A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

7.06 – Tortus Dens {A Twisted Cog}

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***

There was so much information passing through Elena’s mind that it was hard to keep track of it all. She’d often thought that she would do anything for Ele, but sacrificing herself to give him a body to live in…her body? Ele himself wouldn’t want that to happen. At least the way things were now, they both existed.

The other Twisted were no less worried, she could tell from the silence around the table, and from the way they were all exchanging reactions, and Elena relaxed just a bit. Everyone here was a Stormtouched, there was no way any of them would help the Storm erase themselves. Elena hadn’t ever met the Echoes of any of them besides Lord Waldren, but from what she knew about each of them, they weren’t the type to die so their Echoes could live.

Come to think of it, Elena mused, the Storm has to know that none of us will do what he’s asking of us. Maybe he knew humanity that little at first, but he knows us better by now.

“Avatar of the Storm,” Lord Waldren began, his voice soothing and dripping with respectful tact, “this is a delicate-”

“Seen easily is the intentions of your,” the Storm waved a dismissive hand toward Lord Waldren, “of lives yours is the concern-having.”

“Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but it is quite a lot you’re asking of us,” Lord Waldren glanced around the table as if he half-expected someone to object, “surrendering ourselves-”

The Storm interrupted again, “asking not am I of this. Servants faithful are the being of you, safe is the being of you. Of safeness to Progeny, not all-giving the Touched have. Progeny between the worlds, to the untouched is the gifting of me to them. Of tied Progeny to the servants faithful, also will the gifting be.”

“No, I don’t understand, what did he say, Elena tell us what he just said?” Even though Lord Waldren’s face was obscured by its normal dark fog, it was clear that his calm demeanor was beginning to fast unravel.

“The Twisted will be safe, for their part in helping him,” Elena said, struggling to follow the meaning of the Storm’s words while her mind was spinning, “he says he’ll give your Echoes to Mortalis, just like he’ll do for…I’m sorry, Storm I didn’t understand that part either.”

“Answerings were the gifting of me to you, when of askings did give you to me. Askings of death of Progeny, of immortality of Progeny.”

“The Echoes who have died,” Elena whispered. “The Echoes like Arta. You can bring her back?”

“To the untouched, will the movings of me be the gifting,” the Storm nodded.

“Rendering us safe is a good first step,” Lucrezia spoke up, “but I personally have quite a few Stormtouched friends, and while I enjoy the company of their Echoes, I don’t exactly relish the thought of seeing my friends erased to make way for them.”

“Of her friends, also is Elena worried,” the Storm nodded, “safe-making of any friend-touched, to the servants faithful is the gifting of me,” the Storm said.

“Please, bear with me, Lord Avatar,” Master Coastering said, leaning forward, “with concentration I believe I’ve been able to follow this entire interaction, but the matter at hand is grave enough that I’d hardly leave open the potential for misunderstanding. If you’ll indulge me?”

The Storm waved a hand for the man to continue.

“Once our Fluvio has become King…or I suppose Queen of Italoza,” Master Coastering continued with furrowed brow, “she will order the land itself to let the Echoes in. At that point, all of the Echoes who live in Italoza will possess their respective Stormtouched, erasing what minds already lived there and allowing the Echoes to immediately take over the country in a single stroke. In exchange for our help with this, the Stormtouched at this table and those we specify will be spared, and our Echoes transferred to Mortalis instead?”

“The plan of myself, is this,” the Storm nodded and spread his hands. “Of the all of you, is the needing of the plan. Of the power, of the influence.”

The table was silent for long moments after the Storm stopped speaking. The glances that the Twisted exchanged were less panicked, more calculating, more contemplative. Elena only barely noted them, lost in her own thoughts.

Ele given a body, but at the cost of some poor Mortalis who would be erased. All of the Echoes in the world released from their shadowy existence, but all of the Stormtouched ripped away, as good as killed.

But if she refused to help the Storm, her friends would lose the protection she could give them, and they would be destroyed if the Storm completed his plans without her. Frederica and Belloza, Master De Luca, every garzoni in every Milian Studio, every member of the Eye…it was too much to hold in her mind, too big a decision for her to approach, and Elena had no idea how to begin.

“The decision seems easy to me,” Fulvio broke the silence, “to be the ruler of a new era, with every Stormtouched Echo beholden to me? I shall help you, Avatar.”

“And of what number is the having of you, of the friends whose saving is the gifting of me?” the Storm asked.

Fulvio’s voice seemed to drop a few degrees when she answered. “I have no friends to list.”

“Nor have I,” Little One said, “the only Stormtouched I value are either dead or already safe by dint of being Twisted.”

