Art is Boring, but Profitable
rating: +27+x

Florentine Academy: 02:38

Mikhail Marino yawned as he took a step forward into the jewelry displays wing. Number twelve. Twelve times he had completed a route in the Academy, wing to wing, top to bottom. He glanced down all ends of the room, stretched his arms out to the ceiling, and brought them back down to his sides as he fell into the chair behind him.

"God damn shoes… Who do I need to look presentable for anyway? Bianchi?" he scoffed, the backhanded comment bouncing off the glass cases and display pedestals. Mikhail brought his watch up to his face. He was tired, and the slow crawl of time couldn't care less. He was doomed.

Mikhail, in a dramatic fashion for no audience, sighed and brought his head down to the help desk's counter, sheltering it in his arms. Two minutes. Just two minutes of shut eyes. What are the chances of another attempt of burglary this year?

Mikhail's shoulders relaxed, and his eyes shut. Sound and light faded into silence and dark.

And that silence was broken by a metal squeak.

Mikhail bolted upwards, his eyes meeting with a figure clothed in black, loose-fitting clothes.

"Ah. Didn't see you there," Elena said.

"Shit!" Mikhail responded, reaching into an already opened desk drawer. Quickly, he pulled out a small paperweight and threw it at Elena. Elena ducked down behind the desk, letting the weight fly across the hall and onto the exhibition floor. At this, Mikhail's face contorted to confusion.

"Oh, you found my gift exchange. You were probably looking for this." Elena held up a small, oblong sphere, green marks glowing around it. "I've got work to do. Goodbye." At this remark, she made her leave, dashing out of the wing.

Mikhail stood up from his chair, guard baton in hand. As he broke into a sprint for the thief, the chair followed him, tethered by a shackle connected to his left foot. The chair met the back of his leg and threw him to the floor.

"I knew I was missing one," Piotr said, his voice meshed between a voice modulator and an earpiece.

"You missed two. One in jewelry, one in statuary," Elena replied.

"Jewelry was crowded on Thursday. Didn't have the chance." Piotr said firmly, as if it was the truth. "Be careful not to drop those sound stones. They'll be fine in your pouch, but if they fall from your hip to the floor, forget whatever you're doing and leave."

"I'm aware." Elena slowed her pace as she approached the entry to the special collections wing. "You think they'd use a more up-to-date security system."

"Magic doesn't break like tech. They lose a sound stone and they just make another. Less intricate materials, too," Piotr said. "You didn't need to mess with the guard like that."

Elena stopped before crossing into the next wing, peering at each visible corner of the hall. "Bad time to tell me that now, don't you think, P?"

Piotr sighed. "I know, I know. You know what you're doing. Can't blame me for being too careful. Probably for the best. Poor guy doesn't even know what's coming." Piotr's comment was cut into the staccato of the hold tone as Elena switched him to standby. Her focus needed to be sharp while she was in the museum, and having Piotr lecturing her wasn't doing any favors.

The special collections wing was kept in twenty-four hours of dim-lighting. The reliance on artificial light was in part due to the photosensitivity of a select few pieces, but it also served as a secondary security measure. No windows meant the only exits were the two hallways leading into separate wings and a fire exit that would trigger a sound stone embedded in the door's hinges. This goes without mention of the combination of routine and dedicated security detail stationed within the wing, all acting as sentinels in defense of prized works and artifacts, such as the sculpting tools located in a far corner of the wing.

Elena, of course, welcomed the challenge.

She slipped into the wing, pressing her feet lightly into the tile floor. Tripping wasn't an acceptable action this far in; each step was a calculated effort. Four steps, a glance at both sides, repeat ad nauseam. As Elena walked past each display case and pedestal, it occurred to her that everything was moving along smoothly.

Maybe a bit too smoothly, as she hadn't seen a guard since she was in jewelry.

Elena felt her heartbeat intensify, paranoia setting in. She switched on her retinal cameras and activated their dark vision. She looked at the corners of the ceiling. Nothing. They wouldn't rely on security footage anyway. She looked behind her. No surprises there. She looked above her and was met with a dim yellow light fixture, suspended by a metal pole. It couldn't have been this easy.

As if hitting a bell labeled "Of Course Not", a set of stone floor tiles shifted a meter to Elena's left and began to rise. Elena, responding to her best instincts, sprinted and ducked behind a support column, the shadow cast by it concealing her while the stone formed itself into the shape of a man. She adjusted to short, shallow breaths in an effort to suppress her presence.

The stone figure stood tall, turning its head to assess the room completely. It paused, completely still. One more look around followed by another pause. It then opened its mouth, the stone grinding together at each syllable. "I see no one, Mikhail. You are certain they came here?"

