A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

4.2 – …Antequam… {…Before…}

Elena sat with her back to the hallway wall next to De Luca’s office door, uncomfortably aware of the cool tile beneath her rear. Staring blankly at the equally blank paper on her knees, she tapped the feathered tip of her quill against her chin.

“Can you please give me a hand with this Ele?” she asked, shifting her position to relieve the cramp that was starting to form.

“It’s a bow, how much of a hand do you need?” Ele asked, “it’s the product of thousands of years of people thinking of the best way to stick someone with an arrow, I doubt you’re going to improve on that.”

“If people had always thought like that, we wouldn’t have the crossbow, and I like Cross.” Elena wasn’t really paying attention to the flow of the conversation, focusing instead on drawing the basic outline of the bow. It was crooked with wobbly lines, and she turned the paper over and redrew it.

“You think Cross’ storm wouldn’t have touched her if the crossbow hadn’t been invented?” Ele asked. Elena stopped drawing and pondered the question for a moment.

“I don’t know…perhaps it would’ve, but in a different way? Maybe it’s like The Artifex and the Prince.”

“You know how much I hate The Artifex and the Prince.”

“Oh really? You should’ve mentioned that, I’m sure mother would’ve stopped reading it to us.” Elena smiled as she copied down numbers from the book next to her; the strengths of different strings, the stretch of different woods.

“If your mother had ever believed I was real, she wouldn’t have stopped just because I whined every night. She would’ve found a way to beat me. What has that got to do with Cross?”

Elena herself had never much cared for the story; a saccharine-sweet tale in which a beautiful Artifex was mocked for only painting in yellow, until her fated love the Prince discovered that her paintings were made of pure gold. It was childish and riddled with plot holes (how did no one realized that her paintings suddenly weighed tons?), but Joanna had delighted in reading it to her daughter every night.

“Cross could’ve been like the Artifex,” Elena explained, continuing to diagram and label, “not knowing what her Storm was, or thinking she’d been cursed with a weak one.”

“You think she would’ve just gone through life, preternaturally skilled at something that didn’t exist?” For some reason, the question made Elena uncomfortable, and she returned to her sketching with a frown on her face.

“Very well, we won’t try to re-invent the bow. If we can’t improve on the design of his tool, or on the “function” as he would say, maybe we could improve on the form.”

“Isn’t that the opposite of what Niccolo says? Wouldn’t he be the first to say that this is a waste of your time?”

“I’ve made Frederica and Carlo and Vittoria tools, I would feel bad if I didn’t do the same for him.”

“And you think this will impress De Luca as a final project?”

Elena was spared from having to answer Ele’s point by the door next to them swinging outward and Lorenzo stepping out.

“Oh, hello there Elena. Are you here to see Master De Luca?”

“Yeah I was just waiting-”

“What are you working on?” Lorenzo’s normally quiet Echo Lore asked, leaning over and tilting his head to look at her paper.

“Just a design for a bow I was thinking of building. Well, of having built,” Elena showed off the paper, and Lore scrutinized it. He wasn’t as similar to Lorenzo as Vi was to Vittoria, but the pair definitely looked related. They both had the sweep of pretty black hair, they both had the same slight pout to their large lips, and both tended to walk around with a vacant expression on their face.

Neither was looking very vacant at the moment. Elena hadn’t ever seen them so fascinated in anything that didn’t involve Lodestones. It was a strange sight, watching their dull expressions light up with fervor.

“How did you figure out the tension that was needed here?” Lore asked, indicating a few notes with a thumb.

“I had to look up the tensile strength, and then do the math by hand,” Elena replied glumly. “Normally my power lets me remember little things like that, or figure them out without trying, but trying to design Niccolo’s bow it just won’t…it won’t come to me.”

“Maybe your power is dying,” Lorenzo said absentmindedly, taking the sheet from Elena and turning it sideways to study the designs from a different angle.

