A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

1.4 – Loquentes Statuas {Speaking to Statues}

Pietro bustled around the small office, moving papers and letters from his desk even as he sat down. The excitement that had been quenched a little by the people outside was starting to build up in Elena’s stomach again, now that she was in the presence of a living sculpture. The changing expressions on the boy’s face fascinated her, knowing that she could touch the apparently mobile muscle and feel only unyielding stone. Pietro didn’t seem bothered by her unabashed stare, simply sitting down and smiling at both of them.

“Please, have a seat.” The boy made of marble sat heavily in the chair behind the desk, pulling a small neat pile of papers in front of him. “I do apologize for the delay, Master Bernardo has decided to meet with most of his supplicants today, and it’s all I can do to keep up.”

“Are we not meeting with your creator today? Not personally?” Joanna asked politely. Elena shot her mother a curious glance. Apparently she was capable of manners when speaking with someone of higher standing than her.

“My creator?” Pietro furrowed his stone brow. “Oh, no no. Master Bernardo isn’t a Caelator, I doubt he could even carve a non-living statue from marble. I was a gift from my creator, Master Malatesta. Anyways, you must understand that Master Bernardo gets quite a few supplicants, especially now just before the winter season. He has relaxed my duties so that I might evaluate potential supplicants in his place.”

“Mister Pietro, I don’t think your master understands the extent of the opportunity being offered him.” Joanna’s attitude began to slip back into her speech as she straightened with a look of pride. “While I’m sure a secretary is good enough for most supplicants, my Elena is Stormtouched.”

Elena wasn’t sure what reaction her mother expected from the stone-carved boy, but he simply lifted both eyebrows and fixed them both with a firm expression, one that would’ve looked strange on a child if that child wasn’t already strange.

“Miss Lucciano, I believe it is you who don’t understand.” He said patiently. “Master Bernardo is one of the finest artisans in all of Milia. There are far fewer Stormtouched than there are mortalis, it’s true, but the master only accepts Stormtouched to be apprenticed to him.”

“All of his garzoni are Stormtouched?” Joanna blinked, and the excitement in Elena’s stomach was starting to mix with nerves. She had known, in theory, that there would be other supplicants to Master Bernardo who possessed magical abilities…but all of them? Her chances suddenly seemed much slimmer.

“Every last one of them Madam Lucciano. The purpose of this meeting is to determine how the Storm touched Miss…” he glanced down at the letter in his hand “…Elena, and whether or not she would be a fit in our studio. If, and only if, this meeting goes well, then Master Bernardo will meet with her.”

He ticked off the steps on stone fingers that clicked quietly in the still office. “If the meeting with the Master goes well, Miss Elena will be taken on as a probationary apprentice. After some time spent on probation, Master Bernardo will decide if he takes her on as a garzona…and since he always has the same number of garzoni, that decision will be based entirely on whether or not she is more useful to the studio than some other supplicant, who will then be cast out of the studio.”

With each step the man listed, Elena felt like slumping further down in her seat. Far more hurdles, and none of them a certainty. Joanna, on the other hand, was nodding.

“I’m sure you’ll see that the Luccianos are more than capable of impressing you.” She said with a small, smug smile. Elena wished she shared her mother’s confidence.

“I’m sure you will.” Pietro agreed. “Now, first things first.” With a grace that spoke of countless repetitions, or perhaps was just due to the magic that animated him, the marble boy dipped a small quill into a pot of ink on his desk, then wrote in a beautiful clear hand “Elena Lucciano, Supplicant Four” at the top. He hovered the wet nib over the surface of a blank sheet of paper. “How exactly was your daughter touched by the storm?”

“You’re not even looking at Elena.” Ele spoke up from behind Elena’s chair. “Aren’t you supposed to be interviewing her, not her mother?” The marble boy didn’t answer, which didn’t surprise Elena. If Arta had been right, only Stormtouched could see or hear Ele, and Pietro was the creation of a Stormtouched, not Touched himself.

“My daughter is one of the finest Fabera that Italoza has ever seen.” Joanna gave Elena a look much like the owner of a prize dog, and Elena refrained from squirming.

“Hmmm.” Pietro paused, brushing the end of the feather against stone lips. “Your letter mentions nothing about Elena being a Fabera. It said something about her being an asset to any studio.”

“You seem disappointed.” Elena ventured. It was always a struggle for her to speak up when her mother was around, but the worry was threatening to override her better instincts.