Another pause. Elena kept still.

"Twice, I've searched this wing. I've seen no one, but you are certain?" the stone said, speaking to an invisible partner. All was quiet while it processed an unheard reply.

"I see what I see, Mikhail," it replied. Elena felt her lungs begin to cave, begging for a sigh of relief.

"Although, if you insist on being unsatisfied, there is one more thing I can do."

The stone man crouched down and placed the tips of its fingers on the floor. Then, it forced them into the tile itself, burying its digits with a loud snap. Not a second after, small finger-like spires rapidly poked out of the tiles and circled around the stone man, moving outwards in all directions. As they poked out, they sunk back in to re-emerge an inch forward, scraping their tips against the tiles. It wasn't long before Elena witnessed the wave of stone digits approaching her.

Elena reflexively pressed her back against the column as the rolling rock tide closed in. She immediately pushed back against the instinct to be still; freezing in place would only be her end. In the last open second, Elena hopped to her feet, turned, and clung to the column, her arms and legs wrapping around the marble structure. She was barely off the floor, but at least she was off of it.

The sentinel's fingers met with the marble column, rubbing their ends on its base. Elena felt nothing. A moment passed, and the sound of shifting stone moved away. Elena felt her grip relax.

Suddenly, the hall went silent, quickly broken by another loud snap as the sentinel resumed its upright position. "Nothing more, Mikhail. They are not here as you so claim." The stone figure soon collapsed back into the floor, tile by tile, and Elena let herself fall back to the ground. She took a few deep breaths, letting her muscles expel their built up tension.

As soon as her breathing reset into an even pace, Elena stood up and walked. Her prize had not been collected just yet.

Donatello's sculpting tools laid inside of a display case in the far corner of the wing, a light hovering over the case for ideal appraisal. Each tool lay next to each other, four inches of space in between, as if they were actors lined up on a stage. Currently, they entertained an audience of one, who was affixing three automated glass-cutting tools to the top of the long display case. As one tool began the task of creating a circular entryway, Elena prepared the next.

The quiet buzzing of laser penetrating glass signaled that the night's main event was nearing. It had been hard work with weeks of preparation, and Elena was getting warm with excitement. As soon as this was over and the client paid up, life was going to get a lot easier.

This comforting dream was interrupted by the growing shadow of a man behind her, an arm raising above his head.

"Bianchi is full of shit," Mikhail called out as he brought down his baton.

Elena quickly ducked and stepped to the side, the sound of booming thunder emanating from Mikhail's baton as it passed her head. It smacked into the display case and violently vibrated the glass, reducing it to shards. Mikhail turned around and readied a second strike. Elena responded with another sidestep and countered with a kick in the side, knocking Mikhail out of his stance.

As he regained posture, he charged forward and leaped toward Elena, tackling her and bringing them both onto the floor. In doing so, the two sound stones in her pouch clamored against each other and cracked open, freeing a sound like a scream and momentarily stunning the thief and the guard. A familiar sound of shifting stone tile followed suit. Mikhail, recuperating from the sudden shriek, was pushed away by a strong kick from Elena. He fumbled backward, dropping his baton and hitting his head on the display stand.

Without a second thought, Elena stood up and bolted for the sculpting tools, swiping them and storing them in the pouch. The stone sentinel had nearly finished forming as she grabbed the last cedar mallet. She sprinted for the hallway, the sentinel shouting a demand to cease as he implanted his hands into the floor. It wasn't long before her footsteps were accompanied by the echo of stone fists punching out of the floor behind her.

Only a few steps away from the primary exit of the wing, Elena's left foot was grabbed my a stone fist, bringing her to a halt as she crashed to the floor front first. A second hand emerged and seized her right leg and began dragging her back to the sentinel.

Elena reached for her pouch, scrambling for an answer for her situation while she was pulled back. The answer she found was a flat tipped chisel. She brought it up above her head and stabbed it back down into the floor.

In a brilliant spark of light, the chisel impacted the tile and sent a quake throughout the floor. Suddenly, Elena stopped moving. She felt her legs become free. When she looked behind her, the sentinel had a newly formed seam running down the middle of its face and all the way to the chisel in her hand. It was still.

Elena, with no desire to know whether it was stunned or dead, left the wing, the sculpting tools in her possession. One more thing left to do, and she didn't have the leisure of being hidden anymore.

Elena moved into the main hallway of the Florentine Academy. Her next moves needed to be made soon. She released Piotr from hold.

"P, I need some help and now," Elena demanded.

