A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

2.4 – Tunde, Cultellum, Monitio {A Slap, A Knife, A Warning}

“How dare you?” Every line of Joanna Lucciano’s face was a mask, her emotions obviously controlled. Even her tone was measured, almost calm. Elena had never been so frightened of her.

Calm always came before a storm with her mother’s moods, and the calmer the calm, the more devastating the following turmoil would be. Elena was already trying to think of what she could say to mitigate the damage, but she had never been good at it. Usually the safest route was to take her punishment quietly, to let her mother vent and rant until she had gotten it all out of her system. Of course, the safest route was not always without danger.

“Mama I thought you would be happy that I-” she began carefully, but her faltering explanation was cut off before it had even left her lips.

“Happy? Happy to be fooled into thinking Master De Luca didn’t want you? Happy to wake up and find my only daughter missing? Did it even occur to you how worried I would be? Did I even cross your mind at all?”

“I meant to come tell you Mama, really I did, I just hadn’t had a chance yet!”

“Oh, well I’m quite glad that your mother’s peace of mind ranked somewhere in the long list of priorities you must have.” It wasn’t even the worst sarcasm she had been dealt, but Elena winced all the same. “I’m glad to hear that eventually you planned to stop your sick little joke.”

“I didn’t-”

“I thought the Luciano name meant more to you Elena.” The anger that had been building seemed to fall from Joanna’s shoulders quite suddenly, replaced by a look of disappointment. Elena could only hold her gaze for a few moments before turning away, staring at her feet. The disappointment was somehow even worse than the anger. It meant she had worn the poor woman down so much that her own mother didn’t even have the energy to feel the hurt Elena had inflicted. “I thought I had taught you better than to let someone sit and worry about you all night. I’d been blaming you, but really I should be angry with myself, for not helping you become the woman I know you could be.”

“No, Mama don’t say that.” Elena’s heart felt as if it would break. Had she really forgotten her responsibilities to family so soon? Letting her mother know the good news should’ve been her first priority, but everything had seemed so rushed and fast paced…

And now, for her mother to find her casually eating breakfast? It didn’t matter what had actually happened, her mother would have the entirely wrong impression, and it was all her fault.

“I assumed you would forget about me as soon as we brought you to the big city,” there were tears in Joanna’s eyes, and Elena’s stomach twisted with guilt, “I just…didn’t think it would be so soon.”

“No, mama that’s not how it happened!” Elena too was crying, though she wasn’t sure where in the conversation that had started. “I didn’t forget you, I…all of this is because of you, I wouldn’t even be here if not for you! Mama please don’t think that-”

“Bullshit manipulation making you think bullshit.” Ele had been standing next to the closed door to the dining room since their discussion had begun, mostly quiet, but he interrupted now at the most inopportune time.

“Ele please stop, that’s not helping.” Elena pleaded. “Mama I-” She stopped, frozen. After the whirlwind morning and the still-fuzzy night before, she had forgotten that her mother couldn’t see or hear Ele at all. She opened her mouth to give an explanation or excuse, but before she could speak Joanna had grabbed her shoulder in a grip like a vise, slamming her into the wall so hard it made her teeth rattle.

“You ungrateful, wretched little bitch.” Her mother hissed, her face inches away. “I knew this was nothing but a joke to you, just your twisted idea of a prank. You wanted me to worry about you, this was all some sick little mind game you devised to get back at me for some slight you’ve imagined isn’t it? You’ve been laughing at me this whole time haven’t you? Answer me!” Her words were accompanied by another shake.

“I’m sorry Mama I didn’t-”

“You knew you could have me worried sick about you, and you didn’t care one bit, you just sat here with your new friends laughing about how gullible your poor trusting mother is.” Elena wasn’t even sure what that meant, but her shoulder was starting to hurt where Joanna’s nails bit into it, her back aching where she had slammed it into the wall. “You did! I can see it from your guilty face that’s exactly what you were doing! Did you enjoy your little laugh at your own mother’s expense? Answer me!”

Elena wasn’t sure how to respond, or even whether she should. She had seen her mother angry before, quite frequently, but never to this extent. Even when her mother had broken Elena’s wrist (it had been an accident, of course, Joanna had misjudged her own strength and pulled her forward just a tad too hard), she hadn’t been this incensed. What could Elena say to calm her down? She opened her mouth, but couldn’t seem to come up with the right words.