“What? Does that happen?” Elena’s stomach went cold.

“Not that I’ve ever heard, but you never know. Do you think I could keep this?”

“I…I suppose I haven’t gotten very far beyond the measurements yet…so sure, I guess. But why would you want-”

“Thanks!” Lorenzo and Lore turned and left as soon as she let go of the paper.

“Hey! Why do you want it?”

“Oh, that reminds me!” Lorenzo turned to address her, but his eyes stayed glued to the page as he continued to walk backwards, “Master De Luca said to have you come right in as soon as I saw you.”

Elena sighed and walked through the door to De Luca’s office.

“You mentioned at breakfast that you wanted to see me at one of the clock, Master De Luca,” Elena asked, glancing at the clock on his desk and trying not to sound accusing.

“I did, and I can’t tell you how sorry I am that I kept you waiting for so long,” De Luca said. As soon as she had entered he set aside the large book he had been studying, giving Elena his full attention. “I despise breaking my own rules of punctuality, but as I’m sure you know, sometimes a rule must be broken and there’s just no way of getting around it.” His eyes twinkled as he spoke, and she couldn’t remember ever seeing him so cheerful. Bea was nowhere to be seen, but it wasn’t so strange that she might be out and around the studio taking care of the things that she could. “Now, tell me how you are progressing with your Storm.”

“With my Storm?” Elena and Ele sat in the chairs that across the desk from De Luca, “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Well when we last spoke, it sounded as if your biggest problem was that you still haven’t quite gotten a handle on your Storm, on the ins and outs of how it works. I had assumed that you would have spent the past week working on figuring it out.”

“I’ve…mostly been trying to figure out what I would do as my final project, Master De Luca.”

“Your ‘final’ project?”

“It’s what the full garzoni have been talking about all week; the last project before you decide who stays and who goes. They say it’s the most important one, so I thought I’d think for a week and then spend two weeks working…” Elena trailed off, searching De Luca’s face for some hint of where the conversation was going. His cheerful demeanor had sobered a little, and he was looking at her thoughtfully.

“One of my greatest regrets in taking so many trips to the palace and to Florezia,” he sighed, “is that I have so little time to help my individual garzoni. Elena, the most important thing you should be focusing on right now isn’t how to impress me with some individual project.”

“But they said you picked the garzoni with the most impressive projects last year!”

“That might very well be true, but I didn’t pick them because they were the most impressive. I am a Master Artist, Elena, and I am at the head of this studio because I hope to, someday, train up another Master Artist just as good as I am. Better than I am, perhaps. Do you know what makes the best Master Artist, Elena?”

“They make the best art,” Elena said simply, still confused, “but you just said-”

“Wrong. The best Master Artist is the artist who knows their Storm. The one who has the most control over it, the most mastery in it, the most domination of it. Those are the Stormtouched I have my eye on.”

“I thought you said the Stormtouched with the best gifts came from Florezia.”

“The best Stormtouched and the Stormtouched with the best gifts are often two entirely different beasts, my little garzona. The best Stormtouched come from all over Italoza, there is no city that constantly produces the best.”

“The best do tend to flock to Florezia. Florezia is where the Masters assemble, and as time goes on I would like to send more and more of my Journeymen students there, to spread great art through the world. I truly hope that you are among them someday Elena, and I think you may yet have the potential to be.”

“So…you’re saying that to become the best artist I can be, I have to figure out how to use my Storm?”

“You have to figure out everything about your Storm, Elena. Every tic of it, every little trick it lets you use, every facet and every detail. Don’t worry about impressing me with your project, stop couching your thinking in unimportant details like ‘will I stay in the studio’.” Elena thought that was an incredibly important detail, but she kept silent as he continued, “worry about making your Storm work for you. Worry about using it as an extension of your own body. If you can master that, you’ll produce something that keeps you in this studio as a mere side-effect.”