"You're looking for advice, eh?" Piotr replied.

Elena sighed. "Could we not do this right now? A guard caught up with me and they called in a geomancer. I don't have a lot of time."

Piotr paused for a second. "That you don't. What do you need?"

"Can you compare the layout of each floor in the building? Find out which room is above Goliath?"

"Can and will. Find a place to sit tight while I work." Such a luxury as "sitting" wasn't available to Elena, so she continued moving, eyeing exits and corners.

Piotr wasn't busy for long. "Alright. Tell me where you are now."

"The foyer. I've got the tools, I just need to know where Goliath is."

"Doesn't look like you're very far, then. There should be an entrance to a washroom nearby. Find it, move four meters south of it, and you should be in front of Goliath's storage room."

"Thanks. Remind me to give you a tip after this is done." Elena began en route for the washroom. She could hear rumbling from down the hall as she approached it.

"I don't forget stuff like that, you know," Piotr said, letting out a light laugh. "Why did you need to know a location above it? Could just take the staircase."

"The stairwell is narrow. If I'm there, I don't have any other options for escape."

"So how are you getting down there?"

Elena stopped. She had reached her destination. She rummaged around her pouch for appropriate tools. "Taking a calculated risk with the tools."

"Wait, you know how to use those?"

"No." Elena kneeled, mallet in one hand, chisel in the other. The wooden handles felt warm in her palms, reverberating a soft hum. She took a moment to envision what she sought out to do, aimed the chisel to the floor, and brought the mallet down with a firm swing.

Another brilliant spark flashed upon impact. The clattering of rock and gravel sounded off all at once. When Elena opened her eyes, a smooth stone slope had formed where she struck, leading down into another room. From where she perched, she could see the granite shoulders of Goliath, its head in a case to its side.

The rumbling of incoming sentinels grew louder as Elena moved down the newly formed slope. She carefully climbed down, getting herself at level with Goliath's shoulders, and affixed one half of a retractable tether to the neck. The first half of the easy part was over.

Next, she hopped off the slope and onto the granite colossus. She scaled down its body and soon met with the floor. She bolted for the head. With no more need to be subtle in her quest, Elena lifted the glass case and heaved it off of the display, letting it shatter as she fumbled for the receiving tether.

Just as she attached it to the back of the head, a heavy brick flew past her and crashed into the wall behind her. Two sentinels hung from the ceiling, one aiming their second throw while the other sent their arms across the ceiling and down the wall. Elena leaped towards Goliath, only barely dodging the flying brick.

Elena was too close and too far in to give up. She gripped onto Goliath's javelin and began climbing. The ranged sentinel held their next volley, dropped it, and sank its hands into the ceiling, positioning them above Elena while a growing tower of open hands followed underneath her. She swung herself onto the arm of the statue, kicking off of the hand column growing beneath as she jumped its shoulders.

A click of a button and a beam of light appeared between the two nodes, forming the tether. The head was forcibly pulled from its resting place, slamming into the heels of Goliath as it was dragged up its leg and back, nearly toppling it. Granite ground against granite though it left no marks.

The stone sentinels lunged their hands at Elena as she maneuvered on the shoulders of Goliath, maintaining her balance the best she could muster while the head settled onto place. The time was now, and Elena armed herself with the hammer and chisel once more. She struck the chisel into the seam around Goliath's collar and, with a spark of light, fused the head into the body, making it whole.

And no response.

Elena, stunned by the lack of action from the statue, was grabbed by the sentinels, her arms and legs seized. The chisel and mallet fell from her hands and to the floor as she struggled to break free from their grip. As much as she squirmed, there was no breaking free from solid rock. Uselessly thrashing about only wasted effort. She felt her body getting tired as many bricks began to form around her, building a personal tomb.

And then it came crashing to the ground, all at once. Elena felt a load of a few bricks bash against her body. The pain pulsed violently through her arms and legs, hands and feet. She rested there on the ground for a brief moment before pushing herself back onto her feet. She was dazed, but conscious. Alive, but bruised. She looked around her and saw stone rubble in a pile in the corner.

She looked up and saw Goliath had readied its javelin for a second strike.

The sentinel gathered a stone mass in the air and propelled it forward. Goliath, with a reaction unfit for a man of granite, batted it out of the air with its free hand. Elena took cover from the debris, forcing her legs to carry her to reasonable safety as Goliath ran its javelin through the stone sentinel. When it retracted it, the sentinel fell to pieces on the floor.

Goliath turned its mighty body, scanning the room for its next opponent. Alas, there were none.

But it knew where to find the next. It always knew.

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