She called me a bitch. The realization settled into her stomach and into her heart with an icy weight of horror. What kind of horrible daughter have I been that my own mama would say something like that?

Elena was brought to her senses by a sharp slap across her face, drawn back into the present out of the horror she was feeling. The entire left side of her face stung, but if anyone deserved it she did.

“I said answer me!” Joanna drew her hand back again, and Elena flinched and braced herself but didn’t otherwise move to avoid the hand. The second stinging slap didn’t fall, and after a moment Elena made herself open her eyes.

Joanna’s wrist was caught, small marble fingers wrapped firmly around it. If he hadn’t been so small, Pietro might not have been able to fit between them, but he stood there now like a marble shield, arm outstretched over his head. The image of the child arresting the grown woman’s swing so completely was almost ludicrous, but Elena was too discombobulated to appreciate it. To their right, closing the dining room door carefully behind him, Master De Luca took in the entire scene with vague interest.

“Miss Lucciano,” He said by way of greeting, as if they had just settled into his office and were discussing business, “I’m afraid I make it a point to never allow my garzoni to be disrespected, even in the context of a private discussion. Allowing a student of the studio to be mistreated reflects poorly on the studio, you see.”

“Master Bernardo.” Joanna drew herself up as much as she was able with her arm still caught in Pietro’s grip, her voice calm once more. If nothing else, Elena was grateful for Master De Luca’s presence for that reason alone. Perhaps her mother would be more willing to hear an apology now that she was a little calmer. “Elena is my daughter before she is your student. If you would be so kind, we have private family matters to discuss. Whether she is going to stay your garzoni is still very much in question.”

Elena’s stomach did a flip at the words.

No…no she can’t take me from here, she wouldn’t do that…she wouldn’t….

“You are mistaken on several points Miss Lucciano, points which I’m happy to enumerate once you’ve stepped away from Elena. Pietro?” The marble page took a careful and measured step away, and Joanna had no choice but to follow, leaving them evenly spaced between Elena and De Luca, who was counting off on thin wrinkled finger. “On the first; Elena is not your daughter above all things. For as long as she remains in this studio she is a De Luca garzona, and a garzona only, nothing more and certainly nothing less, with all the respect that is owed her. Unlike the respect you expect for the Lucciano name, this is respect which she is actually owed, and it is respect she will actually be given.”

She’s not going to like that. Elena winced again. Don’t antagonize her like that when she’s thinking of taking me away.

“I don’t think-”

“Secondly,” De Luca cut over Joanna’s interruption so forcefully that both Luccianos jumped. “Do not imagine you are the first mother who, in her…let’s say “anxiety”…has demanded the return of one of my students to them. If Elena does leave with you today, you will be the first mother who succeeds.”

“You think you can keep a daughter away from her mother? You think you have the legal ability to do so?”

“Yes.” De Luca said simply after a moment’s consideration. “Given my personal friendship with the Lord of this city, given that I have had pieces commissioned by the King of Italoza himself, I very much do think that. Elena,” his tone unchanged, De Luca turned to her, “morning meal is over, and Beatrice is assigning each provisional garzoni to the full garzoni they will be assisting. Make your way to the studio, if you please.”

“Elena you will do no such thing.” Her mother broke in. “You will stay right here and discuss this situation with us.”

Elena struggled through the problem in her head. If she disobeyed her mother, Joanna would be even more angry, Elena’s punishment, when it came, would be even more severe. She didn’t harbor any illusions that her mother would forget; once Elena had gone on a trip with her aunt for an entire month, only to come back to a punishment for sassing her mother the day before they’d left.

On the other hand, everything her mother had drilled into her about the worth and pride of the Lucciano name might be at stake here. Joanna might be angry at her, but after her anger and punishment had passed, her relationship with her mother would be better, everything would be alright again. If Elena disobeyed Master De Luca, she was almost sure he would dismiss her then and there. The loss of De Luca’s support wouldn’t destroy her plans for fame, but as Ele had reminded her, it would certainly put a damper on them.

Elena made her choice, but couldn’t look at her mother as she hurried past them both.

“I’m sorry.” She whispered as she passed Joanna. In the long run, she knew her mother would want the security of a rich and famous daughter over a short-term obedience, but her defiance twisted in her gut all the same. She could still hear the murmurs of the adults behind her as she left.

