A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

5.2 – Navis Plena Auro {Ship Full of Gold}

“Now, just to be clear, I’m not saying I’m angry at you, perse,” Ele sat in the corner of the girl’s room, whispering, “I don’t think I have enough energy to be angry at anyone, but can I just point out, once again, how much it sucks to be your Echo sometimes?” He smiled to show he was joking, and Elena smiled back wearily, suppressing a yawn.

“Thank you for your support,” Elena mumbled. Frell the little maplewood ermine that Frederica had given her as a parting gift, scampered back and forth in her hands, occasionally stopping to look up at her with wooden eyes. It seemed like years ago that she and Frederica had spent almost every day together, quietly working on their respective crafts in Vittoria’s room of Studio De Luca. Elena ran her fingers over Frell’s wooden fur, admiring the tiny textured carvings that gave the effect of soft fur. The little creature tilted its head to let Elena scratch beneath its chin, and she giggled. It was strange how comfortable it was sitting in bed, whispering with Ele, playing with the little ermine. Perhaps she was too exhausted to have space in her head for worry.

“Ele…why won’t you tell me how you change your clothes?” She hadn’t meant to ask the question, but it seemed to spill out of her mouth and before she knew it she was continuing to talk. “I don’t need to know, if you don’t want to tell me so much. But I don’t understand why you don’t want to tell me. You said…You said that Nicci was helping you to not die, and you haven’t told me even after making a deal to save Emerald. It seems like something more than just changing clothes.”

“It is,” Ele stared at his hands, avoiding her gaze, “It is more. I wish…I really do wish I could tell you, Elena.”

“You don’t have to keep it a secret,” Elena said in a small voice. Ele opened his mouth, then shut it again. He began to say something, straining, then stopped. Elena tilted her head, confused at why her Echo was having so much trouble telling her.

Mine, the voice in her head that Elena was starting to associate with her Storm stirred for a moment, and in that split-second a flash of epiphany came to her. “Ele…when you say you can’t tell me…do you mean you physically can’t tell me?”

Ele looked miserable, but he didn’t say anything in answer to her question. It was as good as if he had told her. Elena strained, trying to force her Storm into firing off again. Ele is my Echo. Mine. Belongs to me. It was no good of course. Now that she was actually thinking about it, she couldn’t convince herself that Ele was anyone but his own person. It was like the Studio models she had used in Studio De Luca; now that she realized she had to believe they were hers, she couldn’t trick herself into it.

“You’re saying it’s not your choice, to tell me or not,” she said aloud, “that there’s some kind of…Echo block?”

“I’m saying that there are things I can’t tell you, Elena. I’m sorry, I really want to, I wish that I could, but now that I know them-” he snapped his mouth shut suddenly.

“Can you tell me why you can’t tell me?” Elena asked. Ele remained silent. “You told me that if you said something, other Echoes will kill you, so you can say something about it.”

“I don’t know how it works, exactly,” Ele mumbled. Elena wasn’t entirely sure what to say. She had only learned of Echoes’ existence when she’d first come to Milia, should she really be so surprised to learn there were things about them she couldn’t understand? If there were things an Echo physically could or couldn’t do, how could she know? She mused on it for long moments, stroking Frell with one hand…there was so much she didn’t know about her lifelong companion. So much she didn’t really know about the world, really, whether it was how Echoes operated or how soft the blanket was beneath her head, bunched up into a little pillow…

Little wooden teeth sank into her skin, and Elena jerked awake with a start.

How long was I sleeping? Elena shook her smarting hand and stroked the back of Frell’s head. Even before she was fully awake she glanced over at the table beside her bed where she had set her coin before falling asleep. It was still there, but there was something off about the room, something she couldn’t put her finger on…

“Window,” Ele muttered, slowly rising to his feet, and Elena’s gaze flicked over to where he pointed. The window was tilted open, letting in the slightest of cold breezes, had that been open all night? Or was it the precursor to a raid? Who would think to start a raid in the student dormitories of all places, rather than a more out-of-the-way location?

A small vail flew through the window, rattling against the frame and answering her question definitively. It shattered when it hit the ground, spilling a thimbleful of green liquid across the ground. As soon as the liquid touched the air it began smoking, hissing as the smoke billowed into the air.

“Attack! Raid!” Elena yelled, stumbling out of bed and trying not to get entangled in the blankets, “Gritti is here, we have to get up!” Isadora was much quicker to wake than Elena had been, grabbing for her baton and raising the light in the room bright enough for the garzoni to see what was going on. The light caught the edges of the plumes of green smoke and highlighted just how fast the cloud was growing, but they still had time to prepare-

“Cover your mouth!” Isadora rose, then collapsed to the ground. Elena grabbed at her blanket and held it in front of her mouth, but as soon as the room started spinning around her she knew she hadn’t been fast enough.

