A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

4.4 – Quiesco {Downtime}

“I still find this most irregular, Miss Lucciano.”

Over the course of the past several months Elena had arrived at the dungeons often enough to know the jailer by face if not by name, and she gave a wan smile at the expression on his face.

“I don’t think it’s very regular, sir,” she replied.

Elena sat on the cot in the corner of the small cell, as the jailer stood uncertainly in the doorway, one hand resting on the open cell door.

“And you’re just turning yourself in, just like that?” he asked for the third time, glancing at the little pack of lockpicks she’d handed him as if certain this was a trap but unsure of exactly how.

“His Princeps said that he wanted me in the dungeons, so that’s where I reported,” Elena’s eyes were heavy, and she wasn’t exactly in the mood to talk, but it wasn’t the jailer’s fault that she was locked in prison, her career and perhaps entire life in danger. She smiled again and leaned back against the stone wall, and after a few moments the jailer shrugged and closed the cell door.

“Master Hermes knows exactly how the game is played,” Ele said encouragingly, “the fact that you had a chance to escape but came here will make you look good to him.”

Elena frowned but didn’t answer as the jailer’s footsteps echoed down the empty row of cells. The man had kindly put her in her own wing of the dungeons, rather than locking her in a cell in the same block as the rebels, many of which she was personally responsible for placing there. There hadn’t been as many rebels in the ranks of the military as Principessa Rodiano had expected, but there had been enough to make her stay in the cells miserable.

“It worried me how His Princeps looked at me,” Elena finally replied to Ele, “the Masters of the Eye seemed alright, but how far am I going to get in Milia if His Princeps doesn’t trust me?”

“With the Twisted at your back? Probably pretty far.”

Elena bit her lip. Her Echo did have a point, especially given what powerful positions the Twisted held and how far they’d brought her already, but she was still worried. She pushed the worry from her mind and closed her eyes, trying to get comfortable against the stone, but after a few moments she rose and paced instead.

Ele lay stretched on the ground with his arms behind his head, watching her walk back and forth across the narrow space.

“Are you comfortable down there?” Elena asked, “You can use the cot if you like.” Ele shrugged, but didn’t move. When she lay back down, he smirked. “You’re way too at ease for the current situation, Ele, these are dire straights!”

“I’m sorry that I’m not too torn up about it,” Ele yawned, “but I don’t think either of us really think His Princeps is going to do anything to you, certainly not after he’s calmed down. Do you?”

“I guess not…” Elena turned on her side so she could watch Ele’s expression as she tried to drift off to sleep, “…but it still makes me nervous.”

Ele shrugged again, and Elena quieted, focused on trying to escape into the dream world to speak to the Twisted.

 

***

 

“Ele, are you still awake?”

“I don’t really sleep unless you’re sleeping, you know that,” Ele said somewhat testily.

“I’ve been trying for an hour, why is it so hard to fall asleep?”

Ele opened an eye “maybe it’s because you’re worried, or maybe because you’re in a jail cell. I think it’s more likely because your body isn’t used to sitting still, so you have a hard time falling asleep until you’re physically and mentally exhausted.”

“I’m not that bad,” Elena sat up in the cot, looking down at Ele who hadn’t moved.

“If you’re not training or working with the troops, or working with your friends on the project, you’re up in your room studying for the Storm for when you do fall asleep. The only time you stop moving is when you’re eating, and even then you sometimes have your food brought to you so you can work and eat at the same time.”

Elena opened her mouth to deny it again, but upon further reflection she realized that nothing he said was untrue.

“Well…why haven’t you said anything sooner, if you’ve been so observant?” she challenged, “it’s not like this has been new behavior for me, I’ve been working with the troops and helping the Storm for weeks!”

“A month,” Ele corrected.

“Alright then, a month! What happened to my normal pain-in-the-butt Ele that loves correcting me?” she smiled, but Ele didn’t. He shrugged, his eyes still closed, the still expression on his face working against the casual motion.