“Wow, that was the most awesome-” Ele began.

“Don’t Ele. Please…please just don’t.” Elena fought the tears that were blurring her vision, but Ele thankfully stayed silent for the rest of the short walk to the workroom.



“-Mella will be taking care of Niccolo, and that leaves Elena to care for Frederica.” Bea was saying as Elena entered the wide open workroom. The smell of the trees just outside the window combined with the soft light of the room made her feel marginally better, even if she had just apparently been assigned to the one garzona who seemed to harbor negative feelings against her. “Elena, I’m sure Frederica or one of your fellow garzoni will fill you in on what you’ve missed, on the duties I’ve gone over.”

“Yes ma’am.” Elena ducked her head in awkward acknowledgement.

“Good. Now, I’ll leave you all to get acquainted for the rest of the day. I strongly suggest buying supplies you might need earlier rather than later, since the day after supplication is one of the busiest for merchants in Milia. I’ve business to attend to now; if anyone needs me specifically, I’ll be in the third-floor library. If anyone needs Master De Luca…come see me first.”

When the garzoni milled around to pair off as Bea left, the red-head girl made a beeline for Elena, her face intent as if she had something to say.

“Come on Mella, I’ll shop with you the first time to show you the sorts of things I’ll need. We can talk on the way.” The burly saggitari called from the doorway before she could get a word out. Instead Mella mouthed the word “later” to Elena before following her assigned garzoni. Elena turned towards the workstation on the right at the far end, where Frederica was waiting for her.

“Here you go wino, catch.” Frederica tossed a wooden object in her direction, which Elena caught gingerly. “These are the tools I work with, so you’ll become very familiar with them over the next eight weeks.” Elena’s eyes widened. She had caught the tool by the handle, and she hadn’t realized at first how lucky she had been.

“Are you crazy?” She asked, holding it up. The wooden handle was smooth and sturdy wood, but extending up from one side was a curved blade of dark metal, about the length of her thumb. The inner edge of the blade looked wickedly sharp, and it caught the light with a mischievous twinkle. “What are you thinking throwing this at me? I could’ve lost a finger!”

“You’re fine, I knew you would catch it.” Frederica said dismissively, and behind her, her Echo stifled a laugh.

“Besides, what is it you actually do?” He asked, gesturing towards her portion of the long marble table. Every other section had materials to work with except hers, probably because Bea had no idea what a Fabera would need to work with. “Doesn’t look like Master De Luca bothered giving you supplies, how much worse can ‘doing nothing’ be with nine fingers instead of ten?”

“Alright Fred, enough of the fraternizing.” Frederica smirked before turning back to her workstation and spreading her hands. “Now Elena, you’ll want to be at least somewhat knowledgeable about this so pay attention.” In an instant the woman’s sneering demeanor melted away into a brisk and surprisingly professional tone. “Bea mentioned I’m a Caeletor, but like all Caeletors I have a specialty, and certain restrictions. My craft is very precise, and even with my level of skill not everything I craft will turn out right. Under my desk here is a crate in which I will put my scraps at the end of every day. I want them burnt before I come up here every morning.”

Elena opened her mouth to ask what constituted “scraps”, but Frederica was already moving on.

“The precise nature of my work means the tools I use must be equally as precise, but luckily for you I work solely with wood. That means you won’t have to worry about maintaining chisels, which are a bitch when it comes to upkeep. You will need to maintain my knives, but seriously, you lucked out.”

Elena wasn’t quite sure how to take the shift in mood. The girl was almost…almost friendly as she spoke. The affectionate grin might’ve been for her tools, but it was a better mood than Elena had seen her new co-garzona in yet. Frederica took one of the woodworking knives in her hand and hefted it as she continued, then spun it absently between her fingers.

“Eighth-inch triple-pressed lilium iron, with cedar handles. I used to have a mismatched set, and it drove me out of my fucking mind trying to adjust to the different hefts, so now I make sure they’re all of a set. Each is balanced for my hand and usually they’re all worn away at the same rate, so if you fuck one of them up, you’d better find a way to replace the whole set, because I will notice if only one of them is new.” Elena was sure Frederica was just trying to be intimidating, spinning the blade between her fingers and then tossing it absentmindedly to the other hand, but it worked. Every time Elena managed to forget about the knife, the strangely dark metal would catch a flash of light at an odd angle, as if giving her a predatory wink.

