A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

5.06 – Descensus {Descent}

“I’m just curious, was there anything I could’ve said that would’ve actually made you take it easy?” Master Asclepius asked.

“This isn’t exactly the best spot to take it easy,” Elena protested, holding still as the Master pressed carefully against the line of stitches on her upper chest, “Belloza and Master Apollo are the only things keeping the guards and rebels from killing us-”

“Don’t discount Master Athena and Master Aphrodite. They may not have Stormtouched fighting abilities, but each member of the Eye is trained in combat.”

“My point is still the same,” Elena grumbled, “I can’t take it easy.”

“Oh I know,” Master Asclepius sighed, “I was just idly wondering aloud. Luckily, it appears you haven’t ripped any of your stitching, and with the sudden exertion that is certainly saying something.”

“You keep saying ‘stitching’ as if there’s more than just the one set,” Elena said uneasily, “you haven’t- what are you doing?”

Master Asclepius had pressed two fingers against her neck, and he held up a finger asking her to ‘wait’ while he counted under his breath.

While she waited, Elena glanced at Frederica, working at the barred windows of the dungeon.

“You’re worried about your plan,” Frederica said without turning, “stop worrying about your plan.”

“It’s not much of a plan,” Elena said, “especially since we might be stuck on the very first step.”

“Second step, you mean,” Frederica twisted the end of her knife, sending another chunk of stone flying from the wall, “this is the first step and it’s working just fine. You were right, the stone’s no match for the lilium iron.” As if to punctuate her point, Frederica dropped one of the bars to the ground and began working on the next one.

“Done,” Master Asclepius said briefly, “I think you’re alright, but I’m still going on record to say this is a bad idea.”

“What were you doing there with your fingers?” Elena asked.

“Counting the number of times your heart beat,” Master Asclepius said, “and no, I don’t know why, I just know what my Storm tells me to do. It tells me you’re fine, for now.”

“Elena! He’s back!” Frederica called from the window. Elena stood and rushed over to where her friend stood, peering through the few bars that were left.

The city of Milia stretched out below her, lit by the lanterns and cookfires scattered throughout the city. The sun had set, but the moon had yet to rise, and it made the city below look like a dark ocean, the fires and lights like little boats set adrift. The distance from the dungeon window to the ground made her head spin for a moment, but she focused on the more immediate surroundings.

Frell clung to the wall just beneath the edge, a coil of rope held carefully in his mouth. The little wooden ermine’s claws dug into the weather-worn plaster, and when he scrambled up the sill and into Elena’s waiting arms she breathed a sigh of relief.

“Good boy,” Frederica’s tone was slightly smug, but Elena didn’t blame her. She had wondered if the little creature would be able to follow any instructions, the detail he had understood was astounding.

“Is that the rope? Excellent timing,” Master Athena was wiping blood from her hand as she entered the room, but she waved off Master Asclepius when he rose to help her. “Are the two of you going to be ready? This plan could be all we have.”

Elena exchanged a glance with Frederica, “I don’t know that ‘run away and find someone to help’ counts as a plan,” she repeated in a small voice.

“Journeyman Cog,” Master Athena frowned and began to work on the rope, trying large knots in equal-distant chunks, “the Prince of Italoza just risked his life to kill you, presumably at the advice of the Rebel Queen. The rebels are frightened of your Storm, you should have the same confidence in it.”

“Yes ma’am,” Elena said.

“Elena, he’s awake,” Ele called from Owl’s bedside, and Elena almost tripped over her own feet making her way over to her friend’s bed.

“Hungry,” Owl mumbled, blinking and peering at her without his glasses, “and in pain. What happened?”
“You were shot…all of us were shot,” Elena said, “Master Asclepius was able to heal us, Belloza, Frederica, you and I, but you’ve been sleeping ever since.”

“Arturo and Arta didn’t make it?”

Elena winced. It still hurt, just as bad  “they didn’t make it.”

