A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

2.8 – Formam et Actum {Form and Function}

“So she’s the reason for Emerald’s newfound name.” Eric had gotten his hands on a jug of water, and he was throwing it back with as much abandon as another might’ve thrown back liquor.

“Technically I’m the reason for her newfound name.” Ele corrected. “Not that anyone but you and she can hear me.”

Emerald was busy peeling potatoes into a small tub of water, but she rewarded him with the quick smile that her mask hid.

“‘Cause…‘Cause of your Emerald eyes.” He stammered. The blonde Rhetor was still kneading dough, but he rolled his eyes at the pair.

“I have green eyes too, you know.” Elena muttered.

“You like that idea Rhetor?” Eric asked from the corner where he said. “Should we start calling you…shit, what’s a blue gem?”

“Garnet es blue.” Cook broke in informatively.

“You like that Rhetor? ‘Garnet’?” Eric asked. The man shook his head once, briefly. The flour on his mask stirred, and Elena noticed that the pattern on his mask resembled a snake. “Too bad. I like it. Garnet it is.”

The Rhetor seemed annoyed but not surprised, pounding the dough a little harder but otherwise giving no indication that he had even heard.

“Excuse me, Cook can I borrow Elena for a few moments?” From the doorway Leanarda eyed the two Rhetor, while Leo focused more on Elena.

“I can whisk and talk at the same time.” Elena assured Cook, whose good mood had fallen from his face. She took the bowl of cream with her just outside the kitchens.

“You look like you’re doing better this morning.” Leanarda said brightly. “I was worried about you last night. Did one of the other garzoni do something to you? Is that why you and Vittoria were sick?”

“No.” Elena shook her head firmly. “No one would do something like that.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure…” Leanarda looked both ways before leaning in conspiratorially. “One of the garzoni is going to plant something in your room just before lunch today. They’re going to try to get you kicked out.”

“W-what? Who would do that? Why?” Elena was so shocked she forgot to keep whisking.

“I already told you Elena, the garzoni here are willing to do anything to get ahead. Just look at yesterday; do you really think it’s a coincidence that both you AND Vittoria got sick at the same time, just as we’re all starting our first projects?”

“No, it wasn’t a coincidence, but it wasn’t what you’re thinking either. I know what happened to me, and it wasn’t one of the other garzoni.”

“Really?” Leanarda’s eyes brightened. “Is that what you were arguing with Frederica and Carlo about? You said they all knew. What do they know? What did happen?”

“Um…” Elena focused on the cream she was whisking. It had formed stiff peaks like Cook had asked her the last time, but she kept whisking it. In the bright light of a new day, she wasn’t entirely as willing to risk getting kicked out as she had been the night before. The fact that she could almost feel Ele staring daggers into her also helped. “Look…I can’t really tell you what happened Leanarda. I…I can’t really tell you anything. I’m sorry.”

“Oh.” Leanarda leaned back, her face suddenly expressionless.

“I really mean it, if I could tell you I would-”

“Don’t worry about it.” Leanarda’s smile was fractionally colder than it had been before. “I didn’t even come by to ask, I only wanted to warn you anyways. You know, since you and I agreed to help each other out.”

“Leanarda you have to believe me, I want to tell you, I really do.”

“No apologies needed Lucciano. I’m even a little proud of you, coming to grips with the studio being one big battleground. I’ll even keep to our agreement, if you like.” Leanarda turned with just a tiny bounce in her step. “Although I think you owe me one now. Not that I’m keeping track or anything, but warning you to check your bed before lunch is pretty ally-ly.”

“Leanarda, who’s going to plant something? How did you find out about this?” Elena cried. Leanarda gave her a look over her shoulder, a cold smile with a single raised eyebrow.

“I’m afraid I really can’t tell you anything Elena. I’m sorry.” She said. Leo gave Elena and Ele an appraising glance before he turned to follow Leanarda out of the hall.

“You’re ‘Lucciano’ now, not ‘Elena’.” Ele commented dryly when they were out of earshot.

