A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

5.5 – Retorta Somniantes {Twisted Dreamings}

The small, dark hallway was lit by a blue glow that emanated from Elena’s skin. The outlines of the puzzle pieces were eerie, and gave Elena the feeling that she might fall apart if she moved too quickly or accidentally bumped into something. The hallway was long but narrow, dark enough that she couldn’t make out any of its features, and it was the first time she’d arrived at the dreamworld without someone there to meet her. Ele sat beside her, taking in their surroundings and looking at the pattern of light that shone through the cracks in her skin with interest. The heavy weight of exhaustion Elena had felt when awake was gone now, and she seemed to be much less angry at him without it, but out of stubbornness or principle she turned away from him.

The long hallway was lit with a soft blue light that had no source, and curved to the side so that she couldn’t see the end. A few doors were scattered along both walls, and Elena picked the one closest to her and stepped through. She held the door open for Ele, feeling just a twinge of guilt for the way she had treated him.

The door led out onto a huge balcony made of pale blue stone with moss growing between the cracks. Empty chairs and a large wooden table lay on one side of the balcony, and all along the railings grew ivy with little twists of pale pink and lavender flowers that glowed. In the night sky hung a colossal full moon, one that should’ve been blindingly bright but instead gave off just enough illumination to bathe the balcony in moonlight. The air was warmer than it was in Milia, just a little too hot for comfort but with a cool breeze that made it perfect.

“Twisted Dreamer sure knows how to make himself a world,” Ele put his hands in his pockets, craning his neck to look up at the stars which shone bright in multiple colours overhead.

“I always thought of him as ‘Black Furs’,” Elena said, before remembering that she wasn’t speaking to him. Now that she had broken her silence, she continued, “I wonder how he does this all? What kind of Storm lets you share your dreams?”

“He’s probably a Machinator who build some kind of dream machine,” Ele said. “What I wonder is how far the dream goes. Does he do the landscapes as well? What’s the view like from up here?” The pair walked towards the railing in concert, leaning over to look down at ground far beneath them.

Dio mio,” Elena breathed.

There was no ground beneath them. The tower that they stood upon was many stories high, the highest that Elena had ever seen, but at its base where it should’ve connected to the ground there was instead a…something. At first glance it simply looked like a field of angry grey thunderclouds, but upon closer inspection Elena couldn’t help but feel as if there was a mass there, just beneath the clouds, something with enough presence and weight that she could sense it even as far above it as she was.

Arcs of lightning flashed beneath the surface of it, in strange symbolic patterns that looked more like design than like random chance. The sight of the roiling clouds made Elena feel uneasy for some reason, as if it were watching her. She turned her gaze back towards the sky, reveling in the beauty instead of the slightly eerie scene below.

“You seem a little more relaxed, here,” Ele commented, somewhat cautiously. Elena took mental stock, looking around her at the other tower spires she could see from the balcony.

“It’s a little harder to think here,” she said finally. “Everything is a little bit fuzzy and a little bit more relaxed around the edges. It’s a nice feeling, when everything outside is so frightening and stressful.”

“For me it’s the opposite,” Ele furrowed his brow, his gaze locked on the clouds far beneath them. “This place sets my teeth on edge. But I am glad it’s having this effect on you. You could use some time where you’re less stressed.”

“I’m sorry for not listening to you,” Elena said quietly. “It’s not because I don’t care about you, you know.”

“I know. It’s because you’re impulsive and stubborn and think you know everything,” Ele grinned to show he was joking. “And I’m sorry I scolded you. It can just be frustrating, not being able to help. I think the two of us make a pretty good team, when we work together.”

“We do. I promise, I’ll try to take your advice into account when making decisions in the future.”

“I would appreciate that.” The silence between the two was much more comfortable after that, Elena trying to look for familiar constellations in the colorful stars, Ele staring off into the grey clouds as if lost in thought. “I wonder where the Twisted are,” Ele finally said, “didn’t you say there were always around as soon as you fell asleep?”

“They have been…but I’ve only met with them twice so far,” Elena said, “I don’t know how this whole thing works. I don’t mind waiting for them. If I can enjoy this place for a few hours while I nap, I can think about what to do without too much stress going along with it.”

“I thought you’d already decided you were waiting for your mother to tell you what to do.” Ele’s voice was a little bitter, but Elena ignored it.

“I said I would listen to your advice, and I meant it,” she said. “If you have a plan of action, we can try it, and I’ll just write my mother to tell her we were expelled from De Luca’s studio. I won’t leave her in the dark, but I’ll listen to your advice; is that an acceptable compromise?”

“I would be alright with that,” Ele smiled. “I was thinking we could apply to other Studios. Spending any time in De Luca’s will make you more attractive to other studios, I think, and we can still learn a lot, even in other studios. Who knows, we might find one with another Faberi who can mentor you.”

