A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

6.05 – Portam Tempestas {Gate of the Storm}

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Elena vaguely felt that her hands should have been trembling. Instead they were steady as she kept hold of the knife, letting the body of the King slip off of it and slump to the ground. Far off, halfway between the little group and Florenzia, the guards shouted and broke into a run for them.

She watched the approach detachedly, gauging how long it would take the guards to reach them while trying to focus on them through the blurry storm world that occupied half of her vision.

“Seems a shame,” Frederica said. “Extending our time with Fulvio’s death, only for it to come to this.”

The guards drew weapons as they charged, mostly swords, but a few spears mixed in. The sun glinted off of armor and blades. Elena pulled her gaze away from them to the ground where the King had fallen.

“I had hoped to have a little more time,” she said, picking the gold crown out of the dust where it had fallen, “I thought maybe my Storm could’ve hatched an escape plan if I fed it all the information of Italoza.”

“You’ve fainted from a studio’s worth of control, Elena,” Owl pointed out, “this could kill you.”

Ele shook his head. “She’s grown since then, and she’s had practice, ruling Milia.”

“Death by Storm is hardly worse than death by guard,” Elena said. “How long can you all hold them off?”

“I can take one of them, maybe two before they silence me,” Emerald said.

“Don’t count on me for more than one,” Owl replied grimly.

Frederica didn’t answer, instead stepping forward and loosening her cloak. For a moment the fabric hung off her shoulders, then with a burst of rattling and rustling the loose cloak practically exploded away from her. Dozens of tiny birds took flight from pockets up and down the cloak, their maple wings catching the colors of the sunrise as they flew toward the advancing guards.

“Frederica!” Elena exclaimed, the crown in her hands momentarily forgotten. The birds whirled in a tornado around the heads and faces of the guards, stopping their charge and forcing them to duck and swing at the dangerous pests instead.

“You’ve watched me carving ever since we set out,” Frederica said, “did you think I was doing it for amusement?” She pointed at the crown in Elena’s hands. “You have about ten minutes-”

One of the guards swept up with his spear, slicing one of the maple birds cleanly in half.

“Five minutes,” amended Frederica.

Elena lifted the crown and settled it on her head. It was lighter than she’d thought, and too large for her. Regardless, she lifted her chin and spoke.

“I, Elena Lucciano, having killed the King and taken the crown, am the Queen of Italoza.”

For a moment she felt the smallest of tingles along her palms and in her temples.

Then Elena saw everything.

Not too much, Elena pulled herself back the second she felt the wave of information begin to wash over her, and even then it was almost too late. Her vision blurred, darkness hovered around the corners of the world, but she focused in as far as she could, not caring what she thought about but forcing herself to think small.

A banker in Rimi was shaving the edges off of any florins he took in, melting down the metal and casting his own to make up for his losses, desperate to keep up with the new banking family who had just started business.

One of the small villages on the outskirts of Tusca had a Lord unaware that his son planned to assassinate him, not for his title but to punish the Lord’s friend the Duke, who had accidentally wounded that son’s friend in a hunting accident.

A young Verani girl had fallen in love with her closest friend, and was making plans to enroll in the nearby Studio in order to win his favor, not knowing that he carried a poem he had written her but was too anxious to share.

Elena shook her head. It was fine enough detail to stay conscious, but she had to shift her attention a little closer to herself. It was a difficult task when thinking about Florenzia threatened to envelope her in Florenzia, when there was enough pure and concentrated information lurking behind every stray thought to drag her into a dark abyss from which she could never claw her way out.

Under the city of Florenzia there lay a network of tunnels, so secret that they hadn’t been used since the Stormhearts Rebellion, a rebellion that Elena was trying desperately not to think of. The King had known about them, but wanted their use discouraged.

The city-states of Italoza were more strained than anyone knew. The Princes of each city could see their small portions of the fabric, but even the King hadn’t had the insight to see how many hundreds of small tears and weak points there were in the grand tapestry that was Italoza.