“Isn’t cedar a really soft wood? Hard to keep oiled and smooth? Why don’t you just choose a wood that doesn’t wear away so easily?” Ele asked, as Frederica paused to examine a fleck of dust on the blade.

“I wouldn’t expect just anyone to know that, but it’s a good question.” Frederica gave Ele an appraising look, as if she were impressed in spite of herself. “Believe it or not, there’s a reason the handles are cedar, beyond just personal preference-”

“Lilium iron has to be really light.” Elena explained to Ele. “So for the knives to feel right in her hand, she needs a light wood to keep the balance she’s used to.”

“I really wouldn’t have expected you to know that.” Frederica’s appraising look was slowly turning to distrust, her gaze flitting back and forth between the two of them. “How did you know that?”

“I just worked it out.” Elena answered honestly. “I’ve never even heard of a metal that could be triple-pressed, but double-pressed metal has to be very light, so lilium must be lighter than any metal I’ve ever heard of. If it’s that light, it must need a lighter wood, right?”

“You just worked that out, did you?”

“I did! I’m…good at working things out…” Elena had long since given up on trying to explain how it felt when her Storm began working. She could just tell how the knives were put together, and she found it frustrating that no one else seemed to have that skill.

“More likely she’s a Caeletor herself.” Fred had moved straight from appraisal to open hostility, skipping the step of suspicion that Frederica had given them. “How else would she know what a good balance is?” Frederica didn’t say anything, but her suspicious glare didn’t lessen in the slightest.

“That was just a guess. If lilium iron is so rare, it must be expensive, which means you probably only got them when you came here. Chances are when you started sculpting, you learned with a much heavier set of tools, tools with a certain balance.” Elena’s explanation was faltering under the twin glares, but she forged on. “Heavy tools with hardwood handles, so to get the same balance you’d need a light wood to balance the light metal in the same way.”

“And you just got all that from ‘intuition’, then? Pulled it from your ass, just like that?” Frederica challenged. Elena shifted uncomfortably. Pietro’s words about the uselessness of Faberi made her wary of giving the nasty pair any more ammunition they could use to give her a hard time, so instead she just kept silent. The response seemed to incense Frederica even more, because she stood from her stool with an air of finality. “Well then, you should be able to “intuit” caring for my tools while you’re at it. If you mess anything up that makes me lose my work time, you had better believe I’ll still report you to Mistress Bea. And I want a backup set here by tomorrow.”

Without another word Frederica stormed from the room. Elena furrowed her brow. For a moment, when she was talking about her tools and her work, Frederica hadn’t seemed quite so bad. She wasn’t quite sure what had made the girl so angry, and for a moment Elena pondered the problem. There was certainly something beneath the girl’s combative and snide exterior, if only she knew what had made her let her guard down for those few moments, and what had made them snap back up so quickly.

“We’re not stupid, you know.” Elena jumped, whirling to face the source of the voice. Fred had remained behind, sitting on the edge of the workbench, his face more thoughtful than spiteful, although it still held a glimmer of anger in it. “Frederica has asked around, and you haven’t told anyone how you’re touched by the storm.”

“And…you know what I am?” Elena asked haltingly.

“With enough clues it’s obvious to put together. Look at you! You’re too mousy and shy to be a Sagittara; a girl who can handle a bow would be able to string a sentence together without looking like she’s expecting to get slapped.”

Elena remembered the slap from a few minutes ago, and looked down at her feet as Fred continued. “You’re too stupid to be a Machinator, and De Luca would be fawning over you if you were. But on the other hand he did accept you in, so you’re not a Fabera or Lanista. Like I said, You’ve got to be a Caeletor.”

I should just tell him what I am. This is stupid. Elena thought to herself, and judging from the look he was giving her, Ele was thinking much the same. They’re going to find out I’m a Fabera sooner or later, why don’t I just tell them?

“So what if I am a Caeletor? What’s it to you?” She asked. Maybe it was due to stubbornness, or perhaps it just seemed unfair to reveal herself to Fred before telling her professed-ally Leanarda. At least she now knew what had made Frederica so angry; the look of raw hatred that Fred was giving her pinpointed exactly what had made them so angry, though she had no clue why. Wouldn’t they want another Caeletor around? Someone to talk to about…chiseling, or something?