“I certainly have a list to provide you,” Lucrezia said, “a long enough list that I couldn’t afford not to help you, even if I wanted to. Will you give me time to assemble it?” At the Storm’s nod, Lucrezia sat back, seemingly satisfied.

“It’s all very well to say ‘Queen of the world’,” Marsillo spoke up, “but it’s hardly a position which one person can effectively hold without a council of some sort. Am I right in thinking that you will delegate some of the world-spanning power of yours, Fulvio?”

“I have my council right here,” Fulvio motioned to indicate the table, “I’m not so prideful as to think I can run the world on my own.”

“Mmm,” Marsillo rubbed his chin with a detached hand, then nodded, “I, too, will provide you my list in the next few days, Avatar. I don’t suppose you can suddenly negate the Storms of those in other countries, to make our conquest of the world a little easier?”

“My touch, after the gifting, the taking is unable,” the Storm shook his head.

So all the times he threatened to take away my Storm were bluffs, Elena thought, in the midst of the whirlwind of thoughts that already buffeted her mind.

“The Twisted family sticks together,” Midora said suddenly, “if the rest of us are in, I’ll back you all up.”

“Well said, well said,” Lord Waldren said, “count me in as well.”

“And me,” added Master Coastering, “it’s a good system at play here, between us Twisted. We’ve accomplished much, I’m delighted to experience what more we can accomplish.”

Elena had been trying to work through the problem on her own, but each of the Twisted’s acknowledgments distracted her and made it harder to think, and the cold mountain around her seemed to spin and make it that much harder to get her bearings.

They were all looking at her now, the Storm who had given her the power to rise up in life, the Twisted who had helped her on her way. Elena’s gaze moved across the little assemblage, taking in the gazes of the friends who had helped her, the teachers who had advised her, the enemy she now allied with.

Under their gazes, the fog and ribbons and eyeless grin, the pupilless gold and the inky black, Marsillo’s kind brown gaze and Lucrezia’s horrifying blue, Elena took a deep breath. She gathered up all of the fear and doubt, the worry and the horror, and pushed it away, closing her eyes and focusing instead on a small, single question.

What would Ele tell me to do?

Elena opened her eyes and met the gazes directed at her. “I’m in. I’ll help you.”

 

***

Six months ago

 

Normally she went straight to the study to help the Storm, but tonight Elena decided to take a detour, wandering around and exploring the below-deck portion of the dream ship on her way. When she passed an open door, she paused, observing the small scene within.

“You’re early, the Avatar of the Storm won’t be emerging to find you for quite some time,” Fluvio was seated at a circular table, his back to Elena, but he spoke without turning.

“Does he normally come looking for me?” she asked, stepping inside to join the inky black figure.

“You’re the only one he looks for. He doesn’t much speak to the rest of us. The Avatar isn’t one for conversation.”

Elena bit back a smile at that phrase coming from the quiet and reserved Fluvio. Rather than respond, she moved to see what the inky man was doing.

“Kings-all-aplenty!” Elena cried.

“You know of it?”

“I love it! My Uncle taught me it when I was little.”

“An admirable game to teach a child,” Fulvio straightened from where he had been bent over the board, “would you like to play?” The turquoise pieces were  arranged in play, but the yellow side hadn’t been touched, and Elena skipped to the chair across from the shadow figure and sat.

Without another word, Fulvio began sweeping his hands across the turquoise side. The ink that made up his hands and arms slipped in between the pieces carrying them tumbling left and right, sliding across the wood and rippling over half of the board. When he leaned back, Fulvio’s pieces were all in their starting position.

Elena had been told she had a “tentative” style of play, but she found it a good match to Fulvio’s aggressive, almost reckless press forward. He remained silent throughout the game, although a few times he would pause and lift his head to stare at Elena long and hard before taking his move.

Without the ability to see the expression on his blank, inky face, Elena had no way of telling what his looks meant, but after a few rounds she could tell he was agitated.

Instead of using his fingers to move the pieces, Fulvio swept his arm across the pieces as when he was setting them up, letting the ink rush through between them. When the ink had cleared, his piece had moved.

Elena bit her lip, trying not to uselessly search his face for clues that weren’t there. She suddenly got the impression that this game meant something far more grave and serious to him than it did to her.

 

***

 

“I’ve known you for my entire life, Elena. You’ve worried me before, but a lot of the time I’ll admit, I’m exaggerating a little bit when I say you’re worrying me. I’m not exaggerating now, you’re really worrying me.” Ele walked backwards a few paces in front of her, hands stuffed in his pockets, searching her face, but Elena frowned and didn’t meet his gaze.