The King, the man who had been so frightened of taking the crown, was dead now, lying in the dust of what had used to be the fields where the monks had kept herbs back when the monastery was in good use. Now the monastery and its secrets were as dead as the King, who lay at the feet of the new Queen-

There, Elena latched on to herself, focusing on familiar information…then she paused.

The Queen of Italoza controlled all of Italoza, and that meant she controlled the Gate. A line of ownership snaked out from her like a long flight of stairs, and it led to a place beyond the bounds of the world on which she stood.

Elena had had her eyes clenched shut, trying to block out any source of information she could, but now she opened them.

A wind that she couldn’t feel whipped at her clothing, and whipped the flecks of white and black around her. The storm world that had been overlaid on her vision since the door hit her was now easy to see, much easier than the dim figures of her friends nearby.

“Elena? Is your Storm helping?” Emerald asked from far, far away. Elena just stared at the Gate in front of her.

It was awe-inspiring, even compared to the many cities she had seen. The walls around the Gate were a deep blue metal, as if ice had been forged into something unbreakable. The Gate itself was smooth, polished so bright that her reflection was crystal clear. Elena knew even without her Storm that the gate was all that separated the land of Echoes from the world she lived in.

She also knew that the Gate was hers, and hers alone. The only way to find it was to know every speck of information about Italoza, and who but her could do that?

“It was never intended to be theirs,” Elena realized aloud.

“It was a trick?” Owl asked, from a great distance.

“The Avatar of the Storm had to have known this,” Elena continued. It was as easy to ignore Owl’s voice as it was to ignore the rest of the information about Italoza. “He had to have known that no other Twisted could have gotten here.”

Mine, she whispered to herself, setting a gentle hand on the smooth polished surface. Her reflection was smiling at her, the reflected hand warm against her own.

“Elena, are you saying this was all a trick by the Storm?” Owl asked again.

Elena frowned at the intrusion. “It’s not a trick,” she said, “this gate was always meant for me.”

“Now, now, try not to be too egotistical, Elena,” Elena’s reflection in the mirrored shine said. Elena pulled her hand back as if burned, and her reflection kept her hand to the surface for a few moments before dropping her own. “You are one of a very small number, but there are others who could’ve owned this gate. I had to hedge my bets, spread your Storm to as many as I dared.”

Even in the circumstances, staring at herself through the mirror, a surge of possessive jealousy flushed through Elena. “You’re not the Storm,” she said, “I’ve met the Storm.”

“Elena, who-” Owl tried to interrupt, but Elena brushed him aside impatiently. If he continued to protest or interrupt, she didn’t hear him.

“You’ve met the result of me forcing myself through the threshold that separates our world’s, Elena,” Elena’s reflection clasped her hands behind her back and slowly paced, gazing thoughtfully up at the titanic gate between them. “A threshold I have never been able to overcome. As long as the gate stands, and as long as the gate is shut, nothing can ever pass through, not wholly, not really. My power passes the threshold and becomes a shallow copy, my will passes the threshold and becomes a stuttering half-witted shell, my children pass and turn to ephemeral wisps, echoes of the beings they are here.”

“You’ve given me this speech before,” Elena said, “your Avatar has. I’ve heard it before, you want me to open the gate, you want the Echoes to overwrite their Stormtouched, you wanted my mother and the Twisted to groom me into a tyrant. I’d tell you to ask your Avatar how well it worked, but I killed him.”

“Oh, Elena, don’t you see?” the reflection of Elena smiled, her green eyes twinkling, “what use do I have for a tyrant? The Twisted were never meant to turn you into a tyrant. They were meant to turn you into a Queen. And they have.”

