A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

1.03 – Problems {Quaestio}

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***

The streets of Milia bustled long after the sun had set, a fact that Elena had noticed on her very first day in the city. The lights were more muted, the bustle and chatter a little subdued, and the streets themselves a little more empty, but Milia didn’t stop until the wee hours of the morning.

It was certainly busy enough that Elena wouldn’t have thought to carry out a strategy meeting as the group walked, out in the open, toward the Street of Green Artisans.

“It would have been helpful to have warning-” Master Apollo was saying, when Elena placed a hand on his arm and glanced over her shoulder.

“Master Apollo, should we really be discussing this here?” she asked.

“People don’t pay attention to conversations held in public,” it was Owl who answered, “as long as none of use uses surprising language or acts like we’re invested in the conversation, we’ll just fade into the background of passerby’s attention.”

“I’ve seen Elena get emotionally invested in a conversation about which way the covers should face on the bed,” Ele joked, but it was clear that he was too worried to put too much effort into being jocular.

“So, Elena, why didn’t you tell us they were coming?” Master Apollo asked.

“The same reason I didn’t know you were coming,” Elena said miserably, “my Storm tells me what’s happening to things I own, and I don’t own you, I don’t own the Twisted. I could’ve looked and seen that a diplomat and a guild leader were entering the town, if I had thought of it…but I had no clue they’d show up.”

Master Apollo nodded. “Shame. If you could’ve seen them coming far enough in advance, I would’ve been able to grab more members of the Eye. We might’ve even been able to take them out before their guards could’ve done anything, and only had to worry about escaping them.”

“Taking them out,” Belloza said, carefully mirroring his language, “and letting witnesses get away seems like a bad idea, doesn’t it? Won’t that alert everyone else involved that people are after them?”

“That’s why I didn’t take the initiative,” Master Apollo nodded, “I might’ve been able to take them, back there, quietly enough that we wouldn’t have company, but the Eye hasn’t decided who to move against first.”

Elena bit her lip. She knew, in theory, that the Eye planned to kill all of the Twisted, but hearing it spoken so plainly was a bit gut-wrenching. She shook the feeling away roughly. This was something she had to come to terms with.

“So…you’re just going to let them finish their business and leave?” she asked, “when we have a chance right in front of us?”

“They have guards, Elena, did you not see them?”

“They’re a Lord and a Leader of an entire guild, of course they have guards! They’ll have less guards now, when travelling!”

“You’re not even a part of the strike mission that’s going to take them down, Elena, you’re too junior to even represent the Eye yet. It’s going to be-” Master Apollo lowered his voice, “-when the time is right to strike our first target, whoever that might be, it will be Master Hermes, myself, and someone else to replace Master Artemis.”

Elena winced at the reminder, the Master from the Eye who had been lost during the Milian Quelling. Apollo’s words confirmed that the Eye was looking for a new member to replace her.

“You don’t understand, Master Apollo, Lord Waldren has to be the first target,” she tried again, “he creates the dream world. Killing him first means breaking up the secret Twisted communications, and chances are high that none of the Twisted will even assume it’s a targeted act against them.”

“You’re assuming the Twisted don’t already know we’re working against them,” Master Apollo said, “when for all we know they’re already mounting an offensive to put us down before we even start. Those gifts that Waldren and Midora gave you, what did they mean? They could’ve been a harmless gesture of friendship, sure, but they also could’ve been a sign of ownership, or a warning of their influence. Do you know?”

Elena wanted to argue, but the truth was she had no idea how much Lord Waldren and Midora knew. She shook her head, and Master Apollo fell silent, apparently satisfied.

If they know we’re trying to kill them, that’s all the more reason to go after them now, a rebellious voice said in her head, I learned how well ‘waiting’ works when we were trapped like rats in the castle, waiting for Prince Langone to decide what to do with us.

Master Apollo was committed to the Eye, and the Eye was committed to their plan already. There was nothing that she could do or say to change that. Silently, she met Ele’s eyes, and was surprised at his expression. Far from the warning look she was expecting to find there, his expression looked determined, pointed, as if trying to assure her that his thoughts were in line with hers.

The Eye wouldn’t make a move against the Twisted. But as Master Apollo had said, she didn’t represent the Eye yet.

 

***

 

Elena was so tired that even given the intensity of the situation, every five minutes Frederica had to nudge her to keep her from dozing off. Eventually, the Calaetor glanced through the window at the moon outside, and nodded.

Elena rose to her feet, the sudden rush of adrenaline ripping away every trace of exhaustion from her. The sound of her heart pounding in her ears was loud as she picked up the long sword from its place by the wall. Her Storm was already sending information flowing through her about its balance and heft, how to carry it, how to use it, as she pulled a black mask down over her face.

