A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

3.05 – Omnia Siminis Clavia {Everything Looks Like a Nail}

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The last time she’d visited the Dream World, snow had crunched beneath her shoes. This time, a thin layer of ice snapped with a snap that bounced back and forth among the trees and fog. Elena didn’t mind. Past experience had taught her that there was no point in running, but she had hurt the Stormlings before, she could hurt them again.

Perhaps it was the weight of the warhammer in her hands, still warm from the other dream, or perhaps she had been so rattled by the other dream that the thought of plain violence seemed simple in comparison. Either way, when the first silent speckled creature stepped out of the fog and reached for her, there was no hesitation in her swing.

There was no steady flow of information from her Storm for the weapon in her hands, but Elena had had that information once. She instinctively knew where to hold it, how to swing it, and when it connected with the Stormling’s head the air resounded with a metallic crack that stung satisfyingly in her arms.

The Stormling was lifted off of the ground, its fuzzy edges becoming even more vague as it flew. In the silence of its arc through the air, Elena obeyed some instinctive urge and swung the hammer back like a pendulum behind her. The second Stormling had been approaching without a sound, but it clearly hadn’t been expecting the hammer that slammed into its midsection.

The last time I underestimated these things, they dragged me to be tortured.

“The Storm is asleep at the table in order to keep this Dream World running, but he can still send you things to do his bidding,” Elena approached the first Stormling where it had crumpled to the ground. She moved carefully, aware of her footing and cautious of a trap. “But it’s more than that, isn’t it? Whether Lord Waldren or the Storm is running this place, the Dream World is made of the Storm…he can see everything that happens here, can’t he?”

The Stormling on the ground either couldn’t hear her, couldn’t understand her, or simply didn’t want to answer. Elena didn’t bother asking again. When she brought the hammer down on its head, it shattered like glass, and the speckles dispersed like a swarm of insects scattering.

“I don’t need them to tell me,” Elena said quietly, half to herself, half to the Storm she was now sure was listening, “I was an idiot not to see it before. The castle was surrounded by those storm-speckles, the ship was sailing on a sea of them, and I’ll bet if I tried to climb down this mountain I’d see the same thing.”

The other Stormling was trying to drag itself away from her, and Elena stepped on its ankle to keep it in place.

“You wanted me less naive, didn’t you?” she asked, bringing the hammer down twice on the disabled creature. “Wanted me to be some kind of tyrant queen without the innocence you hated so much? Wasn’t that your plan?”

The clearing around her was quiet again, but if the Storm was the Dream World then he had the advantage. There would be more Stormlings coming straight for her, while she had to find her way in the fog. Elena picked a direction at random and started moving.

“There’ve been too many random encounters on this mountain. I’m guessing Waldren set up this world so that if you walk far enough, you’ll reach some place of interest,” Elena said, working things out by speaking them aloud. “You aren’t omnipotent or omniscient, that’s the thing. You can’t change around Waldren’s world, or you’d drop me into a cage from the start, like we did for Little One. You don’t have the energy to manipulate Stormlings and stay awake here, or you would, and you can’t communicate to the Twisted about where I am, or you would.”

The next Stormling didn’t even make an attempt at subtlety, charging at her from the fog. Elena planted one foot in the ground, rotated her hips, and swung the warhammer in a high arc that twisted down at the last moment. Both of the Stormling’s legs shattered as it went head-over-heels, and she only paused long enough to crush its head before she moved on again.

“You’re even weaker in the real world,” She continued as if she hadn’t been interrupted, “as far as I can tell, you can’t affect our Storms at all out there, and you have no idea where I am or what I’m using it for.”

Even in the thick of the fog, Elena could tell when she’d reached the clearing. The trees fell away, and after a few steps she could see the table. It was empty but for one seat, where Master Coastering sat waiting, his hands folded neatly in front of him, the ribbons of flesh floating gently in front of his face. The Storm must’ve been sleeping somewhere else, Coastering left waiting for her.

“Well, well, well, what prestigious company I find myself favored with,” Master Coastering said. A small gong sat on the table next to him, and he lazily lifted a small mallet and rapped it once. The sound of the gong echoed through the air, and Elena had no doubt that wherever they were, the other Twisted would have heard and were now approaching.

“I’d suggest you run, my dear, though certain failsafes will certainly forestall your escape.” Coastering’s expression was unfathomable, but his tone was smug. “Your admittedly admirable attempts at evasion have prompted us to make adjustments.”

Elena shook her head. She was startled to feel her long curls brush against the sides of her neck, she had already grown used to the short-cropped hair that made up part of her disguise.

“If you will not run, perhaps you will sit and speak, as civilized Master Stormtouched are wont to do?” Master Coastering indicated the seat across from him. Elena shifted her grip on the warhammer and began to move toward the table, and he nodded.

