A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

3.6 – Navis in Nimbosus Aquas {A Ship on Stormy Waters}

Elena hadn’t ever given the ceiling of her room as much thought as she did tonight. There was a pattern to the lines that criss crossed across the plaster, but after a while she couldn’t see the designs anymore.

“Something’s on your mind,” Ele said quietly from the corner. Elena lay still and closed her eyes, trying to regulate her breathing. “I wouldn’t be awake if you weren’t, Elena,” he pointed out gently.

“They’re going to kill Domenico,” Elena said quietly. “He’s going to die because of me.”

“You didn’t have a choice.”

“I did have a choice. It’s like Little One said, I won’t gain anything pretending things aren’t what they are.”

“Technically we don’t know that The Guardhouse kills Rhetors, for all we know-“

“No,” Elena said flatly, and Ele fell silent again. “I made the choice to betray Little One’s trust in me, and Domenico’s trust in me. I still think it was the right thing to do, but don’t tell me I didn’t choose, or that he’s not going to die.”

Ele fell silent, and Elena kept her eyes closed, trying to breathe steadily and ignore the tear that fell down her cheek.

“What are you going to tell her? In the dream world, I mean?”

“I don’t know. The truth, I suppose. There’s not exactly a reason to hide my feelings, I assume that she’ll have heard by now.”

“Do you think she’ll hurt you?”

“Maybe. I don’t want to be hurt, but the Twisted said that the pain in the dream world goes away when you wake up. I’m more worried about her turning the rest of them against me. That’s why I’m hoping to fall asleep before she does, so I can talk to Black Furs and the rest before she feeds them some story or other.”

Ele lapsed into silence, and Elena tried again to relax. It was hard to do so with the image of Domenico’s face so present in her mind

*

The bed gently rocked beneath her, and Elena sat up as soon as she saw the warm light of torches around her. As usual, it was hard to focus her vision in the dream world, and she rubbed her eyes and waited for it to clear; there was no point in trying to run and tripping herself. She was in a warm bed with layers of blankets around her legs, and already she could make out the oranges and reds of the fabric, the blue light from her core playing across them. Breathing deeply, Elena tried to focus on her surroundings and wait until her vision cleared completely.

The sounds around her were comforting, at least. The dull creak of wood was ever-present, the ship straining on its eternal path through stormy waters. Less steady but just as regular was the slap of waves on the hull, although she knew that the insides of the dream ship stretched far further than a real ship in every direction. The only sound Elena couldn’t quite place was a rhythmic metallic scraping noise close-by.

When she rubbed her eyes for a final time and her vision focused, Elena found herself in the bedroom she’d awoken in on her last dreamworld visit, a bedroom not unlike her court lodgings. Torches lit the room in warm tones, and the entire thing was quite comfortable and cozy. Sitting with her back against the closed door, Little One sharpened an oversized knife on a stone. She seemed unconcerned with Elena’s arrival, her golden eyes focused on the sharpening stone.

Elena wasn’t sure what to say. “I hoped that I’d beat you here.”

“I have a little pillow stuffed with ground peppermint, cloves, and rose petals,” the little girl said, not looking up from her work, “it helps me sleep almost as soon as I lay down.”

Little One gently tested the edge of the knife, and Elena tried not to whimper. It was long, and very sharp, and she could only imagine how much it was going to hurt…and she had the feeling she wouldn’t have to imagine for long.

“I had to do what was right,” Elena burst out, “you have to understand-”

“Don’t explain yourself to me, I know why you reacted the way you did, I knew the moment I received the news,” Little One waved off Elena’s explanation dismissively, “but I had thought your fear, and your desire for justice, and your naive urge to protect those you can would be enough for you to take my side on this. I was certain of it, in fact. It has been a long time since I was incorrectly certain of something, and I’ll admit I didn’t expect it. My Storm is a Fabera Storm, at its heart, a Fabera storm that lets me build a single thing: my mind. It is sometimes easy for me to overlook the fact that, Twisted though I am, I’m still human. I’m still capable of misreading someone, of making mistakes.”

“You weren’t caught in the trap,” Elena said, “if you were so certain I would join you, why weren’t you there?”

“Because I tend to be paranoid at all times, even when I am certain,” Little One shrugged, “besides, I had other matters to attend to. Organizing a rebellion is no easy task. Even less so, now that so many of my Lieutenants are incarcerated.”

