A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

6.04 – Verba in Tenebris {Words in Darkness}

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***

The hallway was either too quiet or too loud, Elena didn’t know which. Her footsteps echoed as she moved, but from far off she could hear the sound of shouts and yells. Two different flavours of ominous, and Elena wasn’t sure which was worse. All of the students were in the courtyard, which meant the rebellion had started in full. The chances were that her actions were the match that sparked it off, Prince Langone and Little One trying to enact their plan before she could rescue her friends in the dungeon.

I’ll think about that later, Elena resolutely pushed the thought to one side, people need me right now.

“The entire point of gathering the studios was so that you didn’t have to mount a rescue mission on your own,” Ele murmured, quiet as if respectful of the silence in their immediate vicinity.

“I know,” Elena whispered back, “I’m not going to get into a fight if I can avoid it, I just want to make sure I know what we’re up against.”

“Reckless,” Ele shook his head, “but it’s not like it’s any safe outside. Let me go ahead, at least, I’ll be in less danger than you.”

It was the best option, even though the thought of making her way alone through the empty halls made her stomach twist with worry.

Don’t leave me…

Rather than trusting herself with words, Elena nodded, and Ele took off down the hall in the direction she was already moving. She hadn’t realized how slowly she was moving until he ran, easily outstripping her and reaching the end of the hall in a matter of moments.

Her chest hurt too, even more than before now that she had the time to think about it, and she set the handle of the hammer on the ground using it as an impromptu crutch as she winced at the pain. That would be the stitches inside of her ripping, then. She would have to keep herself free of any more action, delegating to the more whole garzoni she’d brought with her.

“If you can, send some people in to join me, Voicebox,” she said into the little wooden box. No confirmation crackled in response, which meant she was, for now at least, on her own. The noises in the distance had died down, which was either very good or very bad, but it made the silence even more oppressive.

The ghost of a noise halted Elena in her tracks, a shuffling that might’ve been a gust of wind for all she could tell, but it had sent shivers down her spine. Her surroundings were dark enough that she strained her ears at the same time as her eyes, checking the shadows and holding her breath to try to hear something else.

The murmur of quiet voices was unmistakable, although it seemed to come from a room off the hallway. With a glance in the direction Ele had gone, Elena turned and move toward the next room over from that of the voices, taking care to move smoothly to mask the sound of her footsteps. There was no way to warn her Echo without also alerting those who talked inside. Like most of the rooms in the castle, the two rooms were joined by a closed door, and Elena crept across the carpeted floor to listen in to the conversation that was taking place.

“-from what we can tell,” the low voice was saying, “we were expecting messages back from the patrols sooner, but they’re most likely delayed trying to get into the castle without encountering that mess in the courtyard.”

“There are far more pressing worries this night than the patrols.” At the sound of Little One’s quiet but unmistakable rasping voice, Elena clenched her hammer so tightly that her knuckles hurt. “As one very good example, I have my doubts that that ‘mess in the courtyard’ will be quelled in the courtyard.”

“We’ve been having success against the Milian guard in other areas, should we have a compliment of our forces pull away from their plans and meet the garzoni in the main halls? Clean up what’s left over?”

“That would be unwise. The students of Milia are our future, I won’t have them harmed. Langone may be dead, but apparently his appreciation of any sort of finesse has died with him. As far as his lieutenants are concerned, they seem quite content to slaughter today and sort out the bodies tomorrow.”

Elena mulled over her options in her head as she listened. Little One wouldn’t be alone with a single advisor if she didn’t trust that advisor to protect her, there was no way she would be able to storm in with her warhammer to kill Little One.

To kill her, the words made Elena’s already-twisted stomach feel even worse, but she tried to push that thought aside as well.

“Should we be concerned about you then, ma’am?” the man said, “you’re most likely their primary target, at this point.”

“The rebellion has too much momentum by now,” Little One said, unconcerned, “even should I die, the throne of Milia will pass to someone else, someone not as constrained by the same poison that Langone leeched into this city.”

“Should the worst come to pass, who shall I pass command to? Gemma? Davide?”

“No, well as they have served me they will be better in advisorial roles. If I fall tonight, I want you to track down the young Fabera girl, Elena Lucciano.”

Elena blinked, only half-startled since she assumed she misheard.

“Lucciano, ma’am? ‘Journeyman Cog’, the one who is leading the students right now?”

“What better new leader of the rebellion?”

“I’m not sure I understand, ma’am. She’s assembled all of the forces she can to fight against you.”

