A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

3.9 – Procella Elena {Elena’s Storm}

De Luca’s office seemed much more imposing lit by lantern-light and in the middle of the night. The flickering of the wicks within gave the large room an air of mystery, and the pale yellow tint made it seem somehow more scholarly; it made the books and papers in their neat, orderly stacks seem more profound. It was hard to forget that she was speaking to one of the most influential Masters of Milia in that room.

“How did you know?” Elena mumbled. “Did you check my room?” She was so tired that her eyes stung, but even in her exhausted state she could feel the prickles of worry like ice in her stomach. For all she knew, following the garzoni to Gitti’s studio was enough to get her kicked out, or perhaps De Luca wouldn’t care. There was no way she could think of to gauge the extent of her crime, and that alone was terrifying.

“Elena, I did tell you that we would put measures into place to warn us if you were out of bed at late hours,” Bea said gently. “Vittoria has a gift when it comes to watching out for people, and she saw you leave Gitti’s studio. She would’ve seen you enter it as well, but she was a touch distracted.” The gentle tone worried Elena almost as much as the freely offered information. There was no need for gentleness if Elena wasn’t going to be punished, and they’d always guarded their secrets.

“You’re not going to kick me out of the studio, are you?” she asked, unsure if she wanted to hear the answer.

“That depends,” De Luca sat at his desk with his fingers steepled. The answer and the ease with which he said it made Elena feel as if the wind had been knocked out of her chest, and the adrenaline alone served to wake her up a little.

“What does it depend on?” Ele asked for her as she reeled.

“It depends entirely on how I can think of you from now on.”

“You can trust me sir, I’ll-”

“It has little to do with trust and more to do with…how to put it? I am a man who loves procedure. I enjoy processes and rules and very stark definitions. Breakfast time is like so, dinner is like so. Servants are treated in one way, students another way. Provisional garzoni are like this, full garzoni are like that. I’m sure there exist masters for which your indomitable curiosity would be a joy, Elena, but for me all it does is blur the lines and ruin the lovely distinctions which I like to keep in place.”

Elena glanced from De Luca to Bea who stood by his side. She had been glad when he’d sent the other garzoni to their rooms, glad that they wouldn’t see her scolded like a child, but now she wished there was someone else to give her a facial reaction or a clue. The Master and his Echo were studying her so carefully, and yet in the flickering lantern-light she couldn’t seem to make heads or tails of what their expressions meant.

“I…I’m sorry Master De Luca,” she said finally, “I don’t know what you mean.”

“It’s quite simple. My studio operates on rules, and I’m not interested in fostering any hybrid-halfway-special-case nonsense. Right now you are one such case, and I don’t intend to see you leave this room until I’ve decided into which category you fall so that you may be treated accordingly. You are either a provisional garzona who knows far too much, or you are a full garzona who has been here for less time than she should.”

“You’re…you’re promoting me to full garzona?” Elena felt almost as disoriented as when she fell from Master Gitti’s roof, although at least then she’d had some idea of why.

“He’s saying we know too much about what’s going on for him to treat you like a provisional, but not enough for him to treat you like full a garzona,” Ele translated quietly.

“You know, some scholars say that a Stormtouched and their Echo are always nearly identical in their level of intelligence?” De Luca said conversationally. “I’ve never found that to be the case.”

“Then…if that’s the problem, you could tell us what’s going on between the studios, and make me full garzona,” Elena ventured, but De Luca was shaking his head before she even finished the sentence.

“That would be promoting you to full garzona, and would be unfair to Lorenzo, Leanarda, and Mella. Indeed, it would be unfair to all of the provisional garzoni over the years who have ever worked hard to become full garzoni at this studio. Now in your case,” De Luca stabbed a wrinkled finger in Elena’s direction, “you’ve worked hard too, but you’ve worked in a different, roundabout direction. We’re about to see exactly how well that has paid of for you. Tell me Elena, what, in your words, ‘is going on’ between the studios?”

“I..I don’t know,” Elena said. It was all too overwhelming, too much to handle and she couldn’t think hard enough or fast enough to manage any of it. As soon as she had a thought it seemed to slip through her mind like sand through fingers, and it was all she could do to even follow what De Luca was telling her.