“Not disappointed, perse.” Pietro shook his head. “But it’s up to me to make your case to Master Bernardo, and it makes my job much more difficult. My Master tends to look for skills that are a little more…in line with our studio. He has taken on Faberi in the past, of course, but only during those times when he needs more garzoni of any kind. This year, when we already have too many supplicants…it’s harder for me to make the argument to him to take on the less valuable.”

Elena winced at the characterization, but her mother was already berating the boy.

“‘Less valuable’? When you come to know our family better, little sculpture, you’ll find that a Lucciano has more value than a hundred other supplicants. I find the very idea exceedingly insulting, and what’s more, I’m surprised that a studio of your reputation can’t find a way to test a Stormtouched’s true value.”

Pietro let her finish, carefully holding the quill above the inkwell so as not to drip on the parchment.

“I very much wish I could know the Lucciano name better ma’am,” he said respectfully, “but just as I’m sure you wouldn’t wish your servants letting rabble into your home, so too is Master Bernardo quite particular about the students who are permitted to enter his studio.” Joanna seemed a little mollified, perhaps due to the assumption that the Luccianos had servants, and he continued smoothly. “For some Touched, it is simple to test and rank them, and I must say I wish they all were; it would certainly make my job easier.” A wide smile flashed Pietro’s perfect white teeth, and Joanna returned a thin smile of her own, as if against her will.

“Well, if simple tests exist, I don’t see why you can’t just use those simple tests on Elena then.”

“That would be wonderful, but the tests vary from case to case. If Elena were a Sagittara, I could simply give her a bow or a sling or weapon of her choice, and point her towards a set of targets. If Elena were an Artifex, I would know the second I saw one of her paintings, obviously. If she were a Caelator, she could bring one of her sculptures and we could rank her on the spot.”

“It seems to me that you could test a Fabera or a Machinator by looking at her creations as well, couldn’t you?” Joanna interrupted, too hastily, too eager. Pietro was shaking his head sadly even before she stopped talking.

“It’s not quite so simple. A Machinator’s creations are easy to rank, yes; there’s no mistaking the value of a device that humanity hasn’t ever seen before. Faberi, on the other hand?” He spread his hands helplessly. “A master craftsman can make a beautiful table, for example, one which, to the untrained eye, looks just as beautiful as a Faberi-made table. There’s simply no way to distinguish whether a person is Touched, or just a good craftsman.”

“And so what? Surely Master Bernardo could use a master craftswoman?” Joanna’s voice was rising in pitch now, and Elena prayed she wouldn’t go into hysterics.

“Master Bernardo can afford to hire a host of craftsmen if he wants them, Madam Lucciano.” Pietro’s tone never changed, though his white marble eyes were locked on Joanna’s. “He hardly needs to go to the trouble of feeding, housing, and training a garzona to get a source of beautiful tables.”

“You’re singling Elena out in this discrimination! You’re unjust in your selection, and I must say-”

“It is the magic of the Storm that is unjust in its selection Madam.” Pietro raised his voice for the first time to interrupt her smoothly, and used that momentum to barrel over her objections. “To rank a Sagittari we give them a bow. To rate a Artifex we give them a brush. To the Caelator we give a chisel, and to the Machinator we give our most heartfelt and abject begging that they deign to deal with us. I am always quite sorry when a Faberi or Lanisti or Rhetor tries to be a supplicant, but that is the luck of the draw, the flip of the coin. We need no Lanisti when we can hire a swordsman, we need no Faberi when hiring a builder will do, and a Rhetor who doesn’t keep their mouth shut is a Rhetor who must be put down, worthless either way.”

The marble child shouldn’t have been so imposing, but standing on his chair, leaning over his desk, he was somehow keeping her mother’s steely gaze. “Some Stormtouched are more useful, Madam Lucciano, and that is all there is to say of it.”

“Elena, please leave the room. I must speak to Mister Pietro in private.” Joanna was trembling, and Elena wasn’t quite sure whether the marble boy would be safe if she left. When he gave her a terse nod, however, there was nothing she could do but step outside of the office and shut the door behind her.

She didn’t want to deal with talking to Arta, Isadora, Arturo or the sleeping boy just now, so instead of making her way back to the antechamber Elena leaned her back against the door. The heavy door was well-crafted enough that it kept any sound of conversation from the stone hallway.

