A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

7.02 – Pressura Ortum {Rising Pressure}

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***

When Elena stepped into the small room, she was overwhelmed with a feeling of deja vu. It seemed like years ago that she had been summoned to a room with the assembled captains of Milia’s army, to take control of their squadron and weed out the rebels among them.

Since I turned in rebels to His Princeps, I suppose that makes me a traitor to the rebels as well as a traitor to Milia. The thought flitted across Elena’s mind, but she pushed it aside as she walked to the single empty seat in the table.

This room was much smaller than the other, and instead of fifty captains and their Echoes she was only facing a handful of seated men and women, but the looks on their faces were the same.

“Are you lost, young one?” One of the men asked not unkindly.

“We belong here,” perhaps sensing how little his Stormtouched wanted to speak to justify herself, Ele spoke up for her, “we’re the final seat on the council.”

Elena settled into her seat, turned to make sure Ele was standing confidently behind her, and only then looked around her. Two seats to her left, the woman at the head of the table leaned forward and steepled her fingers, peering over them with a cold, calculating look.

“Ladies and gentlemen of my council,” she said, her voice quiet but carrying weight, “may I introduce your sixth member, Master Lucciano. Some of you might know her better as Master Cog.”

The new Princeps let her gaze travel over each of the council members in turn, and Elena followed her gaze to take in each of the members of the Princep’s Council, allowing the persistent buzz of the Storm to unfold outward and take in each of them. On Elena’s direct left sat sat a swarthy bald man with a large beard.

Landolfi Rusco, commander of the dungeons. Elena was surprised she hadn’t encountered the man before, given how often her work catching smugglers over the past half-year had brought her in contact with Milia’s dungeons. Her Storm buzzed helpfully to inform her that he was not newly appointed, he had been in this position for decades. I suppose he had better things to do with his time than to speak personally with me.

To his left was the woman Elena didn’t need her Storm to tell her about. Lorella Spata, ostensibly the new Princep of Milia, former head of Milia’s spy network and former rebel informant. Little One had carefully rationed credit for the “overthrowing” of the rebellion, pushing and tweaking public perception until the empty seats had been shuffled and filled with all of the right people.

The shell game that Little One had played was far beyond Elena’s ability to follow, even after the Storm had clearly delineated the result. All she knew was that those loyal to the secret rebels’ cause…and therefore those loyal to her…were now everywhere, set deep into the very bones of Milia.

Little One had made sure to install a puppet on the throne who was more than willing to accept the honor and respect of the position without having to worry about the actual decisions. Prince Spata looked the part, with her long hair in a braid that sat in a crown on her head, and the gaunt eyes and cheekbones that spoke of severe, harsh justice. The former rebel played a loyal Milian well.

Was there even a difference now? The false rebellion had been “crushed”, but now that the true rebels were installed into Milia’s power structure, they were the authority. Elena set aside the oft-retreaded arguments before they threatened to overwhelm her into depression again, and focused on the others at the table. Next to her Princeps sat a relatively young man, though he was still much older than Elena.

Elisio Matiliano, a treasurer but not chief treasurer. Does her Princeps not trust the chief treasurer? the Storm followed the train of thought a little further, delving into the chief treasurer Rocco La Sacco. La Sacco was a drunk, and Little One didn’t trust him. Matiliano was chief treasurer in all but name, now, and leaving La Sacco the title was enough to keep him happy. If Matiliano minded his unofficial status, it wasn’t enough for her Storm to pick up.

Next to Matiliano sat Pelagia Velardi, one of the Captains of the Milian army. Elena wasn’t quite sure what hold Little One had on her, given that she had been among the group that Elena was starting to think of as the ‘loyalists’, those who had not been a part of the rebellion-turned-rulers.

Between Elena and Velardi, a swarthy bald man with a large beard was frowning at her.

“I’d been told you were young, Master Lucciano, but I admit I hadn’t expected this young,” he said gruffly. Elena wasn’t bothered by the man’s assumptions, but her Storm seemed almost offended as it shoved a load of data into her mind as he continued speaking. “I suspect that most of the rumors circulating have been exaggerated, but we’re happy to have you to provide whatever help you can.”