“In that case, I have no choice-”

“Have you ever wondered why I recommended you, Elena Lucciano?” Bea held out a hand in front of De Luca, as if she would rest it on his shoulder if she could, and De Luca paused. Her voice was severe, as always, but there was something strange in her eyes, something that Elena couldn’t quite identify. “You’re the first Fabera we’ve let in this studio in more than a decade, why do you think that is?”

“Because…” Elena strained to remember, “you said I impressed you on the tour of the studio?”

“So why don’t you sit down, think carefully, and try to impress me now.”

“But I can’t-”

“Just try.”

Elena obediently sat in the seat in front of De Luca’s desk, her mind racing and sluggish at the same time. Bea continued speaking.

“Were you using your Storm Elena, when you spied on the garzoni?”

“Using my Storm?” The idea of pausing to focus on building something in the middle of the rush of confusion in Gitti’s studio was ludicrous. Even if she had managed to build some sort of weapon, it wouldn’t have told her anything new about what was happening. Elena looked to Ele to explain, but he looked just as confused as she was. “No…I didn’t need to build anything, why would I use my Storm?”

“You didn’t need to build anything when you were on the tour either,” Bea replied, “and yet you knew things about the Studio that I doubt the full garzoni realize. You realized something even Bernardo and I hadn’t noticed before, when you noticed the studio has an ice chest.”

“We have an ice chest?” De Luca asked. “I’d assumed the cooks bought ice from the market every morning.”

“I just figured that stuff out because I was thinking of what I would need to start my own studio,” Elena mumbled, “I thought I wasn’t going to be allowed in. I was thinking of what I’d do-”

“You were building it, in your head. Well then. Your Master is asking your a question about the city, Elena. You had better build a city.”

“Enough help,” De Luca leaned back in his chair, folding his arms and fixing Elena with a look that was neither hostile nor friendly, “either she figures it out on her own from here or she’s not the garzona you thought she could be. Elena, I’ll ask you again, and I warn you now that if the answer is ‘I don’t know’, you will be be finding another bed to sleep in tonight. What is ‘going on’. What do the full garzoni know that the provisionals do not?”

Elena turned helplessly to Ele, to find him deep in thought, brow furrowed.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Trying to build a city in my head,” he replied. “It’s hard, there’s way too much to even consider.”

The panic was threatening to well up in her head, but Elena pushed it back down. When she replied to Ele, her voice came out shakily.

“What’s there to consider? There’s a city with eight studios on eight streets named after colors, dedicated to beauty and art, collecting the most talented artists in the world. Oh yes, and sometimes in the dead of night they go out and attack each other for no reason.”

“Why do they have to be named after colors?” Ele asked, ignoring the sarcasm.

“Because they’re named after colors! Yellow, green, red, blue, grey, orange, purple, ___, those are colors!” The frustration and anxiety of the night was beginning to bubble over, and although she couldn’t snap at Master De Luca, she could snap at Ele. “I shouldn’t have to tell you how Milia is laid out.”

We’re building a city, and I don’t think they should be named after colors. Our city, our choice,” Ele pointed out. “Can we please just try this, Elena? Unless you’ve been holding out on me and actually know exactly what’s happening. What have we got to lose?”

For a few moments Elena wasn’t quite sure whether she would help Ele or clench her teeth and scream. His eyes were closed, his arms behind his head, and his head tilted back towards the ceiling. After a few deep breaths, Elena closed her eyes as well, and focused.

“Fine, eight studios, not named after colors. They are supposed to be dedicated to art, but for some reason they’re not,” she said, her voice somewhat bitter.

“They are,” Ele corrected, “this is our city, and we want them to be, so they are. Art and beauty to all of Italoza. The highest courts commission the studio Masters, and the most talented of Stormtouched and Mortalis flock to them for guidance.”

“Beautiful. Perfect. End of story.”

“Stop being petulant and think.”