Come to think of it…when WAS the last time he was a pain in the rear? The smile slipped off of Elena’s face. She had meant it to be a joke, but the more she mused on it, the more she began to realize it was the truth. He hadn’t corrected her lately. He hadn’t given her advice, and even when she used her Storm to problem solve, a time which the two of them worked the best together, he had been quiet, reticent.

“Ele, is everything…alright?” Elena asked, trying to sound casual and put her worries into words at the same time.

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Ele asked.

“That’s not a ‘no’.”

“No, it’s not a ‘no’.”

Elena waited for a few moments, but it seemed that was all Ele was willing to provide. She didn’t want to press him, so she breathed a sigh of relief when he spoke again.

“You’re worried that I haven’t been myself, lately.”

“A little bit, yeah,” said Elena before realizing it hadn’t been phrased as a question.

“Don’t you find that a bit ironic, considering what you know now?”

“I…don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”

Ele sat up suddenly enough that it startled her. “What exactly is ‘acting like myself’? What does that mean?”

“You know…” Elena waved her arms vaguely to indicate her Echo, “…like you’ve acted for our entire lives growing up!”

“Our entire lives growing up I thought I was a part of you!” Ele shouted.

Elena winced. She couldn’t remember ever hearing Ele shout before, and she had no idea how to react. He was sitting up now, fists clenched, but when he spoke again his voice was quiet. “It didn’t matter how I acted, because I was just…something that came along with your Storm, you know?”

“I…I still don’t know what you mean,” Elena sat up too, “I mean, I get that learning where you came from will make you a bit more introspective, I guess, but-”

“‘Introspective’? Is that what you call it? Finding out that everything you thought you knew about yourself was wrong, that you’re an entirely different being, that causes a little more than introspection, Elena.”

“You’re acting as if you didn’t think you were your own person.”

Ele frowned, “tethered to you, unseen by everyone but you, mostly only helpful when you were using your Storm…my name is a contraction of yours and everyone calls me an echo of you, can you blame me for making the assumption that I was a piece of you? Especially since we were children? Now, to find out that I’m myself, not some shadow of you, I have to wonder who I am apart from you.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to be so quiet, or stop doing the things you enjoy!”

“No, it means I have to…to….to figure out who I am. That means being introspective.”

“But…so…” Elena fell silent for a moment, absorbing the new information, “I had no idea you felt this way.”

Ele half-smiled, and Elena furrowed her brow at the unfamiliar expression on his face. “You’re a lot more perceptive than you were when we first came to Milia,” he said, “but you can still be pretty oblivious at times.”

“Well…I know you feel that way now,” Elena said, “so I can help.”

“I appreciate the thought, but I don’t know how you could. The only one who can help me find out who I am is me.”

Elena rested her head against the wall, biting her lip as she thought over her Echo’s words. The pair had influenced each other during their childhood, there was no denying that, but to say that he didn’t know who he was seemed taking it a bit far.

He just looks so miserable. It was as if she was looking at her friend for the first time, seeing the worry lines on his face, the way his shoulders dropped. I should’ve noticed it before. I’m the one who knows him best.

“No…that’s not true,” Elena realized aloud.

“Hm?” Ele’s eyes had been drooping, but he raised an eyebrow at her.

“There’s one person who would know you better than either of us. One person you should absolutely talk to if you want to know yourself.”

 

***

 

“It’s a ship now? Still no less creepy,” Ele grumbled before Elena had even had time to open her eyes. As always, Black Furs’ dream world was blurry at first, and the pair had awoken in a small and dimly lit room.

“I thought I’d told you it was a ship,” Elena rubbed her eyes out of habit, even though it did nothing to help the blurriness, and the puzzle pieces that made up her skin clicked and rubbed together uncomfortably.

“Maybe you did, I don’t know.” Ele was clearly nervous, tugging at the edge of his vest to make sure it was straight. “I still really, really don’t like it. Has there always been that buzzing noise?”

“Let’s go,” Elena smiled, “I haven’t been by in a few days, that always makes him on-edge.”

They travelled through the lower decks of the ship in silence, their way alternately lit by torches, lanterns, and sometimes only the soft blue glow that emanated from Elena’s core.