“I can do that,” Elena said cautiously, “only I don’t want to apply to Gitti’s Studio. Not after what happened to Slug.” Just thinking about the venomous Machinator made her feel uneasy, and she glanced over both shoulders.

“Alright. We’ve probably missed our window for today, but that’s fine. After you wake up, you can get something to eat, we can try to build something in our room, and bright and early tomorrow morning we’ll set out to the other studios.”

“We don’t know how time works, here,” Elena pointed out. “Sometimes in a dream hours and hours pass when only minutes pass in real life, or the other way ‘round. It might be that I’ve only been sleeping for twenty minutes, and when I wake up it’ll still be in the afternoon.”

“No.” The voice was muted and neutral, but Elena hadn’t been expecting it from the side opposite to Ele, and she jumped. Standing next to her, just barely tall enough to rest her chin on her arms on the railing, the little girl with hair made of gold looked up at the moon. “You must’ve slept through the evening,” she continued as if nothing had happened, “because I didn’t go to bed until eleven of the clock. It’s definitely night time.”

“I didn’t hear you,” Elena said, her heart still racing.

“No,” the golden-haired girl agreed without turning, “you didn’t.”

“It’s…it’s nice to see you again,” Elena ventured, feeling a bit foolish.

“The others prefer that I do not lie to you,” Golden Hair said, “so I won’t say the same.”

“Oh.” Elena lapsed into an awkward silence.

“What did we do that you dislike us so much?” Ele asked.

“Do?” Golden Hair finally turned towards them, tilting her head. Now that she was close, Elena could see that her eyes were made of gold as well; pupilless and smooth. It was impossible to tell if she was looking at Ele or Elena, but her comment seemed to be directed at both of them. “You did nothing. I simply have no reason to trust you. My companions seem to believe that just because you are Twisted, you are necessarily trustworthy, that just because you are like us you are necessarily harmless to us. I have been harmed enough to know that harm may come from all angles, from any direction.”

Elena wasn’t quite sure how to take the girl’s stance. It was even more paranoid than Ele’s way of thinking, and it was so out of Elena’s experience that she couldn’t quite figure it out.

“But…why would I hurt you?” She asked. “Even if I was that kind of person, what possible reason could I have, since hurting you doesn’t even help me?”

“Too many reasons to name,” Golden Hair said with a shrug, turning back to the moon, “some of them beyond even my understanding. Safer by far to wait and see someone proven trustworthy.”

“Is our littlest member being her charming self?” Marsillo called from the door to the balcony, approaching in a far more relaxed manner than Golden Hair had. A pair of white gloves covered his long spidery fingers and hands, the ends neatly sewn shut where his hands would’ve connected to his arms. “Don’t be too offended. Our little one tends to take quite a while to warm up to people. Some of us took years to earn her trust. Don’t take it personally.”

“You’re going to be stabbed in the back one of these days, Marsillo,” Golden Hair said. “Someone’s going to take advantage of your trusting nature, and stab you in the back. And you will cry out ‘why didn’t I listen to Little One’s advice, and I’m going to laugh.”

“You make it sound incredibly as if you’re the one holding the knife in this scenario,” Marsillo smiled, but Golden Hair regarded him gravely through gold eyes, not smiling back.

“You joke, but if you don’t heed my warning-”

“Our dear Marsillo has yet to heed any warnings ever given to him,” Black Furs was at the table, a jolly smile on his face, “I hardly think he’ll start now. Hello El-ena Luc-cia-no,” he winked at Elena, pronouncing each syllable of her name distinctly. “It’s quite a treat to see you again, and I’m quite glad that you’re able to find your way here. Now come, come, everyone, let’s sit down.”

When Elena sat at the table, the group had expanded to include all of the Twisted that she had met; the ribbon-faced man, the plain woman, Black Furs, Golden Hair, Marsillo, and also another, someone that seemed to be made of black liquid held in place by invisible skin.

“So, Elena, how are you?” The plain woman said kindly, and Elena shuddered and winced at her voice.

“I’m…I’ve been better,” Elena said honestly, “just today I-”

“Hold on, and I’m sorry to interrupt, but you have quite a bad habit of waking up just before you tell us where we can find you,” Ribbon Face said with a chuckle, “helping you can be done so much smoother in person, but we’ve been searching to no avail for weeks now; where in Europa are you, child?”

“Right now I’m in an inn in-” Elena began, but Ele barked an interruption so suddenly that she was startled for the second time in the night.

“Don’t tell them.” He said.

The assembled Twisted and Elena turned to give Ele looks of mixed concern and curiosity.

“What? Why not?” Elena asked.

“Something about this doesn’t feel right. No, none of this feels right,” Ele was scanning the faces of everyone at the table, his eyes narrowed. “A group of kindly benefactors, all gathering to help you, all because you just happen to be special, and all of it happening just when you need them most…it’s too convenient, too perfect.”