Her injury was more frustrating than it ever had been. She wanted to take the streets of Milia in long strides, to hurry down the side-passages or climb up and leap from rooftop to rooftop, anything to get her to her destination faster. Instead, she had to move at the glacial pace her body set for her, taking one step and then a deep breath before taking the other.

At her side, Owl supported her under one arm. He had actually obeyed Master Asclepius’ orders, and his wound was all but completely healed now.

“You’re worrying all of us,” Frederica glanced over her shoulder at the dark city around her, more uneasy than anyone in the little group. At her side, Fred was just as alert, glancing in the directions that lay in her blind spots. For the only Stormtouched dedicated to combat, Belloza seemed completely at ease, the only sign of preparedness her hand resting on the butt of the crossbow that hung at her side. Behind her, Bello watched the scene impassively.

Elena’s initial impression of the city had been one that never slept, but she knew now what areas rested in the early mornings. Her Storm’s spread of knowledge guided the little group in Milia’s shadows, avoiding the more lit streets where lanterns illuminated the late-night merchants and early-morning food vendors.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be worrying,” Elena spared a breath to say, “I wouldn’t have pulled you all out of bed if it weren’t important.” She furrowed her brow and focused, trying to trace the small tug of her Storm. The group didn’t belong to her, and thus she couldn’t pinpoint its location that way, but they were meeting in secret using one of her taverns, in her city, so it was enough to get a faint impression, enough to follow.

“Oh we believe it’s important,” Owl said, turning slightly to help her avoid a loose stone in the road, “the fact that it’s important and you still haven’t told us what it is is where the worry comes in.”

Elena stopped suddenly, tilting her head to one side as if listening to a tune that no one else could hear.

“This one,” she pointed up at the faded image of a stormcloud on the sign above them, and without further discussion the group entered.

“I’m sorry, we’re closing up for the night,” a thin man in a baker’s apron called as soon as they entered, “I can rent you rooms but can’t offer anything in the way of food.”
“We need to see them,” Elena said without preamble. The baker blinked, confusion written on every line of his face, but Elena’s Storm was outlining the little room in the basement, was telling her how many people were within. “I know you have to pretend. But we really need to see them. So please go back into your kitchen and check on how many pies you have or something, and while you’re engaging in whatever excuse you need, tell the Eye that Elena Lucciano is here.”

The baker bit his lip, his gaze flicking across the group, and Elena lost patience.

Go,” she snapped, and the baker turned and walked through the door in the back without another word.

 

***

Six Months Ago

 

When Fulvio pulled her fortress off the board, Elena clenched her fists. She wasn’t bad at Kings-all-aplenty, but playing with the inky figure felt like playing with her Uncle again. Whenever she was confident in her defenses, a piece would come out of nowhere and penetrate them. Whenever it seemed that she’d trapped one of his pieces, there would be an avenue she hadn’t locked down for him to escape.

She had played well, she knew that, but the game had reached its tipping point, and she didn’t harbor any thoughts that she would win. Given how seriously Fulvio had been playing, Elena hoped that she hadn’t failed some secret test.

“Elena.” The Storm’s voice was its same neutral and forgettable tone, and Elena glanced up to see him standing in the doorway. “Helping is the giving of you.”

“We’re almost done here,” Elena said.

“Five moves,” Fulvio added, “three, if she’s careless” and Elena frowned, staring at the board. When she finally saw what he meant she groaned. She had assumed that Fulvio had been moving his cardinal to attack her right flank, but it was obvious now that he had been preparing to move it into the center. With the cardinal to shore up his huntress, he would chew through her defenses and take her flag in four moves, she couldn’t even see the defense that would make him take five.

Where had the cardinal even come from? It had been on the right side, but before that it would’ve been near the middle, then before that….

It couldn’t have gotten there from where it was! Elena’s eyes flicked over the board, her brow furrowed in concentration. When she moved her second fortress in a useless attempt to counter, she made a note of all of the pieces and where they sat. When Fulvio flooded the board with ink and pulled back to reveal his cardinal had moved to the center, set up to approach her flag, Elena finally caught it.

“Your tower wasn’t there before!” Elena pointed, not even trying to keep the accusation out of her voice.

“Of course it was,” Fulvio didn’t even look up.

“You’re moving more than one piece at a time and covering it with the ink!”

Fulvio sat back and looked at her for a few moments, then shrugged.

“For something so obvious, you almost didn’t notice,” he said, “you almost let me win.”

“That’s not winning!” Elena said, furious, “you cheated!”