The green smoke is a decoy, the thought flashed through her head too late, you see the green smoke and think you know where to be careful, but the real poison is invisible and spreads faster. Elena had time to vaguely wish she’d realized it sooner, before plunging into a deep sleep.

 


 

Come join us, come home, the feathery invitation hovered at the edge between conscious thought and subconscious desire, and Elena grabbed onto the thread of that thought and followed it outward.

At first Elena thought that the rocking motion beneath her feet meant that the dizziness had followed her into the Twisted’s dream world, but as her vision slowly came back into focus she realized that the floor really was moving and heaving beneath her feet. The steady roll of it was unfamiliar, but Elena was reminded of accounts she’d read; the way a ship rolled beneath its passengers’ feet.

Raindrops fell gently against her skin, water collecting and sliding along the edges of the puzzle pieces and falling into the glowing blue core in her center, evaporating with a quiet hiss. A wooden deck stretched out around her, a ship made of beautiful dark wood that glistened in the damp. The moon overhead lit the ship in patches between dark grey clouds, and the smell of salt water and wet wood filled her lungs. Elena had never heard a real ocean before, but the sound around her seemed somehow more angry than she imagined. Over the edge of the railings she could see the sea far beneath, roiling and twisting in a very un-water-like way, more like the endless hide of an infinite furry beast. It was only when a few waves parted, showing a glimpse of something with claws and spines, that Elena got a hint of water-like behavior.

She got the unpleasant feeling that somehow, in some way, the water was watching her, and she looked around her for a way inside the ship, where the water or the clouds that loomed above couldn’t reach her. On the other side of the deck stood a door, and Elena hurried over to it, her heart pounding. Even though a glance over her shoulder told her that nothing was following her, she had the distinct feeling that she was moments away from being snatched away, and as soon as she reached the door she yanked it open and slipped inside.

“Elena…”

The voice from the deck was so quiet that it might’ve been her imagination, familiar in some way that twisted her gut and made her breath catch in her throat, and she closed the door quickly behind her, heart hammering.

I probably did just imagine it, she thought, the deck was empty, so there couldn’t have been a voice, or I would’ve seen the person who said it. Where did she know that voice from? It was so familiar, so somehow intimate, and that made things all the worse. No, she thought, trying to calm herself, it’s not rude to shut the door on the rain. If someone really was there, they would just come in here with me.

At that thought, Elena decided to move as far away from the door as she could as quickly as possible. The stairs in front of her descended into the dark, but the blue light that peeked through the large cracks in her puzzle-piece skin were enough to show her the way down.

I think I liked the castle better.

The pieces that made up her fingers clicked gently along the wall as she descended, leaving a tiny trail of rainwater on the dry wood behind them. The stairs didn’t seem to have an end, going further down than any ship could’ve reached, and after a while Elena wondered if they even had an end. When she began to hear faint voices she breathed a sigh of relief; as disquieting as some of the Twisted’s appearances were, they were far less frightening than wandering the dark loneliness of the ship.

“…don’t understand why you’re being so selfish. I understand that independence is important to you, but that doesn’t mean you should throw away the love and help of your brothers and sisters.” Black Furs’ voice reached Elena from a distance as she reached the bottom of the stairs, coming from the rightmost path of the branch in front of her. Elena followed it, still keeping a hand on the wall as support against the rolling floor beneath her.

“You don’t see the irony of using words like ‘love’ and ‘assistance’, in this context?” A young voice chuckled, and Elena breathed a sigh. Little One sounded a touch more grim than she usually did, but there was no mistaking her voice. As scared as Elena was of the child, she had been worried about her fellow Twisted; if she was here in the dreamworld that meant she was alive and well, asleep and probably safe. Elena increased her pace, smiling in anticipation.

“I see no irony whatsoever,” Dark Furs said with dignity, “you are a Twisted Cog, Little One, you know the responsibility that comes with that burden! You mean far too much to the world to allow you to waste your potential. At some point your concerned colleagues must step in for your own good.”

“How magnanimous of you,” Little One’s tone was so biting and sarcastic that Elena paused, even though she could see the doorway from which the voices were emerging, light peeking through the cracked-open door. Little One could be a bit biting, it was true, but Elena had never heard such venom. What had gotten her in such a horrible mood? She approached the doorway a bit more slowly, listening to the conversation as she did so.

“If I thought there was anything we could do to convince you we have your best interests at heart, Little One, we wouldn’t be in this situation. A girl as clever as you can surely tell us something to put our minds at ease without giving up too much information.”

“I would thank you, Wanderer, to not treat me like a child.”

Elena raised a hand to open the door, but something was stalling her, some nagging feeling in the pit of her stomach trying to tell her something. Her puzzle-piece fingers touched the wood, but she didn’t push. What was she missing?

