good security, so be..be careful when we go in.”

“Where are we headed, Hephaestus?” Master Apollo asked.

Elena blushed, “Um, at the end of the Street of Red Artisans, all the way down a few buildings from the city walls, that’s where the crates are being unloaded right now.”

“We’d better get moving then,” Master Apollo held up a hand towards the stableboy who approached with a horse on a lead, “do you ride?”

“I’ve never ridden a horse before.”

“Up you get then,” Master Apollo reached a hand down, and after a moment of hesitation Elena took it. He swung her up into the saddle in front of him, jerking his head towards Ele to indicate the space on the horse behind him, “you don’t need to balance, so you get to ride back there.”

As soon as Elena had settled into the saddle in front of him, Master Apollo made some signal and the horse took off at a gallop, the force of it pushing her back against him. Elena wasn’t used to the feeling of a man’s body pressed against her, warm in the cool rain, and despite the circumstances she couldn’t help but think of Niccolo holding her to him, or of Arturo trying to kiss her and almost falling on top of her. She leaned forward in the saddle, shaking her head to clear it of the thoughts..

She felt the rumble of a chuckle in Master Apollo’s chest. “Am I making you uncomfortable, Hephaestus?”

“Ye- no, I mean,” Elena blushed, “you just…you remind me of an ex, that’s all.”

“Well you don’t need to worry,” Master Apollo said, “I don’t date girls I’ll be working with, so that means you’re safe from me.”

“Apollo, I don’t care what Zeus says, if you don’t stop telling her that I will punish you myself,” Master Artemis’ horse drew even with Master Apollo’s as they emerged onto the Street of Red Artisans, one of the main roads that went from the city walls all the way to the castle.

“We’ll need to get you horse-riding lessons,” Master Apollo continued as if he hadn’t heard his partner, “all members of the Eye need to know how to ride a horse.”

“Apollo!”

“Look, Artemis, you know me,” Master Apollo called over the distance between them, “you know I’m going to say what I think.”

“I know you’re reckless,” Artemis shouted.

“My Storm makes me seem reckless, I’m just going with my gut.”

“His Princeps will be angry with you.”

“Let him.”

“Why would His Princeps be angry?” Elena asked.

“Ask me afterwards,” Master Apollo pointed down the road. The walls of Milia loomed over them, and two men had just carried the last of Elena’s crates into a building, leaving a cart still outside in the street.

By the time Elena looked around most of the soldiers had already dismounted, ordered and quiet. Her heart pounded as Apollo jumped down and turned to help her, his head turned to watch the door of the building.

“Split into two groups, six in the back, six in the front,” Captain Vecelio murmured, “I’m assuming the Storms will want to flush them out.”

“You’ve worked with Stormtouched before,” Master Artemis smiled, unslinging the bow from her back and plucking the string sending droplets of water scattering, “I don’t think it’ll be too-”

“Incoming,” Master Apollo started moving even as he said the word, charging towards the door of the building.

“I see it, I see it,” Master Artemis grumbled, She nocked an arrow and pulled, then shot it straight into the air. Elena watched the arrow fly, confused as it vanished into the stormclouds above, but her attention was suddenly arrested when the door to the building opened.

It all happened so quickly that she might’ve missed it had she blinked. The door hadn’t even opened all the way before Apollo leaned back and his foot snapped up, connecting with the man’s chin so hard that his feet lifted off of the ground. Apollo swung his leg around with his own momentum, diving forward to catch the man around the waist and slamming him into the wall next to the doorway.

I thought Master Apollo was a Saggitari, the thought flashed through Elena’s head, but before she could voice the thought, the other smuggler made a run for it.

He ducked down and around Master Apollo’s grasp, ignoring his companion who sat gasping on the wet stones. Elena gripped her hammer tighter and took a step forward without thinking, but Master Artemis placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.

Master Artemis’ arrow came straight down, a thin line almost indistinguishable from the rain around it. It The smuggler had turned to cast a terrified look over his shoulder as he ran, and when the arrow passed straight through the meat of his calf, shattering on the ground on the other side, it sent him tumbling headlong with a scream.

“Captain, have your soldiers set up a perimeter and watch the exits,” Master Artemis pulled another arrow from her quiver and twirled it between her fingers as a few of the soldiers gathered ‘round to tie up the two prone smugglers, “Elena, Belloza, you’re with us.”

“Really?” Belloza’s eyes went wide, and she fumbled to yank the crossbow from her back.

Ele turned to Elena, “don’t stress yourself out,” he said, “be the person-”

“I know.” Elena had had practice being the person she wanted to be, and she knew by now not to let herself think. She simply gripped her hammer at its most balanced spot and followed Master Artemis and Master Apollo through the open door and into the smugglers’ den.

***

After the buildup of feeling outside, the actual smugglers’ den was rather disappointing. Its main area was brightly lit with lanterns and candles, but empty. The only sounds were patter of rain outside and the steady drips of water from the drenched clothing on the wooden floors. The four Stormtouched took in their surroundings, then Master Artemis turned to Master Apollo expectantly.

