A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

2.07 – Instrumentis Commercia {Tools of the Trade}

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Elena’s eyelids flickered as the sunlight hit them, and she winced as various aches and pains presented themselves. In the cheaper inns, the “bed”s were little more than blankets draped over wood, and the little group had been sleeping in the cheapest inns they could, all crammed in one room, so most of the time they didn’t get beds at all. Multiple days of sleeping like that would made anyone ache.

Elena had the added difficulty of being afraid of falling asleep. It was only after hours of worry that she drifted off each night, and even then she tossed and turned, plagued by dreams of stormlings and knives.

When she sat up from her place in the corner, her back made an unpleasant popping noise, but by now she was used to the discomfort. It was unpleasant, but she had been through far worse over the past few years. It was Belloza’s turn for the bed, and she snored slightly still tangled in the blanket. Frederica and Emerald were still asleep on the floor, and the Echoes all lay scattered throughout the room.

Owl was already awake and staring out of the window, his hands clasped behind his back, lit by the same morning light that had awoken Elena.

“It doesn’t matter how early I wake up, you’re always keeping watch,” Elena mumbled, “do you ever sleep?”

Owl didn’t seem surprised at the quiet words. “Some. Less than the rest of you, but that’s because I’m falling back into old habits.” He didn’t turn, and he didn’t offer further explanation, and although Elena’s Storm nudged at her, filling in little gaps, Elena didn’t like to pry.

She didn’t need her Storm to tell her that he was adept at this, for some reason. The running, hiding, staying out of sight but not seeming as if they were staying out of sight, Owl seemed to have little rules and tips for all of it. Looking at him, bathed in sunlight, his head turning like his namesake bird to follow every movement in the street below, it suddenly occurred to Elena how little she knew about her teammates.

I know that they’re with me through thick and thin, Elena thought firmly, dragging herself stiffly to her feet, if they want me to know any more than that, they’ll tell me.

Her gaze fell on Emerald as she thought it, trying to ignore the Rhetor’s sleeping face twisting in a cruel smile.

***

The group was quicker to pack up and leave their Inn behind than they usually were, although Elena couldn’t say whether that was due to practice, or how close they were to their destination. The huge city of Rimi was visible from their inn, towering above the large hills that separated them, and the excitement of reaching it was momentarily overcoming the trepidation of their task once they reached it.

Rather than wait for the carriage to arrive, Owl had advised they make the final leg of their trip on foot.

“Anyone who tracked us this far will be able to tell where we’re going,” he said, waiting at the doorway as the rest of them finished packing their belongings together, “but not using a carriage makes it harder to pin down when exactly we arrived, what gate we entered by, where we went from there. Marginally harder, at least.”

So the group walked, kicking up little puffs of dust in the morning sunlight. Elena had worried that after days in the carriage, a full day’s walk would be too much for her, but it several hours had passed before the weight of her pack began to make itself felt.

“I can hear that armor clanking in your bag,” Emerald broke the sleepy silence to note, “are we going to get in trouble the first time someone passes us?”

“We’ll want to try to avoid inspections at the gates, but one metal clanks like another,” Owl said, “no one will identify Rhetorguard armor by the sound.”

“I’m just glad Elena can’t fiddle with that mask anymore,” Belloza noted from a little ways ahead of the rest of them, walking backwards to face the group, “it was morbid and creepy.”

Elena thought of the black metal mask now residing in her pack, the silver design on its front that seemed to gleam through the cloth and into her mind.

“It’s just…it’s awful, but the design looked almost pretty,” she said, trying to explain, The design sort of looked like fangs. Does that mean something, Emerald? Is there some sort of code?”

Emerald shrugged. “Who knows? Perhaps so. Perhaps not. I doubt anyone knows how the Guardhouse operates, not even Rhetorguards. I was kept there for a while, while they waited to assign me a guard, and I don’t know a thing.”

“I wonder if Rolf knew-” Frederica began, but Belloza cut her off.

“Can we stop talking about this? It’s creeping me out, all this talk of the Guardhouse and Rhetorguards.”

“We have other things to talk about, anyway, specifically a plan,” Owl said. He pointed up at the city in the distance, with its towering white and grey walls, “we’ve been avoiding it, but we no longer have the luxury of time.”