“They didn’t have to kick us out like naughty children.” Ele complained, leaning against the wall opposite from her. Elena didn’t answer, and she was surprised to realize that she was shaking as much as her mother had been. The entire meeting couldn’t have taken more than fifteen minutes, her prospects moving from certainty to dejection in less time than it took to bathe. “Elena? It’s alright, your mother will pull her family strings like she always does-” Ele began, but Elena cut him off with a gesture.

“It’s useless. Master Bernardo has actual political power, mother’s posturing won’t even impress Pietro.”

“And so you’ll just give up?”

“I’m not giving up.” Elena lifted her chin stubbornly. “There are other studios in Milia, other Masters. Some of them will take me. If not I’ll…I’ll find someone else to become an apprentice to. Or I’ll figure out how to open a shop here on my own. If I can’t get there as an artist, I’ll work my way into the courts as a craftswoman or a merchant.”

“This morning you were an artist, now you’re a merchant?” Ele asked quietly. “It makes me nervous when you make such sweeping changes of plan.”

“I’m not changing the plan.” Elena sighed. “The plan is to get to court. One way or another.” Ele meant the best, but she didn’t need criticism at the moment. Looking for a change of subject, her gaze travelled up and down the hallway. On one side was the door to the antechamber, the room where her mother no doubt expected her to wait. At the other end of the hallway was a closed door, fitted with a prominent lock.

“What do you think is behind there?” Even in the empty hallway, Elena dropped her voice to a whisper. Ele gave the door a glance, then gave Elena a warning look.

“Stop. Now is not the place for your curiosity.”

“What’s wrong with just being curious? I was just wondering what’s behind there and what kind of lock that is.”

“We need to stay here. There’s no point in offending the studio.”

“It’s not like they’ll reject us twice, I just assumed that you would know what kind of lock it was.”

“Of course I know. It’s a lever-pin lock. Probably a threepin…no, he’s rich, make that a fourpin.”

“So you could get past it?” Elena bit her lip to keep from smiling. It was far too easy to push Ele’s buttons.

“I know what you’re doing Elena.” Ele gave her a weary look. “We’re waiting out here, coming up with a plan for the future.”

“I know my plan, but you’re welcome to.” Elena shrugged. “It’s probably for the best, anyways. We don’t have anything to work with, nothing useable.”

Ele gave her a hard look, and for a moment Elena thought she might’ve gone a bit too far.

“Stop trying to get a rise out of me, it doesn’t work.”

Elena’s gaze dropped to her feet, and she stuck her lower lip out ever-so-slightly. After a few moments Ele sighed and pointed to the corner a little ways down the hallway, where the wall and the floor met.

“There’s a loose nail in the corner down there, and you got a splinter of wood stuck in the hem of your dress from when you fixed the cart’s wheel. It should be enough.”

Elena grinned as she knelt down to retrieve the nail and pull the wooden splinter, about the size of her little finger, from where it had lodged. Ele walked briskly to the end of the hallway to examine the lock as she worked. Using the sharp end of the nail, Elena scraped slivers away from the piece of wood, carving it into the rough shape of a key.

“I was right. Fourpin.” Ele peered closely at the lock, and Elena used the stone wall by the door to hammer the nail into the wood, so that her makeshift key had a metal core. “Give it four teeth, but you won’t be able to gauge the size until you try it a few times.” Ele advised.

“Bet you I get lucky though.” Elena bit down on the wood, making a face at the dirt and grit, but her sharp teeth pressed grooves along the edge.

“You’re going to fuck up your teeth one of these days Elena.” Ele shook his head as Elena tried the wooden lockpick on the lock. When it stuck, she jiggled it gently, chewing her tongue as she payed close attention to how it pressed, how the pins inside stuck. She withdrew and carefully bit again. The edge of the wood tasted of steel. Was the taste of metal really stronger on some of the pick’s ridges, showing her where to bite and where to leave it? It didn’t matter, all that mattered was the result. The key slid almost all the way into the lock on the second attempt, and Elena drew it out to nibble at the wood again.

“What exactly is your goal in this?” Ele asked with an air of long-suffering. “What do you hope to accomplish?”

“Maybe we’ll find some books, or see some technique, something to help our skill.” Elena said around the key. “Do we have to have a reason for everything? Isn’t it enough that we’ll get to see the inside of Master Bernardo De Luca’s studio if we do it, and if we don’t, we won’t? Where’s your sense of curiosity?”

“You’re the curious one. Always have been.” Ele grumbled as Elena slipped the key back into the lock. It fit perfectly, all four pins clicking into place. She turned the key. The wood splintered and crushed and got jammed into the inner workings of the lock, and it was almost certain that the lock was now useless, but Elena grinned as the heavy door swung open. She extended an arm in invitation, and Ele rolled his eyes as he entered first. “And yet somehow I always get caught up in your escapades. Funny how that works.”

