A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

3.7 – Nocte Prandium {Date Night}

Carlo snored at night. From what Carla understood, a partner’s snoring could be a big issue for two people living together, keeping them awake and slowly grind away at one’s nerves. Carla didn’t have to worry about it. It was one of those rarely mentioned little perks of being an Echo; when Carlo slept, she slept as well. The only reason she knew he snored was due to the few quiet minutes after she awoke each morning, since Carlo was slower to wake than she.

Carla rose from her bed and walked around the room, stretching her long legs and using her fingers to brush out her long black hair, surveying the room as the oranges and reds of the morning light illuminated it. It was about twice the size of their original garzoni rooms, enough room that it didn’t feel cramped even with the small desk and chairs.

She turned to look at Carlo splayed out on the bed. His arm was laying awkwardly and stiff at his side, a sight that worried her. Had he turned over in the night? The pain of it would probably have woken him up, but could he have caused extra damage by not having it looked at by a medic right away? Was the splint enough?

Carlo groaned loudly and threw his good arm over his eyes to block out the sunlight, a gesture that would’ve been worrisome if he didn’t do it every single morning. His slow approach to mornings often lasted all the way up until breakfast, but that too she was used to by now. Carla crawled back onto the bed on her hands and knees so that she would be the first thing he saw when he finally opened his eyes.

“Good morning Foresight,” she purred when lifted his arm and looked toward the window.

“Must you use that name? It’s embarrassing when I’m like this,” Carlo complained, but his cheeks turned pink, and Carla could tell his mood had been improved right from the start.

“Very well Master Donato.” Carla said primly, sitting up. “I didn’t mean to be inappropriate.”

“You know what I mean,” Carlo attempted a rude gesture with his splinted arm, and winced in pain. Carla winced sympathetically as well, but couldn’t help but continue to tease.

“Quite alright Master Donato,” she continued to simper. “Your meetings have been cancelled today sir, shall I run and tell your garzoni to prepare your breakfast.”

“If you would be so kind, and make sure all of the paperwork is in order for the incoming batch,” Carlo played along, “but first can you check the tiles for me?”

“You can’t check them yourself, lazybones?”

“I thought you were playing the part of my secretary in this little fantasy,” Carlo grinned.

“Most men are a little more inventive with their secretary fantasies,” Carla grumbled, but she made her way to the small desk anyways, humoring her Stormtouched with a broken arm. She consoled herself with the fact that his gaze followed her across the room with a little more attention than a Master would give a real secretary.

Carlo had been experimenting with a different water content in his plasters, and the resultant mess took up the majority of the desk, but the top edge nearest the wall was carefully kept clear of the chaos. The tiles lay across the top in a neat row, and Carla turned her attention to each in turn.

The leftmost tile displayed a field of yellow poppies under a clear blue sky. “Good weather today,” she reported, “no rain, a little warm.”

Next to the poppy tile sat a work in pitch black, a pinprick in its center with eight orbs revolving slowly around it in different colors and sizes. “DaRose’s reputation is climbing and De Luca’s falling, but then we expected that.”

“It’ll probably climb even higher by tonight,” Carlo sighed, “it was a bad move, what we tried.”

“If they succeed tonight we’ll get back on track and it won’t be a problem,” Carla tried to reassure him.

“Or they’ll double down and we’ll be even worse off.”

“In the worst case De Luca can come back and blame it on his impetuous garzoni and save most of our reputation.”

“Perhaps. And the last tile?”

Carla hesitated for a moment before she turned her attention to it. She had regretted giving him the idea to paint it. She hated even more that in theory they didn’t know whether it worked or not, besides the shared flutter in their temples when it was completed. Even now, months later, she had to steel herself to look at it. A plain white tile, with the beautifully stylized outline of a skull painted on it. Carla breathed a sigh.

“Not today,” she confirmed, and she could see Carlo relax.

“Well, that’s that then. You have performed your duties quite well Miss Carla.” Carlo said with mock offhandedness.

“How is Master Donato planning on spending his day today, sir?”

“That’s…a good question actually. With a broken arm they can’t exactly expect me to bring in Cook’s firewood today, nor can they expect me to grind the pigments or do any other chores really. I suppose I’ve got nothing to do but work on the swirled tiles and worry about how they others will do tonight.”

