A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

1.5 – Spiritus Studio {The Soul of the Studio}

Elena wasn’t quite sure what she expected, but when the heavy door swung open she wasn’t disappointed. The door led to a wide open courtyard of stone, enclosed on all sides by walls but open to the sky above. Sunlight streamed through some sort of netting at the top, casting a dappled shadow across the ground, letting the light in but providing enough shade to be comfortable. In the center of the courtyard stood a still statue of a woman whose pitcher somehow poured a constant stream of water into the stone pool that surrounded her. A breeze caught Elena’s hair and played with a strand as she stood in the doorway, open-mouthed and entranced.

The courtyard hummed with lazy activity. In one corner, a pretty blonde girl made marks with chalk on a block of marble as big a she was, while a golden haired boy who could be her brother looked on with interest. On the other side of the pool, a young looking black man and a pale girl with sharp eyes were discussing a half-drawn painting that sat on the easel between them. All around the courtyard servants moved with bundles and small boxes, from doors in one wall to another.

“This is what the studio of a master looks like.” Elena breathed to Ele. “This is what we’ll have, someday.”

“I thought you were to be a merchant now.” Ele said sourly, but Elena ignored him.

“I don’t care what happens when we’re caught, this was worth it.”

As if on cue, a polite cough made Elena turn around. Standing directly to the left of the door was a tall, thin woman with grey hair wrapped in a tight bun on her head.

“I don’t believe I recognize you.” The woman said simply, although it was clear from her voice and tone that she expected some explanation.

“Master Bernardo said we were to meet him here.” The lie flew to Elena’s lips as soon as she’d thought of it. She didn’t expect to get away with the deception, but even a few more minutes in the lovely courtyard would be worth it.

“Ah, I didn’t realize he had already selected supplicants for this year.” The severe look on the woman’s face softened a bit. “Have you been shown around?” When Elena shook her head, the woman gestured to the door on the far left of the courtyard. “We’ll start with the kitchens then. My name is Bea, by the way. I keep the studio running, with Pietro’s help, while the Master is locked up in his study.”

Elena couldn’t believe her luck. It wasn’t anywhere near as good as becoming Master Bernardo’s garzona for real, but she would at least be allowed a glimpse into the life at the studio before she was cast back out into the world. She glanced at Ele to see if he was as excited as she was. He was facing her with a sour frown, but not even his judgemental look could cloud her glee.

“You’ll not need to be concerned much with the kitchens, but going this way will let us see the entire studio.” Miss Bea gestured towards the kitchen door. “Come now, after you two.”

So she can see Ele too, Elena noted as she followed, which means she’s a Stormtouched. I should’ve expected that; Master Bernardo doesn’t take on Mortalis as apprentices, why would his household be under control of one. She still wasn’t used to Ele being seen and heard by other people, but at least he hadn’t given the game away by making the same mistake.

“What the hell are we doing Elena?” Ele lowered his voice and murmured in her ear as they followed Bea. “Do you think you’re going to convince them to let you be apprenticed if you’re a convincing enough actress?”

Elena made a dismissive gesture as if she was swatting away a fly, turning in circles to take in the kitchen. It was sweltering hot, a sticky humidity that went beyond the heat of the day, but she barely felt it. Bea was standing by the door, but Elena moved slowly, taking in the row of ovens and the three cooks, each in crisp white clothes, preparing a huge meal with practised ease.

“You seem entranced.” Bea noted from the doorway. “If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them.”

“You shouldn’t have said that.” Ele grinned. “Elena always has questions.” Bea’s smile was sudden and warm, completely at odds with her otherwise severe expression.

“Ask away then Miss Elena, this might be your only opportunity for me to answer them.”

If only you knew how true that was. Elena thought.

“Well first I was wondering why there was so much food being prepared. Does Master Bernardo really have that many garzoni?”

“Everyone gets the same meals here, so the food you see being prepared is for the Master, the garzoni, the servants and the guards as well, although of course the servants and guards will be eating later.” Elena nodded, already formulating the next question in her mind.

“Why do they all wear uniforms?” Elena skipped out of the way of one of the cooks carrying a large pot that steamed, and was rewarded with a weak nod as he passed.

“The Master is a very orderly man, and he has a reputation to uphold. As such, he enforces a certain style of dress as a bare minimum for everyone in the studio. You too will be receiving a set of clothes to wear, though what set usually depends on how the Storm touched you and what function in the studio you served…” Bea trailed off, her eyebrows raised in a question. Elena realized that the woman was asking what sort of Stormtouched she was, and she hastily moved on to her next question.