“No one coming,” Master Apollo said after a moment, “split up?” He indicated first a set of stairs on one wall heading up, and then the doorway on the other side with stairs that went downward.

“If they’re storing and noting crates of goods, they’re more likely to be downstairs,” Master Artemis nodded, “split up, one range and one close in each group. Belloza, go with Master Apollo down. Elena, with me.”

They took the stairs slowly, Master Artemis glancing down at each before she took the next step and Elena trying to follow the woman’s footsteps. Behind them, keeping out of the line of sight, Ele and Master Artemis’ Echo ascended silently. At the top of the stairs, Master Artemis waited for Elena to step next to her before quietly opening the door.

“…seven crates, all told, with no upfront costs.” The hallway on the upper floor was empty, but the door closest to the stairs was open, and a man’s voice filtered through.

“It’s just…convenient,” a woman’s voice answered, “good luck makes me nervous. And Tinteldi said he was sure he took the records?”

“He said so, I can ask him if you-”

Elena shifted her weight, and the floorboard beneath her creaked.

The hallway was so deathly quiet that Elena could hear her own breathing, even as she tried to hold it.

“Check it out,” the woman commanded, and Elena’s heart leapt into her mouth. As footsteps moved quickly towards the door, she turned to Master Artemis.

Run, Master Artemis mouthed, nodding towards the doorway. Without giving herself the chance to overthink it, Elena charged the doorway, wincing at the shadow of a very large man cast on the floor of the hallway. She reached the door just as the man emerged, and everything seemed to slow down in a wave of tingles and buzzes.

One part of Elena’s mind seemed entirely full of the power of the Storm, telling her to swing her hammer earlier than she would assume.

Another part of her mind was busy noticing just how large the man was who stepped through the doorway, burly and muscled with a scar over one eye.

She shifted her arm to bring the entire rotation of her body behind the swing.

The man was so prepared that he actually started reacting before he had even seen her, bringing his hand up to defend himself.

The hammer slipped in Elena’s grip, until she was gripping its very end, the weight of the hammerhead whipping it around even faster.

The last thing she noticed was that the man carried a long knife that caught the lantern-light behind him, then her hammer caught him directly in the middle of his chest. He slammed into the doorframe with a muted crunching noise and a look of shock before he slumped to one side, but Elena was already moving past him and into the room behind him.

Pausing wasn’t an option, but she tried to take in the whole room as she dashed forward. There were desks everywhere, and four…no, five smugglers sitting at them, looking at her with expressions of mingled surprise and outrage.

There’s too many of them, I’m going to die, the thought flashed through her mind in terrifying instant, but she didn’t stop. The closest one was rising from his desk, and with her forward motion Elena crossed the distance between them in just a few moments, shoving her hammer forward in a jab to his throat. Though it barely connected, the strike sent him spinning backwards, toppling over his chair.

She felt the arrow pass through her black curls, flying from behind her and burying itself into the shoulder of the woman on the other side of the room, and Elena turned towards the next closest man. He had had a cudgel on his desk and the time to rise, and Elena snapped her hammer up in front of her to block his blow. The Storm slid through her fingers, and she yanked hard, the hammer-head catching the cudgel and whipping it out of his grasp, then back around to catch him in the nose with the handle.

Elena realized that she had been ignoring the sounds in the room until the man in front of her screamed, clamping hands to his face and stumbling backward. She looked around her, only unclenching her fists when she realized that there was no one else in the room capable of hurting her. She also realized that she was shaking, panting, and felt nauseated.

“Good,” Master Artemis was behind her, tying up the man she had hit first, who glared at Elena as he wheezed, “you handled yourself well. Master Apollo was right when he said your Storm would help you in combat.”

“I…I think I’m going to throw up,” Elena answered, focusing on standing upright on shaky legs.

“At least you didn’t throw up while you were fighting,” Master Artemis brushed past her to kneel at the broken-nosed man, tying his bloody hands tight and ignoring his whimpering, “ask Master Asclepius about his first fight, the next time you see him. Let’s move, the rest of the rooms might not be empty.”

Elena had to force her weak legs to move, but she followed Master Artemis back out to the hallway. The Saggitara gestured for her to wait, as she carefully made her way down to check each dark door, arrow already nocked and ready.

“Elena!” Ele shouted, but it happened so fast that Elena didn’t even have time to turn. A pair of strong arms wrapped around her, and suddenly she was being clasped tight from behind, her arms pinned to her sides, a knife pressed to her throat. Master Artemis had turned and was aiming an arrow at the man behind Elena, the woman’s reflexes faster even that Elena’s, but she didn’t fire.

“Stay there,” the man wheezed, tilting the cold metal so that the edge of the knife dug ever-so-slightly into Elena’s neck, “don’t you follow me or I’ll play the fiddle with her neck. And you, little brat, drop the hammer.”

Elena’s legs almost gave out, her hands shaking so hard that she couldn’t have held on to the hammer if she tried. As soon as it clattered to the ground the man started walking backward, slowly dragging her along with her.

“Chances are you’re going to kill her anyways, as soon as you escape,” Master Artemis said calmly, not lowering her bow but not firing either.

