A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

4.08 – Parva Unda {Small Waves}

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***

The edges around every thought were fuzzy and blurred. A part of Elena knew that she was conscious, she had to be conscious, but she wasn’t really able to get past the pain. Pain. Was it even honest to call it “pain”? Pain was something she could ignore or move past, pain wasn’t a new experience, and this felt different. Pain couldn’t make her entire world dark for long moments at a time. It was hard to string thoughts together, but Elena tried.

Since every thought was interrupted by the pain, it was easier for her to hang on to thoughts related to the pain. Marsillo had broken something inside her arm when he’d swung at her, that much was easy to think about. Because he had broken something in her, Marsillo had not expected her to swing the mallet.

His Storm aimed each blow to perfectly accomplish the goal he wanted it to. His goal when swinging at her must have been to leave her entirely crippled, unable to make any motion without encountering searing agony. His Storm had certainly accomplished that goal.

He’d just made the mistake of thinking that crippling her would keep her from acting.

Another thought that Elena could hold on to was that her desperate swing had connected. She’d felt the shockwave through her body when it had, although that shockwave had been the final hurt that had swept her away into darkness just afterward.

***

She swam back to consciousness slowly. Apollo was half-dragging, half-carrying her across the stones and toward the dock, grunting under the strain of using only one arm to do so. In his other hand, he still carried his rapier. Elena attempted to help, stumbling on weak legs in the direction he was pulling her. The rolling of the ground beneath her reminded her of Lord Waldren’s ship in the dream world, and her vision was fuzzy even when she blinked.

Marsillo lay on his back on the stone, staring at the sky, blank. A patch of red slowly soaked through the dark blue of his cloak. Next to him, his Echo sat quiet and somber, slowly unravelling like a spiderweb in a strong breeze. Elena shook her head to try to clear it.

“Dead?” she managed.

“Don’t be so pessimistic, we’re not dead yet,” Master Apollo said. They had reached the end of the dock, where horrified civilians had watched the entire showdown from within the springboats waiting to be launched. Apollo pointed the red tip of his rapier at one of the springboats. “Out, please.”

Elena focused on the dead or dying Twisted on the ground as Apollo carefully stepped down into the boat with her in tow. When she had swung the mallet, she hadn’t been thinking of how it would help or what reaction it would cause. Her only thought had been that she couldn’t let herself be put down that easily.

Now, in hindsight, it was easy to see how it had played out. Marsillo and Apollo’s silent still staring match was the endless interplay of their Storms. Marsillo’s fed him a steady stream of the best strikes to dispatch Apollo, then Apollo’s would warn him of what strikes were incoming, at which point they were no longer the best, and Marsillo’s Storm would give him another set. As long as Marsillo’s strikes were designed to attack Apollo, his Storm would’ve given him no warning about the mallet headed toward his leg. Apollo’s Storm, on the other hand, gave him ample warning of Elena’s assistance, enough to time a single lunge and stab for the exact right moment.

In maneuvering her into the springboat, Master Apollo jostled Elena’s arm, and the world went black again.

***

The sky above her was bright, and a gentle rocking and steady paddling sound lulled her back into reality. This time the rocking motion felt more natural, and Elena risked opening her eyes.

On one end of the springboat, Master Apollo towered above her, made the larger by the wooden float he was holding up above his head. Made up of waterlogged planks lashed together, the float had been designed to keep springboats from smashing up against the docks, but Apollo hefted it on one shoulder as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

“I think she’s awake again,” Ele said from somewhere out of her sight.

“She is awake, that’s good,” Master Apollo said. “How are you feeling, Elena? Not to influence your answer or anything, but there are soldiers following, and I don’t really relish the thought of having to drag you into the woods the second we land.” He shifted the float on his shoulder, and the wood rattled suddenly.

“Marsillo is dead,” Ele added, “as long as you can hold on, we might be able to make an escape and get out of this one with no casualties.”

“No casualties, yes, but we can’t say no injuries,” Master Apollo pointed to her shoulder with his free hand. “I’m not Master Asclepius or anything, but it doesn’t look like you’ll be in fighting shape for the next few days.”

