A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

6.07 – Epilogus {Epilogue}

Previous Chapter

***

Mia Nellada took a bite of pheasant without tasting it, staring through the table, lost in thought. The hall was a good place for thinking, silent and still, somber and grim. At her companion’s request it had been decked out with all the trappings of comfort and opulence, but those trappings couldn’t hide the fact that it was a fancy tomb.

Master Coastering dug into his meal in the seat next to her, overcompensating for the somberness by tearing into the food on his plate.

“You’re worrying again,” he said, too-jovially, “I keep telling you, Little One, there’s nothing to be worried about. She doesn’t know where you are, she doesn’t know how to find you, and even if she does find you…” he trailed off, gesturing to the hall around them, as if the huge empty table was supposed to comfort her, as if the Lanisti and Saggitari scattered in the bare hall were supposed to leave her reassured.

Mia reached a frail hand to the pair of cups that stood by her plate, one silver, one gold. The simple act of reaching was painful, by now, as if the cold had finally leaked into her marrow and permeated everything.

“Believe it or not, Master Coastering, I’m not worried,” she said, “but if I was worried, your feeble attempt at comforting me wouldn’t be helping.”

For a moment an offended expression flickered across Master Coastering’s face, but he quickly hid it, leaning back and chuckling. He couldn’t afford to be offended, not when his vast network had been reduced to one frail, crotchety, dangerous woman.

“Really, Little One, that wit,” Coastering sighed. “Still, if you’re not worried, then I’ll endeavor not to be worried, you’re far wiser than I. I shall put the matter out of my mind.”

For the next hour or so, Mia thought but did not say. There was no use in being nasty to the man, not when their time drew so close to a close. The meal continued for several minutes in the uneasy and tense quiet which was now the norm.

“Do you rotate out your chamber servants?” Coastering broke the quiet suddenly. “I do, but maybe that’s only being paranoid? There were rumors that she somehow got into Lucrezia’s throne room by way of the servants, I don’t know if you’d heard…”

Mia fixed the man with a glare.

“…ah, yes, of course,” Master Coastering said sheepishly, “perhaps that is a bit much-”

At the far end of the hall, one of the high small windows shattered inward. The shards of glass caught the light cast by the many torches and lanterns spread out along the walls, and the effect was like a small waterfall caught by the sun for a moment.

Mia smiled at the pretty sight, while Master Coastering jumped to his feet and screamed.

“They’re here! Guards, mercenaries, get ready!” He shrieked, as if the Lanisti and Saggitari hadn’t already been on alert since the moment they arrived. Mia took another sip of water, and the simple action seemed to calm Coastering.

“You’re right, you’re right,” he said, although Mia hadn’t said a word, “archers, watch the windows. They can’t come through the doors, there’s a squadron of men and the finest locks on the continent between them and us, they’ll try the windows.”

The other five windows burst in unison, and a horde of small shapes flowed inside. A flock of bats flapped along the ceiling, hard to track against the one surface in the room that still flickered with shadows. Master Coastering watched them with horror, his head snapping back and forth, and when they began diving toward the lanterns at the far side of the room he shrieked again.

“Wood! They’re made out of wood, it’s Maple, they’re here, Little One they’re here! Shoot them!”

Mia sighed. A few of the Saggitari wasted an arrow or two in the direction of the tiny specks of flapping wood, but even the arrow that sank into a wing did little more but sent its target careening into a wall. The wooden bat who had been hit merely scrambled on the floor for a moment, snapped the arrow off against the wall, and leapt into the air again to join its brethren in slamming against torches and lanterns.

A few of the bats went up in flames, but the number and weight of them was enough to extinguish all of the light on one side of the hallway.

“Squadron…best men…greatest locks…” Master Coastering murmured in a constant stream under his breath, as the Lanisti and Saggitari between the wide table and the dark end of the hall began shuffling around, shifting their grips on their various weapons.

From the silence in the darkness at the end of the hall, the distinctive sound of a lock shifting open seemed very loud.

“You said they couldn’t get in,” Master Coastering hissed, “Little One you said they wouldn’t get in!”

“Nonsense,” Mia said calmly, “she killed the king of Italoza, Coastering, of course they were going to get in. I said I wasn’t worried.”

“We’ve conquered your estate,” Elena’s voice emerged from the darkness, more confident and much more cold than Mia remembered it. “By any interpretation, it now belongs to me. That means everything from the armory is mine. All of the weapons you’re using are-”

A Saggitara, guided by Elena’s voice, let loose an arrow into the darkness toward it. For a few moments, there was silence.

“-are mine,” Elena’s voice resumed, unperturbed.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Master Coastering stammered.

