A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

3.2 – Illustratus Familiam {An Enlightened Family}

Elena stretched as far as her reach would allow, carefully balancing on the chair that supported her. Her wrist had healed to the point where it barely bothered her anymore, but the reach made it sting annoyingly.

“A little lower.” Ele instructed from his vantage point a few feet behind her. Elena lowered the hook until it was just above the edge of the door, looking over her shoulder. At his nod she hammered the tiny hook into the frame.

“That’s the last one.” Elena sighed, wiping her forehead with her sleeve. “Now we just need to attach the entire thing together. Can you run and grab the string that’s on my bed for me?”

“No.” Ele said flatly. “No I cannot.”

“Oh…right. Echo.” Elena jumped down from the chair and dragged it back into the kitchen, awkwardly holding the hammer under one arm. “Silly me.”

“You can’t forget that sort of thing Elena.” Ele said exasperatedly, following her through the kitchens and down the short hallway to her room. “It’s not that weird here, but outside of the studio you’re going to run into people like your mother. People who get frightened or make judgements about you.”

“Didn’t we just have this fight in reverse a week ago?” Elena was only half paying attention, her temples buzzing with her power in action. “You wanted me to treat you more like you are a person, not less. Forgetting you can’t bring me string, that seems like a good mistake.”

“I want you to know I’m a real person, but I can also acknowledge that you’ll have to play-act sometimes. I appreciate that you’ve been trying to think of me as more than just your imaginary friend- no,” he held up a hand to forestall her objections, “I mean that genuinely. I just worry about you. For you.”

“You wouldn’t be Ele if you didn’t.” Elena said, putting the finishing touches on her little project. A small bell tied to one end of the string hung down above her bed, running down to the loops in her arms. She carefully tossed the looped string up and over each of the hooks that hung on the upper edge of her wall. When she was done, the string was strung along the wall, unobtrusively laying along the pattern of tiles until it reached the door.

“Will the string still have pull when the door is closed?” Ele asked. Elena walked through and closed the door, then gave the bundle of string in her hand a small tug. From within her room she could hear the tinkle of the bell, and smiled.

The hooks had been fashioned from small bits of wire, and Elena had been able to attach them along the edge of the wall where it met the ceiling. The thin twine barely showed up along the pattern of the wall, even when she knew where to look. She tossed the line of string over each hook down the hallway and back through the kitchen, finally securing the other end to the door that led out into the courtyard.

“The first person who sees it is going to take it down.” Ele predicted dourly, as they both gazed up at the final hook in the door itself.

“No one will see it. It’s subtle, and it’s high up.” Elena squinted at the tiny hook in the door. Opening the door would pull the hook, and tug on the string that stretched from hook to hook along the walls. In theory, this meant that the bell would ring every time someone left the kitchens. “Besides, nobody stares at doorways.”

“You’re also assuming that it’ll work. The string might just snap, or have enough give that the bell doesn’t ring.”

“Instead of tearing down my ideas Ele, you could’ve suggested something yourself. You can’t be sour now that I’ve made my own plan.”

“If I recall, I gave you a perfectly valid suggestion.”

“‘Mind your own business’ is not a perfectly valid suggestion. I want to know the next time some armed intruder comes into the studio at night.”

“Yes, forewarning turned out so helpful for you last time.”

“Elena, Ele!” The call came from halfway across the courtyard, but Elena still jumped. Niccolo and Carlo had clearly been deep in conversation before they’d caught sight of her, but Niccolo waved them over. “We were just about to leave for lunch, do you want to join us? What were you looking at over there?”

“We’d love to join you!” Elena said, too concerned with changing the subject to worry about the invitation. “Are you leaving soon?”

“Just as soon as we hear if Vittoria is joining us…ah, speak of the devil. Hello Vi.”

Elena had been at the studio for over a week, and she still couldn’t tell the difference between Vittoria and her Echo Vi. She was half-convinced that the other full garzoni just chose whichever name they felt like, and were lying when they said they could tell the difference.

“Vittoria thanks you for the invitation, but we’re quite involved in our current project right now.” Vi twisted the end of her blonde braid as she spoke. Her voice was somewhat dreamy, but her hazel eyes tended to fix whatever she was focused on with an intense stare, as if she could see your soul if she looked hard enough.

“Ah well, I suppose six is a large enough group anyways.” Niccolo said cheerfully, turning to Carlo and Elena. “On to Marchelli’s, all you quiet lads and ladies.”