Carla frowned. The last thing Carlo needed was to be cooped up in his room thinking about the two things that caused him the most stress; painting and keeping his friends safe. Already she could see his forehead wrinkle with concern, could see his shoulders hunch with worry. She cast her mind around for some alternate excuse.

“Take me out instead!”

“Hmm? Take you out?”

“I’ve been very good Carlo, I’ve stuck by you in your garzoni career, and you know I’ll stick by you no matter what comes along.”

“You’re my Echo, you don’t really have a choice but to stick with me.”

“Mentally stick by you, emotional support and the like,” Carla clarified with a dirty look. “Anyways, sometimes I need to be taken care of too. It’s been a long time since you’ve taken me out.” Carla knew it was a low blow, but she also knew it would be an effective way to get him to relax.

“It has been some time…” Carlo mused aloud.

“It’s going to be a beautiful day, we don’t have to spend all of it cooped up in the studio. We can spend some time working on the idea you had, then go out in the evening.” She sat on the edge of his bed as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes with one hand. “We’ll have dinner at Marchelli’s since we didn’t really have the chance to the last time we were there. Then maybe…” Carla dropped her voice and her eyes, “…maybe spend some time together alone at the end of the night?”

She let the suggestion and the implication hang in the air for a few moments before she looked up at him through her lashes. While it was clear he was tempted, she could see the responsibility he felt as a garzoni holding him back. She pulled out her final trick.

“I’ll wear something pretty,” she wheedled, and saw the hesitation leave him before he even opened his mouth.

“Just this once,” he begrudgingly agreed, “but we’re not going to make a habit of it.”

“Rats, I was hoping you breaking your arm could be a bi-monthly affair.”

Carlo stepped into the water closet, and while he was gone Carla looked down at the plain white uniform she wore, identical to the uniforms of De Luca’s Stormtouched garzoni. It was the clothing most of the garzoni’s Echos had taken to wearing, but promising to change it seemed to be more of an incentive to Carlo than her promise of a night together. Perhaps it reminded Carlo too much of work…maybe she should stop wearing it…

No, Carla shook herself, he likes a change of pace sometimes, that’s all. Second guessing everything about our relationship isn’t going to help either of us. Carlo emerged from the water closet, and she gave him a smile before she stepped through the wall and into the hallway to let him change. Stepping into the hallway placed her face to face with Leo and his Stormtouched, Leanarda. They were so close to the doorway that they both jumped when she emerged. It appeared that they were just coming down the hallway, but they might’ve been listening at Carlo’s door.

“What are you doing here?” Carla snapped.

“I was just coming to check to see if Carlo was awake,” Leanarda said, “I thought maybe we could talk Artifex-to-Artifex about how things are in the studio.”

Carla narrowed her eyes. It was possible that the girl was telling the truth, but it was more likely that there was an ulterior motive. When it came to Carlo, Carla prefered to err on the side of caution.

“Neither of us are interested in making deals or alliances or whatever drama-filled games you’re trying to play,” Carla said. “And Carlo fell on the stairs and injured himself last night. I’d prefer it if you left him alone today.”

The Stormtouched looked like she was about to snap back a response, but Leo murmured something too quiet to hear, and the pair turned back the way they came without another word. Carla watched them go until they’d reached the end of the hallway, then slipped back into the room.

“You could’ve been nicer about that.” Carlo was shirtless, looking through his closet for something to wear. Carla enjoyed the picturesque sight of her Stormtouched at the wardrobe rather than answering. Everything about him made her smile; the way his pants hung off his hips, the way the light glanced off of his wiry shoulders. She even liked his ragged red curls, even though they were currently in disarray from the night.

“Are you ready to face the day, Foresight?” She teased instead of answering.

“Only if it’ll get us to the night faster,” Carlo replied.

 


With the promise of her date ahead of her, Carla’s day seemed to crawl past. She stood by Carlo’s side as the medico bandaged his arm, passing him questions to ask the medico about how often he should change the wrappings and what activities he couldn’t do. The rest of the day was spent in his room, working on his frescoes. It was awkward to prepare each tile one-handed, but most of the desk was already a mess, and he managed.