“It only has to make sense to her, for her Storm to work,” Mia said. “The rest of you, put your weapons down.”

“What?” Coastering shrieked.

“Leave them on the ground and they’ll let you leave in peace. I assume this is the case, Elena?”

“You might have given them messages to pass, or plans to enact,” the cold tone to Elena’s voice was even more pronounced.

“I give you my word I have not.” Mia was surprised that she had to say so, surprised that Elena didn’t assume the best on her own.

A silvery voice in the darkness suggested that the guards do as they were bid, drop the weapons and leave in peace, forgetting any orders Nellada or Coastering had given them.

“Thank you,” Mia said as one by one, the Lanisti and Saggitari let their weapons clatter to the floor, making their way into the darkness and presumably out of the estate as best they could.

“They’re lucky my friends were with me. I wouldn’t choose to be so merciful on my own.” Elena emerged from the darkness, the Saggitara’s arrow held loose in her hand. She was flanked by her Calaetor friend and by Porzia’s son. Mia let her eyes linger on Allvero’s features for a moment. It was a kindness, in a way, to see the features of an old friend in her final moments.

“I believe it,” Mia said quietly.

“Elena, Elena listen,” Master Coastering said softly, “I don’t suppose there’s a chance that that mercy could extend-”

Elena made a small motion with the arrow. A snap from the darkness like a whipcrack interrupted Coastering’s words, and a bolt blossomed from his stomach. Two more snaps in quick succession marked two more bolts, both in Master Coastering’s chest, and he slumped back down in the chair, lifeless.

“Are you going to beg for mercy as well?” Elena asked, setting the arrow down on the table in front of Mia.

“You should know me better. I don’t make a habit of wasting time on impossibilities. ” Mia reached for the gold cup, but Elena snatched it before she could, tossing the contents aside without looking at them. Mia met her gaze as the grin liquid bubbled and boiled on the ground. “I’m alive to answer questions, I take it.”

Allvero stepped forward and picked the gold cup off the ground, sniffing at it and then grimacing.

Cicuta, water-hemlock,” he said. “It’s a hideous death, but it’s quick.”

Elena nodded, as if she was unsurprised. “Do you know how to free the Echoes?”

“If the Storm was lying to you about that, then no I don’t,” Mia replied.

“Do you know where any of the other Twisted are?”

Mia raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t know there were more. I feel a little sorry for them, knowing they’ll come up against you without warning.”

“Don’t bother trying to make me feel guilty,” Elena said. “I don’t think it’s possible, anymore.”

“No…no, it would seem not,” Mia said, searching Elena’s face. It was the same face of the little girl who had left Milia, but there was something dark behind it. “It appears you’re far more informed than I am, Elena. I don’t believe I’m much use to you anymore. Do you have anything else to ask?”

“No,” Elena half-turned, then stopped, “yes, actually. Why? Taking me under your wing in Milia, the coup, the Stormhearts Rebellion, what was it all for? I don’t think I believe it was just for power.”

“It was for Italoza,” Mia said. “No, it’s true,” she added when Elena rolled her eyes, “Stormtouched, Mortalis, now Echoes…they’re too different, and as long as there are differences, people will tear each other apart over them. First Stormtouched will overthrow Mortalis, then Mortalis Stormtouched, as regularly as the tide until the end of time. As long as there is someone to manage that tide, to lead the inevitable rebellions and thus keep them in check, the damage could be mitigated. I served that role for some time, but I am old. If I wasn’t to die tonight, I doubt I’d see the new year. I had hoped for an heir I could train to take my place.”

“And you think I’m the one for the job,” Elena said wryly, “I’ll add ‘keeping Stormtouched and Mortalis from destroying one another’ to the list of impossible tasks I have building.”

Mia furrowed her brow. “I thought that once. Now…” she shook her head slowly, “…you’ve become a different person, child. Without the sweetness and empathy you had, I wouldn’t trust you as my heir.”

“The Storm said something similar,” Elena said, “said that I needed my soft edges chipped off to truly be a Queen. That she’d made me into a true Twisted. She was wrong, and it ended up being her defeat.”

“Wrong about what you had become, or wrong that you needed it to be Queen?” Mia asked. When Elena dropped her gaze, she nodded. It was as good as an admission, and more importantly it was an admission that would last in Elena’s head long after Mia’s death.

“It saved all of the Stormtouched in Italoza,” Elena said. “Maybe that was a trade worth making.”

“Maybe,” Mia said. “Maybe it was worth becoming Twisted, little Cog. Or maybe you would’ve done well to listen to children’s songs. Most children hear The Shadow’s Plaything, did you ever hear it as a girl?”

Her ancient voice was worn from so much talking, but Mia had a smile on her lips as she sang.