“Then shoot me,” the man wheezed a laugh, “oh wait, you can’t without killing your little friend here.”

“It’s a coward who hides behind a child.”

“And using your preternatural powers to kill us all isn’t cowardly?” the man snarled.

“I didn’t kill any of you,” Master Artemis replied. “Yet,” she added after a pause.

“Typical Stormtouched,” the man snarled, kicking the door to the stairs open, “so sure you’re gods that you don’t stop to think about anyone else. Well ask yourself this, is your Storm helping you now? Eh? How about you, little girl,” he gave Elena a shake, “is the Storm helping you now? I didn’t- AH”

The knife dropped to the floor as the man’s arm suddenly went limp, and Elena wrested herself away, falling to the ground of the hallway and bracing herself for the sound of Master Artemis’ arrow striking home.

Instead the man slumped backward against the wall, looking more shocked that hurt. A long feathered crossbow bolt stuck out from his side, pinning his arm to his body. Only when Belloza emerged from the doorway, calmly loading another bolt into her crossbow, did Elena allow herself to relax.

“Downstairs is clear,” Master Apollo knelt next to the smuggler and carefully felt around the bolt-wound.

“Upstairs clear,” Master Artemis replied, sliding the arrow back into her quiver. She looked down at the man on the floor without emotion. “Will he survive?”

“Mmm,” Master Apollo nodded.

“Shame.”

“But he won’t be getting into any footraces any time soon. Nor hold a knife again, I’d wager.”

“Good.” Master Artemis was already moving towards the stairs, but she paused at the doorway to glance back at Belloza. “Very well done,” she said, “‘Cross’, was it?”

“Yes, ma’am! Thank you, ma’am!” Belloza beamed from ear to ear. “I tried to avoid any vital organs.”

Elena clutched her stomach, turned to the wall, and threw up.

***

Previous Chapter | Next Chapter

***

This chapter of Twisted Cogs was a little different! If you liked it, let me know in the comments or by voting on TWF!

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13 responses

  1. Half of this chapter was written while in a car driving out of town, so I expect there will unfortunately be a LOT of typos within. I’ll give it an editing pass sometime this week, but in the meantime enjoy this rare look at an unpolished first draft :)

    Like

    2015-08-03 at 11:48 pm

  2. Anonymous

    Loved it. Is interesting Apollo didnt make her fight during the timeskip.

    He seem nosy/pushy enough to get her sparring. See what she can do. Especially after grabbing his attention with the interrogation

    Like

    2015-08-04 at 12:17 am

  3. Mmm~ Wouldn’t it have been more reasonable to send in the soldiers, rather than the newbies? I get they are testing Elena, but Elena seems too valuable a resource to lose in a battle, or at least to not train first.

    The chapter was quite fine for me! Couple of typos, and an awkward sentence (I didn’t note them) but it read all right and wasn’t ridden with typos.

    Like

    2015-08-04 at 12:54 am

    • Well, Master Artemis and Master Apollo tend to see it the other way ’round. While you or I might think “isn’t it more reasonable to send in the seasoned soldiers who clearly won’t be in danger, rather than risk the helpless newbies?” these two think “isn’t it more reasonable to send in the powerful Stormtouched who clearly won’t be in danger, rather than risk the helpless Mortalis soldiers?”
      For better or for worse, being supernaturally gifted is going to change your perception of risks and reasonableness

      Like

      2015-08-04 at 8:48 am

    • Well, this is Elena we’re talking about: until getting thrown into the deeper end of the fighting pool, she’d probably try to argue that there’s no real room for a Fabria in a proper Saggitari fight, Twisted or not.

      This way, she gets to see her Storm join the dots when interacting with others in something rather more bloody than building cabinets or fighting between studios. It’ll mean less tuning out in any sparring and training she does in the long run. ;P

      Like

      2015-08-05 at 5:34 am

  4. Sean

    And I’m caught up!

    Awesome story, love it a whole bunch. I really like how you can take Italy, and make it feel like a fucking fantasy world.

    It’s great.

    Like

    2015-08-05 at 12:41 am

    • Aw, thanks! Worldbuilding is one of my favorite things, I’m really glad you’re enjoying it!

      Like

      2015-08-06 at 11:44 pm

  5. xdrngy

    Let it herefore be known that I am officially shipping Elena and Cross.

    I mean I was for a while, but I feel it deserves an announcement

    Like

    2016-03-15 at 6:05 pm

    • Way back when plotting the outline of Twisted Cogs, I honestly didn’t intend for Cross to become the little cutie that she did! I always love it when a character evolves beyond my initial expectations for them.

      Like

      2016-03-16 at 10:17 am

  6. Typo:

    get ride back there.
    __________
    get to

    Also, she is said to be sitting in front of him, but is refered to be sitting in the behind seat as well?

    Like

    2016-12-17 at 2:01 pm

    • Nice catch, thank you! I fixed the typo, that seat-inconsistency I’ll fix in the edits, thanks for pointing it out!

      Like

      2017-02-14 at 3:38 pm

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