“Are the Master’s ice chests made by craftsmen, or did the Faberi in his employ make them?”

It was clear that Bea hadn’t expected the question, and she looked bewilderedly around the large kitchen.

“The Master has ice chests?” She asked. “I don’t see any…”

“There are blocks of ice on the counter over there,” Elena pointed, “so you must have an ice chest.”

“Master Bernardo had a Fabera many years ago.” One of the cooks wiped his forehead on his sleeve as he answered her. “She made friends with a cook, and made him an ice chest as a gift. It’s been passed down along with the kitchen ever since. Don’t tell Master Bernardo though, he thinks we buy ice from the markets, and is always quite appreciative.” He grinned with a set of crooked teeth, dropped Elena a wink, and turned back to his work.

Bea pursed her lips, but said nothing, merely gestured them through another door.

“Down this hallway is the garzoni dorms, you’ll be seeing enough of them.” The woman had increased her pace, and Elena had to scurry to keep up with her.

“Do the garzoni help the servants with cooking and cleaning then?” Elena asked as they passed through another set of doors, into yet another hallway. Bea stopped suddenly and peered at her.

“How could you possibly know that?” She asked, almost suspiciously.

“Well, I just assumed.” Elena wasn’t quite sure what Bea’s purpose was, but she was growing more and more certain that something strange was happening. “The garzoni will be working on various works of art, won’t they? Honing their crafts? It wouldn’t make sense to have them next to a noisy kitchen unless they were also expected to help there at times. Besides, in a studio this large, two chefs wouldn’t be able to handle all of the work.”

“Hmm.” Bea raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment further. The tour continued on at a quick pace, past the baths, several small work studios, a sunroom, and balconies on the second floor that overlooked the adjacent streets. Even at the increased pace, each room gave Elena fodder for two or three more questions. At the beginning Bea would offer some small bit of information on each room, but as the questions piled on she offered less and less comment, and her answers became more and more clipped.

“She’s going to hate you by the end of this.” Ele muttered as they walked across the courtyard again to reach the other side of the studio.

“What does it matter?” Elena hissed back. The courtyard had emptied by now, and she didn’t want Bea to overhear and cut her tour short. “I’m getting answers to my questions and I’ll never see her again after today. As soon as I get found out-”

“Ah, there you are Miss Elena. I’m afraid you’re not allowed to be back here.” The marble secretary seemed to appear on cue at the doorway Elena had first forced her way through, and her heart sank. Behind Pietro, her mother’s face was red, her eyes puffy and her mouth set in a grim, thin line. Elena rubbed her wrist absentmindedly, the sight of her mother reminding her of the dull ache that she could normally ignore, and she shot a guilty look towards Bea.

“I suppose this is the end of your tour, my dear.” There wasn’t a hint of surprise on the severe woman’s face, and Elena furrowed her brow, confused. “Now that the charade is over, tell me, what was it that caused you to not live up to Pietro’s rather high standards?”

So she knew all along…but she still let me look around the studio. Elena’s eyes began to water. As small a gesture as it was, the fact remained that Miss Bea would go to such trouble for her, knowing that she’d lied about being a garzoni. After such an emotional day, it was the final straw that seemed to break the brave face she’d been trying to keep.

“Being a Fabera,” she replied as she turned to leave, “I’m nothing but a Fabera.”

Pietro was silent as he escorted the Luccianos through the hallway, for which Elena was grateful. She struggled to blink the tears away before they reached the antechamber, but her vision was still a touch blurry. Ele was quiet too, but that was rather characteristic for him.

“Arturo, I will see you next.” Pietro said quietly to the sketching boy, and Elena and her mother left Bernardo’s studio unaccompanied. Elena stopped rubbing her wrist as they stepped out into the hot sun. She knew her mother would punish her severely for wandering off, whether that punishment was physical or emotional, and she didn’t want Joanna to know how much her wrist still hurt.

“Elena and Ele! Wait for a moment!” Elena half turned at the call, but winced when she saw who it was. Arta hurried to catch up to them, the paintbrush still behind her ear. The colors from the setting sun played across her golden hair, looking as if the paintbrush has splashed oranges and yellows and red across it. Joanna had given Elena a sharp glance when she turned, and Elena pretending she was looking back at the studio one last time. Arta was an echo, which would mean her mother couldn’t see her.The last thing she needed was to give her mother another reason to punish her, and she doubted Joanna would believe that Echoes were more than imaginary now.

“I just wanted to see how things went for you in there.” Arta caught up with the threesome and walked by their side.

“It turns out that Master Bernardo is too good to accept just any Stormtouched.” Ele said bitterly. Elena stared at her feet, willing herself not to let the tears fall. Despite her best efforts, a single tear rolled down her cheek.