“My girl now heed my warning, if ye think to play with shadows,

My daughter heed my warning and be tempted not to stray,

My child, they promise riches and they promise love and power,

But those who play with shadows give their very souls away.”

Elena turned her back on the singing woman, and after a few moments her friends followed. The smile still played at the corner of Mia’s lips as she continued to sing. The girl Frederica and the boy Allvero had exchanged worried looks behind Elena’s back. They were worried about the new darkness in her too. Good. They would work all the harder to keep her in check, and perhaps the group as a whole would work well together.

“So meddle not with shadows, although shadows give thee power,” Mia sang, “meddle not with shadows, for the shadow takes its fee-”

Though she was expecting them, the bolts were so sudden that she barely felt them.

 

***

Elena mused as behind her the three bolts slammed into Little One with whipcrack snaps. The room fell into utter silence as the group slipped back into the near-pitch black. Elena could navigate the estate, her estate, with her eyes closed thanks to the steady stream of information, and the others followed her.

“How much of that was accurate, and how much of it was to get under our skin,” Ele asked, breaking the silence.

“A healthy mix of both,” Elena said. “But you don’t need to worry. I trust you, and I trust Frederica and Owl to reign me in if it’s warranted.”

“I think we were just snubbed,” Belloza said to Emerald, falling into step behind Elena.

“I’m hurt,” even in the darkness Emerald’s grin was apparent, “is our morality not good enough for you, Elena? I mean, if we decide to have some at some point?”

Despite the joking, Elena continued to brood as the group emerged into the moonlight in the grounds of the estate, while Ele hummed The Shadow’s Plaything under his breath.

“The last of the Italozan Twisted,” Frederica said, “and I can’t say I’m sorry. Perhaps it’s the assassination of the monarch, but I’d say we’ve worn out our welcome.”

“I had hoped that Little One would’ve been more helpful,” Owl frowned, “maybe with the Echoes, but at least in narrowing down the choice between Francas or Espana.”

“We’ll have to look to our leader for that choice. Where are we going, Elena?” Bello asked, his deep voice naturally quiet.

We’ll stop by Rimi and consult with the Eye, perhaps convince Ava to go with us,” Elena snuck a glance at Owl. He reached out and clasped her hand in his without saying a word, and Elena smiled.

“Meddle not with shadows, though the shadows give thee power,” Ele sang, as he, Elena, Frederica, Fred, Emerald, Bello and Belloza descended the grassy hill on which the estate sat. “Meddle not with shadows, for the shadow takes its fee…”

I should feel worse, fleeing Italoza with the hatred of the country at my back, Elena though idly, lacing her fingers with Owls. Knowing that the Storm has turned me into a Twisted cog…

“Meddle not with shadows, even though you think them playthings,” Ele sang, his tenor keeping the silence at bay. Elena glanced at her friends around her, no hint of doubt on their faces even though they would be fleeing with her. Maybe there are worse fates in life.

“…but whilst thee plays with shadows, shadows may too play with thee.”

***

Previous Chapter

***

End of Book 4

***

End of Twisted Cogs

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21 responses

  1. Whew, this was the latest night I’ve had in a while, but it was worth it. It feels so weird not putting that “next chapter” link up there!

    If you’d like to give Twisted Cogs one final send-off vote, here’s your last chance to do it!

    If you’ve enjoyed my writing, you might enjoy my brand new serial, Spurs & Seraphim, whose first chapter is live as of now! The site’s still a bit of a mess, but I really need some sleep, so I’ll have to put off cleaning it up for a bit longer.

    Thank you all so much for taking this journey with me!

    Like

    2017-04-12 at 12:13 am

  2. Byzantine

    And so we come full circle. The song at the start becomes the song at the end.

    A warning, gone unheeded.

    Like

    2017-04-12 at 12:42 am

    • I have to admit, I’m a sucker for stories with bookends like that ^_^

      Like

      2017-04-13 at 9:32 am

  3. Stormblessed

    I’m not sure I truly understand the arc of this story. It certainly was serial-esque looking back in it from start to finish. It promises things and then the plots twists and twists again. And I feel there was so much oddness that occurred.

    Little One’s entire goal during Elena’s assassinations seemed weird and the plot really too, a turn (in my opinion) for the worse when the Storm’s true aims were revealed.

    I liked the premise and I loved the characters and Elena’s own character growth was cool, but the overall plot seemed a little slapdash.

    Like

    2017-04-12 at 10:33 pm

    • It certainly did have its shifts in focus, which I think is what you mean by ‘serial-esqeu’. A lot of that had to do with how little I knew as a writer when I began, I think. The sort of “scattered” nature of the plot was one of the main reasons I decided this book should be the last, even though as pointed out below, there is room for a lot more plot and resolution (and originally I planned the series to be much longer).