“I don’t have a full plan, but I have my Storm,” Elena said, “the Twisted are good at making plans, they’ve had their whole lives to practise. We’re not going to beat them at that game, but what we can beat them at is improvising. My best asset is a steady flow of information.”

“Information about things that are yours,” Frederica pointed out. “That doesn’t work as well in Rimi, going up against a member of the Rimi Council.”

“We’ve been discussing that,” Ele broke in, “in Studio DaRose, Elena’s Storm gave her information about the bed she slept on. When we figured out how the Storm worked we thought nothing of it, because was ‘her’ bed, but it didn’t technically belong to her.”

“Familiarity,” Fred supplied, and Frederica nodded, catching on almost at once. “So we need to make you familiar with Rimi. Enough so that you start to think of it as ‘your city’.”

“I don’t like staying in the one place too long,” Owl said, “I’d be more comfortable if we had more of a plan than simply living in the city while we make a plan.”

“She’s got us!” Belloza said, “we’re your team, Elena, does your storm give you any information about using us?”

Elena nodded reluctantly. It still felt strange to think of her friends as assets, but she didn’t want to leave them blind to the information her Storm supplied.

“Frederica is our go-between with the upper classes,” she said, “it’s hard to tell because she’s so blunt with us, but she’s a good diplomat.”

“It’s different, talking to you guys and talking to nobles,” Frederica said. “There’s a sort of an art to talking to people in the courts. I can appreciate art, so I learned how it’s done.”

“Belloza-“

“The curving death, your resident assassin,” Belloza interrupted, grinning wide.

Elena was already shaking her head. “Maybe, after we’ve exhausted every other chance, or if we can get away with it, but chances are Lucrezia will be prepared for an assassination attempt. My Storm tells me that you’ll be more useful as our source for more…” she searched for a diplomatic way to phrase it than her Storm was supplying, “…more down-to-earth…that is…”

“Oooh, you want me to talk to the scumbags!” Belloza said excitedly, “what a good idea!”

“Not ‘scumbags’ exactly,” Elena hastened to say, “but people like the soldiers in Milia, or the merchants-“

“Thieves, smugglers, that makes perfect sense,” Belloza said, “they’re the people who will know the most anyway, that type always do…and no offense, but they’re more likely to bludgeon than talk to someone like Frederica or you.”

“No offence taken,” Elena said, relieved that Belloza didn’t seem at all bothered by her Storm’s estimation of her.

“I assume my usefulness is rather obvious,” Emerald said, a little smugly.

“Emerald is what you’d expect,” Elena nodded, “when we need to brute force a problem, we have a Rhetor on our side.”

“A problem like Rolf,” Ele said quietly.

“Like Rolf,” Elena agreed. An ugly feeling twisted in her gut as she said the words, but avoiding what she’d done wouldn’t change anything.

“What about Owl?” Belloza asked.

“Owl…” Elena glanced at her Faberi friend, but he answered first.

“I’m good at keeping out of sight of members of the Rimi council,” he said. The silence was almost palpable, but no one broke it as they continued to trudge on toward the city. Elena’s Storm had provided a similar answer, that Owl would be good at hiding, keeping them out of sight, but it hadn’t given anything as specific as that.

“It’s big,” Emerald commented casually, and Elena looked up from her musings.

The city of Rimi stretched out in both directions, for miles and miles. It seemed a hundred times bigger than any city Elena had seen before, and it was somehow foreboding, as if every stone of the huge structure was against her. Towers along the tops of the walls glared down at her, the very stones menaced, and Elena almost shrank away from the sight.

The plain woman was foreboding and frightening to Elena for no reason, but her city was a different kind of frightening.

“Eh,” Belloza said, “Milia is prettier.”

“We should get moving,” Owl said, “I want to get a few gates down before we go inside.”

Elena turned to follow him, moving parallel to the plain high walls. As she adjusted the pack on her shoulder, she couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow the city was watching her.

***

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***

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2 responses

  1. I CAUGHT UP! ;-;

    Also I just saw this video on Facebook. If Elena and co. ever go to Capri, they should totally find an excuse to go here

    Like

    2016-06-10 at 10:22 am

    • Oh my goodness, that’s absolutely beautiful!

      Even if Elena and co don’t make it to Capri, I may have to write a “non canon” scene set here in the Twisted Cogs universe…

      Like

      2016-06-12 at 11:53 pm

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