“Oh no. Oh Elena I’m so sorry.” Arta’s voice was full of sympathy, and Elena winced. She wasn’t used to sympathy, and had no idea how to respond. Arta suddenly stopped in the middle of the road, leaving Elena and her mother to continue on their way.

“This is as far as I can go,” the blonde girl said regretfull, “but try to find Arturo and I, later, okay? You need to talk to someone right now, and your mother doesn’t look too sympathetic!” The final thought was shouted as Elena and her mother continued walking.

“She’s not! She models herself after the works of Dante!” Ele shouted back, and despite herself the corner of Elena’s mouth quirked up into a smile.

The walk to their lodgings was much less exciting than the walk to the studio had been. The wonders of the city around her seemed unfamiliar and frightening to her, the streets too crowded, the bustle overwhelming. Her looming punishment lingered in the back of her mind, and worry about her future occupied the forefront.

“We will be returning to De Luca’s studio tomorrow morning.” Her mother was the first to break the silence between them, and she did it without looking at Elena, as if she was merely talking to herself. “And I will demand to speak to someone other than that horrid stone boy. Whoever heard of giving a living statue that amount of responsibility? He literally has a mind of marble, and he presumes to lecture a Lucciano? The nerve!”

Joanna continued ranting until they entered the small inn, and from the fiery spark in her eye Elena was sure that her mother was still ranting in her head.

“I have reserved a room for the evening, and a porter should’ve brought my bags to it. Lucciano is the name.”

“There is only a single bed in your room Miss Lucciano, and just a single meal was ordered for it.” The innkeeper said uncertainly, glancing at Elena as he held out the key.

“And only a single bed and meal is needed.” Joanna snatched the key from him and turned, chin up, to march up the wooden stairs to the rooms above.

“Had my daughter impressed the secretary enough, she would be sleeping in a garzoni’s bed tonight.” Joanna sniffed on her way up the stairs.

So that’s to be my punishment then. Elena followed her mother up the stairs in silence. It was one of her mother’s favored expressions of displeasure, a nasty combination of ignoring her daughter and making bitingly harsh comments as if to herself. It had hurt much more when Elena was a child of five of six years old, and had to learn to prepare herself food or go hungry, but given the other hurts the day had given her, it would be effective enough. At least her mother hadn’t decided that something more inventive was in order. When they reached the room, Elena didn’t even bother glancing at the bed, instead casting her gaze around to find a suitable spot to lay out her cloak on the ground to sleep.

“If she’s ignoring you, maybe you can leave to find Arturo and Arta again.” Ele suggested as the moved around the room, lighting the lantern and the candles on the bedside. “She won’t forbid you from leaving.” Elena glanced through the window at the street below. The sun had set, but the streets were still almost as busy as they had been, moving by the light of lanterns that hung along the sides of every street.

“I’m going out, mother.” She said quietly. “I have to find something to eat. I have a little money.” Technically, since she had made the products the Luccianos had sold, she could make the case that all of her mother’s money was hers, but she had no desire to make Joanna even angrier. Her mother had settled into the bed with a book of poems, one she had read a thousand times but was evidently engrossing enough to keep her full attention.

“Wish me well? Bid me be safe?” Elena asked quietly. Her mother turned a page.

“You should take the key so she doesn’t lock you out.” Ele advised, but Elena left quietly without it. Sleeping in the hallway would be a small price to pay for the knowledge that her mother would stay in her room while Elena explored the city on her own.


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12 responses

  1. Hello lovely lads and ladies!

    I’m on vacation this week, which means I’m unfortunately having to post this and the next chapter of Twisted Cogs from my phone! So I apologize in advance for spelling errors, typos, and formatting issues this week; hopefully they’ll be gone by next weekend!


    2014-06-30 at 12:46 am

  2. Panster

    Love this series so far! From orbital academy to twisted cogs, your creativity’s really hooked me in. (and prevented me from being too productive lately).


    2014-07-01 at 1:54 am

    • I would say I was sorry for curtailing your productivity, but I don’t think you’d believe me due to the mad cackling.

      Note to self: find a way to stop from madly cackling whenever I hook someone in…


      2014-07-07 at 12:14 pm

  3. “He things” -> “he thinks”


    2014-09-06 at 11:37 pm

  4. Finally going through my backlog and Joanna hits all the right notes for me to loathe her.


    2014-10-03 at 9:12 pm

  5. Jat

    Incidentally, I don’t understand–if an artist Stormtouched can be judged by his statues or paintings, why can a craftsman Stormtouched not be judged by his tables? Surely there are excellent mundane sculptors and painters just as there are excellent mundane tablemakers; if the quality of a Stormtouched painting or statue is so far above that of a mundane one, why not the quality of a Stormtouched table beyond a mundane one? A table, too, can be a stunning work of art. Likewise a Stormtouched warrior; surely I would rather be protected by a bodyguard who can call magic into his combat than by one who has merely mundane training?