“Oh shut up Ele, you got what you wanted, she’s not really an ally anymore. You should be happy.” Elena took the bowl of cream back in the direction of the kitchens.

“I would’ve been happier if it had been you ditching her. She wouldn’t think she has the power like she does now.”

“Ele that’s so cynical! I don’t even know how you can think like that. I could never think like that.”

“I know.” Said Ele darkly. “That’s the problem.”

 


 

 

“I think I speak for all of us when I welcome you back Elena, Vittoria.” Master De Luca gave Elena a smile just as bright and affectionate as the one he gave Vittoria; anyone observing would think he had known her for more than a handful of days.

“I’m just glad it wasn’t anything more serious than a flu.” Frederica on the other hand was very obviously more concerned about Vittoria’s well being.

That’s fair. Elena thought to herself. They’ve been through a lot together, even if they are rivals. Maybe I’ll feel the same way about Leanarda, Mella, or Lorenzo next year. Whichever of us make it that far…

“It’s certainly fortunate that you recovered before I had to leave.” Master De Luca said, suddenly serious. “I like to give my students more access to my resources before I leave, but I’m afraid the Florecian royalty don’t always take my desires into consideration when they summon me.”

“Master Bernardo, what is the Florecian court like?” Lorenzo asked. Elena blinked at the pretty boy’s use of the Master’s first name, but if De Luca was angered he didn’t give any indication.

“Of course, you of all people would be interested in the Florecian court.” De Luca chuckled. “I suppose you intend to end up there?”

“Always heard it was easier for Machinators to rise to the courts.” Lorenzo mumbled around a mouthful of bread. Elena frowned into her plate. It was terribly unfair, but it was true. A Machinator was too valuable to waste in the relatively smaller cities of Italoza like Milia.

“It’s hard to describe a city like Florecia. Generations of the finest Stormtouched don’t just leave a mark on the city, they become the city. It’s like nothing else you’ll ever see.” De Luca sighed. “Miracles are everyday there, and sometimes I think that there’s nothing that’s not its own little work of art. I like the slow pace of Milia, don’t get me wrong, and it doesn’t hurt that here I’m given the respect of a god. But in Florecia…just walking through Florecia makes me feel like one.”

The table was silent for a long moment as the garzoni hung onto the mental image De Luca had painted for them, each caught up in their own little fantasies.

“Doesn’t it feel strange though? Going from here to being around the most powerful Stormtouched in the world?” Mella asked.

“You’d be surprised how little one is affected by it.” De Luca shrugged. “After all, how often does the Storm come up in daily life? You’ve heard of Lady Allium? No? She is a Caelator so powerful that she can sculpt things that don’t exist in the world, and still give them the gift of life. Dogs that can speak, flying lions, that sort of thing. And yet she doesn’t exactly bring them with her when she visits you for tea, do you follow? A person is just a person, students, whether touched by the Storm or not. Remember that.”

“What about Artifexes Master De Luca?” Mella asked excitedly. “What can the Artifexes of Florecia do?”

“It is said,” Master De Luca wiped his mouth and leaned back in his chair, “that Master Coastering can paint a picture of some dead men, and the person in the picture will have all of the memories that the man had in life. They say he has a macabre gallery beneath his house, the only places you can hear the voices of the dead once more.”

“Are you telling that horrible dead-painting tale again you dramatic old man?” Bea smiled from the Echos’ table.

“They asked this time!” Master De Luca chuckled. “It’s my best Artifex story. And before you others ask, I’ll share more that I know. Lorenzo, I can’t even begin to describe the best Machinator I’ve met or heard of in Florecia, but I’ll tell you one of my favorites. He’s very very young, ten or so I think, but he created this tiny device that will remove the scent from any room. It’s completely astounding; a press of a tab and the room becomes odourless in an instant! They make fun of him, but I find it genius.”