“I don’t think I’ve ever even held a sword before,” she whispered to no one in particular.

Frederica was already read, black mask down, sword held loosely against one shoulder, flanked by the two figures dressed entirely in black robes, her sculptures. “You rule this city, couldn’t you have this done by someone?” she asked.

“I rule this city with Little One, and I think she’s a lot better at it than I am,” Elena shook her head, “I can’t use Milian resources or she’ll know about it.”

“You should really hire someone.”

“I know I should,” Elena said quietly, as she slipped out into the hallway.

“Cover the other hallway,” Frederica nodded to Freja, and the wooden woman took off running down the hall, her footsteps surprisingly quiet even in the silent hall. Frebio and Frederica walked alongside Elena until she reached the door, her Storm informing her of the room given to Midora.

“How long will you have, after you kill her?” Frederica whispered, taking Elena’s sword and unsheathing it.

Elena shuddered. “The dream world won’t go away until Waldren disappears,” she murmured back, “killing Midora first won’t alert him, but when he dies the others will wake up.”

Frederica nodded and handed the sword back to her, hilt first.

Elena took a deep breath, closing her eyes to focus on calming herself, trying not to think of the weight in her hands. I have to do this. Don’t think about her friendship, think about the fact that she’s going to help kill thousands of people. I have to stop her, and this is the only way-

She was interrupted by a poke in the forehead, almost hard enough to knock her over, and she opened her eyes, startled.

“No time to get in your own head,” Frederica said quietly, “the longer this takes, the more problems come up in this plan.”

Elena blinked, then turned and approached the door to Midora’s room. Frederica was right, there needed to be no hesitation between now and when the deed was done. She waited with her hand on the handle, mentally bracing herself.

“Good luck,” Ele whispered, and Elena nodded acknowledgement as she turned the handle and stepped inside.

It took her eyes a few moments to adjust from the torchlight of the hallway to the almost pitch black of the room inside, and Elena mentally scolded herself for not anticipating the change in light.

It took a few moments, but she was finally able to identify the dark figure on the bed, her hair spilled out across the pillow, barely lit by the moonlight that flowed through the window, blocked by the figure standing in front of it.

“Is someone there?” Lord Waldren’s voice cut through the silence, and Elena could identify his frame silhouetted against the moonlight, half turned. She froze. Her Storm was still quite clearly telling her that this room of the castle was assigned to Midora, but her Storm only told her the things she owned.

There were a hundred reasons Lord Waldren was here in Midora room, and none of them mattered as much as the fact that he was here, in Midora’s room. Mentally she thanked Frederica profoundly for the mask that kept her from being instantly identified.

“You’re in the moonlight you know, I can see you. Whoever hired you severely overestimated your abilities at assassination.” Lord Waldren seemed incredibly unconcerned. With a motion so practiced it barely took a second, the cane he carried clicked softly, and he whipped a thin blade from its body.

I definitely should’ve hired an assassin, Elena thought again, far too late, even with the risk of Little One finding out. Should I run? Can I run?

“I hardly bother offering anymore,” Lord Waldren sighed, “but would you care to tell me who sent you, in exchange for a quick death? Not many people realize how much damage can be inflicted without actually-“

Lord Waldren stopped talking the moment the glass in the window broke, shattering and falling with a surprisingly soft and musical sound. He tilted his head to one side, as if observing Elena for the first time and unconcerned with the broken window behind him.

“Oh very clever,” he breathed. The cane and sword tumbled from his hands, and he slumped against the wall. “Two assassins, one a distraction. But how could you possibly know I was here? Or that I wouldn’t spring away from the window?”

I didn’t know, Elena was already moving toward the bed before she was consciously aware of making the decision, Belloza was just for insurance, I thought you’d be asleep…or that Midora’d be asleep.

She was stirring in her bed when Elena reached it, and without letting herself think, Elena swung the sword down in a high arc. The blade slipped through the blankets and the body without a hint of resistance or shock, bouncing against the mattress beneath hard enough to send the sword flying out of her hands.

Lord Waldren’s Echo turned, weakly pulling the incorporeal blankets from herself. In her middle, her body was beginning to unravel as if it were made of strings and caught in a Storm, blowing away strand by strand.

Perdidisti scivi diem instare,” the pale Echo gasped, clutching at the wound, but already she was leaning back without energy.

“No no no no,” Elena said, “where is Midora? Where is she?”

“Miss Lucciano? Elena?” The sound from beneath the shattered window didn’t bear the tone of someone betrayed, just a weariness and confusion. Elena glanced at Lord Waldren’s Echo on the bed, already halfway gone. Lord Waldren wouldn’t be surviving the next few minutes, and the sword-cane had fallen too far away for him to reach if he tried.

The room was quiet as she crossed the space to him.