“They’re not quiet, Niccolo, you just never shut up long enough for them to get a word in edgewise.” Nicci remarked, as Elena, Ele, Carlo, and Carla followed Niccolo out of the courtyard and through the hall and foyer that led outside.

“Pah! Implying that I am too talkative? Your lies wound me Nicci. They wound the others too, but they’re too quiet to say anything.”

“I am pretty quiet.” Carlo admitted agreeably.

“I actually have just been waiting to get a word in edgewise.” Elena teased. Carlo gave her a look of surprise, and Nicci snickered.

“The mouse breaks her silence for that?” Niccolo sighed. “And to think in my naivette I was starting to like you. Shame on you for preying on my innocence.”

The group passed from the cool foyer to the heat of the outdoors, but the sudden change wasn’t why Elena felt warm.

He’s starting to like me? She tried to brush the thought aside, but it kept springing back up. Of course, he doesn’t mean ‘like’ in that way, but still…it’s nice to be liked…

“Oh, Elena, I was just coming to visit you!” Elena was so caught up in her thoughts that she might’ve missed her mother, had the woman not spoken. Joanna had been ready to enter the studio just as the garzoni exited.

“Mama! Oh I’m so glad I didn’t miss you-” Elena suddenly bit her lip and stopped talking. The two had parted on such awkward terms, and her mother did tend to hold a grudge; perhaps it was best to let her say her piece first.

“I came to see if you would like to have lunch with me.” Joanna was eyeing Niccolo and Carlo hesitantly, as if unsure of how to proceed with them there. “But I can see you’ve already made plans. That’s what I get for not writing first, I suppose.”

“Oh, no Mama I would love your company, you know that!” Elena hastily assured. “You don’t mind, do you?” She asked, turning to Niccolo and Carlo. It was horribly rude to abandon them when they had extended an invitation, of course, but she couldn’t turn her mother down.

“Not at all.” Niccolo said graciously. “I’ll even pay for her meal myself.”

“Oh…no…” Elena said. “I didn’t mean-”

“I insist. Madam Lucciano, it is a wonderful pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Niccolo took a baffled Joanna’s hand and kissed it. “I am Niccolo Loredan, a garzoni of Master De Luca, much like Elena here, although much less artistic than your daughter.”

Joanna seemed much more flattered at his attention after Niccolo mentioned he was a garzoni, which for some reason gave Elena a sour feeling in her stomach.

“Although his skill at bluster surpasses anyone in Milia.” Nicci added, extending her hand. “I’m Nicci. It’s lovely to meet you Miss Lucciano.”

“And you are?” Joanna turned to Carlo.

“I’m Carlo. Another garzoni.” Carlo gave Joanna a short bow as Nicci left her hand outstretched for a few moments, looking confused. The light suddenly dawned in her face a few moments afterwards.

“Oh…Oh, my apologies.” Nicci said to Elena, letting her hand drop awkwardly. “I thought…sorry.”

Elena looked at her shoes awkwardly. She wanted to reassure Nicci, of course, but with her mother here, she couldn’t exactly talk to her…

“Elena has always been punished for talking to Echoes.” Ele said sourly. “I’m sure she took no offense to your assumption.”

“Really?” Nicci tilted her head, and Elena didn’t like the look of surprise on her face. “I suppose to a certain degree that makes sense, not wanting Mortalis to think you were strange. I would have thought you wouldn’t worry too much about it nowadays.”

“Shall we go?” Elena interrupted. “I’ve heard wonderful things about Marchelli’s.”

“You mean you’ve been in Milia an entire week and a half and never had Marchelli’s? You poor deprived soul!” Niccolo took Elena on one arm, Joanna on the other, and proceeded down the street, extolling the wondrous virtues of Marchelli’s the entire time and leaving Carlo and the Echoes to trail behind.



By the time they actually arrived at the squat building, Niccolo’s praise had given Elena quite an appetite. The smells did even more when they entered; the large room was just as hot as the outdoors, but the rich aroma of tomatoes and herbs and cooking pastas made it feel somehow thicker, in a homey and comforting way.

“Welcome to Marchelli’s. How many are dining with you today?” The waitress greeted them with a smile that was tired but genuine.

“We’ll have a table for seven and menus for four if you please m’lady.” Niccolo said, ushering the group in front of him.

