A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

4.4 – Prandium Cum Gente {Dinner With the Family}

It was a tickle across her subconscious brain, like a sand-laden feather being dragged across sensitive skin. Elena wasn’t awake and so couldn’t process the feeling in words like “someone is inviting me away from my dream, inviting me somewhere else, would I like to join them?” but even so she was somehow able to make the choice.

Yes. Yes I would like to join them.

“-will be absolutely heartbroken if it doesn’t work this time, I really will, but there’s always the next…oh…OH, ladies and gentlemen I think we’ve got her! Her and her Echo friend!” The voice was familiar; the large man in black furs who had talked to her in a dream before. Elena felt sluggish, as if she were waking up slowly in reverse, and she had to blink several times before the scene in front of her came into focus.

It was a gigantic hall, full of arches and with a high ceiling. She was sitting at the head of a long table of dark red wood, and up and down the side sat the monstrous apparitions who had inhabited her last dream. Dishes and silverware made of the same red wood sat neatly in front of each, though on the plates were quite varied foods. Next to her sat Ele, looking around him curiously and blinking as she did.

“Elena Lucciano!” Black Furs said from his seat at the opposite end of the table. As he had when they’d last met, he said her name very deliberately, as if he was tasting every syllable. Before she had found it unnerving, but he was beaming so heartily that Elena managed a half-smile herself. “I was so hoping that our most recent visit wouldn’t be our last!”

“You were so frightened, we all hoped we would have the chance to make a slightly better impression,” the Grinning Girl’s smile stretched so wide that it almost reached from ear to ear, her blank face featureless besides the long mouth.

“You’ve been here before?” Ele asked Elena from the side of his mouth. He was holding himself stiffly, as if worried of attracting the monsters’ attention.

“I’ve met these…ladies and gentlemen…in a dream a few weeks ago Ele,” Elena said, “it’s a bit much to get used to, but they’re very polite. There’s no need to be frightened- well, I was a little bit frightened at first,” Elena admitted sheepishly. Now that they were at a table rather than all piled into a cramped litter, the monsters were slightly less threatening.

“You were quite frightened yes, and I’m terribly sorry for that, but thank you for admitting it. Honesty is a wonderful virtue…as long as it’s practised among friends,” Black Furs said with a wink.

“No offense meant, but I can see why she was frightened,” Ele said. Elena scanned the assembled group; her eyes were struggling to focus within the dream, but with a little concentration she could see each of her dinner companions. In addition to the Grinning Girl and the fat man in black furs, there were other familiar faces. The man whose face hung in ribbons around his head, slowly floating as if they were underwater, was on her right. Next to him was the woman who was perfectly plain in every way, although Elena’s stomach clenched at the sight of her. Across from the pair was a man with very thin features and long spidery hands that had no arms connecting them to his body. Next to Black Furs sat a small child with gold hair, picking at her food and not looking at Elena.

“Oh Mister Shadow, I’m sure you and Elena are far too clever to judge this small library of books by their respective covers,” Black Furs said reproachfully. Even in the brightly lit hall it was impossible to make out the features of his face no matter how hard Elena tried, and eventually she simply gave up.

“Sometimes the cover of a book is a perfect indication of what lurks beneath it,” Ele replied.

“If our monstrous appearance was indication of monstrous morals, then what would that say about our dear friend Elena?” Black Furs lifted a glass of swirling blue liquid and made a toasting gesture towards Elena.

“I’m still trying to figure that out.”

“What do you mean?” Elena asked. Lucid or no, she seemed far less able to think clearly in the fog of the dream. It wasn’t until Ele motioned down at her hands that she realized what had happened. At first glance she thought that her skin had dried out and was cracking, but on closer inspection the deep cracks that traced through her hands were too precise, too careful to be random.

“I will be the first to admit that I don’t know you very well Elena,” Black Furs said, watching as she raised her hands in front of her face, letting the sleeves of her shirt fall to see the cracks running all the way down her arms, “at least not yet, not as much as I’d like to…but I do have to admit that it’s a rather amusing form you have. Appropriate, somehow.”

“I’m a jigsaw puzzle,” Elena realized aloud, somewhat belatedly. The cracks that ran along her flesh outlined the curves of pieces, locked into place.

“As I say, appropriate. You’re puzzling.”

“Not really, I’m easy to figure out,” Elena was so fascinated that she was only half-paying attention, running her finger along the lines, feeling the tiny near-microscopic gaps between them. “What happens if I take a piece out?”

“I’m…not entirely sure, but I wouldn’t suggest it, I wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself.”

“Pardon me,” Ele broke in, “Elena seems a little sleepdrunk at the moment, so perhaps you’d be kind enough to answer some of my questions.”

“I am not sleepdrunk!” Elena protested.

“Of course!” Black Furs waved a hand, “in fact that’s part of the reason we’ve brought you here along with Elena, because the first several times can be rather disoriented. The other reason was to meet you, of course. If we’re going to be meeting with Elena regularly, it wouldn’t do to not have met you.”

“That’s my first question, right off the bat,” Ele brushed Elena’s protests aside, “who are you? Why are you meeting with Elena, and why do you think you can just pull us through dreams whenever you want?”

“Oh dear,” the ribbon-faced man sighed, “I believe you’ve started things on the wrong foot with Ele, Wanderer. We really should stop defaulting to letting you speak for us.”

“I don’t mind him speaking for us,” the Grinning Girl popped something from her plate into her mouth and chewed loudly, occasionally grinning through shark-like teeth.

“You don’t count, you don’t mind anything he does.”

“Alright, alright, you answer then,” Ele said impatiently to the ribbon-faced man, “as long as we get an answer.”

