A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

2.06 – Forte ad Somnum Somniare {To Sleep, Perchance to Dream}

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***

The wheels of the carriage against the ground were so poor that Elena could feel every bump and jostle in the road, but the roads were so well maintained that such bumps and jostles came rarely. She stared through the window at the pitch black sky, stretching her legs out to rest them on the seat opposite her.

The darkness was oppressive, but it was better than staring at the Rhetor mask she had taken from Rolf. It rested in her lap, heavier than it looked, and even though she was resolutely not paying it attention, Elena felt drawn to run her fingers over the embossed silver pattern.

“You used to be such a naive little girl,” her travelling companion said sadly. “It was so endearing. One of your better qualities, in my opinion, my dear.”

“I’m glad I’m not anymore,” Elena didn’t turn, her eyes locked on a stately spires of stone and ice that passed by in the distance. “How many people took advantage of that naivete? How many people that I still don’t even know about yet?”

“I’ll grant you, it certainly wasn’t the most utilitarian of traits,” his hearty chuckle sounded at odds with the grim landscape, “but it was…sweet. Refreshing, really. Whether due to power, or to influence of companions, you don’t really see that innocence among our kind.”

“Our kind?” Elena asked, “do you mean Stormtouched? Or Twisted?”

“Mmm,” he said thoughtfully, “yes.”

When she finally turned his expression was somehow easy to read, even though it was enshrouded in a black fog. “If I had been less naive and more like the rest of you, maybe I wouldn’t have problems now.”

“A few peoples’ blood on your hands, a few friends giving up everything for you? If you were more like the rest of us, you wouldn’t consider them problems, Luc-ci-a-no.”

Elena turned her back on Black Furs again, angry for reasons she couldn’t quite articulate.

“Maybe I should try to be even more like the rest of you, then,” she said, “maybe that would make this easier. I wouldn’t feel so bad about tearing Frederica and Belloza and Owl away from their families, I wouldn’t feel so bad about killing Rolf…”

“You wouldn’t feel so bad about the Stormtouched being written over with the ink of their Echoes,” Black Furs pointed out. “That sounds less like you, more like the you that the Storm wants you to be.”

“Maybe that’s what needs to happen then. I don’t know if I can see this all the way through,” Elena admitted, “the ‘me’ who is me, that is.”

“That’s what makes it interesting, isn’t it?” Black Furs asked, “can you complete the goals you had when you were innocent without becoming one of us in the process? And if you do, will you still want that goal, or will you be just as bad as those you sought to protect the world from? Does the end really justify the means?”

Would you like to join us? the thought brushed across her mind like a feather dragged through the sand, and Elena impatiently accepted. Of course she would, she was already in the Dream World wasn’t she?

“They do, of course they do,” she answered Black Furs, “the ‘ends’ are saving the lives of thousands of people.”

She began to move, slowly, not along with the carriage but pulled away from it. Gradually, lucidity started to return to her like a fog bank rolling in. Black Furs was dead. She had been dreaming, an actual dream, that’s why it had been so hard to think, and it being hard to think had made it hard to put very simple pieces together.

She wasn’t in the Dream World…but she was about to be.

***

As the clarity in Elena’s mind, the first thing she noticed was how cold it was on the mountaintop. Each little gust of breeze that hit her bit into her skin and made her shiver, but more than the physical cold, an oppressive weight hung around her shoulders like a dark mist, as if the fog that curled between the trees was pushing her down.

The blue light that she emitted from her core cut through the fog several feet away, and Elena glanced down to find little blue flames flickering beneath the raised puzzle-pieces that made up her skin. She scrambled to her feet before the flames could catch on the dry branches beneath her. As far as she knew, the flames weren’t real and wouldn’t actually start a forest fire, but she could feel the cold wind and she could feel the damp fog, and she had no urge to know what being burned to death felt like.

The Rhetor mask that had been in her lap in the real dream fell to her feet with a dull clank, and the sound was enough to spur Elena into motion. She began walking through the woods that she had been brought to, trying to minimize the sound of her feet against the branches. If the Twisted had summoned her to that particular spot in the woods, she wanted to be as far away from that spot as possible.