“I’m sorry, Lord Waldren,” Elena said quietly.

“The plan?” Lord Waldren asked. “The deaths?”

“I couldn’t…I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t resign that many people to just being erased.”

“Twisted…above…such things,” each word took a belaboured breath for Lord Walrden to get it out.

“We’re not above anyone,” Elena whispered. The words

“My dear, you’ll indulge…” Waldren’s voice faltered, and with great effort he began speaking again, “…you’ll indulge…a dying man’s question, I hope? Were you…were you ever really one of us?”

Elena watched Lord Waldren take his last breath.

“I don’t know, Black Furs,” she whispered. “I don’t know.”

 

***

 

The blood was washed off, the sword and ruined clothes disposed of. Elena lay on the bed, her eyelids heavy but unable to close. She was acutely aware of Ele staring at her.

“How are you-” Ele began, but Elena interrupted him.

“I’ve seen death before, Ele. I didn’t even kill him, technically. I’m pretty sure I killed, in the Quelling.”

“Not like this you haven’t. You haven’t had a dying friend talk to you.”

Elena’s eyes smarted. “That was a little blunt” she said

“If you were really okay, it wouldn’t have bothered you.”

“That’s ridiculous. I can be morally alright with a decision and still have it hurt.”

“It was the right thing to do.”

“I know.”

“I’ll let you sleep now.”

“Thank you, Ele.”

 

***

 

The sky was pitch black, without a star or moon, and yet the mountaintop was still illuminated in a cold, blue light. Elena was lying on the hard packed earth, looking out at the sea of rolling fog that made the mountain an island in a sea of cloud.

“Dread” wasn’t the right word to describe the terror nestled in her stomach, not flip-flopping or fluttering like her normal nerves, but holding fast like a beast with its teeth sunk into her organs. She rose with the calm of a prisoner about to be executed, and turned to look at the clearing.

It had been cleared of its large table, and the Storm stood in the center of it, his cloak and hood whipping back and forth with loud snapping sounds, as if he stood in front of a hurricane. Elena wasn’t the last to arrive, but even now the other Twisted were emerging from the treeline, and she grit her teeth and joined them. There was no point in running. They were in the dream world, which meant that Lord Waldren had somehow survived against all odds, and though he wasn’t there yet, it was only a matter of time.

The grinning girl had no gaze to avoid, but Elena kept her eyes firmly fixed on the The Storm, who stood with arms crossed, the flecks on his face whirling in turmoil. Lord Waldren did not emerge from the trees, and soon all of the other Twisted were assembled. The Storm ran his gaze over each of them in turn, slowly turning, before he spoke.

“A problem, is the having of we.”

***

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6 responses

  1. Oak

    thanks for the chapter,
    so is it that the avatar can use others storms, he survived, or is someone else the creator of the dream?

    Like

    2016-04-08 at 4:00 am

  2. EchoStep

    Wai-what?! When did Artemis die? Why didn’t Elena stab Waldren after he was shot instead of just leaving? Didn’t she say she watched him take his last breath? Wasn’t she becoming a more competent person who wouldn’t commit such a stupid blunder like that? Where were his guards? I’m sorry for all the questions, but I’m very confused… ;_;

    Like

    2016-04-08 at 10:26 am

    • Soronel Haetir

      I’m thinking someone other than Waldren (probably the Storm) is the master of this particular dream.

      Liked by 1 person

      2016-04-09 at 1:58 am

  3. This is the point where I stopped loving Elena. I loved Waldred. I love the remaining twisted. I loved how unconditional their relationship was, if you were twisted you were one of them, like a real family. But now Elena’s directly responsible for their deaths, and the fact that she feels terrible about it, really isn’t making me feel any better about it.

    I wanted her to bow to peer pressure and go along with the plan, even though I believe the storm’s lying about sparing the twisted and their friends. It’s a very easy lie to tell, and the Storm has a history of lying (lel, his hissyfits when Elena wouldn’t do what he wanted).
    DESPITE THAT, I would rather see Elena have moral compunctions about going along with a clearly evil plan that’s probably gonna kill her, than have her betray the people who offered her friendship when she had no one else to turn to.

    People are really stupid, and I thought Elena’s character flaw was that she was too naive and weak-willed. Remember when she called herself a leaf that followed the flow? Clearly she grew out of that, but she grew so far and so fast away from it that I can’t recognize her.

    There’s no doubt that what Elena is doing is the right thing, in the long run. But goddamnit if I don’t hate her anyway.

    Like

    2016-10-11 at 6:11 am

  4. Wish

    Tiny Typo: The Eye wouldn’t make a move against the Twisted. But ss Master Apollo had said, she didn’t represent the Eye yet.

    ss – as

    Like

    2017-04-20 at 2:26 pm

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