“You seem…very open about this.”

“I’ve told you nothing you couldn’t already guess.” Little One dropped the sharpening stone and stood, and Elena scrambled out of bed, her heart pounding, eyes locked on the edge of the knife. The small child brushed the gold hair from her face and giving Elena a pensive gaze. “Given your actions today, it seems my rebellion is no longer a secret with those Milians who matter in the real world. That will necessitate a shift in my plans, I think. As for those here in the dream world, there’s only one play I have left. I doubt it will have much success, but I don’t suppose I stand to lose anything.”

Elena had been braced for something sudden, but even so it caught her off guard how fast the little girl moved. Little One swung the knife as she lunged, slicing it down and along her own wrists and hands with a grunt. Before Elena could process what was happening, the little girl and barrelled into her, shoving her to the ground. Her arms and wrists and hands were bleeding freely, a stream of golden blood, and it had splattered and smeared all over Elena’s clothes and arms.

“W…what…” Elena gasped from the ground. Little One tossed the knife to one side, then turned to yank the door open, taking off running down the hallway.

“Help! Help me! She’s attacking me Elena is attacking me!” Little One’s screams, all the more alarming being shrieked from the lungs of a small child, vanished down the hallway, and with a sudden lurch of understanding Elena scrambled to her feet and after her.

The rooms below deck were dark and winding, and Elena wouldn’t have been able to see if it weren’t for the blue glow that shone through the cracks in her puzzle piece skin, but it was easy to tell the direction she should be heading from the little girl’s screams.

When Elena emerged onto the deck beneath a crystal clear blue sky, Little One was already talking to Lord Waldren, Marsillo, and Midora, and a man that Elena didn’t recognize. Elena slowed to a walk as she approached. Little One had finished whatever story she’d been telling them, and she now leaned against the ship’s railing for support, panting and still bleeding. The group was silent as Elena joined them, her hands and dress covered in golden blood. It was hard for Elena to read the expression on Midora’s featureless face, but her wide mouth wasn’t smiling.  Marsillo held his typical neutral mask, an armless hand stroking his chin. Lord Waldren wasn’t making any attempt to hide his emotions, his face a mess of worry.

“Elena?” he asked, summing his entire question in the tone of the word.
“I…I don’t know what she told you,” Elena said, “but she did those cuts to herself. She’s trying to discredit me, so you won’t listen to what I have to say about her.”

“You’re no good at lying, Elena,” Little One snapped, “they can all see right through you.”

“What exactly is it that you have to say about her, Elena?” Marsillo asked. Elena took a deep breath, trying hard to ignore the piercing gaze of the golden eyes that were trained on her.

“I’ve been looking into smugglers who have been plaguing Milia. I found out today what I’ve suspected for months; that the smugglers are working to finance a rebellion intended to take over the entire city.”

“I’d heard rumors that the King suspected this,” Lord Waldren nodded, “go on.”

“Little One is leading the rebellion. We carried out a raid and captured smugglers, and she tried to convince me to let them escape. I told His Princeps, and we set up a trap for even more of her people into a trap. She tried to recruit me, now she’s trying to turn you all against me.”

It sounded far-fetched, coming from a girl covered in Little One’s blood, and Elena clenched her fists.

“Little One…how could you?” Lord Waldren turned towards the little girl with a mixture of outrage and exasperation, “and you’re in Milia, it would seem, not Venecchi as you said.”

“And shame on you for trying to avoid the consequences of your actions,” Marsillo added evenly, “even if you’d convinced us of Elena’s malice, how long did you think that would last, exactly?”

“You…you believe me?” Elena asked, her voice shaking.

“As I said, I doubted it would have much success,” Little One said sourly, straightening and pressing her dress against her cuts.

“I’m really trying, but I simply can’t imagine you slicing someone up with a knife,” Midora said to Elena.

“It is certainly much more believable to think that Little One was orchestrating a rebellion…” Marsillo’s hands rested halfway up his chest, the angle awkward until Elena realized he was folding his non-existent arms, “…again.”

“Again?” Elena said, looking back and forth between the Twisted.

“Again. Was one rebellion not enough destruction for you?” Marsillo turned to Little One, who looked away. “Wanderer, what exactly should we do with her?”