As long as I keep moving, maybe I can keep away from them until I wake up. Elena’s thoughts felt loud to her somehow, trudging alone through the cold woods. There was no Echo by her side, no friends around her, and the longer Elena moved with nothing but fog for company, the more alone she felt.

Black flecks of something swirled at the corner of her eye, but by the time she swiveled to face it the flecks were gone. It was enough to confirm the creeping feeling running up her spine, and Elena broke into a run, no longer worried about the sound of her footsteps along the cold ground.

Something was watching her, something was following her, and it wasn’t calling out as she would expect one of the Twisted to do. Elena was moving so fast and the fog was so thick that she almost didn’t notice the cliff until it was too late.

She skidded to a stop just a few feet from where the ground gave way to empty air and fog, the trees around her cutting out. There was no way of judging how far the drop was, but Elena thought about jumping anyway. What had Lord Waldren said? Pain in the dream world didn’t translate to pain in the real world, even if you died…she could jump, she could get away, and all that she would have to suffer was a lot of dream pain before she woke up.

Elena steeled herself, took a deep breath, and stepped out into empty air.

A strong hand grabbed her left arm, and suddenly Elena was dangling rather than falling, being hauled back up onto solid ground. Her moment’s indecision had given her pursuers the few seconds they needed to catch up to her.

My Storm-made pursuers, Elena realized, as another of the creatures grabbed her on the right. Like the Storm, they were humanlike, made of speckles of white and black, flurrying against each other, but unlike the Storm they were unclothed, and it was hard to make out their edges, hard to tell where they ended and where the fog began.

They began to move in concert, leading her in concert into the forest. Their grips were strong, and they didn’t falter in their steps, even when Elena tried to yank herself free of them. The struggle only made her trip and be dragged across the ground until she could regain her footing, and after a few tries she gave up on escaping their grips.

How long have I been asleep, she thought, and how long will it take them to drag me to wherever they’re taking me?

“You don’t have to do this,” Elena said. She doubted the whisps would listen to her, if they even understood her, but dragging her feet was doing nothing to stop the Storm whisps from their steady plodding.

Sure enough, the whisps didn’t so much as turn to look at her. Branches and twigs and crunched under their feet as they plunged forward, and Elena lapsed into silence with nothing to think about but what would happen to her when they reached their destination, missing her friends and Ele.

Elena wasn’t sure where she had been dropped in the dream, but she felt that it should’ve taken longer to reach the clearing in the forest. The large table was still there, but the chairs were all arrayed on one side of it now, and it was more imposing with all of the Twisted lining it.

“Well well, speak of the devil and she shall appear.” Fulvio stood, her inky black form reflecting a light that wasn’t present in the grey grim fog. The low conversation at the table ceased, everyone watching in silence as the whisps led Elena to the single chair facing all of the others, pushing her down to sit.

With the whisps on either side of her, their hands firmly on her shoulders, Elena looked around at the assembled group. The Storm sat at the head of the table to her right, but he was laying with his head resting in his arms, and hadn’t raised it to look at her. Next to him, across from Elena, were Marsillo, Coastering, Little One and Lucrezia, and to her left at the opposite side of the table Fulvio.

Each of the Twisted wore grave expressions. Marsillo’s armless hands were steepled in front of his face, Little One’s golden eyes gave nothing away, and Elena couldn’t even meet Lucrezia’s eyes without feeling like she might throw up.

“You are no doubt feeling rather proud of yourself, right now,” Fulvio broke the silence that stretched around the table. “Looking at our diminished number, without Lord Waldren or Lady Fara.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. The absence of Black Furs who had been so fatherly to her, and Midora the Grinning Girl who had shown her friendship, twisted in Elena’s gut like a knife. A part of her had hoped that Little One had been bluffing when she said she’d kill Midora, that instead Elena would have to deal with Midora last, or perhaps even talk to her.

That hope was dashed now, and Elena knew she had no one to blame but herself. If Little One had the slightest qualm about killing the girl, her cold golden eyes didn’t betray it in the slightest.