“Do the two of you always work in the same place?” Ele asked.

“Usually,” Elena finally recognized one of the hallways and turned to follow it, counting doors in her head as she passed, “there’s one with nice big tables and empty books to write out notes for- ah, here we are.” She stepped inside the room and, as she expected, found the Storm waiting for her.

He seemed even more incongruous than usual in the lower decks, his cloak and hood still flapping wildly in their unseen, unfelt wind. The light from the lanterns around the room didn’t seem to shine on him, and the speckled black and white of his features was just as obscured here as it had been in the downpour when Elena had first met him.

“Delayed tardiness has been the time of yours,” the Storm rose as Elena entered, its voice still so unremarkable and plain that she couldn’t have described it a moment after it ended. “The time-biding of days belonging to me give to me creatings of irksome. Futurly, the-”

The Storm stopped speaking, one hand still resting on the desk, as Elena opened the door further to reveal her Echo on the other side.

“I’m sorry I haven’t visited sooner,” she said, looking back and forth between Ele and the Storm. Ele was standing very stiff, still tugging at his vest, and the Storm stood motionless, the normally-chaotic particles that made up his form slowing until they almost froze as well.

“Ele.” The Storm managed to pack every inflection possible into the single word.

“Ehrm…” Ele cleared his throat, “um, hello Storm. Father.”

***

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***

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5 responses

  1. daniel73

    Really want to see how this turns out. I do hope ele gets his problems sorted but for most of his he thought he was a figment of Elena imagination. That would definitely cause an odd mindset.

    Even without the twisted she should get out quick enough. The masters seemed to support her and if tgeycant convince a prince I would be suprised.

    Love the story. Thank you for writing it.

    Like

    2015-10-05 at 6:55 am

  2. Bart

    Agh, what a place to end the chapter! :)

    Like

    2015-10-05 at 8:21 am

  3. So :3 I stand mostly by my criticism, still. Though I remember you said you had multiple scenes planned.

    Ele’s behaviour is mostly explained, but I went back to quickly check and he’s really been quiet since way before meeting the Storm. He was quite throughout all of the third arc, and I didn’t go further back.

    It’s also a bit unbelievable that it never crossed Elena’s mind that Ele was quiet. Ele isn’t just a friend or brother to Elena, he’s someone that has literally spent every hour next to her. I know Elena’s been busy and adapting to huge responsibilities, and I also know she can be very unaware, but never noticing Ele’s distance is a bit too unbelievable and speaks ill of Elena.

    If I were to fix that, I’d suggest adding a source of tension between the two, a reason for Elena to want to take a break from Ele. Or, perhaps better because their relationship has already been strained for too long, a few comments showing that Elena has noticed Ele’s attitude, but didn’t have the time to bring it up or didn’t want to pester Ele.

    Like

    2015-10-06 at 7:51 pm

    • Well I would never hold your criticism against you! It’s always interesting to me to see the differences of interpretation as to a character’s place in a story, and I suppose this is a prime example of that!

      Even with the development that happens in last week and next weeks’ chapters, I don’t think I disagree with your assessment that Ele is much more in the background than he had been, that’s certainly something that’s happening, and intentionally so. In the edits it will be much more obvious that it’s happening, perhaps, but overall I don’t see the transition (or others’ reactions to it) as something I plan on changing.

      That’s not to say that your opinion on the matter is wrong, of course! It would be a bit silly of me to assume that everyone would write this story the exact same way as me, and I do find it super interesting to get tidbits like this that tell me how someone else would’ve done it!

      Like

      2015-10-07 at 4:08 pm

  4. Um the Muse

    There are little hints here and there that the two of them have been talking behind the scenes. Besides, the two are used to treating Ele like an imaginary friend. The problem, I think, is that Ele isn’t a part of the story. He doesn’t contribute much because he has the same experiences as Elena but can’t physically interact with her world.

    Except for his ability to see around corners, he might as well be an imaginary friend, one that only rarely talks, even.

    By the way, Ele should’ve realized something like this was going on when he went to the clothes world.

    Like

    2015-10-07 at 3:13 pm

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