Elena was just as enraptured by the tales of Florencia as the others, her breakfast forgotten. Why hadn’t she ever heard of wonders like that growing up? For as much as she was obsessed with the big cities, Milia included, this was the first she had heard of the Stormtouched in those cities.

“Let us see…Niccolo, have you heard of Apollo the True Eye, Master Saggitari?” Master De Luca was clearly enjoying himself.

“I’ve heard of him.” Niccolo replied. “His real name can’t possibly be Apollo, can it?”

“I’d not dare to be the one to question him on it.” De Luca chuckled. “Apollo the True Eye shoots his arrows straight into the air, and he still hits his marks an hour later.” He explained to the other garzoni.

“But…that’s impossible.” Leanarda objected. “That’s not aim, that’s precognition!” De Luca simply shrugged.

“Who are we to say that a Saggitari’s Storm gives them perfect aim?” He asked. “Can any of us truly say we know how the Storm operates? Maybe a Saggitari’s true Touch is that they manipulate destiny, their arrows fated to meet their target.”

“Niccolo a manipulator of destiny…I don’t think I’ve ever been more frightened.” Carlo spoke up, and a chuckle went around the table.

“As for you…Hmm.” Master De Luca turned to Elena and furrowed his brow. “You know what…I don’t think I know any Master Faberi in Florencia. Perhaps you will be the first, eh?”

“She’s a Fabera?” Leanarda and Frederica exclaimed at the same time. Mella gave her a startled glance, and even Niccolo and Carlo looked surprised. Only Lorenzo seemed unperturbed by the news, and that might’ve been because he didn’t catch the implication of De Luca’s statement.

“You hadn’t told them how you were touched by the Storm?” De Luca seemed surprised. Elena shook her head, wishing she could sink down in her chair until she was underneath the table where no one could stare at her. “Well…I would apologize for giving away your little secret, but honestly Miss Luccianno, how long did you think you could keep it secret from your fellow garzoni? You share a studio with them, you don’t think they would’ve figured it out?”

What could she say? Elena didn’t want to repeat Pietro’s words in front of everyone, but she could tell from the incredulous looks that she was receiving that she didn’t have to repeat them; everyone was already thinking it. Faberi were useless. Faberi were pointless. Of all the garzoni in the studio, she was the one the studio could do without.

Elena was thankful that everyone was done eating, and she slipped away from the table as soon as she could.

 


 

Elena had thought that the workshop was beautiful when she’d first seen it, lit by natural light and all wood and marble. It was even more breathtaking now, taking in the sight in peaceful silence. Whether it was tasks or chores, or even the mysterious goings on that kept the other garzoni busy away from here, Elena was so grateful to be alone that she could cry.

“No Faberi in Florencia means less competition.” Ele said quietly behind her. “Once we get there we-”

Elena held up a hand with a pleading look, and Ele fell silent immediately. She would have to thank him for that later on, but for right now, there was silence, and peace. Elena sat at her workstation, empty of any materials, and simply took deep breaths and enjoyed the workshop. After a few minutes she got restless and began pacing.

“New project? Take your mind off it?” Ele ventured.

“What did you have in mind?” Elena smiled. Ele pointed towards Frederica’s workstation.

“She wears those tools down at a steady rate, then she just throws them out. How much do you want to bet we could build something to keep them in better shape for longer?”

“We’d find out how she wears them away.” Elena mused aloud, walking over to the workstation.

“She said she’d worn the other set out already didn’t she? She hasn’t thrown them away.”

The buzzing had already started in Elena’s temples, and she was grateful for the distraction. She grabbed a paper and piece of charcoal from Mella’s desk, making a mental note to pay her fellow garzona back for the supplies, then sat at Frederica’s desk and started poring over the old tools.

Just as Ele had said, the tools were all worn in certain areas, places in the wood where Frederica’s fingers had gripped tighter, or areas of the blades that had been dulled away in specific patterns. Elena made notes on the paper with charcoal, occasionally stopping to scribble a rough sketch, turning the tool over in her hands to get a better feel for it. Ele stood beside her, occasionally making comments about things she had missed. The two worked quietly for a long time, and Elena was so absorbed in her work that she didn’t even notice anyone come in.