“She won’t understand it either, but understanding is not necessary. She has assembled the Studios of Milia together toward a single purpose, one she sees as the best for this city. Elena may not realize this, but the two of us are more alike than she dreams.”

“You offered her a place by your side,” the man sounded skeptical, “she turned you down then, why do you think she’ll lead our people now?”

“The only disagreement we had with each other was to disagree with how this coup came about. Now the damage has been done, it is passed and unavoidable. I hoped that I could convince her to stand by my side, but she will be too angry for that. Should I die, perhaps she will be able to find it in her heart to forgive me.”

Elena turned Little One’s words over in her head in the silence that followed, examining them from all angles. She wished she had Ele with her to whisper his thoughts in her ear. On the one hand, it was the sort of thing she’d come to expect of Little One, an argument that sounded strange but fit together rationally when explained. On the other hand, there was something about it that felt wrong somehow, like the mix of silence and sound that had assailed her in the hallway outside.

“Very well, ma’am. If you fall, I’ll seek out Cog and pledge the rebellion to her.”

Maybe it was the thought of the hallway that nudged her mind in the right direction, or maybe imagining what Ele would tell her that made things fall into place. Either way her brow furrowed, and she suddenly rose from her crouched position where she had been listening. The pain in her chest was almost unbearable, but she grit her teeth and stood straight, not letting the discomfort show on her face.

“We should see what…” Little One’s words trailed off as Elena swung the door open.

“In this entire, huge castle, you just so happen to be meeting in a room so conveniently close to the fighting in the courtyard,” she said cooly, “and you just so happen to be saying things that would ingratiate me to your side. That’s quite the coincidence.”

“A year ago you would’ve believed it,” Little One said, looking Elena up and down.

“You underestimate me.”

“Did she?” the man with Little One interrupted, the same man who had kidnapped her so long ago, “I’m pretty sure we can take you on, that leaves you at our mercy. You-”

“She knows I wouldn’t ingratiate myself to her if I wanted her dead,” Little One made a dismissive gesture that silenced the man at once.

“What changed?” Elena asked bitterly, “you didn’t seem to have a problem with killing me when-” she bit back the end of the sentence.

“The damage you might’ve caused was worth your life,” Little One explained patiently, “that damage having been done, you’re now worth more to me as a…I suppose a protege, of sorts.”

“Master Cog, we’re finished in the courtyard but we can’t find you anywhere,” Voicebox’s voice emerged from Elena’s pocket, but she was so stunned she barely processed it.

“Less than a minute to decide, Master Cog,” Little One’s eyebrow raised, “your love for Milia is strong enough to lead six Studios to the castle door. If you can do that, think of how well you can serve Milia by my side, on its throne.”

“Master Cog?” Voicebox asked again, “what should we do next?”

Elena didn’t break her gaze with Little One as she lifted the box to her mouth.

***

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***

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10 responses

  1. Uh oh.

    Like

    2016-01-18 at 2:35 am

  2. Kunama

    Cliffhanger!!! Nooooo!
    Also, I hope Ele is ok.

    Like

    2016-01-18 at 2:45 am

  3. Duckfan77

    Typo:
    “likely they’re primary”

    — their

    Like

    2016-01-18 at 9:50 am

    • Hehe, oops, that’s an embarrassing one…thanks for the catch!

      Like

      2016-01-26 at 2:21 am

  4. Eduardo

    OK, convenient plot hole and usual bad trope not only avoided but completely deconstructed.
    I like it.

    Like

    2016-01-18 at 12:58 pm

    • And I, in turn, like that you like it! As an avid peruser of TVTropes, I think I’m just hardwired at this point to think “hmm, how could I include this cliche while still making it make sense…”

      Like

      2016-01-26 at 2:22 am

  5. Bart

    Wooh, what’s she going to say…

    I mean, she could join Little One, but what about The Eye? And where do the loyalties of the other Twisted lie?

    I’m excited to find out! :)

    I spotted two typos but didn’t have time to copy paste them. Sorry. They were verb tense, like walk/walked.

    Like

    2016-01-18 at 2:01 pm

    • Thanks, I’ll keep an eye out for them when editing this chapter!

      Like

      2016-01-26 at 2:23 am

  6. Anonymous

    Argh! The anticipation is killing me!

    Like

    2016-01-20 at 11:37 pm

  7. Argh! Everything the Storm wants… and, none of it how Elena or Ele would like. :P

    Like

    2016-01-22 at 3:15 pm

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