“I’m sorry to hear it. They were good garzoni.” Owl leaned back again and closed his eyes, his tousled black hair falling across his face. Elena reached out instinctively to brush it aside, but paused with her hand halfway between them. The boy suddenly reached out, taking her offered hand in his, and squeezed reassuringly. “I take it from the fact that we’re in a dungeon that the rebels are outside?”

“We think they’re trying to starve us out, attacking us just often enough that we can’t catch our breath,” Elena nodded. His hand felt comforting in hers, and she made no move to let go, “but Frederica and I are climbing out and getting help.”

“Just you two?”

“The Masters are too big to fit through the window, and Belloza has to stay here to keep fighting off the guards.”

“Be careful.”

“Don’t worry we’ll-”

“No,” Owl opened his eyes, and there was a fire in them that startled her, “don’t just say that, don’t just…I mean it, Elena. Don’t get hurt. Promise me.”

Elena blinked, “I-I don’t know that I can promise that-”

“Promise you’ll try.”

“I promise,” Elena squeezed his hand, her brow furrowing, “I promise, Owl.”

“Tomas.”

“I won’t get hurt, Tomas.”

Elena tried to ignore the look that Ele gave her as Owl nodded and closed his eyes.

 

***

 

“How are you doing?”

There was very little actual wind blowing, but Frederica’s words were hard to hear. Maybe it was just that Elena was so focused on not thinking about what was happening, it made it hard to understand her friend.

“I’m…I’m alive?” she offered hesitantly, not entirely willing to classify herself as ‘okay’. Steeling herself with all her will, Elena opened her eyes and glanced upward. Her knuckles of both fists clutching at the rope were turning white, indicating that she should probably ease up on her grip, but Elena continued to cling. To her right was the wall of the castle, and to her left the dark expanse of empty nothing. Elena very carefully and consciously didn’t think of what was underneath her.

Above her, Frederica was holding the rope with just one hand, her damaged wrist supporting the roll of knives under her arm. The window of the dungeon far beyond Frederica was slowly drawing even further away as they descended, and the sight was enough to make her squeeze her eyes shut again.

At least the Masters are letting us down smoothly, she thought, focusing hard on not thinking about how fast she was descending, so I don’t have to feel the lurch each time they let us lower.

Elena’s shoes hit the ground hard enough to hurt, and she scrambled away in time to keep Frederica from colliding into her. The two girls looked around them at the empty courtyard, waiting in tense silence as the rope continued to fall next to them in coils.

“You don’t know how they’re planning on meeting us?” Elena whispered, although she knew the answer even before Frederica shook her head silently. A shaft of moonlight lit the courtyard, and the hiss of the rope ceased as above the Masters presumably tied the end off to the remaining bar of the dungeon window.

Frederica tugged at Elena’s sleeve and pointed, and the tight feeling in her stomach relaxed just a fraction. Ele and Fred emerged from the shadows, unharmed and unchanged except for the light jacket Ele now wore and the cap Fred sported. Elena didn’t know how changing clothes had let the Echoes follow them down, but she didn’t care. It had worked, and that was the only thing that mattered.

“Let’s go,” she whispered, “I have an idea of where we can-”

“Ho there,” a grave voice called out, and the knot in Elena’s stomach leapt into her throat.

There were two of them, clad in the burgundy and armor of the Milian guard, and as they approached, their eyes lit with recognition. Elena’s heart dropped. They might’ve been two soldiers who Elena had commanded not to long ago, or perhaps they had been told what she looked like. Whatever the reason, they knew her, and she had no doubt that the fast-approaching guards wouldn’t be fooled by any lie she might hand them.

“Do you know where to go?” Frederica asked from behind her, almost casually.

“I had an idea,” Elena said bitterly, her eyes caught on how the guards rested their hands on the hilts of their swords, “I don’t think it matters now.”

“Journeyman Cog,” one of the guards said, “I’m going to have to ask you to come with me.”