“If there’s a rebellion brewing, we need to take care of it, quell it at once,” Lord Waldren said, “we’ll have to extract all of the information we can from her…oh don’t look at me like that, Elena!”

The memory of Little One hung up on the wall and dripping gold blood was flashing in front of Elena’s eyes, and her stomach lurched. “It didn’t work, last time. You already tried torturing her and she had you convinced that she was Venecchi. Please, can’t you just…lock her up or something?”

“She has proven to be rather…resilient, Wanderer,” Midora said, “I don’t know that we have much to learn from her, and we couldn’t be sure of any information that we did get from her.”

“Hmm,” Lord Waldren said, looking at Little One through narrowed eyes.

“Elena is one of us,” Marsillo said quietly, “and she is the one who has revealed Little One’s plans to us. My vote is that we heed her wishes on this matter.”

“Very well, at least for now,” Lord Waldren sighed, “but Elena, you and I must discuss this further at some point. Marsillo, Midora, there will be a brig of sorts two decks down, if you would be so kind?”

Marsillo gestured, and Little One turned to follow Midora through the door on deck, her head held high.

“We will find you, Rebel Queen,” Lord Waldren called after them, and Little One paused to throw a contemptuous look over her shoulder.

“Find me, Lord Waldren?” the cold and confident voice coming from the bleeding child sent a shiver down Elena’s spine, “why I’ll make you an appointment. Come to Milia in six month’s time and I’ll grant you an audience.”

“I cannot believe that girl,” Lord Waldren fumed as soon as the three Twisted descended into the ship, “to think that she could carry out rebellion without us, as if we wouldn’t resist her, as if we would let her do anything to this dear country of ours!”

“You called her the ‘Rebel Queen’,” Elena said, “wasn’t…wasn’t that the woman who led the Stormhearts Rebellion?”

“That’s her,” Lord Waldren said, “we thought…ah, I don’t know what we thought. King Thesslenario kept her alive and in his palace, and King Pellegrino released her, we all assumed that the Kings would have good reason to trust her. Apparently we were wrong.”

The fact that she’d been associating with the Rebel Queen, and that the other Twisted hadn’t had a single objection to her until now, made Elena feel uncomfortable. As murky as the history of the Stormhearts Rebellion was in her mind, she knew it had caused death and destruction, and had thrown Italoza into so much turmoil that it had almost dissolved into its component city-states. Even now, Lord Waldren seemed less upset at the potential damage and violence, and more that she had been trying to act independently of the Twisted.

“Now, Elena, we must discuss what our next steps are,” Lord Waldren snapped Elena out of her musings, “sniffing out Little One’s rebellion will be difficult, but not impossible. I’m only a few weeks’ journey away from Florenzia, I can speak to the King about this rebellion. There are a group of Master Stormtouched that I suspect he’ll send your way, they deal with this sort of situation. They are the King’s personal squadron, dispatched to handle scenarios that the typical soldier couldn’t dream of handling. They’re called the Eye of the Storm.”

“I know them!” Elena said excitedly, “or at least, I know Master Apollo and Master Artemis, they helped me with the smugglers.”

“Did they now?” Lord Waldren looked taken aback, “they very rarely work with outsiders, I’m impressed…but then, you are Twisted, it stands to reason that you will be making your own powerful contacts. It’s what we do.”

“Eh, excuse me? I beg your pardon…” the man who Elena didn’t recognize spoke, and Elena jumped, “…I’m not sure what’s happening, but could my monkey please have some opium from the sharks now?”

“Lord Waldren, what…” Elena began, but Lord Waldren waved a hand and the man vanished.

“My apologies, Elena, occasionally when things get a little boring I’ll pull a random person into the dreamworld to talk to. I had no idea this night would become so…exciting. I should be careful what I wish for.”

“But aren’t you worried that he’ll talk?” Elena said, “that he’ll tell someone about us?”

“They never remember,” Lord Waldren said soothingly, “no one ever realizes they’re dreaming, and no one remembers what goes on here, except for the Twisted. That’s why I was so surprised, that first night we met. I’d never just stumbled upon another Twisted like that before or since, and I was so delighted when the random child I plucked from her dreams turned out to be one of our own. How lucky we all turned out to be that night.”

“That is very lucky,” Elena frowned, “it’s…unbelievably lucky, actually. That you were able to coincidentally pick me from thousands.”

“Stranger things have happened,” Lord Waldren said dismissively, “I, for one, am grateful for the coincidence.”

