6.06 – Elena
The handle of the stormtouched gate was cold and smooth beneath Elena’s fingers. She wasn’t quite sure how long she had been standing there, staring at the way her hand clasped the handle. Although the gate was far far larger than she should be able to move, she could feel that only the slightest force would swing it open. She didn’t exert that slight force.
“Something…” Elena let the sentence drift off, carried away by the wind that whipped at her clothes but didn’t touch her skin. Her Storm fed her a constant flow of information about the Echoes around the world, so she knew the thing on the other side of the gate was telling her the truth. With her Storm and the crown, she was Queen of the Echoes, and all she had to do to save her people-
mine mine mine, pounded the voice in her head.
-was to open the gate and let them out.
It all made almost so much sense, and the desperate urge to take what was hers pounding in her head made her long to swing the gate open…but there was something she was missing, something important she was forgetting.
“What are you waiting for, Elena?” Her reflection asked gently, an amused smile on her face.
“Something,” Elena tried again, although her eyelids were heavy and it was hard to form words, “something I have to think through first, I think?”
“There’s nothing to think through, Elena,” the reflection said softly, stepping a little bit closer. “Everything that matters is right here in front of you, prickling in your head.”
“The only thing that matters is here?” Elena repeated dully. It did make a little sense.
“You were born for this, it’s yours,” the reflection said, her words in sync with the pounding voice in Elena’s head, “what do you have in the other world that is quite so yours?”
“I don’t have anything,” Elena said, “nothing in that other world is mine.”
Vaguely and from far off, people had been yelling at her for some time, but their voices were so indistinct and fuzzy that she hadn’t been paying much attention. Even when someone had grabbed her shoulders, far far away in that other world, Elena hadn’t given them much thought, focused on the mirror-smooth gate in front of her.
When Owl suddenly pulled her close and pressed his lips against hers, she noticed.
Elena sputtered, eyes wide, and stumbled back, but Owl kept his hands on her shoulders, keeping her from falling.
“You have Frederica who gave up three fingers to keep you safe,” Owl said. His voice still seemed far away, but in her shock Elena could at least hear it again. “You have Emerald who gave up guaranteed safety for guaranteed death for you. You have Belloza who was stabbed for you. You have me, who loves you.”
Elena blinked hard. Her vision which had been so clear a few moments ago started to spin again, the nauseating double-sight returning. Though she could still see the mirror-polished gate and her own confident, calm smile, Elena could also see Owl, his brow creased with worry. She could also see her friends around her.
“I do have you, don’t I?” she whispered. “I have all of you.”
Elena let go of the gate’s handle. “Where is Ele?” she asked.
Her reflection looked startled. “Ele…he’s standing right beside you.”
“I’m here, Elena,” Ele said, his voice far away, but Elena shook her head, meeting her reflection’s gaze.
“You said all of the Echoes are my subjects, you told me to look at them with my Storm,” she said, “if that’s true, why can’t I see Ele? Why can’t I see Fred, or Bello? Why can’t I see the Echoes whose whereabouts I can confirm?”
Elena’s reflection huffed a sigh and rolled her eyes. The expression made her look so much like her mother that Elena clenched her fists, anger making her mind a little clearer.
“Elena, you can’t expect to use the full extent of your knowledge as Queen of Echoes so soon. Knowledge of Ele and Fred and Bello is there in your head, you just have to give it time.”
Elena shook her head, “I don’t think so. I think the only time you told me the truth is when you said your power couldn’t wholly pass through this gate. Enough of it to influence me, to make me think my Storm was working. Not enough to show me the Echoes on this side.”
“Elena, whatever the Storm is saying, you know that it’s killed to try to accomplish its goal,” Ele said.
“Don’t give in to it,” Owl said.
“Elena,” the reflection said, and now that she was looking for it Elena could feel the press on her mind, in the same spots that prickled when her storm worked, “open the gate.”
“No.” Elena squared her shoulders. “Call me naive if you want. I trust my friends a whole lot more than I trust you.”
For a long moment, Elena stared at her reflection, both girls utterly still. Suddenly the reflection threw herself forward, slamming against the gate with so much force that the titanic structure shuddered. She slammed a fist against the mirrored surface, then again and again. The reflection screamed, a sound that didn’t sound even vaguely human, more like the sound of shrieking wind fueled by frustration and rage.
“You think this is over? You think this is a happy ending for you?” the reflection snarled, her face so twisted with anger that she barely resembled Elena any longer. “I wasn’t lying about hedging my bets. You’re about to be slaughtered, and all I have to do is wait for the next chosen one.”
“How long, Frederica?” Elena didn’t bother squinting through the double-vision to gauge.
“They’re starting to figure out how to fight the birds, sooner would be better than later,” Frederica replied.
“Even if you escape your fate now, you can’t reach every single Twisted in the world before one of them makes it here,” the reflection slumped against the gate, but her wild green eyes still burned, “do you think the next one will turn me down? What about the one after?”
“I don’t care,” Elena said simply. She reached out to clasp Owl’s hand in her own.
“You expect me to believe that?” taunted her reflection, “that you’ll leave the gate behind without a backward glance?”