Elena recalled Master Apollo’s advice on embracing one’s rumors, but focused instead on her Storm.

“I can’t speak to what you’ve been told, Master Alagna,” she said, “but I do hope to make myself useful. For instance, the two workshops you’re having built for the new Venecchi craftsmen arriving next week, you’re being overcharged for the labor. Elogio Della Croce designed a similar workshop last month for almost half the price, he only set a higher price for you because he thought he could get away with it.”

Master Alagna didn’t react, but he stroked his beard thoughtfully as Prince Spata spoke up.

“A good portion of the rumors surrounding Master Lucciano are true,” her Princeps said, “it was she who singlehandedly raised the Garzoni Army which turned the tide of the fighting. It was she who is responsible for the rescue of Masters Apollo, Aphrodite, Athena and Asclepius. It was she who killed Mercurio, the leader of the rebels.”

Elena felt like grimacing or inching down in her chair at the praise and at the looks of respect from the others at the table. She didn’t even know if Mercurio was a real person, and knowing that his death was heralded as the end of the rebellion made her not want to know.

“We’ve been waiting until Master Lucciano’s inclusion in these meetings for a resolution on the problem with the Studios,” Captain Velardi spoke up to break the awkward silence, “perhaps now is a good time to bring it up.”

“There’s a problem with the Studios?” Elena perked up a bit at the mention. Improving the Studio system had been the one thing she looked forward to in this new life of hers.

“There’s always a problem with the Studios,” Velardi said darkly, “not to question His Majesty Pellegrino’s judgement, but the tensions between the Studios don’t make for the most peaceful of cities. In this case, it’s a more unique problem.”

“During the rebellion the Studios split…as you know more than anyone,” Prince Spata said. “Malatesta, Gritti, Issota, Nencia, Crivelli and De Luca followed you to the castle, but Studios Foscari and DaRose did not. According to the coin collector and the men and women concerned with the Studios, Foscari and DaRose might be the targets of retributive raids as punishment for their hesitance.”

Elena stretched her Storm’s awareness. She couldn’t extend it to the Studios themselves, but the coin collector was hers, and she could see what they had observed down to the coin. She nodded. The disparity was too great to be a coincidence, the two studios had lost their coins many times over, but those coins were spread out fairly evenly among the other Studios.

“This isn’t the first time the studios have ganged up on Studios Foscari and DaRose,” Ele said from behind her.

Elena’s hands curled into fists, the memory of that horrible week pounding in her head, more emotion than she’d felt in the past several days combined. “It’s the last,” she said with finality.

“Is this really the best use of the council’s time?” Rusco asked, “interjecting ourselves into the back-and-forth of the younger of Milia’s Stormtouched? It’s been barely a month after the Milian Quelling, I would think our priority would be primarily on changes which route any pockets of unrest, secondarily which focus on reassuring the people and more importantly our sister cities that Milia is still strong.”

“What we’ve learned from the Milian Quelling,” Elena said, still slightly nauseated at the name, “is that the Garzoni within our city are a frightening amount of power to bring to bear in case of emergency, self-training squadrons of Stormtouched. Perhaps one of our greatest assets, if we can increase the amount of trade and art they could be injecting into our city.”

She wasn’t sure how to ‘lay groundwork’ for ideas she would bring up in the future, but at least now the council wouldn’t be surprised when she brought up the need to focus the Studios more on art and craftsmanship later on.

Not that she needed to convince anyone, Elena realized with a start. The trappings of discourse and discussion had almost made her forget the benefits she’d sacrificed her principles for. The woman sitting at the head of the table was Princeps in name only.

“We stand to gain too much from every Studio, both in goods and in garzoni training, to let them bully each other out of existence,” she said, directing her comment to Her Princeps. “The Studio system needs to be changed. The coin collectors should only count a single coin per garzoni per studio on every month. It won’t put an end to the bullying, but it will reduce the amount of time garzoni have to worry about fighting rather than their art, and it’s a good start.”