“Frederica is going to use that knife on you if she knows you’ve been messing with it.” Niccolo said from a few feet away. Elena was so startled she almost dropped the knife, and she gave him a look of terror.

“Oh jesu calm down flighty little bird, he was just joking!” Nicci reassured her.

“She would’ve figured it out eventually.” Niccolo chuckled as he sat at his own workstation, pulling a few arrows from a pile.

“You just startled me, that’s all.” Elena said defensively. “I was working on an idea I had to keep her tools from wearing down so fast. I’m supposed to be providing her with materials, aren’t I?”

“Most provisional garzoni just buy new tools.” Niccolo gave her a critical glance. “They don’t exactly go so far as changing existing ones. Although I suppose that’s what you do, isn’t it? Hey there, hey!” He said as Elena turned back to the paper angrily, “That’s nothing to be ashamed of!”

“Oh of course not.” Elena said bitterly. “It’s just that no Faberi get famous is all. There are no Faberi legends, no Faberi masters.”

“That’s what makes them the best of the Storm.” Niccolo said conspiratorially. Elena gave him a blank look.

“Show her the arrow thing, we both know you’re dying to.” Nicci sighed. Niccolo grinned and slipped an arrow from a quiver that hung from his desk, crossing the distance so that Elena could see it.

The arrow was beautiful, a work of art. Made of cherrywood, it gleamed with a wicked red light, and carvings worked along its shaft caught the eye and twisted it along it’s length.

“Take a look at this arrow. It’s pretty, isn’t it?” Niccolo said. Elena nodded wordlessly. “The way I see it, the world is divided into two things: the flash and the work. One catches the eye, gets the attention, and to the unobservant it’s the more important. The other? It does all the heavy lifting. In a pinch, I’ll take the worker over the flashy any day.”

“It’s a beautiful arrow, but it won’t fly straight will it?” Elena had been examining the arrow carefully during his speech. “The wood is the wrong type, and the designs will throw off the balance.”

“That’s right!” Niccolo said, surprised.

“It’s the problem of form versus function, that’s what you’re saying isn’t it?” Elena looked up at Niccolo, only a few inches away. He still smelled like leather and violets, and she was surprised again at how good the two scents went together. “You’re saying that it’s okay to not be a flashy Stormtouched like a Machinator?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.” Niccolo nodded with satisfaction.

“Your arrow metaphor is a little weak though. Sure the arrow is flashy, but it doesn’t say anything about the other side, the ‘worker’ who gets annoyed.”

“I wouldn’t say my metaphor is that weak.” Niccolo grinned, and the twinkle in his eye made Elena blush for some reason. “People pay attention to the flash, when it’s really the subtle and hard worker they should be worried about.”

“I…don’t think I get it.” Elena admitted.

“She won’t get it unless you spell it out for her.” Ele sighed. “Elena, very carefully look at your leg.”

Elena glanced downward and paled. Casually yet carefully, Niccolo was holding a very sharp small knife gently against her thigh.

“How long has that been there?” She gasped, and Niccolo laughed to himself as he sheathed the knife and stepped away, twirling the arrow between his fingers.

“I’m telling you Elena. Let everyone else focus on the flash and bang of Caeletors and Artifexes. It’s the Faberi I’ve got my eye on.”

“Somehow I don’t think Elena would mind your eye on her.” Ele said under his breath, and Elena turned back to the paper blushing bright crimson.

 


 

Elena’s heart was racing far too fast, considering she had been doing nothing but laying in bed for the past hour. Leanarda had said the garzoni would try to sabotage her “before lunch”, and she was going to be here when they showed up. Her foot tapped impatiently on the coverlet, and Elena fidgeted, wishing she had brought something to read from the studio’s library.

She was eying the door for the thousandth when Ele stepped through it, and she almost screamed with surprise.