Elena pouted, but let her mind run over the foggy city in her mind, indistinct except for the eight studios that shone like diamonds. She began filling in spaces of the city in general terms: places to live, to work, areas to support the city itself, shops and imports to support the studios. After a while the map became muddled in her head, and it was easy to see why.

“As long as we’re making an imaginary city and we can do whatever we want with it, I probably wouldn’t have eight of them,” she noted. “Let’s say four studios.”

“But each studio is run by one master,” Ele pointed out, “that means only four Master artisans in our city.”

“Four studios with their own group of garzoni would produce plenty of art, and still keep healthy competition going amongst themselves. The culture of the city will grow without strangling it.”

“But more competition means only the best will survive! If four studios art and beauty, eight will produce twice as much, won’t they?”

Closing her eyes wasn’t helping Elena’s fatigue. Her temples were buzzing uncomfortably, and she snapped at her Echo irritably. “It’s not feasible Ele! A city can’t support eight studios; there wouldn’t be enough supplies to go around, there wouldn’t be enough market for their art, and it would be impossible for them all to remain in equilibrium for long anyways.”

“But Elena-”

Even though it was uncomfortable and distracting enough that she wasn’t quite sure what they were arguing about, the buzzing in her temples was at least keeping Elena awake and alert. “The best students would join the best studios, so eventually the rest would have nothing left. They would close, so why bother starting with eight when either way we’ll end up with less? No, it’s my city, I say we’ll start with four studios. Eight is unsustainable.”

“Elena, Milia has eight studios. It’s had eight studios for decades.”

Elena opened her eyes and stared at Ele, off-balance for a moment. She had forgotten that they were talking about a real city.

“Milia has eight studios,” she repeated dumbly. “How?”

“It…it can’t,” Ele faltered. “Like you said, it’s unsustainable. There’s not enough resources to go around.”

“It can’t, but it does, so how does it?” Elena tried to follow it through, even tried to force the Storm back through her temples again, but it was as if a switch had been flipped.

“If the city isn’t running naturally, then something is keeping it moving, some sort of system,” Ele was on his feet now, pacing back and forth across the office, “a system held in place by law, so that all of the studios follow it.” Elena glanced at Bea and De Luca, but neither of them seemed to mind Ele’s pacing, watching the interchange carefully.

“What kind of system?”

“I don’t know…” Ele trailed off, looking at her sharply. “Build one.”

“How am I supposed to-”

“Just try. Congratulations, you’re the new Queen of Milia. Your city has eight studios in it, not enough resources to take care of them all, and half of them won’t have enough students to stay open next year. Build a system to fix that.”

Elena closed her eyes again. She knew what Ele was doing, trying to spark her Storm into working again, but even knowing it was coming she could feel the prickle of it as she began.

“On the one hand, some studios will have to get less resources than they need. They’ll be barely scraping by, but at least the better-off studios won’t be allowed to take everything. The less-well-off will get a portion. That applies to materials, but also to students as well.”

“You think Milia is forcing some garzoni to join the less-well-off studios?” Ele asked.

“Yes! Milia would have to force them to, otherwise…otherwise…” Elena struggled as the buzzing of her Storm began to fade. Her train of thought faltered, and she tried to pick it up again. Milia could do any number of things, how was she supposed to know what they had done? She didn’t know a think about the royals of Milia, how was she supposed to think like them?

No…I’m not trying to think like them, I’m trying to build laws. With great effort Elena tried to think of it as her system, as something she was building, and as soon as her thoughts coasted in that direction the Storm returned, buzzing a confident answer in her mind.

“No. We can’t force garzoni to serve in less successful studios; they would be miserable and leave. We can place restrictions on the more successful studios.” She opened her eyes. “Restrictions like ‘you’re only allowed eight garzoni at a time’, for instance. The more successful studio gets the eight of their choice, and those students who weren’t accepted…well they’d naturally apply at other studios, wouldn’t they?”

“Like Arturo,” Ele said, “when he was rejected from De Luca’s Studio he applied to DaRose’s.”

De Luca’s face remained mostly impassive, but a slight smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. It was as good a confirmation as any.