“Probably the most wisdom I’ve seen come from you in some time,” he said. “Despite what you may think, Master Cog, it is not too late to reconcile our differences. Concessions can be made on both sides.”

“Concessions including sparing the Stormtouched?” Elena asked.

“Not as such, no, but-” Master Coastering began, but Elena had known the answer and was already swinging her warhammer. The hammerhead hit the table with such force that the heavy oak snapped in half, sending the gong flying. Coastering swore and jumped backward so fast that he tumbled over his chair, and before he could scramble to his feet Elena had lifted the hammer for a second swing.

In comparison to the sound of the Stormlings shattering or the table cracking, the sound the hammer made as it slammed home in the middle of Coastering’s ankle was relatively quiet, a small thud and a sharp snap. Coastering himself, however, was much louder.

Elena waited patiently for Coastering to stop screaming, still standing over him and holding the warhammer in both hands. The ribbons of his face that normally floated now vibrated with the noise, while he clutched with both hands at his destroyed ankle.

After a few moments, Elena spoke. “Stop screaming now, or I’ll break the other one.”

Coastering coughed and hissed, but with a few shuddering breaths he stopped screaming and grew silent, although the ribbons still shook with their own silent screams.

“B..barbarian,” he finally hissed. “Savage.”

“This is what we Twisted do when we want information, isn’t it?” Elena glanced over her shoulder to make sure another Twisted hadn’t taken advantage of the noise to sneak up behind her. “Give me some information. Careful, though, I have sources, and if you lie I won’t stop at just your other ankle.”

“What secrets do you think you’ll gain from me?” Coastering asked, “this is no war we’re waging, you and us, there are no strategies and counterstrategies. This is a stupid girl who tried to kill the powerful and will be put down for it.”

“Then it doesn’t matter, does it?” Elena said, “tell me something I’ll find interesting. How will you put me down?”

“The fact that you feel so confident means you have no idea how badly your plans have failed,” Coastering said, “it’s pathetic that-“

Elena lifted the hammer.

“Arlight! Don’t- alright!” Coastering took another shuddering breath, “we’ve caught all of your plans, and we’ve stopped them.”

Elena blinked, furrowing her brow. “Explain.”

“We’ve stopped them. It’s over, Elena, you can break whatever of mine you want and it’s still over. Your forces in Florenzia? Fulvio stopped them, she survived their assassination attempt and will ensure that the Eye no longer has the crown’s support.”

Elena had almost forgotten that the Eye would be making a move to take out the Twisted. She hoped that they were alright, but it sounded as if at least some of them were still alive. Elena didn’t have time to process, as Coastering was still talking.

“Your hired Rhetor assassin in Rimi? Lucrezia took care of her, she’s no longer a threat. Whatever plan you had for Little One didn’t work in Milia, and since we couldn’t find your assassins in Venecchi, Marsillo simply left the city. You’ve failed, Elena, before you even really got started.”

It dawned on Elena how very lucky she had been. The information the Twisted were operating on was all muddled, and if she could find a way to capitalize on that, there may be a chance after all. She kept her face as neutral as she could, hoping the puzzle pieces that made up her skin would help obscure her expression.

It’s almost like the studio battles, the thought emerged unbidden, playing with a death that doesn’t matter, fishing for information, bluff and double-bluff.

“I already knew all of that,” she said, “tell me something I didn’t.”

Master Coastering shook his head, “your Rhetor was only just turned,” he said, “you can’t have known about that unless you’re-” he stopped suddenly, and the ribbons that made up his face stilled, “unless you’re in Rimi, monitoring her,” he finished quietly.

Elena took a moment to curse herself with a series of swear words before she swung the hammer down, aiming this time for Coastering’s head. He vanished as soon as the hammer connected, and Elena turned and broke into a run, heading away from the table.

Long minutes later, Elena stopped berating herself and forced herself to focus.

The Storm can’t communicate what he heard to them, she thought, and I don’t know how late in the night or morning it actually is. Either Coastering falls back asleep in time and tells the other Twisted I’m in Rimi, or the others wake up and don’t meet again until tomorrow night.

She had had a dream already, so chances were good that it was early morning…Elena resolved to figure out some way of telling time while in the Dream World. Even in the best case, Coastering would warn Lucrezia tomorrow night, and the paranoid woman would be even more on her guard.

Even if luck was with her, Elena had only one more day to enact her plan.

***

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2 responses

  1. Thanks for the chapter! I’m half expecting the plan to fall apart, especially when it comes to escaping…

    Like

    2016-08-08 at 7:23 am

  2. Anonymous

    Master Coastering missed something: the “Rhetor assassin” would have belonged to Elena, giving her complete knowledge of how the plan was progressing. So, if he didn’t know how Elena’s storm worked, he’d have to guess that it may give her some sort of communication backchannel (much like Waldren’s storm, for example). If he did know, he’d *know* that was the case!

    Like

    2016-08-08 at 2:11 pm

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