“I’m not proud at all,” Elena said, though she was aware her words probably didn’t matter to them. Even when not arrayed against each other, the two Twisted most likely to listen to Elena’s input had been Lord Waldren and Midora.

The table was quiet for a few moments, before Fulvio spoke again.

“I can only assume, given your apparent disappearance from Milia, that these aren’t the last of the assassination attempts we’ll see from you. I have to ask what your end-game is in all of this, Elena. What do you plan to do when we’re all dead?”

“It is immeasurably unlikely that she kills us,” Master Coastering said, “certainly not all of us.”

“I wouldn’t have thought she could kill Waldren and Midora either,” Lucrecia said quietly, “yet here we sit.”

Fulvio made a motion with her hand as if to dismiss the tangent, turning back to Elena.

“Is it some sort of coup? Not satisfied with Milia, your intention is to conquer all of Italoza itself, a Fabera a servant and three children? Do you know how many Generals and Princes and Masters have tried?”

It felt strange, to sit there and be scolded by the woman she was going to try to kill someday, but the inklike figure had presence and skill at oration, and Elena was finding it hard to put words in the right order.

“It’s not a coup-” she started.

“On its own, your childish arrogance would just be pitiable,” Fulvio spoke over her effortlessly, “but that arrogance becomes tragedy as the cause of Demetrio and Midora’s deaths.”

“I wish they hadn’t had to die,” Elena said quietly.

“I could point out that one such a way would be you not killing them,” Fulvio said, “but I imagine we’re past the point of reasoning with you now.”

“I can’t let you kill every Stormtouched in Italoza, let alone the whole world,” Elena said.

“You could’ve spoken to us,” Marsillo said, “made your case.”

“It’s not-” Elena shook her head, unsure of how to explain herself. The Twisted lived their life dedicated to the pursuit of power. “Is there anything I could’ve said that would’ve changed your mind?”

“No,” Marsillo admitted, “but it would’ve made it easier for us to have found out your plan before you were able to get to Midora.”

Again, the silence, but only for a moment before Fulvio made a motion, and the whisps of Storm on either side of Elena gripped her tighter.

“Without Lord Waldren the Storm cannot deposit you in a consistent location,” she said, glancing at the Storm collapsed on the table, “it is draining enough for the Storm to pull you here in the first place and still maintain his stormlings. However, finding you wasn’t a problem tonight, and it won’t be a problem in the future.”

Fulvio stepped around the table, and a flash in her hand caught Elena’s eye. The shadowy woman was holding a knife, just as black and shiny as her skin.

“You once caught Lord Waldren distributing punishment to Little One for not sharing information. I think you’ll find me far less patient and far more skilled. Where are you, where are you going, and which of us are you planning on assassinating next?”

Elena felt as if her blood had turned to ice and frozen her in the chair. The possibility of being tortured had always been nagging at the back of her mind as a potential worry, but to have it brought to her attention so suddenly, so starkly, rattled her.

“She’s waking up,” Little One said, speaking up with her childlike voice for the first time. Elena was so focused on the knife that she hadn’t even noticed, but now that Little One mentioned it she noticed with relief that the edges of her vision were beginning to blur.

“A taste of things to come then,” Fulvio said lightly, and stabbed the knife into Elena’s shoulder.

The blunt contact of Fulvio’s fist on her shoulder was the first thing to hurt. Thankfully, she was already slipping away from the dream world when the true pain began to burn. It was so excruciating that it seemed to bodily shoved her awake.

***

The Rhetor’s mask fell to the floor with a clank, and she opened her eyes. The carriage was dark, and the others were asleep. Elena wiped the cold sweat from her forehead, and spend the rest of the night staring out the window, wondering what Fulvio could’ve done with that knife and a little bit more time…

***

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***

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2 responses

  1. Bart

    Maybe she should have asked Little One in real life, what her opinion of dream torture was.

    Like

    2016-05-31 at 5:10 am

  2. jimhenry1973

    Earlier, Little One was able to wake up on her own. I think she just used that power to make Elena wake up before they could torture her.

    Like

    2016-07-10 at 9:54 pm

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