A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

3.5 – Seditio {Rebellion}

“You seem much less mysterious, without your inner glow and puzzle-piece skin,” Little One leaned back in her chair, holding her cane across her legs.

“You seem…somehow similar to your dream-self, actually,” Elena replied, surprising herself. Almost every detail between the young child in Twisted dreams and the old woman who sat in front of her was different, and yet…the air of her was the same, the feeling of admiration mixed with vague unease that she gave Elena. The individual pieces were all different, but they added up to the same person at heart.

“Normally between the two of us, I’m the silent one,” Little One said after long moments, “don’t tell me you have nothing to say?”

“I’m thinking before I speak,” Elena frowned.

“My my, but someone has been learning.”

Elena’s mind raced in circles. She had been working to hunt the smugglers for three whole months, had seen the damage they’d caused to Milia’s economy. She had been in the court for the entire time, and everything she’d heard of Prince Langone and Principessa Rodiano had indicated to her that they were fair and just, if a little harsh and argumentative among themselves. She trusted Master Apollo and Master Artemis, and they had worked to sniff out the rebellion for even longer.

Every instinct she had screamed at her that there was nothing the smugglers could offer her, nothing the rebels could say to convince her that they were in the right. Even the fact that it was Little One behind the rebellion wasn’t reassuring; the fact that she had been in Milia this whole time meant she had lied to the other Twisted about where she was.

But I’d probably lie too, if I were being tortured, Elena thought, but she didn’t voice the thought, instead folding her arms across her chest and facing Little One down. I’ve tried to model myself after Little One, maybe I should find out why she would lead a rebellion.

“Alright,” she said, “I’ve thought it through.”

“And?” Little One asked mildly, “what have you decided?”

“That I don’t have enough information. I’m waiting for you to explain your side of the story.”

“Mmm,” Little One glanced her up and down, as if seeing her for the first time, and Elena tried hard not to give away any doubts, ironically trying to channel the dark, brooding girl who’s real-life persona sat in front of her. “You’ve changed,” Little One commented, “you used to be too naive and trusting. Paranoia is a wonderful trait to have, child, but you must be careful not to let it sway you from making the right decision. Don’t use paranoia as an excuse to ignore those you trust.”

But I don’t know if I should trust you, Elena thought but didn’t say aloud, apart from a single piece of advice, you’ve done nothing but hide things and lie.

“Very well, you want my side of the story, I can oblige,” Little One replied, “you won’t be able to rescue our people from the dungeons until after dark anyways, we have the time.”

The woman seemed to find Elena’s decision a foregone conclusion, an assumption that rankled her. She crossed and sat down in another of the dusty seats, waiting for Little One to talk.

“Do you know of the Stormhearts Rebellion that struck our country, about forty years past?” Little One said.

“I know it was an attempted rebellion,” Elena wracked her memory, “a bunch of Stormtouched tried to take the throne from King Thesslenario, but he hired a mercenary company that swooped in, and the rebels were defeated. It was the first real war after the Storm touched Italoza.”

“Do you know why they rebelled, in the first place?”

“They thought Stormtouched should rule, not Mortalis,” Elena tried to remember her history books, “they were angry that the King didn’t seem to care about the desires of Stormtouched at all.”

“Close enough to the truth to be accepted,” Little One sighed, “in reality it was far more complicated than that. Before the Storm, a person born to a certain life would stay in that life. When the Storm began creating artists and warriors that were clearly superior, things weren’t as clear-cut anymore. It was harder for an Artifex commoner to simply accept that a noble painter was better simply because he was noble. Those in the court weren’t interested in change, and the country needed a change. To stay stagnant after something like the Storm…it was foolishness. Resentment brewed for many decades, just waiting for a match to ignite the kindling.”

“And the Rebel Queen was that match, she roused them all into rebellion,” Elena said. “But the rebellion failed. King Thesslenario beat them, and he instigated The Silencing so it would never happen again.”

“But things changed,” Little One raised a finger, the motion more careful than it was graceful, “after the rebellion was put down. No one could argue that the world could continue as it was before the Storm. Some of those changes were ill-advised, but in the end, the rebellion forced them to change. It cost them everything, but they succeeded in their goal.”