“I agree. We’ll pass on the directive to the coin collectors, and they’ll take care of informing the studios of the change,” Prince Spata nodded, and after a moment to glance around the table, continued, “now, there’s this matter of the increased tariff from Licre…”

Elena reeled at how easy it had been. There was no one to convince, no one to argue with, she had spoken and that had been the end of it. It was a strange feeling, and she wasn’t sure she liked how…good…it felt.

She glanced to the side to catch Ele’s eye, but he was nodding along with the change in discussion, and the quirk of a smile in the corner of his mouth seemed satisfied. It matched the smug rumble of her Storm through her temples, and Elena wasn’t sure she liked either of them.

 

***

 

Perhaps it was the exertion of walking and sitting and talking, or perhaps her mental turmoil was bleeding through, but by the time the meeting of the council was over, Elena was exhausted. She had no problem following Master Asclepius’ orders to keep from running, since every step took concentrated effort. She didn’t notice the three friends and two Echoes approaching from behind until Frederica clapped her on the shoulder with her good hand.

“We’ve been looking for you all morning,” Frederica said as Elena almost fell over from the hearty pat on the shoulder.

“I told them Her Princeps probably wanted to speak with you now that you were out of bed,” Belloza walked backwards to face Elena while matching pace, hands stuffed in her pockets, “but you know these two, they don’t listen to a word I have to say.”

“That is entirely in your own head, ‘loza,” her Echo sighed.

“No, she’s right, I often tell people I’m ignoring that they’re completely right,” Owl chuckled wryly. “It’s good to see you up and on your feet again, Elena.”

“I’d rather see her sitting and eating with us,” Frederica motioned in the general direction of the dining halls with her right hand, “it’s well past lunch time.”

Elena’s attention was caught by Frederica’s right hand, occupied as it had so often been recently, by spinning the lilium tool Elena had made the Calaetor so long ago. Frederica spun it very slowly, and was using the dull knife sharpener rather than the knives she was so attached to, but that was understandable as she only had her thumb, index, and middle fingers to spin it with. Her ring and small fingers had been lost on the night of the Millian Quelling, although she refused to say whether it had been when she stayed to fight off two guards to let Elena escape or in the fighting afterward.

Just another way I’ve betrayed them all, Elena thought, allying with those responsible for Frederica losing her fingers…

The knife sharpener stilled in Frederica’s hand, and the girl suddenly jabbed Elena in the shoulder with the blunt instrument.

“You can stare at the hand all you want at lunch,” she grinned, “I mean it, I’m half starved.”

Elena blushed and dropped her gaze, “it’s nice of you to invite me, but-” she was interrupted by another wave of exhaustion, “-I think I’m going to sleep for a little bit, if that’s alright.”

“It’s her first day up, Master Asclepius warned her to get plenty of rest and not push herself too hard,” Ele said with a pointed look at Elena.

“Of course, you need to take care of yourself,” Belloza said cheerfully, “wouldn’t do to let the hero of the Quelling fall ill so soon.”

Elena mustered what she hoped was a convincing smile.

 

***

 

Elena had to focus on keeping her eyes open by the time she’d dragged herself back to her room, and Ele was watching her with concern.

“Should we send someone to fetch Master Asclepius?” he asked, “this seems like worse than just tiredness.”

“No,” Elena panted, forcing herself to turn the handle to her door and step inside, “no, it feels like…like there’s some reason outside of myself that I’m tired…like I’ve been drugged.”

“The Twisted?” Ele asked, “are they able to summon you to the dream world?”

Elena opened her mouth to object, but as soon as she thought about it she knew that’s exactly what she was feeling. The little invitation that normally played around her subconcious mind like a feather now dragged against her like a net, the typical question “would you like to join us?” stripped of its first four words.

“It’s the Twisted,” she confirmed, “it’s something important, I’ve never felt this way before.”

“We should keep in mind that they can do this,” Ele said worriedly, “but in the meantime, if it’s that important, you should see what they want, I don’t see them being the type to ‘summon’ you for something trivial.”