“Just because I picked up a crown-”

“There is more to being a Queen than having a crown,” the reflection cut Elena off. “A Queen requires patience and empathy, but she also needs her soft edges chipped off, her shine dulled a little. You could never be a Queen if you didn’t know how it felt to hold responsibility for anothers’ life in your hands, but now…”

The reflection indicated Elena’s hands, and for a heartstopping moment Elena thought they would be literally blood-drenched when she looked down. Though they were clean, the reflection’s point was clear enough.

“The Echoes won’t be replacing their Stormtouched, Elena,” the reflection said softly. “Opening the gate will simply allow them to be released into your world. But they’re not of that world, and they’ll need an anchor. They’ll need a Queen. Someone too good and noble to allow thousands of Stormtouched to be erased, but someone with the determination and mettle to kill if that’s what it takes.”

Elena’s mouth was dry, and her heart pounded. Her double seemed utterly calm and collected, waiting still and silent for Elena to respond.

“You’re telling me that you sacrificed the Twisted to…to teach me to be crueler? You’re hardly making a good case for me to trust you,” she finally said.

“I knew that your naivete would keep you from making hard choices when need be,” her reflection replied evenly.

Elena shook her head. “No…no, I don’t buy it. You’re lying to me so that I’ll open the gate.”

“You know that I’m telling you the truth,” Elena’s reflection said, “because your Storm is telling you that all of the Echoes, in your world and in this, belong to you, their Queen.”

Elena blinked, and carefully expanded her attention.

Italoza belonged to the Queen of Italoza. She could map out its boundaries clearly in her head, could pinpoint the inch at which her knowledge and power stopped. There was something else, though, some separate flow of information. Beyond the borders of Italoza, the Echoes burned bright in her mind. Echoes in countries far far away. Echoes in places she had never even heard of, living lives so inconceivably strange that they seemed alien. There were Echoes beyond the gate, being hunted and slaughtered, then born again from the fog to be hunted once more.

The Queen of the Echoes’ subjects. Her subjects.

“You tricked me into killing the Twisted,” Elena protested. “You turned me into…into this person I am now.”

“I turned you into a Queen,” her reflection said, “one who I can entrust my children to.”

I’m the only one who can take care of them, Elena realized, with more certainty than she had ever felt before, my subjects. Mine.

Elena reached out and placed her hand on the polished metal of the gate again, and this time her reflection just watched.

“I don’t know if I can be their Queen,” she said, pausing. Far, far away, too far away to register, someone was shouting, someone was shaking her. “I don’t know if I can handle that responsibility.”

“Can you be satisfied with any other alternative?” her reflection said. “Can you go back to being a garzona, from what you are now? To being a Master?”

“No,” Elena admitted. Her hand, running along the smooth surface of the gate, bumped up against an outcropping. A smooth and polished handle, small, one that fit into the curves of her fingers as if it had been made for her. Hers.

“Then why not take what’s yours?” Asked her reflection, leaning forward toward the Gate.

Elena slipped her fingers around the small cold handle.

“Mine,” she murmured.

***

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***

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5 responses

  1. Woo! Really close to the endgame here, folks, and boy am I exhausted. Getting back on a writing schedule is nice, but I’ve really gotta work on starting writing earlier!

    Anyway, hope you enjoy the chapter, and sorry for the typos that I’m sure late-night-writing have introduced!

    Like

    2017-04-04 at 11:05 pm

  2. JN

    Ugh, I have no idea whether to say “Do it!” or “Don’t do it!” :P

    Liked by 1 person

    2017-04-04 at 11:10 pm

  3. Blackstone123

    This! Is! Freaking! AWESOME!!! *Hyperventilates and passes out*

    Liked by 1 person

    2017-04-05 at 3:13 am

  4. BartHumphries

    Called it, that the Storm was grooming her. I thought that endgame was ruler of the world, though.

    Like

    2017-04-05 at 8:29 am

  5. Byzantine

    I was right. Victory is mine! :P

    Like

    2017-04-06 at 12:06 pm

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