“Then you’re fucked.” He said with finality. “De Luca likes diversity in his garzoni. He won’t keep Frederica and you when it comes time to keep just four of us.”

“Aren’t Carlo and Vittoria both Artifexes?” Elena was surprised at this new information.

“Vittoria was a…special case.” For a split second the hard look on Fred’s face was gone, but it flickered back soon enough. “I can guarantee that the circumstances that brought her a spot on this team won’t work for you.” He slipped off the side of the desk and walked towards the door. For the first time, Elena noticed that his footsteps didn’t make a sound as he crossed the space.


“I’m not a Caeletor.” She admitted to his retreating back. “I’m a Fabera.”

“The fuck you are.” Fred neither turned nor stopped.

“So that’s it then? You’ve decided I’m a Caeletor and I’m just competition? There’s nothing I can do to make things better between us?”

“You were competition the second you walked through the door, Caeletor or no. Now? Now you’re the enemy.” Fred reached the closed workshop door and turned, facing her full-on. “Please don’t have those backup tools here tomorrow. Give us an excuse to report you to Mistress Bea and leave gracefully. If you get kicked out in the first few days, we won’t have to resort to anything truly nasty.”

With the grim warning ringing through the quiet workshop, Fred slipped through the closed door, melting into the wood without a sound.



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8 responses

  1. zeuseus

    Permission to slap Joanna? I’m gonna do it anyway but I’d like it to be official


    2014-08-07 at 6:28 am

    • John Galt

      Permission granted


      2014-08-07 at 12:41 pm

  2. Loving the story so far! Can’t wait to see how things shape up for Elena! :)


    2014-08-10 at 11:44 pm

  3. Bob

    So is this whole thing just a high-school drama clique story? Because those are really freaking boring. When I first got into it I thought it was going to be a story about steampunk and magic, but now it looks like it’s just going to be one of those ‘drama’ stories where the author tries to hook people and make them care by constantly abusing a weak main character, with magic and steampunk window dressings.

    I get why everyone does these types of stories, because they’re so easy, but ffs quit it. Seems like that’s how every one of these web novels decides to do things, cheap drama and mass-produced tension. Probably because Worm managed to pull it off well and then everyone tried to copy Worm. The thing is that story was also cram-packed full of awesome superhero action, which usually made up for the author’s constant abuse of the dead horse to try and drum up sympathy of the protagonist.

    Kinda disappointing. I quite like the stories that introduce superpowers (or superpowers described as magic) into renaissance and early industrial periods. The thing is that even though all the action and the logic of the magic or powers and how it’s affected the world are really hard to write, they’re also what make those stories stand out above regular fiction in the same period. A bunch of character abuse (which is quite different from character development, where the protagonist becomes a strong or vicious enough person to overcome their issues or at least has the good grace to die so we don’t have to read about them) just makes for a boring drudge of a read. It does NOT make your story literary or give it automatic legitimacy like so many web authors and independent authors on amazon seem to think it does.


    2015-02-19 at 6:07 pm

    • Your expectations are not the author’s fault. No one is forcing you to read a story that you clearly are not enjoying. I see no promises made nor broken about what kind of story this is.
      If this is not what you want to read, then don’t.

      Liked by 1 person

      2015-02-19 at 6:18 pm

    • I agree with your general message, but not with the way you wrote it. People learn from constructive criticism, not angry rants.


      2015-04-13 at 4:21 pm

    • i think that the idea of a kid going to magic school and struggling to find her place there is a *bit* older than worm. but if that sort of (actually quite common) plot doesn’t do it for you, you can gracefully leave rather than make a stink.

      i, for one, enjoy the high school magic drama, so i guess i luck out that that a lot of web and fan fiction use it. sorry it is harder for you to find a story to suit your tastes.


      2015-08-28 at 2:58 pm

  4. Well, Jesus. I take back my little theory about Joanna having a tiny interest in Elena’s image. She just slapped it to pieces, along with all the sophisticated conflict she came in with. She’s officially only Abusive Mom.

    Personal opinion: I’m not liking Frederica beyond the ‘she’s a rival and antagonist’ front. She’s pretty high school about this. I mean, I know her spot’s being threatened, but it’s a little cartoonish the way she’s bullying Elena. I hope things move away from that soon. :(


    2015-04-13 at 4:14 pm

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