“Go, Elena.” Frederica stepped in front of Elena. The lillium iron that made up her longest carving knife glinted and caught the moonlight as she spun it in her good hand.

“Frederica-”

“I’m going to cut you if you don’t go,” Frederica flashed a look over her shoulder, but Elena met her gaze for a moment.

“I know,” she said, “I have to think of everyone. I just wish I didn’t.” Frederica nodded wordlessly and turned back to the guards. Elena ran.

In the quiet of the courtyard, her footsteps seemed too loud, as did Frederica’s next words.

“My name is Maple. I’m not big on words. Let’s go.”

The sound of metal against metal rang in her ears long after Elena left the courtyard behind.

 

***

 

It vaguely occurred to her to wonder just how bad it would be if she broke the stitching keeping her chest together. Every breath already hurt, and there was a darkness around the edge of her vision that told her she should probably stop running.

Elena didn’t stop running. Even though her legs felt weak and her heart strained and her lungs were on fire, she didn’t stop.

“Almost…there.” Ele’s presence by her side fueled her, but she didn’t waste the breath in answering him, and she didn’t stop, not until she’d reached the door of heavy oak, throwing herself against it and slamming her fists into the wood, pounding so hard she thought she might break her hand.

She hadn’t known why she’d chosen to run to that door, of all of her options, until the door opened.

When the door opened, everything froze. Vague ideas that had been swirling around in her head, snippets of information and speculation, things she hadn’t realized she’d always suspected, they all fit suddenly together like the pieces of a puzzle.

Her entire life in Milia had led to this single moment of crystal clarity.

“Elena Lucciano, what are you doing pounding on the door of my studio so early in the morning?” Master Bernardo De Luca asked evenly.

Elena drew herself up to meet his gaze, wincing. “We need your help, Master Zeus.”

Master De Luca looked down at her for a long moment, without a hint of surprise or anger in his gaze.

“Yes,” he finally said, “yes I imagine you do.”

***

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***

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8 responses

  1. OH DAMN.

    In hindsight, I’m condemning myself for failing to see that coming.

    Like

    2015-12-14 at 12:36 am

  2. Bart

    I still don’t see it coming.

    Like

    2015-12-14 at 1:02 am

  3. Huh. I’m too tired to know how to react… What is it that De Luca’s storm did? I wonder if he can fight.

    If Maple dies I’ll cry ;~;

    Like

    2015-12-14 at 1:41 am

    • I guess, you know, it’s kind of silly. As soon as Elena got kicked out of Studio De Luca, she got “recommended” to become a part of the Eye. Clearly, De Luca knew she had a lot of potential, and didn’t really do much to harness it. Either he was very glad once he heard the Elena was working for the Prince, or he was kicking himself for being a big dumdum.

      Though I guess it might have been De Luca who had the Eye spend so much time around Elena.

      Like

      2015-12-14 at 1:44 am

      • or he kicked her out to get her placed at a lower studio where her ability would have more room to grow and shine.

        Like

        2015-12-14 at 11:16 pm

        • Soronel Haetir

          Honestly, given the sort of effort Elena had demonstrated as an artist I would agree with De Luca’s call at the point where he let her go. De Luca himself may be a powerful member of the Eye but as a studio he seemed to focus almost entirely upon artistic ability.

          Like

          2015-12-15 at 12:03 am

    • AceOfSpade

      What De Lucas’ storm does was never described exactly. However there has been hints that he can draw something like… and accurate portrait of someone? Not just their physical appearance but their personnality, their goals… things like that. He drawed a portrait of the Rebel Queen for the King, and after seeing it the King decided she was allowed to leave.

      Like

      2015-12-14 at 6:43 am

  4. Soronel Haetir

    It seems odd that Zeus would tie himself to Milan so tightly when he has to worry about all of Italosa.

    Like

    2015-12-14 at 10:39 am

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