    2015-03-29 at 12:30 pm

    • This is a very good point that I actually intend to address when I edit this chapter for publication. The idea I was going for here was to highlight the very thing you point out; for some reason, in this world, a Stormtouched artist and sculptor seem to be valued quite a bit more than their mundane counterparts, while craftsmen and combatant Stormtouched are only slightly more valued. It’s a subtle point, so I have a feeling I’ll have to rewrite it quite a bit to get the point across just right.


      2015-03-29 at 11:38 pm

  6. Her mother is so cold…! I don’t hate her, because she’s just so fascinating with how horrible she is about her image before her daughter, and this adds to that. I can’t see any redeeming parts to their relationship, and I’m covinced that when Joanna woke Elena up by stroking her hair (when they entered the city) that it was only because others were watching. Still, I have to wonder if she’s doing this because she wants her daughter – in a twisted way (ooh! Twisted like a cog! Anyone? No? I’ll just high-five myself) – to have the best. Yes, she’s leoning psychoticolly on the family name, but it doesn’t seem to be in anyone but Elena’s immediate interest. The family name should grow by extension, but Elena stands the most to gain until this apprenticeship pays off. It’s an interesting line of thought for me. Joanna is interesting.

    I like that Arta chased after her. Okay, she’s not mean (pretty caring, actually). She just doesn’t have a politeness filter.

    The questions Elena asked were a little clunky for me, but I liked the idea of the tour overall and how patient Bea was with her, even with how frustrated she got by the end. And see – that’s my payoff fon Elena being underpowered! It actually hurt to see her leave the place rather than someone popping up and twirling a cane to say, ‘Ho ho, aren’t you a clever one? Live here forever!’ You wouldn’t get that if she was a Machinator. I’m still expecting that to happen eventually, but I’m kind of hoping Elena goes elsewhere, learns even more, then comes back to say, ‘Here you go, Bernado! I faberged you a stick! Why don’t you and your rock boy supplicant it up each other’s -‘ whoa, that’s gettin’ a little close to TOKoR’s territory. :D Hahaha!


    2015-04-13 at 9:02 am

  7. Zephy669

    I have to say that you’ve done a good job at representing the conflict between a very uncaring and snotty mother and her relationship with her clearly talented and clever daughter who’s just trying to do something worthwhile because she knows she can (despite all the obstacles).

    I noticed a few minor grammar things (small stuff):
    ” a block of marble as big a she was,”
    – missing “an” after big

    “I don’t believe I recognize you.” The woman said simply
    – a comma after you instead of a period.

    If only you knew how true that was. Elena thought.
    – need a comma after “was”. Though personally I don’t think you need the “Elena thought” at all. She’s the POV character so we know she’s the one thinking.

    “I’m going out, mother.” She said quietly.
    – just a comma after mother instead of a period

    And a few highlights:
    The lie flew to Elena’s lips as soon as she’d thought of it. She didn’t expect to get away with the deception, but even a few more minutes in the lovely courtyard would be worth it.
    – clever girl :)

    Elena made a dismissive gesture as if she was swatting away a fly, turning in circles to take in the kitchen.
    – good image!

    Arta hurried to catch up to them, the paintbrush still behind her ear. The colors from the setting sun played across her golden hair, looking as if the paintbrush has splashed oranges and yellows and red across it.
    – this is a great piece of description!

    “Wish me well? Bid me be safe?” Elena asked quietly. Her mother turned a page.
    – great way to show that obviously broken relationship between mother and daughter.

    This serial has become a fav to read. I look forward to the next chapters. I was wondering if you’d be interested in trading links? I could post your serial on my website and you could for me :) Let me know.


    2015-05-19 at 5:55 pm

    • I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t actually heard of Cruise Control before! I read the first chapter and it seems super interesting so far, I’d be happy to link it (although don’t worry about linking TC if you don’t want to, I’ll put yours up either way)

      And thank you for the lovely feedback! It’s always nice to know when things are working well for the reader!


      2015-05-20 at 11:42 pm

      • Zephy669

        You kidding me, of course I’m going to link it!

        And thank you so much for reading and affiliating with me. You’re awesome!


        2015-05-21 at 6:33 pm

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