“I don’t get it,” Ele said, “why would you get rid of four garzoni every year? Why not take on eight and keep them with the studio?”

“So that he always knows that his studio has the four best garzoni in Milia,” Elena answered.

“But none of this explains why we were attacked, or why we attacked Gitti’s studio.”

“A system like this keeps the ‘lesser’ studios open, but it wouldn’t keep them happy,” she barely had to think about it now, the system of laws forming in her mind as if she had been drafting them all night. “Who wants to be the least successful Milian studio forever? No, our laws need a way for a studio to advance, it needs a way to move up in the pecking order. The studios fight to build reputation, don’t they? They use that reputation as a currency to move ahead…and,” the thought struck Elena like a thunderclap, and she dug in her pocket and fished out the coin Cross had given her, “they use actual currency as reputation.”

Bea was beaming, and even De Luca half-smiled, stroking his chin thoughtfully.

“I’d be impressed, if this was actual intuitive power,” he said.

“Every single studio has to make choice in the students they accept. Garzoni whose Storm is better suited for art, balanced with the garzoni whose Storm is better suited for battle…it’s a little barbaric, but it means all eight studios are in a constant state of flux, each of them having their time to shine over the years,” the buzz of the Storm had faded, but it had helped enough for Elena to continue the thought process on her own. She was so awestruck that she was almost whispering. “You keep the provisionals in the dark for the first two months to see if they’re better suited for art or for combat. Why did I never question how Niccolo became a full garzoni in an art studio?”

“Because, on your own and without your Storm, you’re an incredibly unobservant girl,” De Luca chuckled, “it’s a touch ironic.”

“But I don’t understand, what does this mean?” Elena asked. “I’m…I’m a Fabera. I build things. Like Pietro said, ‘a Fabera can make a nice table’.”

“I’ve been away, Elena, so I’m afraid I’ve not seen your work, but I somehow doubt that ‘building tables’ is your Storm. In fact, I would bet that you haven’t built anything overly complicated at all.”

“I made Frederica new knives that were better than her old ones!” Elena protested.

“Made them yourself? Built with your own two hands?”

“Not exactly…but I designed them myself, and fixed everything that was wrong with the old ones-”

“So you built them in your mind then?” The question stopped Elena up short as De Luca continued. “The Storm is subtle in its touches, Elena. Subtle enough that one rarely sees two people touched the same way. Your Storm happens to be quite unique.”

“Special. Twisted,” Elena murmured to herself, remembering her dream.

“Some Faberi might have skill at furniture-making, but I assure you that such a Faberi would have no place in my studio, unlike yourself.”

Elena pondered the statement for a few moments before its full meaning sunk in.

“I can stay?” she gasped. “I’m a full garzona?”

“You are nothing of the kind,” De Luca said severely, “but yes, at least until we whittle our garzoni down to four, you can stay.”

Elena’s legs were so weak that if she had been standing, she would’ve collapsed. As it was she slumped in the chair, shaking with relief.

“Now, if there is no more discussion, I’ve had a very long trip and would like to sleep,” De Luca waved a hand to dismiss her.

“I just had one more questions Master De Luca,” Elena ventured.

“I somehow doubt that, but go ahead.”

“How do you know so much about how the Storm touched me?”

De Luca’s face was impassive, but out of the corner of her eye Elena noticed Bea glance for a split-second at the neat stack of scrolls on the edge of his desk. It happened so fast that she might’ve imagined it, and Bea’s face became just as impassive as De Luca’s.

“I may be an Artifex, Elena, but I am above all a Master Stormtouched,” De Luca replied with dignity, “if I wasn’t able to help Stormtouched other than Artifexes, there would be no reason for them to attend my studio. Now, really I must insist, to bed with you.”

Elena stood on wobbly feet and made her way to the door, a silent Ele behind her. At the doorway she turned.

“Oh, Master De Luca?”

“I knew that wasn’t your last question.”

“Sorry sir. I just wondered…why do they all have code-names? Names like ‘Maple’ and ‘Hundred Eye’ and things like that? Isn’t it easy to find out who they really are?”