“Wanderer, I’m getting the sense of someone else in the dreaming,” the perfectly normal voice of the Plain Woman emerged from the door, and Elena gagged at the sound of it.

“Yes yes I suspect it’s Madora joining us shortly,” Wandered said, “now Little One, would you simply-”

Wanderer,” the Plain Woman said sharply, “Madora is in a consultation with Pellegrino at the moment, she won’t be asleep for another hour at the soonest.”

The room beyond the door went utterly silent, and the nagging voice grew louder, but it was as if it spoke a different language, and Elena couldn’t quite figure out what was making her so nervous. A chuckle broke the silence, a bitter chuckle utterly without mirth.

“Perhaps you had better check it out, Lucrezia.”

Ah, that’s what the nagging voice was saying to her.

It was telling her to run.

The Plain Woman’s footsteps clicked across the room towards the door, the only sound in the room other than Little One’s low chuckle.

It was telling her to run.

Elena stood frozen, hand on the door, not quite sure what was terrifying her so much that she wasn’t able to move. These were the Twisted, people like her, people who were going to help her, people she could count on.

Run.

The door opened beneath Elena’s hand as the Plain Woman opened it, and for a moment the two of them stared at each other.

“Oh…” the Plain Woman said, blinking, “…oh. This is…unfortunate.”

Behind the Plain Woman, the room was small and spartan. Black Furs stood with his hands clasped behind his back, and although she couldn’t quite see his face through the dark cloud that always covered it, it was obvious that he was surprised. On one side of the room, the Ribbon-faced man lounged on a bench with one leg resting on his other knee. Directly across from the doorway, Little One hung from the wall.

It was difficult at first to see what even kept the girl up, but when she did Elena wished she hadn’t. Barnacles had grown from the wood of the ship’s wall, some of them clamped around Little One’s wrist and ankle, but some of them holding her up by piercing and growing through her flesh. Drops of golden blood slowly slid down the wall behind her, matted her hair, stained her clothes. The right side of her face was a mess of bruises, mottled purple and yellow. She raised her head, looked at Elena, and smiled, the action sending a dribble of gold blood from the corner of her mouth.

“Hello Elena,” Little One said.

She continued talking, but Elena couldn’t hear what she said over the sound of her own screaming.

 


Previous Chapter | Next Chapter


 

Poor Little One. Not because of the chapter, but because she doesn’t have the ability to vote for Twisted Cogs on TWF. But you do! Don’t do it for me, do it for Little One

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9 responses

  1. jester0fdeath

    I quite expected a dark turn, but this is unfortunate… I was so sure, in my own head at least, that Little One would actually be able to reach Elena. Nice reveal of the true nature of these “twisted cogs.” The implied torture is done well.
    Elena’s sequence where she’s unable to run is done well. I can never tell what makes the difference between me yelling at the character to move already and getting sucked in, but this, I definitely felt suck in place with Elena.

    Awesome work.

    Like

    2015-04-15 at 9:43 pm

  2. Hey! Another title drop!
    Honestly, I can’t say I’m surprised. Kinda a dick move of Little One to use Elena’s name, though.

    Like

    2015-04-16 at 2:25 am

    • all the twisted already knew elena’s full name!

      Like

      2015-08-29 at 6:26 pm

  3. Jat

    I suppose the reason that we, the readers, do not find ourselves wanting to yell to Elena to run is that she’s not oblivious. She’s perfectly aware that she should be running, but frozen by horror–so even if she could hear us, there’d be no point in yelling at her.

    Like

    2015-04-16 at 8:34 am

  4. John Galt

    “Perhaps you had better check it out, Lucrezia.” – Please correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t that Elena’s mother’s name? If so, that both explains and lot and cranks up her mother’s level of pyscho-behaviour to 11.

    Like

    2015-04-16 at 9:29 am

    • Joanna Luccanio, actually.

      Like

      2015-04-16 at 3:27 pm

      • John Galt

        Quite right, apologies. I’m mixing up personalities from this with Girl Genius.

        Like

        2015-04-20 at 9:46 am

  5. AvidFan

    Cue kitchen knife to the back horror music, and…. ACTION!

    CUT! .. No, no, Elena! Scream from your core! I want a heart stopping, ear splitting, absolute horror scream! Take 2… Action!

    … I’m bleeding from my ears now… … … THAT WAS PERFECT! But Little One’s run out of blood… Oh Elena, you can take a break now while we get some more Ichor for Little One, she looks a Little Pale if you know what I- Now that was uncalled for Elena, the pun wasn’t that bad. But we can use that scream for the next take, it sounded more authentic.

    Like

    2015-04-18 at 11:16 am

  6. M

    How did the Twisted find Elena to start with? Wouldn’t they have to know about her in order to invite her to the dream world? Could any of them possibly know her from real life?

    Like

    2015-04-18 at 7:13 pm

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