“I will,” Elena dragged herself to the edge of the bed and collapsed into it, too tired to make an attempt at arranging the covers, “and I’ll also…” each breath seemed to make her sink deeper and deeper into the bed, “…ask them to….please not-”

The next breath she took was cool, and the weight of exhaustion no longer bore down on her shoulders. “-do this again,” she finished, rubbing the sleep from her eyes with puzzle-piece fingers that clicked against the pieces that made up her face.

The ship was gone. Instead she stood on flat ground made up of cold, packed dirt, just a few feet away from a sheer drop. Elena slowly turned around to take in this new dreamscape, still blinking fog from her eyes.

It was a mountain at night, vast and wide. It loomed above her further than she could see in the darkness, so high up that the top was lost in a night sky full of too many stars. She couldn’t tell how far the mountain stretched below her, due to the thick impenetrable fog that rushed, rose, and fell like waves of the ocean. The area she stood now was a small plateau, a clearing surrounded on two sides by thick black trees, and the other two sides by the cliffs into the ocean of fog.

On that plateau, in the middle of the cleared and hard-packed dirt, sat a beautifully-crafted table of red oak, incongruous with the natural area around it. Sitting around the table in its matching oak chairs, the Twisted were assembled, watching her. At the head of the table, without a chair, stood the Storm.

“Of time great length was the waiting of me,” the Storm said, its voice alight with a buzz that reminded Elena of her Storm through her temples. “Nights they are many of dreams this night within.”

He stretched out an arm to indicate the single empty chair at the table.

“The joining of you is the us-giving of you,” the Storm said with gravity, “the making have I done, of with great import the decision. The world-ruler have I decided.”

***

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***

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9 responses

  1. Only a few more chapters left in Twisted Cogs book three! This one has been a pretty interesting experiment, and has left me pretty excited to dive into the fourth and final book of Twisted Cogs.

    A big thanks to those readers who have been voting for Twisted Cogs on TFW. It’s been falling a few places as other, newer serials have gained popularity (which I think is a good thing, It provides less well-known serials the chance to gain new readers!) but it really means a lot to me that after two years people still show their appreciation for this serial <3

    Like

    2016-02-15 at 12:39 am

  2. Between Elena and Velardi, a swarthy bald man with a large beard was frowning at her. Before
    ->Before what?

    more on art and craftsmanship later one.
    ->Later on

    It matched the smug rumble of her Storm through her temples, and Elena wasn’t sure she liked either.
    -which Elena wasn’t sure… or, and Elena wasn’t sure she liked it either.

    Thank you for the chapter, Maddi :3

    And oh, Elena. You ended up with the position you hadn’t wanted. Poor Elena.

    Liked by 1 person

    2016-02-15 at 1:15 am

    • AceOfSpade

      It matched the smug rumble of her Storm through her temples, and Elena wasn’t sure she liked either.
      -> I think she litterally mean to say that she isn’t sure she like either the smile or the rumble. “which Elena wasn’t sure” would imply she isn’t happy with the matching rather than it’s elements, “wasn’t sure she liked it either.” doesn’t work since she didn’t express that she wasn’t liking Ele’s smile when it was mentionned.

      Like

      2016-02-15 at 5:20 am

    • Fixed SUPER late, but fixed nonetheless. Thanks much for your catches, even when I don’t put in fixes for a week or so :)

      Like

      2016-03-07 at 11:03 pm

  3. Bart

    Will it be Elena? Will it be what’s his name, the leader of the Twisted? Is Little One still alive? Is it someone completely new?

    Like

    2016-02-15 at 3:30 am

    • jeray2000

      I have a feeling it’ll be someone completely new. It fits that there’ll be a new character for the new book.

      Like

      2016-02-15 at 12:48 pm

  4. Veritic

    what if it’s Owl?

    Like

    2016-02-15 at 9:55 am

  5. I know who the Storm chose to rule the world. ME! :D

    Like

    2016-02-16 at 11:01 pm

    • Bart

      Wow, with that “me” answer, the true answer became obvious. The Storm choose Deadpool.

      Like

      2016-02-17 at 1:02 am

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