“Are more of your friends joining us?” Joanna asked Elena, but luckily the waitress interrupted before she had to answer.

“Right this way.”

The table was right next to a window, a tad cramped but with a view of the bustle of the street. The Echoes waited until Joanna had selected a seat in between Elena and Niccolo to settle into their own seats, spread out among their garzoni.

“So, Miss Lucciano.” Niccolo leaned in conspiratorially. “You must have some embarrassing stories about Elena you can regale us with.”

“Niccolo!” Elena protested. “You are not to grill my mother about things to make fun of me with!”

“What, you expect me to waste this perfect opportunity? Never!”

“Elena wasn’t what you’d call a ‘funny’ child anyways.” Joanna said with a fond smile. “She’s a good girl, but sometimes she could be such a burden. I’m kidding, of course.” She laughed.

Elena buried her face in her menu. She knew her mother wasn’t kidding, but she was very grateful to her for pretending she was. It was never quite clear how she had been worse than other children her own age, but she knew that she had been.

“Ah, well, what are children for but to try their parents’ patience?” Niccolo said good naturedly. “Ooh, if it isn’t the man of the hour himself. Marchelli, you had me worried that we wouldn’t see your face today.”

A very fat man with a round red nose had approached the table, and he clapped Niccolo on the back.

“My friend Niccolo, how you torture me.” Marchelli’s eyes twinkled as he surveyed the table. “So many pretty ladies you bring to my table, and yet when you leave, it is you who shall take the credit for introducing them to my fine cooking.”

“You’ve figured me out Marchelli.” Niccolo raised his hands in mock surrender. “But you have enough talent to share. We’ll be having…let’s see…bruschetta for the table, a roast, either turkey or pork, and we’ll let you decide the fruit course. Perhaps a nice wine as well?”

“It’s not as if we wanted to choose our own food or anything.” Carlo remarked dryly, as Niccolo collected all of their menus before they had even opened them.

“You don’t need to worry, Niccolo is like me, he knows food and he knows people, I trust him to pair the two. If he says you shall like something, you shall like it. The wine, on the other hand, I do not trust him to pick.” Marchelli chuckled.

“If you end up not liking the food Carlo, we can steal something from De Luca’s kitchens when we get back.” Carla said quietly.

“If he does not like the food I provide him, I will hang up my apron and never cook another fettuccine.” Marchelli waggled his finger at Carla. “And that would be a tragedy.”

“A disaster!” Niccolo agreed. Marchelli waddled back towards the kitchen, and only then did Elena suddenly sit up, her eyes widening with realization.

He talked to Carla…

“Marchelli is a Stormtouched!” She said.

“One of the great mysteries of Milia.” Niccolo nodded sagely. “No one knows how the Storm touched him. No one has seen his Echo. No one knows what made him give up the Storm to turn to cooking.”

“Elena knew he was Stormtouched just from hearing him speak?” Joanna asked. “Is there something in his manner that you all pick up on?”

“Ah, my apologies, you wouldn’t know. He spoke to Carlo’s Echo, you see, and as you know, Mortalis cannot see or hear Echoes.”

“Echoes?” Joanna sounded confused, and Elena’s stomach dropped.

“It doesn’t really matter Mama-” she tried to head the conversation off, but Niccolo was already talking.

“People who exist solely in the sight and hearing of Stormtouched? Surely Elena must’ve told you about Ele; each of us have a companion like that.”

Joanna opened and closed her mouth a few times. After a few strangled attempts, she turned in her chair to face Niccolo.

“You can see Ele?” She asked, studying his face as if he might be joking.

“Of course I can, all Stormtouched can.” Niccolo looked back and forth between Joanna and Elena. “What, did you think Elena was making him up?”

“I thought…I just assumed she was being stubborn…she always had spells of spitefulness like that…I thought she was being childish.” Joanna stammered.

“Wait, that’s why you forbid her from talking to him?” Niccolo asked incredulously. “You stopped her from talking to her lifelong companion because you thought she was being childish?”

“I…I didn’t know. How was I to know?” Joanna turned back to her daughter, and Elena was surprised to see tears welling in her mother’s eyes. “And I punished you!” She gasped, her eyes wide with horror. “I punished you for talking to your friend! Oh my God, Elena…”

“This is too perfect.” Ele commented from next to Elena, watching the scene unfold. “I never thought I’d see this day. Joanna Lucciano, displaying self-awareness?”