      All in all I’m happy with the series overall, if for no other reason than it was a wonderful learning experience, and I was able to share it with all you lovely people ^_^

      Like

      2017-04-13 at 9:20 am

  4. Anonymous

    Little one is a Machiavellian character.
    Her end goals are noble just that the way she goes about it ambigous.
    She is not really evil, its just that she deems sacrifices necessary to acheive it.
    Even before her death, she cares to ensure that the group work cohensively.
    But well, such a character is tragic indeed, as she is always lonely.

    For elena, she has grown up alot.
    From the naive country girl, to one who has the makings of a queen but lost what’s really important to her.
    Her innocence.

    Both characters are great!
    You have written two tragic heroines with great character development!

    In all a great story

    Like

    2017-04-12 at 11:45 pm

    • Thank you so much! As I wrote out this series, I found myself drawn to Little One’s story almost more than Elena’s, so I’m glad that readers also found her complex and deep and interesting.

      I’ve had people comment that Elena’s development should’ve happened a lot faster, and I think to a certain extent they’re not wrong, but it makes me so happy that people followed and enjoyed the transition from start to finish.

      Like

      2017-04-13 at 9:23 am

  5. BartHumphries

    But what about the Echos, doomed to live in the fog and be forever hunted by wolf monsters? I mean, the whole point of the evil side was that they needed to be saved. Sure, the good side saved themselves and other “real people” from being overwritten, but what about the Echos? They’re all doomed to live in pain and terror forever? I feel like a major plot point of the story has been left unsatisfied.

    Like

    2017-04-13 at 8:29 am

    • Oh absolutely, there’s so much in the world of Twisted Cogs left untold! The fate of the Echoes, the existence of Twisted in other countries who may reach the Stormgate on their own, the manhunt for Elena and her friends, not to mention the fact that when Owl dies, his locks on the gate will unravel.

      When reviewing the series, though, this story is really about Elena. It’s about a Fabera’s journey, her gradual development from a girl all innocence and no skill to one with power and ability but at the cost of her innocence. There is certainly more to the world of Twisted Cogs, but for Elena the story has reached its conclusion.

      It might be that I revisit the world someday, to deal with. As I mention in a comment above, I had originally planned for the series to be much, much longer, but I’m glad I was able to wrap it up here. If and when I return to the world of Twisted Cogs, I’d like to do so with all of the knowledge I’ve learned over the past three years, and give that story a fresh, clean start.

      Like

      2017-04-13 at 9:31 am

  6. Cicero

    Really enjoyed the ending and the story. Looking forward to your next one.

    Like

    2017-04-14 at 5:58 pm

  7. Well, that was overall quite fun.

    I have the feeling of too many loose ends, here. Too many things happening way too fast since Elena went on her killing spree.

    I loved the ending, but u want to know more. What are the Echoes exactly? What was that silly thing about the chests with their clothing? Why do people opt to become a Guard to a Rhetor?

    I hope you revisit the world soon and explore these loose ends.

    Like

    2017-04-24 at 5:52 pm

    • BartHumphries

      Why does anyone opt to become a prison guard? Some do it for the money. Some do it for a darker reason.

      Like

      2017-04-24 at 7:16 pm

      • A prison guard, yeah. But Guards have no private life, nothing to spend their money on, a 24h duty that feels a bit pointless – much easier to kill the Rhetors. So how and why did the Guardhouse come to exist?

        Like

        2017-04-25 at 12:55 am

        • BartHumphries

          Because the King was best friends with a Rhetor and created the Guardhouse as a surprise, “Hey, I’m only going to imprison you forever instead of kill you, aren’t I a great friend” gesture. The King felt that creating the Guardhouse was the not magnanimous thing to do. It’s in one of the chapters.

          Like

          2017-04-25 at 8:40 am

          • BartHumphries

            Was the more magnanimous thing. Darn autocorrect.

            Like

            2017-04-25 at 8:40 am

  8. I’ve been away. Now it appears I’ve some bing reading to do. I’m impressed.

    Like

    2017-05-11 at 11:24 pm

  9. Binge read everything in one day.
    Loved the story!
    It was an interesting take on the Renaissance, amd I loved how you sidestepped a large number of cliches in your writing.
    Thank you for the read!

    Like

    2017-05-14 at 2:00 am

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, and wow, that’s a lot to binge in a day! Thank *you* for reading!

      Like

      2017-05-16 at 10:08 am

  10. jimhenry1973

    I just re-read the whole thing. That was a brilliant piece of work. Thank you.

    Like

    2017-09-02 at 7:27 pm

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