They painted three small tiles over the afternoon, but none of them were Touched. The plaster took some time to dry after it was done being painted, but it was obvious to Carla when a tile had the magic of the Storm imbued within it. Normally three “failures” would’ve had Carlo in a funk, but he seemed quite cheerful by the time the evening rolled around, and Carla knew she had made the right choice in providing a distraction to think about. Carlo too seemed excited for the prospect, though she didn’t know whether he was more excited for the date or for the night at the end of it.

He prepared the fourth tile in silence, waiting patiently was painted in near silence. When he began painting Carla would occasionally break in with a murmured word of advice.

“More water in that.”

“Mhm.”

“Broader strokes here.”

“Not narrow?”

“Narrow wrecks it.”

Carlo finished the fourth painting with a flourish, and set his brush down with a sigh. He stretched his fingers and waited, watching Carla’s face as his knuckles pop. Carla let herself focus on the feeling of the tile, intent on the flutter of the Storm in her temples, but as long minutes passed and the fluttering receded, she finally shook her head.

“Fourth failure.” Carlo sighed. Despite his initial enthusiasm it was clear that he was getting discouraged.

“I’m going to go get ready,” Carla replied, “We’ve waited long enough for our date.”

“Be careful.”

“You don’t get to see me until our date. I’ll meet you at Marchelli’s.”

She smiled as she felt his eyes on her when she walked through the wall of the room.

 


It wasn’t a bad change, the only cost had been a small cut on her upper thigh that the dress covered nicely. When she arrived at Marchelli’s she made a show of looking around for Carlo long after she had actually located him, just so he was sure to take note of it. Her dress was a light blue, one which hugged her hips and pushed her breasts up. The skirt hung to her knees, layer upon light layer making it flutter at the barest of motions. A matching light blue flower contrasted with the black hair that hung to her waist to complete the ensemble, and altogether she thought she looked rather nice.

“You look breathtaking.” Carlo stood when she reached the table, an act that probably seemed ridiculous to every Mortalis in the rather packed restaurant. Of course, she could hardly let that bother her; the entire evening would probably look strange to them, with Carlo interacting and talking across an empty table.

Carlo was looking rather nice himself. The white garzoni uniform he normally wore had been left behind, replaced instead with the best clothes he owned; a pair of pants and an opulent shirt and vest, all in dark colors. He looked uncomfortable in the rich clothes, especially with the bulky splint and bandage on his arm, but Carla was touched by his effort.

“I had worried we had seen the last of you when your friend Niccolo brought that unfortunate girl here.” Marchelli said jovially when he stopped by their table. “The gentleman and his Echo are out enjoying the town today yes? Shall I bring menus for the good friends?”

“Niccolo trusts your judgement, I will too,” smiled Carlo with a wave. Even after all these years, the label of  “Echo” and all it implied gnawed at Carla. As usual, Carlo seemed to not even pick up on the implication, “something romantic, if you could. We’re actually on a date, you see.”

Carla closed her eyes for a brief moment, waiting for the censure or the stunned silence. To her grateful surprise, the statement didn’t seem to faze Marchelli at all.

“Something romantic then, something you both shall enjoy,” Marchelli said with a conspiratorial wink, “and a wine that will not leave you both snoring I think.”

“You seem on-edge this evening,” Carlo noted when Marchelli had left, “I thought you were looking forward to this evening.”

“I have been!” Carla looked at him fondly across the table. It was as if the thought never crossed his mind that someone might wish him ill, a trait she found equally adorable and infuriating. “If nothing else it’s nice to be out of the studio. Maybe it’s just all the provisionals running around, but that place seems a million times more chaotic recently.”

“I don’t know why you seem to have such a problem with the provisionals. It wasn’t so long ago that we were provisionals, you remember what it was like.”

“I don’t have a problem with the provisionals! I don’t have a problem with anyone.”

“It didn’t seem like it this morning, when you were scolding Leanarda.”

Carla thought about it as Marchelli brought a glass of wine and lit two candles at their table

“I wasn’t trying to scold her. I just don’t really care about anything she had to say, and neither should you.” She finally said. “She can’t help us at all, there’s no point in helping her, and being seen to associate with Leo and Leanarda will taint your reputation here. It’s the same reason I said we should keep our distance from Elena, or Lorenzo if he ever approached us. We don’t want anyone thinking we’re on anyone’s side.”