“Coincided, pieces of the plan did. Meeting Elena a coincidence was not.”

Elena spun, but she already recognized the voice before she saw the figure, tall and gaunt, wrapped in robes that whipped around him as if caught in a heavy wind, despite the sunlight and still wind. The Storm stood a few paces away, its arms folded, the white and black speckled creature beneath the hood impossible to read.

“Storm,” Lord Waldren breathed, “your highness-”

“The talking will be the having of Elena and I,” the Storm said. “Alone will be the talking.”

“Yes, of course, my Lord,” Lord Waldren bowed, gave Elena a significant glance whose purpose she didn’t know, and retreated to the stairway which led below decks.

The Storm watched Lord Waldren go, and waited in silence until the stairway door shut with a click, then turned back to Elena.

“Giving to you, the…regret, am I,” the Storm said. “Useless, was the sayings I gave of you.”

“You mean you called me ‘useless’,” Elena said, “because I didn’t measure up to your ‘Queen of the World’ plan you had for me.”

“Anger-having, was I then. Of a hundred years was my plan formed, and around me the crumbling it was.”

“I’m not mad,” Elena said, awkwardly, “you weren’t wrong.”

“But mayhap the wrongess of small did I have,” the Storm said, “mayhap the speakings of me too soon they came. Mortalis rebellion, your actions have to them made pausings.”

“You know about that?”

“Making pausings to the rebellion, in that you have my plan given help. Too quick was the judgement of me, before. Of helping to my plans, you may have.”

“I still can’t rule the world,” Elena said firmly, “you didn’t misjudge that about me.”

“This is known,” the Storm nodded, “but of helping you may have. The plans of me, they bend not to whim human, to fickleness human. Too strange, humans are to me. Strange, humans are not to you.”

Elena furrowed her brow and tried to understand the Storm’s words. “You want me to help you plan for humans?”

“For picking of humans, I want help of you. For advising of me, I want help of you. Ruling of World I want not of you. Picking of ruler of world, mayhap.”

Elena expected her stomach to lurch at the thought, but to her surprise she took the Storm’s words calmly. She couldn’t rule the world, she knew that, but helping the Storm pick a good ruler, giving him advice…she might be able to do that.

“The wordings of you, they are stilled. Is too large this task?”

“I’m thinking,” Elena said distractedly. “I think I can help you, and it would be the least I could do. But…”

“‘But’? To me you are speaking ‘but’?”

“Well it would just be helpful if I knew why you want someone you pick to rule the world. If I’m going to help you pick the ruler, don’t I need to know what you want them to do when they rule?”

The Storm was silent for long moments, perfectly still as his cloak whipped around him.

“Truth is in the words of you. The needing of me is the safety of the Stormtouched.”

Elena frowned and she repressed a groan. “Why does it always have to be so black and white? Why is everyone around me only concerned with Mortalis and only concerned with Stormtouched? A person is a person, why not keep them all safe!”

“I am giving you the apology, but…” the Storm shrugged, “the caring for humans is not mine. The…what word…responsibility for humans is not mine.”

“But you just said you want the Stormtouched to be safe! Stormtouched are human.”

“The needing of me is the safety of the Stormtouched, but not for the Stormtouched is my caring.”

Elena almost asked for clarification, but instead she closed her mouth so suddenly it snapped. She thought of her time in De Luca’s studio, long ago, of what had happened to Fran when her Stormtouched, “Slug”, had died.

“The Echoes,” she said. “It’s never been about us, not any of it, not ever. This whole time it’s been about the Echoes.”

“The heirs…the progeny,” the Storm said. “By humans, harbored, and by harbor saved.”

“Your children?” Elena turned the thought over in her head. “If the Stormtouched dies, their Echo dies with them, so you want the Stormtouched to be safe.”

“The dying is not theirs, but the harbor…to wrest harbor from the world is to set the progeny adrift. Back to their provenance. Back home.”

“Since you’re sending them here, away from their home, I take it that going back there isn’t a good thing.”

“Prey, are the progeny, when home they are. Helpless, am I to giving them saving, when home they are. Here…here can I bestow upon them protection from the world of you. Here can I gift power to the harbors of them.”

“Storms to help the Stormtouched get ahead in life,” Elena murmured, “because a safe Stormtouched is a safe Echo.”