Something about the way Little One spoke made Elena narrow her eyes. “You were there, weren’t you?” she asked. “You were one of the rebels back then.”

Little One nodded without speaking.

“But then…why this? If the rebellion got the change it was fighting for, why do you need another one?”

“The changes were a good start, the Studios, the courts… but they were thought up by those without the capacity for long-term planning, and it’s beginning to show. Once again, Italoza has begun to stagnate, and once again no one cares enough to instigate a change. The only difference is that things have moved too far in the opposite direction.”

“What, now the Mortalis are getting angry?” Ele asked sarcastically. Little One turned to fix him with a stare.

“Wouldn’t you be?” she asked, “what Mortalis could keep up in a Studio that contained Stormtouched garzoni? Even among Stormtouched the hierarchy begins to shine through; do you think you, a Fabera, would be here if you didn’t have help?”

“I could’ve…” Elena faltered.

“Are you sure? Have you noticed many other Faberi who raise through the ranks, Elena? Can you name me any renowned or respected Master Faberi?”

Elena thought back to her first day in Milia, when she’d applied to Master De Luca’s studio. Pietro had turned them away, not bothering to waste De Luca’s time with an interview.

“People die, in a rebellion,” she finally said, “you’re talking about tearing down a city that I love. About being the match that lights the fire, like the Rebel Queen forty years ago.”

“Back then, the country would have caught fire no matter what, Elena, the rebellion was inevitable. Now, it’s just the same; the studio system is primed to collapse under its own weight, rebellion is coming, with or without us. Better to lead it, guide it, shape it, and minimize the destruction. If all goes according to plan, which it will, Milia itself will barely be harmed, the casualties minimized, and the aftermath infinitely cleaner. I’ve had enough of the rule of the well-meaning but incompetent, this rebellion will stick.”

“The last one didn’t,” Elena pointed out, “you think you could do it better than the Rebel Queen?”

“I know I can,” Little One said without hesitation, “the Rebel Queen was foolish in many ways, but above all she was an idealist, a naif, and an optimist. I am much, much smarter than the Rebel Queen, Elena. My Storm sees to that.”

“The Prince you want to overthrow is a Mortalis.” Elena struggled to put into words the hesitation she was feeling, the horror at what was being proposed.

“And the rebels are convinced that I am a Fabera. It makes no matter what we are, Elena, what matters is the good of the city.”

“And the good of the city is to slaughter a large portion of its inhabitants with an armed rebellion?” Ele challenged, “the good of the city is to bring down the King and his armies to crush us once your rebellion succeeds?”

“I know the King,” Little One replied, calmly, “I know how he will react, and I know how best to handle him. When our rebellion succeeds, I know how to become recognized as the rightful Prince of Milia. The weight of the deaths rest is mine to bear, the responsibility and guilt rests on my shoulders. The only thing you need worry about is releasing a handful of prisoners.”

Elena stared at her hands, clenched tight in her lap. She felt like she was drowning, like the decision was so far above her head that she couldn’t begin to process it. Little One was smart, and she had so much experience behind her. It would be so easy to succumb to what she said, to assume that the woman knew the best choice. She was one of the Twisted, one of the few who were like her.

And yet…

“Some of my old friends, they used to joke that I was a mind reader,” Little One interrupted her musing, “with my intellect and experience, it’s quite easy for me to read a person’s face, to tell what they’re thinking. You’re thinking that you might betray me. You’re thinking of the lives you might save, of what your friends’ opinions would be. You’re thinking of the other Twisted. Don’t.”

“What-”

“Don’t think of that. If you must think of the lives, think of the lives that will be improved. If you must think of your friends, think of how easily my agents might harm them, if you anger me. If you must think of the Twisted, consider how long you could sustain my vengeance against you every night in the dream world. You can’t see it yet, Elena, but you will join us. I can read it in your face.”

“You’re very blunt about how cruel you’re prepared to be,” Ele said.

“As I once told an old friend,” Little One said with a sad smile, “I find very little to be gained by pretending reality is what it isn’t.”