“I don’t have to worry about a gate when it’s locked,” Elena said. She lifted her hand back to the gate, still clasped in Owl’s, “and I happen to know an excellent locksmith.”
The reflection stared at her for a moment. “That’s stupid,” she said finally, “that’s not how this works.”
“Owl, I need you to use your Storm to make a lock,” Elena ignored her reflection, “right here, as if you were working with your tools and materials, the best lock you’ve ever made. Can you do that for me?”
“I’m not sure I get it…” Owl said.
“Please,” Elena said, “trust me, and trust your Storm.”
Owl began awkwardly moving his hands, using Elena’s hand as a guide. Without being able to see the stormworld like Elena could, his hands passed through the gate a few times, and Elena couldn’t see any effects of his handiwork, but she stayed quiet as he went through the motions.
“Stop this, or I’ll strip the Storms out of both of your minds,” Elena’s reflection was focused on Owl’s hands. Elena didn’t bother relaying the message.
“Are you sure about this, Elena?” Owl glanced in the direction of the guards, then down at his hands again.
“Stop this, or I’ll take Ele from you,” Elena’s reflection hissed.
“Almost there,” Elena murmured.
“Elena, the guards are coming again,” Frederica warned.
“Elena, nothing is happeni-” Owl began.
The lock shot home around the gate with a thunderclap so loud it shook the ground. A heavy solid knot of metal, with long pieces branching out and fusing into the surface of the gate, the lock sat like a tree root growing into the gate itself. Around her, Ele, Emerald, Fred and Frederica exclaimed with surprise, and Owl jumped back as if his fingers had been burned.
“It’s done,” Elena said, and suddenly slumped to one side. Frederica was already there to support her weight, and Owl took her other arm. Together her friends half-supported, half-dragged her, presumably in the direction away from the guards, although all Elena could see was the murderous glare of her reflection in the locked gate.
The black and white speckles that whirled over the landscape around her slowly slipped away from her vision as Elena turned her attention back toward her surroundings. In her head, the line of ownership like a flight of stairs to the Gate slowly slipped away, leaving her with only a country’s worth of information in her brain.
Her temples pounded, each stab of pain making her vision blurry.
“To the monastery, we can make it before they catch up and maybe drop a pillar on them,” Frederica said.
“If we hide I can pick off a few more than two before they silence me, perhaps,” Emerald said.
The group changed course, but Elena was too busy trying to focus on small things to pay much attention, even to her impending doom. For some reason her mind kept wandering back to the now dead King, even though it was such a dangerous point to focus on. Too many expansive and wide swathes of information were connected to him, and it threatened to overwhelm her each time she did so.
The King had unsigned papers on his desk which would change economic policy to- Elena refocused.
The King left instructions for his right hand advisor, who was also his mistress, on how best to protect the Queen when he was gone- Elena refocused again, shaking her head.
The King had discouraged the use of the tunnels under Florenzia because even he didn’t know how far they stretched. Elena knew, of course, they stretched all the way to the outskirts of the city…
“Tunnels,” Elena slurred suddenly, “handle to the tunnels…”
“Is she okay?” Owl asked.
“Bad news, Elena,” Frederica pushed Elena over, snagging the crown off her head, “this is a coup, I’m the Queen of Italoza now.”
The second the weight of the crown left her head, Elena’s vision cleared, and the pounding in her temples was reduced to a dull throb as the choking information evaporated. She sat on the stone among the crumbled rubble, panting.
“Thank you,” she said.
“And abdicated,” Frederica tossed the crown to one side. “I may have had the shortest reign in all of Italoza, but I hope the history books will remember it as just.”
“The guards will catch up in a few moments,” Emerald said, “I doubt any of us will be remembered so fondly.”
“Tunnels!” Elena lept to her feet, trying to ignore the way the world wobbled as she did so, “there is a tunnel network running under Florenzia, and one of them comes out here! I saw the handle of the trapdoor as we were leaving but didn’t know what it was.”
By the time she reached the trapdoor, Owl was at her side, and the two of them hauled it open. The tunnel beyond was pitch black, but Elena breathed a sigh of relief.
“There’s a lock,” Owl noted quietly, as Emerald descended first, followed by Frederica. He climbed down at the same time as Fred, wincing as the ephemeral Echo moved through him. Elena and Ele slipped into the darkness together, as the scuff of heavy boots and the clank of armor and weapons sounded just outside.
She managed to close the trap door behind her silently, and the lock clicked quietly when Elena locked it. Carefully, rung by rung, she began to descend. It should have been terrifying, climbing in the pitch darkness toward an unknown destination. It should have been terrifying, knowing that the agents of the storm were still out there, just waiting for their opportunity. It should have been terrifying knowing that she had killed the king, and would be hunted for the rest of her life.
Maybe I’ve been terrified for so long that I’m just used to it, Elena thought.
In the pitch black, a voice whispered into Elena’s ear, familiar but strange at the same time.
“A Stormtouched’s art dies with its Stormtouched,” the voice whispered. “Allvero D’Arcangelo will die someday, and I’ll be waiting for the lock to fall.”
“Owl is going to live for a long, long time,” Elena whispered back into the darkness. “We’ve beaten you, Storm. And as many times as we have to, we’ll beat you again.”