“It’s quite a long and convoluted answer that your question has, but I shall strive to do it the justice it deserves,” the ribbon-faced man leaned back and rested his hands on his stomach, “it all began many decades ago-”

“We are the Twisted. I am Marsilio,” The thin man with spindly hands and no arms interrupted, turned suddenly to Ele. He had a trace of a Spanish accent in his dark deep voice, although his face bore no sign of Spanish heritage, “the reason we bring Elena here is because she is one of us. We want to help Elena discover herself and her Storm.” He turned towards the ribbon-faced man, “that’s how you answer questions. It’s only you who makes everything long and convoluted.”

“Using your real name Marsilio?” The gold-haired child said quietly, “we know nothing about Elena, least of all whether or not she’s trustworthy.”

“We can hardly ask her to trust us when we do not offer her the same trust,” Marsilio made a motion with his disembodied hands that might’ve been an attempt at a shrug, “besides, her Shadow already doesn’t like us. No need to put him more on guard by being secretive.”

“Why do you call me a Shadow instead of an Echo? And speaking of secrets, how do you know Elena needs help figuring out her Storm?” Ele demanded. Elena blinked to try to focus, concerned by Ele’s aggressiveness. She was very much reminded of the last time he had seemed angry and she blurry; under the stars with Arturo and the wine. Nothing bad had happened then, but still…perhaps she would trust Ele’s judgement this time.

“Elena is one of us,” Marsilio said simply, “of course she needs help. As for why we call you a Shadow…it’s because some of us are rather melodramatic, and have decided to come up with secret names for absolutely everything.”

“You’re no fun Arc,” the Grinning Girl growled, although a smile played in the corner of her wide lips.

“In truth, we would’ve offered our services much sooner; we all remember how hard it was to learn control over our Storm,” Black Furs broke in, “but this dream hall is very difficult to get set up correctly, and finding Elena again was harder still, getting her to join us the very hardest. All of us must be sleeping, yet not sleeping so deeply that we drag others further in, and of course the keys of- well, it’s not important. Suffice to say that even though it becomes easier the more we attempt it, I’ll be quite glad when we finally meet face to face and can dispense with all of this dreaming nonsense.”

“Meeting face to face?” Elena asked.

“Why yes of course Elena dearest! You didn’t think that we would let you rot away in whatever little town you’re in now, did you? You’re one of our own now!”

“Speaking of which, we should probably take care of that sooner rather than later,” the plain woman said, and Elena’s heart pounded. She still couldn’t bring herself to look at the woman’s average features, nor could she get rid of the feeling of ice down her spine whenever the woman spoke. “Elena, you must tell us where we can find you, so that we can visit and help you in person.”

Elena might’ve told her had it been another of the Twisted, but the plain woman still disturbed her in a way she couldn’t quite put her finger on. The fact that Elena had no clue why she was so disturbed made her even more uneasy.

“Oh don’t worry Miss Lucciano!” As if reading her mind, Black Furs waved both hands in a way that made his large belly jiggle, “we of all people know how important it is to keep worlds separate. No one in your life will know about us, you’ll have nothing to fear. Who knows, we might even be able to help you keep your-”

The hall had been quiet up until this point, the gentle click of wooden silverware on wooden dishes pleasantly muted, but the silence was suddenly broken by a resounding, echoing boom. Another crash shook the room and rattled the dishes, and Elena covered her ears.

“Don’t worry, it’s just your real life,” Marsilio shouted over the noise, “someone is knocking on your door.”

“I must say Elena, I pity your lack of sleep; this is the second time your acquaintances have cut our meetings short,” Black Furs bellowed.

“Her address! Her town! Elena, where can we find you?” The plain woman asked.

 


 

“Elena, are you in there?” The knocking on the door was infinitely quieter when she was actually awake, and Elena sat up in bed. Across from her, Ele’s wore a thoughtful frown.

“That wasn’t just any dream, was it?” He asked. Elena shook her head, then rose to throw open the door. Lorenzo stood outside, dark bags beneath his eyes and stacks of paper in his arms. Behind him Lore looked equally tired, but the fire in the eyes of both told her what they were thinking.

“Lodestones?” she asked, rubbing her eyes.

“Elena can I please come in? I think I’m becoming a killer and I need your help to stop it.”

 


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5 responses

  1. If you like pina coladas and taking walks in the rain, then you’re probably bummed out about the autumn weather coming up here. I mean, I love autumn but let’s face it the rain is getting pretty cold nowadays and walking in it is just going to make you sick, more than likely, and then you won’t enjoy your pina coladas as much and um…I think this was going to be a “if you enjoy Twisted Cogs and want others to find it, consider giving it a vote” joke, but it kinda got away from me.

    Bundle up warm if you’re going to be walking in the rain, is essentially what I’m saying. I don’t want my lovely readers getting sick.

    Like

    2014-10-08 at 11:36 pm

    • Lord Cassius Spire

      voted!

      Like

      2014-10-08 at 11:50 pm

  2. Vote for twisted cogs or Lorenzo might kill again?

    Like

    2014-10-09 at 9:02 am

  3. Whaaaat? Plot twist impending!
    Okay, “from ear to ear” -> if her face is blank, does she have ears?

    Like

    2014-10-09 at 12:23 pm

    • Well now this is an interesting thing to think about. When I think of facial features, for whatever reason I don’t normally include ears in that category.

      Looking it up I see that I am in fact incorrect on that score; I’ll have to go back and do some editing to be more correct in my phrasing, since the Grinning Girl does, in fact, have ears.

      Thanks for pointing that out!

      Like

      2014-10-09 at 12:28 pm

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