A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

5.01 – Nubes Mundo {World of Clouds}

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At some point in the recent past, Italoza had grown warm without Elena even noticing it. It must’ve, or the contrast wouldn’t have been so obvious. Even before she had fully woken, she knew that she was in the Dream World from the bite of cold across her skin. Was it already so late in the summer that there were no cold nights?

Elena opened her eyes, and stared up into a grey fog-filled sky. The white and black speckled mist around her glowed blue, lit by the fire that burned in between her puzzle-piece skin. She sat up slowly, wishing she could rub her arms for warmth but worried that the puzzle pieces might catch on each other.

The fog lay heavy and thick around her, blanketing almost everything but a small hut in the distance. The tree-filled mountaintop which had been the Twisted’s home for months had apparently been replaced with another vista, and Elena frowned. The Storm was the one maintaining the Dream World now that Lord Waldren was dead, and it was almost certain that the Twisted would have a better idea of the layout of this new world than she would.

Elena cursed her luck. Just when she had been getting the hang of slipping in and out between the trees, taking out Stormlings, they’d changed things.

“It never gets any easier, being here.”

Stifling a scream, Elena spun, suddenly feeling the lack of weapons at her disposal. Ele raised an eyebrow, and after a few moments spoke again.

“I at least know why, now. It’s because I’ve been here before.”

“That can’t be,” Elena slowly calmed back down, and watched as the flames licking around the edges of her puzzle pieces slowly retreated back into her inner blue core. “Not unless you’ve been visiting Dream Worlds without me.”

“Do you see that, far off in the distance,” Ele put a hand on her shoulder and swivelled her to face the direction he pointed. It was a strange sensation, her Echo’s hand on her shoulder, but Elena tried to ignore it and focus on what he was pointing out.

“Is that a chest?” she asked. “Just sitting there on the ground?”

“It’s a chest full of clothes,” Ele said quietly.

Elena tilted her head to one side, then startled. “Here?” she asked, “you get your clothes from here?”

“We get everything from here,” Ele spun in place slowly, casting a long glance out into the white and black speckled fog. “Anything an Echo can hold on to. As far as we can tell, we can come and go as we please, anything we need is in chests like those…but it’s never the first chest you see. We can only pass into this world so close to the chest we want.”

“It’s your world,” Elena murmured as soon as the realization hit her. “The Dream World is the same world that the Storm is trying to save his Echoes from.” Her mind drifted back over the different Dream Worlds that Lord Waldren had pulled them into. The castle had looked down onto a black and white speckled plain, the mountaintop had been above black and white fog. She’d assumed the ship had sailed on a black and white speckled sea, but it might just have easily been floating just above the fog.

“It feels strange talking about it here,” Ele said, “or at all, really. I can’t, in your world.”

“I suddenly understand why he wants to move you all from this world into mine,” Elena shivered. “And…it doesn’t feel wonderful, knowing I’m fighting to keep who knows how many Echos stuck here. What a dismal place.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” Ele said, his voice dark.

As if in direct response to his grim words, a sudden sound ripped through the otherwise still air. It was a shriek like a blast of blizzard-cold wind, like a snap of thunder given the feeling of hatred and the mouth to express it.

“What…” Elena didn’t realize she had moved her hand to her belt, but there was no weapon at her side. That cry felt like it needed a weapon. Only half-expecting to find something, she scanned the ground around her, but there were no branches on the hard packed dirt, only bedraggled and half-dead shoots of grey weeds.

Ele grabbed her hand and pressed a large white rock into it. The contact was unexpected once again, a shock of strange coming from the young man who was so familiar standing next to her. Elena shook her head and hefted the stone. Her Storm didn’t pass the familiar flow of information into her fingertips, but then the rock wasn’t exactly balanced for fighting.

“I’ve been here more than once, but I’ve never seen one of those buildings,” Ele said, nodding toward the building Elena had first noticed, “I’d call it a fair bet to assume that’s where the Twisted are.”

As a pair, the two of them moved toward the little building, moving carefully and casting glances over their shoulders

“In the last world, on the mountaintop, the Storm used this fog to make people,” Elena noted.

“The Storm didn’t make the gale-devils,” Ele said. “I get the impression they’ve lived here for-”

He broke off suddenly and gave Elena a shove, throwing the two of them apart with unexpected force. Without thinking, Elena grabbed her rock tighter and fell in a roll, ready to attack whatever had spooked Ele. The sound of an impact informed her that Ele had been just as prepared, and by the time she rose up to her feet the thing was already stumbling toward her.

It was a very jumbled impression, something like slippery fur and fog and ink. Elena swung before it even came into focus, and the rock connected hard. The little visceral shock of pain after the strike reminded her of her damaged arm in the real world, but here she had enough strength to send the creature to the ground. Ele slammed his own stone down a second time on the felled creature, with a sickening crunch that Elena tried hard not to hear or think about.

Now that the thing was still on the ground, Elena could see it more clearly, even though its edges blurred and seemed to melt into the fog around it. It was long, humanlike, but its animal-like legs, strong and muscular, twisted the similarity and made it something corrupted and strange.

“We don’t know what all used to live here,” her Echo was surprisingly calm, looking down at the thing they had just killed, and the lack of concern was creepy. “There are only two living species here now. Echoes, and those things. Gale-devils. They’ve killed anything else that might’ve called this place home.”

“Can’t you fight them?” Elena asked.

Ele took her by the arm and started guiding her back toward the little house in the distance, keeping an eye on the fallen creature behind them.

“Sometimes. It doesn’t matter, because it never lasts,” he said.

“What do you-” Elena glanced over her shoulder and stopped. The creature’s long leg was beginning to twitch, its smashed form slowly rebuilding. She shuddered and turned back to the building, her unasked question answered. They were much closer now, and Elena realized that it was closer to a single large room, made of red wood and stuck incongruously in the middle of the fog. If the Twisted occupied the Dream World now, they’d be inside…Elena didn’t see them being the type to risk encountering “gale-devils”.

“Will you be able to deal with the Twisted?” Ele asked as they reached the door, clearly coming to the same conclusion. Elena paused on the doorstep, looking out into the fog for any sign of the gale-devil.

“I’m…” Elena paused to search for the right word, “…not ‘feeling better’, exactly. Better equipped to deal with them now than I was. Talking with Master Asclepius these past few days has helped. It’s at least let me realize how bad a shape I was in. I can handle fighting them, but…”

Ele waited, only occasionally glancing out into the fog.

“Will you come with me?” she asked. “If they catch us, you can vanish before they do anything to you, but…with you at my side, I’ll be in even better shape…”

“I’m your Echo,” Ele smiled at her, “by your side is where I belong.”

The two of them opened the door and entered into the room beyond.

***

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