“Elena…” Her mother continued, unaware of Ele’s commentary. “…I can’t believe you would do that to me!”

“What?” Niccolo looked startled.

“Well…that didn’t last long.” Ele sighed.

“All that time, and you didn’t once explain the truth to me!” Joanna continued. “You could’ve just told me it was due to your Storm, you could’ve said something, and I wouldn’t be feeling so horrible right now!”

“I didn’t know Mama I swear!” Elena protested, but her mother was actually crying now, fumbling with a handkerchief.

“I can’t remember ever feeling so low! Did you really hate me that much, that you would let me punish you for something you had no control over? Was it because you wanted to cast me in the role of the villain? Oh Elena why did you make me think it was just childishness? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It wasn’t my fault.” Elena mumbled at the table. If her mother’s tears made her uncomfortable, the presence of the other garzoni at the table made her feel ten times worse. Of all the things they could find out about her, she would’ve wished anything but

“No, you’re right, it was mine. I should have been able to tell what my own daughter was thinking. I’ve been such a bad mother to you E-e-elena!” Joanna sobbed into her handkerchief.

“No! Mama no, don’t say that.” Elena wrapped her arms around her mother, trying to console her while at the same time feeling as if her heart might break.

“Of course not, lots of wonderful mothers break their daughters’ wrists.” Ele said bitterly. Elena whirled on him, her grief turning to anger in a second.

“You’ve said quite enough Ele!” In her sudden rage she didn’t even realize that it was the first time she’d talked openly to him in front of her mother in eight years. “Why can’t you leave well enough alone?”

“She broke your wrist?” Niccolo had been silent up until this point, but his voice had a strange tone to it now. Elena didn’t like how he was looking at her mother, although for different reasons than before.

“It wasn’t like that Niccolo, it was just a mistake.” Elena said. “She was angry because she thought I was being obstinate, and sometimes she doesn’t know her own strength-”

“When I say this is the best food in all of Milia, you may rest assured it is only because- my god, do not cry lovely lady!” Marchelli gasped, setting the tray of bruschetta down and hovering around Joanna like a fly. “I know it was hard to wait, but the food is here now!”

“Marchelli, you must forgive me.” Niccolo stood suddenly, kicking his chair back. Elena suddenly noticed how he towered above them, and how dark his eyes were. The arrows in his quiver and the knife at his belt seemed more ominous, and for the first time she wondered why he always carried them. She wondered how often he had used them. A shiver ran down her spine as he continued, his voice low. “You know how much it takes to turn my stomach, so you’ll appreciate it when I say I’ve lost my appetite.”

Quae est ista licet, my friend, I get paid either way. Next time perhaps.” Marchelli seemed truly concerned for Niccolo as the Sagittari walked towards the door. In the doorway he stopped and turned, so suddenly that Nicci accidentally stepped through him and paused on the other side.

“You’re not a bad mother, Miss Lucciano.” Niccolo said over his shoulder. “You’re a bad human being.”

“Niccolo!” Elena gasped, but he was gone, and Nicci followed. There was a brief and awkward pause as Marchelli looked back and forth between the guests at the table.

“Kitchens.” Carla said quietly to Carlo, and the pair stood and left without a word.

“Eat what you will, Niccolo’s garzona friend.” Marchelli said, not unkindly, although he ignored her mother. “I will have the remainder sent on to Master De Luca’s studio. And the bill.” He walked back to the kitchen with just a little more haste in his waddle than he had before.

“Mama…please eat Mama, the food is good, and it can be just the two of us.”

“You don’t…you don’t agree with him, do you?” Joanna sniffled into her handkerchief. “You don’t think I’m a bad mother do you Elena?” Ele opened his mouth as if he might speak, and Elena shot him a furious look of warning.

“No Mama, of course not.” She reassured. The food did smell good, and Elena pulled a plate toward her mother and piled it with the best-looking pieces of bruschetta.

“I’ve always loved you and only wanted what’s best for you, you know that don’t you?”

“I’ve always known that Mama. I love you too.”

The Luccianos spent the rest of their meal in silence.


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15 responses

  1. For every vote on TopWebFiction, Joanna Lucciano will get a piece of pork roast lodged in between her teeth that annoys her for the rest of the day. Don’t do it for me. Do it for the pork roast.