“They all have code-names,” Master De Luca gave a long-suffering sigh and rolled his eyes, “because they are melodramatic, young and silly twenty-somethings for whom art and war are apparently not exciting enough. I don’t know when the tradition started, but I’m hardly going to prohibit them from it. I’m sure you’ll come up with something equally ridiculous when it’s time. ‘Builder Girl’ or ‘Fab-ulous’ or something. Now please Elena for the love of all that is sacred get out of here.”

“Constructor,” Ele said as they walked through the hallways back to their room.

“Hmm?”

“As a code-name. You should go with ‘Constructor’. Oh, no wait, what about ‘Design’?”

“No,” Elena shook her head, struggling to keep her eyes open for the brief way they had to walk, “I already know what my code-name will be. I had a dream about it.”

“Oh? Well don’t take my input or anything,” Ele grumbled, “what is it?”

“‘Cog’. I think I like ‘Cog’.”


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15 responses

  1. Of course the fact that the city could ACTUALLY be at war at any time and having artisans who can design and make weapons of war and go on spy missions using their powers has NOTHING to do with creating 8 camps of combatants inside the city.

    Like

    2014-09-24 at 11:40 pm

    • also, understanding how things work by rebuilding them in my head like this is TOTALLY how I work as well. I think Elena is a character I can identify with a LOT.

      Liked by 1 person

      2014-09-24 at 11:42 pm

      • Have you considered that maybe you are Stormtouched, but that your Echo is a sadistic girl who is determined to play the world’s longest game of hide-and-seek? Stranger things have happened [citation needed], and I hate to break it to you, but your Echo is totally winning that game.

        Liked by 1 person

        2014-09-27 at 11:12 pm

  2. Hehe. You managed to work both words of the title into the chapter. Nicely done.

    The structure of the city is odd, like the assumption that eight studios is just too many. I guess that has to be taken as gospel because of the storm or something.

    The coins are basically favors, is my guess, and can be cashed in with the other studios for stuff.

    But why “cog?” She doesn’t work with clockwork or gears at all- not yet, anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    2014-09-24 at 11:55 pm

    • CaptainPedantic

      In another chapter she was told by the dream people that she was simply a cog of the city. Also something along the lines of: some parts move the system, others are moved. I think she chose it because she finally became aware about millias societal structure.

      Like

      2014-09-25 at 2:18 am

    • Mian

      What the author is telling you is that the system here is complex, and deliberately so.
      The question Elena fails to ask is “who did this?”

      Like

      2014-09-25 at 8:07 am

      • That’s our Elena, even when she’s impressing herself asking a bunch of good questions, she always seems to miss a few really really important ones

        Like

        2014-09-27 at 11:15 pm

    • Bobby

      The faceless dreamer called her a twisted cog. Twisted Cog is the title of the story.

      Like

      2014-09-26 at 8:16 pm

      • I get that it’s the title of the story, but that’s never a good reason to use it in the work. That said, I’d forgotten about the dreamer thing. Makes more sense, in that light.

        Like

        2014-09-27 at 12:40 am

        • Aah, Bobby and Captain got this one right between them. I’m glad you know me well enough that you knew I wouldn’t go with “it’s just the title, deal with it” underwhelmingforce :D

          Like

          2014-09-27 at 11:14 pm

  3. zeuseus

    hehe, Cog. Nice work Maddi. On another note, ‘No Sleep and Inter-studio conspiracy makes Elena a whiny bitch.’

    Like

    2014-09-26 at 3:55 am

    • Well I should certainly hope I wrote that believably. I’ve been training my entire life to convincingly portray a sleep-deprived whiny bitch. Lot of research hours went into it, believe me.

      Like

      2014-09-27 at 11:17 pm

  4. Eduardo

    Can she use her powers to model other things in her head? People, machines, … ?

    Like

    2014-09-26 at 2:57 pm

    • Awesome questions that Elena will certainly want to give a lot of thought to in the next few months!

      Like

      2014-09-27 at 11:18 pm

      • Bobby

        She should try and model an apology to Cross… Poor girl.

        Like

        2014-09-28 at 6:15 am

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