“There’s no one coming. No one headed in this direction,” he reported, “and the garzoni are starting to leave to go get lunch.”

“I wonder if they’re waiting to see me leave?” Elena pondered aloud.

“Or maybe they’ve already stowed it away…” Ele trailed off as their gazes met, and Elena hurled into action. There weren’t many places to check: under her bed, in her water closet, under the pillow…

Something cold beneath the pillow sloshed around as soon as her fingers touched it.

“I was laying on it.” Elena breathed, pulling the waterskin from beneath it. “I was laying on it and didn’t even know. Oh god Ele if they had come in here and I was laying on it they wouldn’t believe I was innocent, not for a second.”

“They also won’t believe you’re innocent if you’re holding the evidence.” Ele said, eyeing the waterskin. Elena ran to the water closet and dumped the skin into the bowl. The wine was so strong just the smell of it made her eyes water, and it took a few flushes to wash the scent away. The bowl for washing her hands allowed her to wash the skin itself, and soon the scent of alcohol was gone from the water closet completely.

“What do I do with the waterskin?”

“Window?”

“And have them see it land in the courtyard below?” Elena’s temples buzzed, and she suddenly noticed more about the wineskin than she had before. It was watertight of course, but made of some treated cloth, and sewn together with thread. She brought it to her mouth without thinking, biting at the knot with her canine teeth. As soon as one edge of the seam came apart she pulled it apart easily, smoothing it out until it was nothing but a piece of waterproof fabric. She folded it and placed it on the floor beneath her shoes.

“You know, that really does make a good mat-” Ele began, but was interrupted by a knock on the door. Without waiting for an answer Pietro entered, standing at his full height and looking around the room.

“Miss Elena, I’m afraid I must search your room.” He said. “We’ve had a report that you are in possession of something you shouldn’t be.”

“Of course.” Elena gestured around her. Pietro’s gaze had gone right past the repurposed wineskin and he hadn’t recognized it: she was safe. The marble boy went straight to the bed and began searching it, moving swiftly but not disrupting anything.

Now that she was not longer terrified, Elena had time to get angry.

“Who was it who reported I had something to hide?” She asked.

“I’m afraid I can’t share that information Elena.” Pietro said absently as he continued searching the room. “I don’t want to start fights between the garzoni here, I just want to make sure no student is taking advantage of Master De Luca. And it’s quite clear to me that you are doing no such thing.” Elena’s room was small, and Pietro had finished his search. “I believe I owe you an apology Miss Elena. I will be having words with the garzoni who reported you.”

Elena stood in the middle of the room for long minutes after Pietro left, clenching and unclenching her hands.

“What are we going to do about this, Elena?” Ele asked quietly, the anger she felt apparent in the edge in his voice. Elena scowled as she answered.

“We’re going to be function over form. Work over flash. We’re going to be a knife.”

 


 

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12 responses

  1. Aaah, a nice hefty chapter to wrap up Arc 2! Next up we’ll have a smutty interlude, thus literally starting off Arc 3 with a bang ( man I’m so funny when I’m up ’till midnight :) ).

    If you are enjoying Twisted Cogs, consider tossing it a vote on TopWebFiction!

    I’ve also recently discovered the web serial Cages, by E_Foster, one of the only works I’ve read that uses 2nd person storytelling effectively. If you’re a fan of intense suspense and science, check it out right here!

    Like

    2014-08-21 at 12:17 am

  2. DeNarr

    So, this was a fun story to read. Took me a little while to get into it, but once I did it had nice momentum going, and I’m sad that I’ve caught up already.

    Like

    2014-08-22 at 10:29 am

    • Glad to hear you liked it, especially since you were a little “iffy” about the Rhetor in earlier chapters. Thanks for sticking with it!