 


 

 

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10 responses

  1. DeNarr

    On the spot crafting of a key to fit the lock, very impressive. Completely ruining the lock, diminishes the impressiveness a bit.

    Like

    2014-08-21 at 2:15 pm

    • Well to be fair I’m sure if she had better tools to work with she would be able to do it much more cleanly.

      Like

      2014-09-06 at 11:33 pm

  2. Bob

    Hmm her magic seems kind of disappointing. I’ll have to wait to see how this goes to see if it’s worth continuing to read, but really. If the story was about a mad scientist (or machinator as they are called in this story) then that would be pretty entertaining. But ofc it would also take a lot more work to write, and maybe even some research into science and mechanics and technology. Instead the author seems to have gone the easy route and given the mc what sounds like a very dull superpower, the ability to quickly craft perfectly normal objects…

    Very unpromising so far, but hopefully I’m wrong and this won’t be one of those stories where the readers are on the outside looking in at all the interesting powers because it takes more effort to write those powers up from a first person perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

    2015-02-19 at 2:33 pm

    • Funny bit of trivia; in the original drafts of Twisted Cogs, Elena actually was a Machinator! The story was quite a bit different, obviously, but I don’t really shy away from research; I find it lots of fun! In that draft, Elena did a lot more inventing and ‘mad science’, as you say, but I soon realized just how unsatisfying that story was for me to write.

      In the end, I realized that in that draft I was just writing yet another “superhero story”, the same sort that I’ve read a million times in other serials (often written by much better authors than me, haha). I wanted to do something a little different with Twisted Cogs, something that perhaps not a lot of people had seen before, hence the differences that you point out!

      Of course, these differences are definitely not for everyone. It may very well be that this story just isn’t for you, and that’s okay! I appreciate you giving it a try :)

      Liked by 1 person

      2015-02-19 at 3:07 pm

    • Underpowered powers are one of those divisive topics, huh? :D I only just finished commenting that I loved the idea of Elena not being ‘that great’. It gives her more room to grow as someone who proves her worth tenfold or against all odds or something something underdog, rather than just, ‘Oh. Well, she’ s super special. I guess the only conflict we get is her having her powers restricted, because she’s at the peak of this world’s available powers’.

      I need to see a Machinator, though. After this much discussion, it’ll be a massive let down to not get one as a featured character. Pressure’s on!

      Like

      2015-04-13 at 8:21 am

  3. Jat

    I’m enjoying it so far; thanks for sharing it with us.

    Like

    2015-03-29 at 12:19 pm

  4. This was a great way to have the different Stormtouched abilities explained, and with how casually Pietro discussed them, it really hammers home how fantastically engrained these powers are to society. And I love that they’re not all mystical and overpowered! The imbalance of usefulness was really well done. :D I also loved how it all came through with Joanna yelling at him, too. It opened the door perfectly on him having to spell it out for her (read: me).

    This is coming from someone who sprinkles f-bombs in her narrative like glitter at a rave, but it startled me to hear Ele say ‘fuck’. I dunno – it didn’t fit his character, because I guess it’s the only curse I’ve read so far and it jumped to the top shelf of them. Just got surprised by it! :)

    Like

    2015-04-13 at 8:16 am

    • the fuck surprised me as well, but we’ve mostly seen elena around her mother, and the girl *is* sixteen and now breaking and entering, so i think it’s a worthwhile revision of her character in my head. she is not just quaint and quiet, that’s maybe the image she puts in when her mother is around.

      Like

      2015-08-28 at 7:56 am

  5. Zephy669

    Sweet chapter. The characters and writing style and world building is somewhat reminiscent of Studio Ghibli movies, which I hope you take as a compliment because I meant it as such. It has the same kind of charm. I did, however, find it jarring when Ele dropped the F-bomb. Took me out of the story a bit, because I found it hard to picture Ele saying that.

    Like

    2015-05-18 at 6:07 pm

    • Thanks so much! I’m so glad you enjoy it, and Studio Ghibli is ABSOLUTELY a compliment :)

      Yes, the swearing is absolutely out of place, really for every character who uses it. I edited it out of the eBook version, but I think I’ll also go back and clean up the online draft as well, for as you say, it is a bit jarring

      Like

      2015-05-20 at 11:40 pm

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