    A big thank you to C. Coyote for creating the Twisted Cogs TVTropes page! I’m only a passing troper myself, but I greatly appreciate it! (And my loving spouse squealed after hearing the news)

    A huge thank you is also due to Erik for the generous donation! The bonus chapter page has been updated, and for the first time Twisted Cogs has bonus chapters waiting in the queue! This means that until the queue runs out (currently 2 SFW chapters and 1 NSFW chapter), Twisted Cogs will update THREE times a week instead of two! I’m not entirely sure when the best time to schedule those bonus chapters is, so for right now I’ll just commit to posting two chapters between now and next Wednesday; one on Sunday, and one on a mysterious “bonus day”

    (mysteries are fun, right?)

    Liked by 1 person

    2014-09-04 at 12:13 am

  2. Oh hey, I want to commit aggravated assault, repeatedly.

    Liked by 2 people

    2014-09-04 at 12:33 am

  3. tijay

    Ditto to tausln

    I would vie but I can’t on my phone and alas no computer or laptop


    2014-09-04 at 3:39 pm

  4. tijay

    Ditto to tausln

    I would vote but I can’t on my phone and alas no computer or laptop


    2014-09-04 at 3:39 pm

    • It’s quite alright :) While I appreciate votes, I appreciate even more that people are continuing to read and enjoy


      2014-09-04 at 5:28 pm

  5. zeuseus

    … Urge to commit premeditated murder rising.

    so yeah, great characters


    2014-09-05 at 8:19 pm

    • “What’d you do today Maddi?”
      “Oh ya know, just made some people want to commit murder!”
      “Yeah it was a good day.”


      2014-09-08 at 12:14 am

  6. A couple of weird questions: why are comments shown in reverse chronological order? It’s kind of confusing. Also, translations. How are you translating the titles? Do you speak the language? I’m curious.


    2014-09-07 at 12:59 pm

    • 1) Apparently showing the comments in reverse chronological order is an option that I set at some point when setting up this site, and I had just never noticed it since. Now that it’s pointed out, I agree, it’s INCREDIBLY confusing, so I switched it back to normal chronological order. Thanks for catching that.
      2) In high school I took two years of Latin. Since I’ve never used it since, my skills are a little (a lot) rusty, and I decided from the very beginning that time spent trying to remember the right declensions and subject-object agreement of Latin would be better spent just writing Twisted Cogs. As a result, the language used for chapter titles (and occasionally in the story itself) is “Latalicum”, a quasi-Latin substitute that is much more similar to dog-latin than it is to the actual language :)

      Liked by 1 person

      2014-09-08 at 12:07 am

  7. I laughed then I felt bad.


    2014-10-04 at 12:14 am

  8. Oooh, that sweet comeuppance. Delicious. Even though Elena’s too far into what Joanna’s done to her to exactly appreciate justice, it felt amazing watching Niccolo dig into her. But the absolute best part? The Echoes finally got their damn validation! I was so badly hoping for the reveal to this woman, and as it kept coming closer – the moment they were saying, “Yes, of course they exist. Obviously,” was beautiful!

    And now that she’s basically a pure villain for whom I have no sympathy, I admire how Joanna twisted it again. She’s has been a consistent nutbag with her actions. I’m really hoping it gets tied to something though, and she doesn’t just stay Abusive Mom for Abusive Mom’s sake.


    2015-04-13 at 8:34 pm

  9. Call me Qrow

    Joanna is so…..textbook.
    As is her daughter. Abuser, abused…..textbook.


    2015-04-14 at 2:30 pm

  10. The mother is such a deliciously terrible human being. She never fails to make me want to throttle her.

    As for Marchelli, I wonder if it was the disappearance of his Echo that led him to abandon the Storm? Or are there minor disciplines of the Stormtouched — in this case he can only craft food excellently. Or perhaps he wears some sort of artifact that allows him to see Echoes? But that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the magic…

    Another great chapter.


    2016-01-21 at 10:56 pm

    • I LOVE these guesses and musings on the world! Thanks for reading, and thanks so much for all the lovely and in-depth comments you’ve left so far, they’re all so wonderful :)


      2016-01-26 at 2:20 am

    • xdrngy

      You’ve probably caught up to the point at which it’s been explained, but-
      My guess is Rhetor. They don’t appear to have echoes, and could see great benefit to hiding their skill


      2016-03-07 at 10:24 pm

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