“I…I just promised Ele that I would take his advice,” Elena said apologetically. “If he says not to say where I am…”

“We would never ask you to do something you felt uncomfortable about, Elena,” Black Furs said with a sad smile, “nor would we dream of turning you and your Shadow against each other. But I must say, it grieves me to think what a horrid life you two must have had. To think that a stroke of good luck must necessarily be a trap…it breaks my heart.”

“I don’t know that it’s a trap, but I don’t not know either,” Ele said. “And telling you where we are…that’s not something we can take back. I just…it’s like Little One said. Better to be safe and suspicious than open and regret it.”

“Little One, have you been poisoning our new guests’ heads with mistrust?” Black Furs sighed.

“I’m sorry,” the golden-haired girl said, “but perhaps you all could take a lesson from Elena’s shadow. Perhaps your Shadows would agree if they were here.”

“Where are your Echoes?” Elena asked. Her mind was foggy, but the question had been nudged by Golden Hair’s words. “Aren’t you all Stormtouched?”

“Shadows hate it in this world,” Marsillo said. “The feelings of peace and relaxation we feel here are to them feelings of tension, suspicion, paranoia…” he trailed off, looking at Ele.

“I can see why they don’t like it,” Ele said, crossing his arms and shivering, “if I had the chance I’d leave here in a second.”

Black Furs made a small waving motion, and suddenly Ele was no longer by Elena’s side.

“What just happened?” Elena asked.

“It pains me to see what this place does to Shadows,” Black Furs explained, “Ele is safely enjoying his own, natural dream now, one which I’m sure he’ll find much more pleasant than here. Oh don’t worry,” he said hastily at Elena’s look of unease, “this isn’t a precursor to us trying to find you. If your Shadow is sure you two must be hidden away, then we will respect that. It does, however, make things a touch trickier…”

“I am forced to wonder what they have to hide,” Golden Hair said darkly.

“Am I the only one who finds the idea of a hidden Twisted incredibly dangerous?” The man made of black liquid spoke for the first time.

“Enough.” The plain woman spoke in her horrible, frightening, yet nondescript voice. “We are not pressuring Elena to reveal herself, not even with discussion.”

“Agreed. We should move somewhere else to discuss this,” Black Furs said. “I am sorry, Elena. You say that you’ve had a hard day, would you like to stay here while we discuss this recent turn? Take the edge off before you awake again?”

“Thank you,” Elena said quietly. She wasn’t entirely sure how to feel as the Twisted shuffled off of the balcony, murmuring to each other quietly as they left. A part of her felt that she should be terrified, part of her wondered if she should be angry at Ele, but everything was so fuzzy and warm and relaxing that a part of her didn’t care at all. She sat in one of the chairs and leaned back, staring at the sky and letting herself relax completely, resting beneath a giant moon and a sky full of colourful stars.


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9 responses

  1. No, auto-spell-check, I did not mean to call him “Else” for the entire story =_=

    I’ll be writing Twisted Cogs on my phone next update, so please be patient with grammar and spelling errors! On the off-chance that I can’t get it posted due to technical issues, I’ll make sure to post something to let everyone know!

    A big thank you to Zachary, my first patron! The “bonus chapters” page has been updated!

    Like

    2014-11-23 at 9:30 pm

  2. Eduardo

    And suddenly there was a table … well, it is a dream after all.

    Like

    2014-11-24 at 5:26 am

  3. I’ve been thinking about Elena’s storm, and I think I’ve figured it out. Every time it’s worked, it’s been to figure out something fundamentally broken. Whether that’s a quirk of how her storm works or a plot device, it’s an interesting trend.

    Like

    2014-11-24 at 8:04 am

  4. DeNarr

    Yea, sending Ele away does not ring well for these guys being good guys. Yes, he had just said he’d leave if given the chance, but they still should have let him know they could do so for him, and give him the choice. As it was, it seemed like they were taking the opportunity to dispose of a dissenter.

    Like

    2014-11-24 at 10:03 am

    • There would probably only be two there if that was the case.

      Shadows/Echos have their own secrets too, sadly.

      Like

      2014-11-24 at 6:26 pm

    • I get the feeling that the Twisted are connected in some way to the storm. The dream world seems to bring them closer to the storm, and further away from reality. The Echo/Shadow’s likely do not want to be nearer to the storm, especially considering the dying Echo’s fears…
      And/or, perhaps the Twisted are broken, but their Echo’s are not. The Twisted may use the Dream world as a way to both communicate at a distance and plan without their Echo’s knowing.

      Sudden thought: What if a…. What’s it called… On an iPad right now, too difficult to check a different page…. The storm-touched without an echo that aren’t allowed to talk, what would happen if one of them were one of the Twisted? I can see that as being a disaster.

      Like

      2014-11-25 at 9:33 am

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