Elena still stared at her hands, her heart beating so hard that it pounded in her ears in the silence. The quiet seemed to swallow her up entirely, and it took her long moments before she realized why the absence of sound seemed so loud.

“It stopped raining,” she murmured, glancing out of the window at the quiet world beyond.

“Spring,” Little One nodded. “Some things are simply inevitable.”

“Where…” Elena swallowed and tried again, “where do I take them, once I’ve released them?”

“What?” Ele cried, “Elena, don’t tell me you’re taking her up on this?”

“Ele, please-” Elena began.

“No, Elena no you can’t sit there and act as if this psychopath isn’t about to bring death and destruction to Milia and that you’re alright with that! You know this isn’t alright.”

“Ele, stop,” Elena felt weak, her hands shaking, “just stop.”

“You said you would trust my decisions,” Ele said.

Please, Ele, please just trust a decision that I make. For once.”

Ele fell silent, brooding, and Little One looked back and forth between them for a moment.

“From the dungeons to the southern entrance of the palace, very late in the night, perhaps early-morning,” she finally said, “I’ll meet you there with some lieutenants, and we’ll smuggle them out of the city. If all goes well, no one will know of your involvement. The others call me ‘Mia’, I prefer that name when we’re in company. ‘Little One’ has some associations I’d rather not connect with being the leader of a rebellion.”

Elena didn’t trust herself to speak, so she nodded instead. Of course, rebels would hardly follow someone called “Little One”. It was only after a few moments that she realized she had been dismissed. She rose from her chair in a sort of a trance. Without the constant patter of the rain outside, her footsteps sounded loud in her ears as she walked to the door, her head spinning.

“Elena,” Little One called, and Elena froze, hand on the doorknob. “You look frightened, child.”

“I’m not a child,” Elena said, “but I am frightened.”

“Good,” Little One nodded, “so you are growing wiser after all.”

 

***

 

Even though Elena had a key to the outer door of the dungeons, she had brought her lockpicks. There was something comforting about the way they felt in her hand, and she had had them for so long they almost felt like an extension of her fingers at this point. If she was being honest with herself, it was also a way to stall before she had to enter the cells themselves.

The door swung open silently, the sturdy wood and metal too well-maintained to creak. Elena took the torch from beneath her arm, lit it from a torch in the bracket by the door, and stepped inside. The long rows of prison cells stretched out in front of her, so dark that the shadows seemed to swallow up the light of her torch. There were seven smugglers, all told, which filled most of the cells.

“Well if it isn’t the hammer girl, come to visit her human nails,” one of the men was a light sleeper, already sat up on his cot. His right arm was in a sling, and Elena realized with a knot in her stomach that it was the man who had held a knife to her throat before being skewered by Belloza.

“I don’t…ah…” Elena’s mouth was dry, but her hands were so clammy that she worried the torch would slip out of her grasp.

“You’d think it would be enough, pounding us all into submission with your Storm powers,” the man continued, a kind of bitter grimace on his face, “but you are Stormtouched, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. You lot wouldn’t really be satisfied until we’re bowing before you.”
“We’re here to rescue you, you numbskull,” Ele snapped, but of course the man couldn’t hear him. Other smugglers were beginning to stir now, and Elena managed to speak.

“Um…I’m actually here to…to free you,” she said, “Mia sent me.”

“You’re with us?” from behind her, another man spoke, his nose so swollen and bent that it resembled a doorknob, “I wish you’d have remembered that before you bashed me in the face with a hammer.”

“You…you were trying to hit me with a cudgel,” Elena said, her tone halfway between an apology and an explanation. She fumbled with the keys, her hands shaking so badly that she worried she would drop them, “and anyways, I’m a…a recent recruit.”

“Oh,” the man said, “well I wish you’d have been recruited before you bashed me in the face with a hammer then.”

Elena went down both rows, unlocking the cells as she went, and the longer she went the more her legs shook. Eventually she had released them all, and she focused hard on putting one foot in front of another, trying to ignore the men and woman who had tried their best to kill her less than twenty-four hours ago.