“I understand that. Keeping ourselves away from that kind of personal entanglement worked well for us last year, it’ll work well for us this year. It doesn’t mean you have to be rude.”

“We’ve had this discussion; being rude keeps them away from us. It lets us keep our head down and stick to the painting.”

“It also keeps us from making any friends or connections in the studio.”

“You’re not here to make friends Carlo!” Carla said exasperatedly, “you’re here to become an Artifex!”

“And I will, with your help,” Carlo grinned, a half smile unique to him, and Carla’s heart melted a little bit, all of her exasperation forgotten.

“You know that I love you Carlo. I’m in this with you one hundred percent.”

“I know, I know. I just think you’re too defensive of me sometimes.”

“Well obviously, dummy,” Carla said affectionately. “If I don’t defend you who will?”


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16 responses

  1. The second SFW bonus chapter has been posted, and the bonus page updated. That leaves us with no more SFW bonus chapters in the queue (although there’s one NSFW chapter in the queue)! Next week we’ll have our bonus smut, and then I’ll be caught up and all of the queues will be empty.

    Also “queue” is a really weird word, is that just me? My fingers want to keep on going with it, like queueueueueueue…

    …I should probably go get some sleep.

    Like

    2014-09-16 at 11:52 pm

  2. zeuseus

    two typos I saw:
    “and while he was gone Carlo looked down at the plain white” – should be Carla
    “The skirt hung to her knees, layered upon light layer” – Layer upon layer

    Otherwise: D’aaaaaaw, so cute.

    Liked by 1 person

    2014-09-17 at 7:42 am

    • Fixed, fixed, and yay!

      Thanks for the catches!

      Like

      2014-09-17 at 11:37 am

  3. DeNarr

    Should this have been labeled as an interlude? It was cool to see one of the other Garzoni, but the shift of perspective seemed more in line with the Interludes than the normal chapters.

    Liked by 1 person

    2014-09-17 at 11:08 am

    • This was a donation chapter, yes, but I don’t actually label any of my chapters as “interludes”. The only differences I label are between the SFW and NSFW chapters.

      Like

      2014-09-17 at 11:28 am

      • I prefer it that way, personally. I love me a good work with multiple viewpoints. This whole, one primary view, and calling interludes things from other viewpoints is weird to me. (I blame tales of mu)

        I have found it very interesting that all the NSFW so far has been one shots outside of the normal story. Am I hoping that this is the first one in which that is not the case? And we get to see how the Carl- date ends?

        Like

        2014-09-17 at 1:31 pm

        • Why Mister Pen, it’s as if you read my mind!

          :)

          Like

          2014-09-17 at 2:16 pm

  4. Bobby

    didn’t seem to phase Marchelli
    That would be “faze”.

    Like

    2014-09-18 at 6:06 pm

    • Wow…I had been typing this phrase incorrectly for my entire life. Thanks for the heads up!

      Like

      2014-09-19 at 6:28 am

  5. Its one of those common ones where people think that its a different definition of the same word, not a different word spelled a different way. (hence teh pun in the title of the book Phase Dout (fazed out))

    Like

    2014-09-21 at 10:38 am

  6. You wrote Calra instead of Carla on the second line.
    Also loving this so far XD

    Like

    2015-02-23 at 1:41 am

    • Oooh thanks for the catch! I must have missed it because my spell-checker hates all of my names, so I just ignore it when it says names are wrong :)

      Like

      2015-02-25 at 10:18 pm

  7. Jat

    Why did getting dressed require that she cut herself? How does he intend to have a romantic relationship with a woman who is literally untouchable? Why are the ghost companions called “Echoes,” of all things?

    Like

    2015-03-29 at 7:32 pm

    • \o/ I love these questions :) Rest assured that these are all questions that you should be asking at this point, you haven’t missed a thing

      Like

      2015-03-29 at 11:40 pm

  8. Isa Lumitus

    Something I’ve wondered about for a little while: Have you read The Golden Compass? There are some parallels between echoes and Daemons, which have piqued my curiousity.

    Like

    2015-07-23 at 3:57 pm

    • I love the His Dark Materials series! While not directly inspired by the Daemons, the Echoes certainly have several shared characteristics, especially in the very close relationships between them and their Stormtouched.

      Like

      2015-07-23 at 4:14 pm

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