      Like

      2014-08-22 at 11:57 pm

      • DeNarr

        Heh, while the “iffyness” on the Rhetor may have technically been from an earlier chapter, since it was a NSFW chapter I actually read it and made that comment after this one, seeing as how we still don’t know what the Rhetor’s actually do :)

        Like

        2014-08-25 at 8:38 am

        • Oops, haha :)

          Well I’m glad you enjoyed up until that part at least. The mystery of the Rhetor will definitely be revealed, but there are enough hints throughout the story that people should be able to guess the general gist of their powers!

          Like

          2014-08-25 at 6:19 pm

      • DeNarr

        Yes, I am enjoying it. I didn’t even say I didn’t like that part, was just pointing out that you were keeping the reader in mystery about things that the characters know, while putting the characters in situations where that knowledge is very relevant.

        Like

        2014-08-26 at 11:33 am

  3. fionag11

    This is an excellent story, Maddirose. I lose myself in the slightly sinister beauty of this world reminiscent of the hypersensual alt-Europe of the Kushiel’s Dart series.

    Like

    2014-08-22 at 12:44 pm

    • Thanks so much! That really means a lot to me, and I’m glad you enjoy it!

      Like

      2014-08-22 at 11:56 pm

  4. Owl

    Isn’t garnet commonly red?

    Other than that, not a bad bit of world building.

    Like

    2014-08-25 at 10:17 pm

    • Yep, it certainly is! Here is a picture of a bunch of garnets: http://www.acj4u.com/jewels/garnet.jpg

      In the character of Cook one can find truth in the saying “It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong, as long as you’re confident”

      Like

      2014-08-26 at 7:09 am

  5. That was some damn quick thinking by Elena, the Fabera beaver. Ele’s right – one day, she’s going to mess up those teeth and need some white, metal dentures from the nearest dentistinator. :)

    I’ve got this sneaking suspicion that the gorgonza who called it in was Leanarda, trying to force Elena to trust her. Or really, any of them, but Leanarda hasn’t been featured as much as the others (so her I’M UP TO SOMETHING cannon hasn’t been fired yet). Also, she’s said she’s manipulative. That’s a flag right there.

    I can’t get over how creative Elena is! She can’t quite make a table as her project after even Pietro’s made fun of Fabera abilities (finally it’s revealed! It was driving me crazy that her type of Stormtouch was a giant mystery for everyone!), so she’s improving on the rarest tools she’s ever seen? I don’t know the exact difference between a Fabera and Machinator, but if one’s more of a fixer and the other’s more of an inventor, this is the best way for her to make it to the top. :D So elegant – and again, you can’t get that sort of thing without a character who’s set up as underpowered. It’s all paying off!

    Like

    2015-04-13 at 6:42 pm

  6. I’m loving your story so far. The tone feels like a genuine renaissance Italian mixing pot of magic and innovation, the worldbuilding is fantastic, the characters intriguing, and the plot is riveting. It feels like a brighter variant of K.J. Parker’s stories. Elena certainly is a refreshingly kind character, especially when you consider the sea of grimdark characters sloshing about the shores of modern fantasy.

    I am quite interested to see how Ele will be a foil to Elena. There’s the obvious character difference between the two (ruthless vs. nice), but I’m sure that the presence of Echoes is very closely linked to the mystery behind the Storm. Perhaps the personality of a person determines their potential for being Stormtouched? We know that these veritable magicians are both rare and powerful, with their abilities granting them extra perception and the coordination to act on that perception. I’d hazard a guess that an Echo is a manifestation of that extra ‘processing power,’ with a personality naturally forming along with the intelligence that’s given to a Stormtouched.

    Other random questions that’re running through my mind: do other parts of the world have Stormtouched, or is it exclusively limited to Italoza? Florencia purported hosts the world’s most powerful Stormtouched — judging by the level of commerce I’d reckon that they would have contact with other nations, so maybe Florencia is some sort of nexus? The absence of any foreigners so far indicates that foreign Stormtouched, if they existed, would gravitate towards Florencia.

    As always, I wonder at the abilities of a Master Rhetor. I do quite love the mystery you’ve built into the world!

    Like

    2016-01-21 at 9:36 pm

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