Elena glanced down at her arm. Given the amount of pain still radiating through it, she wasn’t surprised to see the joint swollen, even through her shirt. She only hoped it would be a few days.

Another rattling of the wood on Apollo’s back almost knocked him over, and he lifted the float and glance behind them. Elena braced herself and craned her neck to follow his gaze. The waterbound city of Venecchi was far behind their little boat, much prettier now that they were paddling away from it. Speckled throughout the water between the walls of the city and their own springboat, several other boats full of soldiers followed.

“They arrived at the docks just as we were casting off,” Apollo said, noticing her gaze, “it took them a little while to get organized enough to follow. Fulvio is probably among them, but there’s no way to be sure. I’m just glad we got away when we did.”

“Emerald!” Elena suddenly sat up in the boat, ignoring the way her world wobbled as she did so. “She’s still in the city!”

“The Rhetor will be fine,” Apollo adjusted his grip on the float, “as far as the guards inside know, she had nothing to do with Marsillo’s death, and as soon as she hears about it she’ll know to leave the city.”

Elena nodded numbly, her eyes still on the springboats behind them. As she watched, the soldiers in the boats closest to them carefully stood and drew bows.

“Didn’t Marsillo call for Lanisti and Saggitari?” she barely had time to ask before the archers let loose their arrows.

Even in the half-second it took for the arrows to fly from the pursuing boat to theirs, Elena could tell they were all aimed true. She had been right; the pursuers had either Saggitari or very well trained archers.

Master Apollo moved ever-so-slightly, and the float on his back rattled as the entire complement of arrows buried themselves into the wood.

“Marsillo did,” he said cheerfully, “and luckily for us, they were in such a hurry that thsoe Saggitari are spread out in multiple boats and not communicating very well. They also wasted a lot of space in the boats transporting those Lanisti. Useless ground troops, when the Eye has been vanishing into the forest around this city for days. We’ll lose them almost as soon as we hit the shore.”

“Unless they catch up with us before then,” Elena said darkly, looking out at the stretch of water between them and forest, “I trust you to beat a handful of Lanisti, but I don’t want to watch you try your luck on several boatloads. Especially since I can’t help.”

“It’s the same spring in our boat as in theirs,” Ele said, “there is no ‘catching up’.”

Elena nodded, the confidence of the Master and her Echo calming her down. Feeling was slowly starting to return to her arm, and she very much wished it wasn’t. She flexed the fingers of her dead hand and tried to focus on something other than the pain. Another Twisted was dead, and yet with each ‘victory’ she only felt more and more hollow.

In the bottom of the boat, a glint of light caught Elena’s eye.

“I told Apollo to grab your mallet,” Ele said quietly, following Elena’s gaze. “We weren’t sure if you would still want it,” he nodded at her arm, watching as she slowly opened and closed her grip, “but just in case.”

In her mind, Lucrezia’s ruined face stared up at her reproachfully, Lord Waldren’s confused and betrayed look just behind her. Elena hadn’t been there to witness Midora’s death, yet the enthusiastic young woman’s corpse glared just as realistically.

Gritting her teeth through the pain, Elena reached down and picked up the mallet. It fell out of her weak grip twice before she finally used the other hand to lift it over the side of the springboat.

“It’s going to be strange, Master Hephaestus without her hammer,” Master Apollo said in the silence that followed the splash.

“I don’t think I was ever Master Hephaestus…” Elena winced in spite of herself when the next barrage of arrows struck Apollo’s wooden float. “Master Hephaestus was the girl who joined the Eye of the Storm and slowly worked her way through the ranks, who became one of you. Even if the Eye gets its reputation back, I’m not sure that’s me.”

“You’ll stay ‘Master Cog’, then? Even after the damage the Twisted have done to Cog’s reputation?”

“That’s not quite right either. Master Cog is the girl who came up through the Studios with the help of her Twisted mentors and eventually ruled Milia and beyond. It’s also not me, anymore.”

“Well then,” Apollo said, “who are you?”

Elena looked out at the forest line across the water. “I wish I knew.”

***

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***

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