“Safe of now. When ruler of a Stormtouched has the world, then for eternity safe. Only then can my progeny in safety lie, only then can close I the door between here and there. Never again the heirs must live in that horrible place.”

Elena was still reeling from so many revelations at once, and a million questions rushed through her head, all of them tumbling over one another. The Storm tilted his head, as if listening to a sound she couldn’t hear.

“The wakings of you, soon shall it arrive. Your answer must I have.”

“I’ll help you. Of course I’ll help you,” Elena answered quickly, “I would’ve helped you even if it were just for your sake, but if it will help Ele? I’ll do anything.”

The Storm nodded once. “The children of me…to each give I a harbor, but to some…to some gave I a harbor of poor measure. For my heir Ele…think I that a fine appointment did make I in you.”

Before Elena could answer, she woke up.

*

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*

A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Voting for Twisted Cogs. ~Justin Timberlake, The Social Network

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13 responses

  1. Oh man, I was really looking forward to seeing how Little One reacted, and she did not disappoint.
    And wow, that explanation for what the Stormtouched are makes total sense given what we already knew. Well played- unexpected in foresight, inevitable in hindsight.

    Liked by 1 person

    2015-08-30 at 11:19 pm

  2. okay, so i had an echo theory that was about backwards. feeling curiouser and curiouser about the missing echoes of Rhetors (Rhetori?) and Lanistri. can they protect echoes? can they affect echoes? why would they be harbors for pieces of Storm?

    have we met any really despicable echoes yet? obviously some stormtouched have been barely human, and i guess slug’s echo might have been terrible, i don’t quite remember. isa? kind of a mystery but definitely helpful at times. in general, the echoes seem to admirably balance out their stormtouched, but i can’t help but feel like we’ve been spoiled by the echoes we’ve seen so far.

    the best secrets lead to more questions.

    Liked by 2 people

    2015-08-31 at 4:34 pm

    • I’ve always wondered if a Rhetor’s Echo was being used against them somehow, like they were in the Guardhouse and being held hostage or something.

      Like

      2015-09-02 at 4:09 pm

  3. HEY TARTRA JUST SO YOU KNOW THIS IS WHERE YOU CAUGHT UP OKAY

    Like

    2015-09-02 at 4:09 pm

    • HEY I JUST CAUGHT UP TOO.

      Liked by 2 people

      2015-09-02 at 8:22 pm

    • BY THE WAY YOUR HAIR LOOKS LOVELY TODAY TOO

      Liked by 1 person

      2015-09-03 at 11:26 pm

      • AvidFan

        Maddi, please stop stalking your readers… It makes it harder for us to stalk you! ;)

        Like

        2015-09-06 at 9:14 am

        • *quietly stalks the stalkers as they stalk the stalker-stalker*

          Like

          2015-09-06 at 8:25 pm

      • THANK YOU INKY LLAMA AND YOUR LLAMA LOOKS PARTICULARLY INKY TODAY

        Like

        2015-09-06 at 7:52 pm

        • I AM GLAD YOU MENTIONED IT AS IT IS A NEW BRAND OF INK THAT ADVERTISED ITSELF AS “20% INKIER THAN COMPETITORS’ INK” BUT I WAS WORRIED IT WOULDN’T BE AS LONG-LASTING AS MY OLD INK BRAND SO THANKS FOR NOTICING

          Liked by 1 person

          2015-09-06 at 8:28 pm

  4. gnibbles

    I’m hoping Elena “takes ownership” of Domenico and …. stuff. yeah. stuff. >.>;;;

    Like

    2015-09-04 at 5:33 pm

  5. Shadowxhunter

    I am a new fan I begun to read your work yesterday and here I am and whaou I must say I first I didn’t like elena but the way you make her grow from a pitiful naive girl to slowly but surely becoming someone badass let me K.O
    but frankly is it me or the way little one reacted sound too “simple” please all the twisted are men of power who deal with scheme everyday and it clear to anyone who know elena that doing something like torturing someone is yet to be in her ability so it should be clear to little one that the twisted would trust a “naive” girl rather than the “rebel queen” yet she still did it… doesn’t it feel weird ???

    Like

    2015-09-06 at 8:45 pm

    • Akordia

      Little One did mention that her course of action had little chance of succeeding. She took a chance and it did not work out.

      Like

      2015-09-07 at 1:12 am

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