“Mia and some lieutenants are meeting us at the south entrance,” Elena explained quietly, leading the way out of the cells, “the patrols won’t be by for another five minutes or so, and…now…” she swung the dungeon doors closed behind them as soon as the last of the smugglers had emerged, “…now they don’t even have a reason to check the dungeons until tomorrow, when they bring you your food. This way.”

“Won’t we run the risk of someone seeing us on the way to the southern entrance?” Broken-nose asked.

“It’s only servants who are up this late. Domenico says he can keep them clear of the halls during the night.”

“Ah, I like Domenico. Good man.”

“I’m pretty sure he cheats at cards,” said the woman. Elena remained silent, and the rest of the group followed her lead as she led them through the eerie hallways. The lack of rain made the chorus of footsteps stand out, but Elena forced herself to stay calm. When they reached the southern entrance, Domenico was waiting for them.

“You made it!” he whispered, his accent a rough and tumble blend of Milian and Carpi, “you’re a few minutes late, I worried something had happened to you!”

“Elena’s fault for using lockpicks instead of keys,” Ele whispered. Domenico winked, but didn’t respond, merely opening the door to the outside. Elena led the way, followed closely by the Rhetor and the seven smugglers. It was the first time she had been outside since the start of Spring, and it was strange to feel the slight breeze against her face not accompanied by raindrops.

“I thought you said Mia was meeting us here?” Broken-nose said, glancing around them. The southern entrance to the palace let out directly onto a Milian street, unlike most of the other entrances which led to courtyards or gardens. The street was dark, and it was so late that even the late-night bustle of the city had stilled. Deep shadows lurked around the shops across the street from the palace, and each of them looked dangerous.

“She said she would…” Elena’s shaking legs threatened to pitch her onto the street, but she clenched her teeth, hugged her arms ‘round herself, and waited.

The forms emerged from the shadows so suddenly that she jumped, from pitch-black corners and behind crates of goods. The large man who had first kidnapped her, the woman who always seemed to accompany him, and a third woman that Elena didn’t recognize.

“Abramo, Patriza, Tara!” the man with his arm in a sling called happily, and the third woman hissed and made a quieting noise. “Mia sent the best as an escort,” he finished as soon as they were within whispering distance.

“Almost,” the woman nodded, “you must be our newest recruit, Elena. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Tara.”

“L-l-likewise,” Elena accepted the woman’s extended hand.

“Ah there’s no need to be so scared,” Tara said, “Mia told us that you’re a Stormtouched, no one is going to hurt you. You’re a Stormtouched on our side.”

“What about…what about Stormtouched who aren’t on our side?” Elena asked.

Tara’s face darkened. “If you stick with us, Elena, I think you’ll start to see that on the whole, they could use a little hurting.”

Elena thought of her friends sleeping in the palace, and was glad that the woman had put it so succinctly. It made her that much more at peace with her decision.

The rebels lieutenants had emerged from the shadows around the shops, but now the doors themselves were thrown open, and shadowy figures began to pour from the darkness within. Elena didn’t recognize any of them, and the entire thing happened so fast that even she, who had been expecting it, was caught slightly by surprise. By the time the rebels around her began to react, there was already almost a full squadron of Milian soldiers in the street and surrounding the group, and even more were still emerging.

“On behalf of King Pellegrino himself,” Master Artemis’ voice was unmistakable, even though Elena couldn’t actually pick him out from the soldiers, “it is my pleasure to arrest you all. The charge is conspiracy to commit rebellion against Prince Langone. I hope that some of you enjoyed your brief walk before returning to your cells.”

Elena,” the woman who had kidnapped Elena, Patriza, hissed, her eyes narrowed to slits. “Mia vouched for you. She trusted you.”

Elena’s legs were like custard, but she managed to skip back a few paces towards the soldiers, even though none of the smugglers made a move towards her. Indeed, the little group looked more stunned than anything else, some defeated, some outraged, but all of them shocked. All but one.