“If I had won, I won. How you win makes no difference, the end is all that matters. If you and I face each other gain, it will benefit you to remember that.”

Elena stood from the table with a scowl and turned to follow the Storm, not quite sure how to respond.

 

***

 

“The Eye says they will see you,” the baker stood aside and let Elena, Owl, Belloza, Frederica and the Echoes past and down the stairs. The room at the bottom was round and the size of several rooms, and the only decoration was a crude but large table, around which the members of the Eye sat. At the head of the table, Master Zeus wore a mask and a hood, and Elena realized with a start that Frederica would’ve recognized him.

I should’ve thought of that, warned him, she thought, among the chaos in her mind at the moment.

“Normally, we don’t expect junior members to show up to these meetings, let alone the meetings where we’re discussing making them junior members,” Master Apollo grinned at Elena from the middle of the table as soon as the group entered, “what, did your Storm tell you as soon as we’d decided?”

“That’s not why I’m here,” Elena was vaguely aware that Master Apollo had just told her she was a junior member of the Eye of the Storm, but it didn’t seem important right now.

“Elena, you’re pale,” Master Aphrodite said, concerned.

“Your stitches haven’t ripped, have they?” asked Master Asclepius.

“I….I don’t….” Elena stammered. Standing in front of her closest friends and powerful allies, Elena was suddenly at a loss for words. She opened and closed her mouth several times, and finally in a small voice said, “I don’t know where to start.”

“It’s alright, Cog,” Master Zeus’ voice sounded strange behind the mask, but it was enough to calm Elena down, “why don’t you start by simply telling us why you’re here.”

“Because I need you. All of you.” Elena turned to address her friends as well, worried at the blank stares.

“We’re here for you,” Owl said, without a trace of doubt in his voice, “tell us what you need.”

Elena took a deep breath, suddenly calm. “I have to tell you about a group called the Twisted. I need you to help me stop them.”


 

End of Twisted Cogs: A Master’s Rise


Previous Chapter | Twisted Cogs Book 4, Chapter 1

***

If you liked Twisted Cogs Book 3, you can help it gain visibility by voting for it on TopWebFiction

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9 responses

  1. Weee! That’s book three all wrapped up, what a ride!

    Some announcements for those of you who don’t hit the front page:
    +Twisted Cogs Book Two: An Artist’s Journey is available for purchase! Edited and polished, the eBook is 40 pages longer than the draft posted on the site.
    +To celebrate book two’s release, Twisted Cogs Book One: A Student’s Dream is available for free for the next five days (March 22nd to March 26th).
    +Physical copies of A Student’s Dream and An Artist’s Journey will be available for purchase March 27th!

    A HUGE thank you to all of my lovely readers, voters, commenters, redditors, tropers, and wikiers!

    See you all in book four!

    Like

    2016-03-21 at 12:32 am

    • Lightdefender

      By any chance are you ebooks available on Google Play?

      Like

      2016-03-21 at 6:41 pm

      • They were at one point, but after 6 months without sales I ended up pulling them from gPlay, Barnes and Nobles, and the Apple iStore so that I could enroll them in Amazon’s Kindle Select program, which requires exclusivity.

        Like

        2016-03-22 at 8:47 am

        • Lightdefender

          Ah. Thank you anyway.

          Like

          2016-03-22 at 4:15 pm

  2. Oh, whew. For a moment there I thought Elena was really going to let X amount of people just die.

    Ahehehe. I hope Fulvio complains about Elena cheating. I’m surprised she didn’t catch that. And is it chess that they are playing? Sure sounded like it.

    Congratulations on finishing the book :D

    Liked by 1 person

    2016-03-21 at 3:24 am

    • Thanks so much! This book ended up being longer than the second, so the editing time will be a little increased, but I’m already looking forward to revisiting it for polish and updating.

      The game they’re playing is Kings-all-aplenty, which is quite similar to chess, but has a different board, and tons more pieces. At the beginning of the game, players select the pieces they want for their “set” during that game, which influences how play progresses.

      Seasoned players of both games say that Chess is a more strategic game than Kings-all-aplenty, since both players always play with the same pieces, and the board allows for less movement.

      Like

      2016-03-21 at 9:00 am

  3. Fhoenix

    Okay, random prediction time.

    Storm is lying again, he is not going to spare the Twisted. Because why would he.

    Also that guy in a mask is not Zeus, or Zeus is Twisted. Because I am paranoid today.

    Like

    2016-03-22 at 11:05 am

  4. Maddi, just so you know. The main page links to 7.05, not 7.06 (this chapter).

    Like

    2016-03-28 at 4:59 pm

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