“Excuse me, gentlemen.” The light of the moon caught Domenico as he stepped forward, a flourish implied in every movement. His tones were clipped, his accent a rich Florenzian like that of a noble, and he gazed at the assembled soldiers with a patient yet somewhat put-upon expression. “Who is in charge here, if I might be so bold?” Elena’s heart leapt into her throat.

“I am,” Master Artemis was unmistakable even in the dim light, her bald head reflecting the moonlight, “you may call me Captain Lotti.”

“Ah, Captain Lotti, excellent,” if Elena didn’t know better she would’ve believed that Domenico was a noble simply caught up in a mistake, she almost believed it now, “Captain Lotti, I’m afraid there has been a terrible mistake here-”

“Don’t let him talk!” Elena burst out. The tableau seemed frozen in front of her, the angry rebels, the curious Master Artemis, but all Elena could seem to see was Domenico’s face, frozen in a mix of horror, rage, and fear. All of the arguments Elena had had about Domenico, both internally and with Emerald and Ele, all of them came crashing down around her into that single moment of focus. “He’s…he’s a Rhetor,” she finished. “He’s an unmasked Rhetor.”

Everything went by in a rush after that, people running past her, soldiers restraining rebels, soldiers tackling Domenico, all of it blurry through the tears in Elena’s eyes.

“You did the right thing, Elena,” Ele murmured. Elena nodded, although she couldn’t tell anymore whether or not she believed him. “We should report to Prince Langone, see if he’d like us to tell him more about Domenico. We should also come up with some plausible story of how we knew about Domenico, too.”

“I can’t, I can’t do that, I don’t have time for that.” His Princeps must have circulated her description, since Elena was largely ignored by the press of soldiers, and she walked towards the palace, rubbing the tears from her eyes and trying to stop shaking, trying to forget the look on Domenico’s face.

“What do you mean, you don’t have the time?” Ele asked.

“I have to go to sleep,” Elena said, “I have to go to sleep before Little One does.”

 

***

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***

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7 responses

  1. I’m super sleepy, so I expect it’s another typo-laden chapter I’m afraid…I’ll try to clean it up when I have a moment tomorrow!

    For those of you who skip the front page: while not directly related to Twisted Cogs, I DID recently find some music I really like to listen to while writing Twisted Cogs (though it’s a bit better suited to writing Beta Key). If you’re a fan of electronic-style music, you should check out the latest album of longtime reader and fellow serialist Underwhelming Force!

    Like

    2015-08-23 at 11:40 pm

    • Hey, thanks for the mention!

      On the topic of the chapter, her decision makes a lot of sense, but it’s still pretty cold. At least Domenco got what was coming to him, but I think before this is done he’s going to get a bit more than that, which is a pity.
      I’m guessing either Little One is going to be the designated villain for a while, or Elena is going to see the crown do some seriously sketchy stuff and have a crisis of conscience.

      Like

      2015-08-24 at 12:07 am

      • AceOfSpade

        I wonder if Elena’s treason isn’t just part of Little One’s plan. The present issue is resentment among the Mortalis but also the hierarchy among stormtouched. Maybe it was done on purpose, to make Elena the Fabera even more valuable.

        Liked by 1 person

        2015-08-24 at 4:41 am

        • SpaceCadet

          Why not both? Little One strikes me as the sort of person who doesn’t bother with plans that could turn out badly. I suspect that no matter what Elena does, it will work out in Little One’s favour.

          Like

          2015-08-24 at 3:28 pm

    • is master athena master artemis?

      also, somehow i seem to have caught up dammit.

      Like

      2015-08-30 at 12:49 am

      • That you have! I’ve been watching you read your way through by way of all of your lovely comments, I’m really glad you seem to be enjoying the story!

        Thanks for the catch, that definitely should be Master Artemis, not Master Athena. Five times out of ten when I go to type “Artemis” I instead type “Athena”, I’m going to have to be more careful about that, especially when we actually meet Master Athena!

        Like

        2015-08-30 at 10:03 pm

  2. Awesome. I totally see where Elena is coming from. Her friends are more important to her than a vague, future upheaval of society. Although it will lead to collapse eventually anyways, this method postpones the chaos to a later date… maybe.

    Like

    2015-08-24 at 10:01 am

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