“It’s just so hard, Master De Luca,” Elena protested, “sometimes it comes to me when I don’t even realize I have a problem to solve, and other times I can sit and try to focus for an hour and can’t get so much as a tingle.”

“I’m afraid when it comes to the specifics, I’m let help to you Elena,” De Luca said, “your Storm is far too personalized to you for me to be able to give you advice on using it.”

“How did you do it?”

“Hmm? Do what, child?”

“You said that the best Stormtouched knew every in and out of their power. How did you learn about your Storm when it’s so dangerous?”

“What do you know of my Storm? Why do you say it’s dangerous?”

Elena was surprised at the question; she had figured it out as a child reading about De Luca in her books, and she had always assumed it was too obvious for anyone to mention.

“Everyone says you’re one of the best artists in Italoza, and you run the most prestigious studio in Milia…but you didn’t ever move to Florezia, you stayed here. The King and Queen invite you to Florezia all the time, but always to visit, never to stay. Why would that be the case if your power wasn’t dangerous?”

De Luca was silent for a long time, his fingers steepled in front of him and pressed against his mouth. A strange smile played around his lips.

“I sometimes wonder if your Storm somehow manifests itself in your curiosity,” he said as if to himself, “you can be so completely oblivious to questions that dangle right in front of your face, and then every now and then you’ll say something like that.”

“What? What questions are staring me in the face?”

“I’ll tell you what Elena, we’ll work on your Touch right now. No one knows about my Storm, you said? Figure it out, right this moment.”

Elena was tempted to blurt that she couldn’t, but the last time she had tried to use her power under similar circumstances it had worked beautifully. She straightened her shoulders in the chair and closed her eyes.

“Build a De Luca in your mind, from scratch,” Ele reminded her quietly. Elena nodded and began.

“A man who is a Stormtouched, leads the arts of Milia,” she said slowly, “he is invited to Florezia often, but stays in Milia. His power is something dangerous…not dangerous enough to keep captive or kill like a Rhetor…”

“Or maybe even more dangerous,” Ele offered, “so dangerous that no one dares try to keep him captive.”

“Right, or more dangerous. Let’s see…”

“It’s well known that he’s an Artifex, but that could cover quite a lot,” Ele said.

“But he doesn’t have any galleries, no one can buy his works anywhere,” Elena countered, “how can we be sure that’s what he really is? Bea proves he’s Stormtouched, but what evidence do we have that he’s Artifex? Maybe he pretends for some reason. Unless his Artifex Storm is too dangerous to let others find out about.”

“That’s good, that’s good! What else?”

Elena strained her mind, thinking so hard she wrinkled her nose.

“I think that’s it,” she said finally, “at least, all I can figure out for now.” When she opened her eyes, De Luca was watching her with a raised eyebrow.

“Very good,” he said dryly, “you’ve figured out that I am Stormtouched, that I stay in Milia, that I’m either less dangerous or more dangerous than a Rhetor, and that I am certainly either an Artifex or not an Artifex.”

“I couldn’t get my Storm to work,” Elena said.

“Try again. With less of the talking-things-through nonsense. Just use your Storm.”

Elena closed her eyes again, imagining the buzzing in her temples, the prickle across her fingertips. She tried to build a De Luca in her head, first imagining a personality, then adding bits and pieces onto it, adding relationships with other studios, with his students. She had flashes of ideas and thoughts, but the Storm stubbornly refused to cooperate.

“I can’t,” she finally said, “I just can’t. Maybe my Storm is just random, and there will never be a way for me to control it.”

“If you expect me to believe that, you’re both far more lazy and far more stupid than I imagined of you,” De Luca snapped, his cheer and fatherly tone gone. The words stung, and Elena blinked back tears.

“It could be true, no one knows-”

“But I know, I know that it’s an excuse. You want to be a garzona in this studio? You really want to? Did you think it would be easy?”

“I want to be a De Luca garzona!”

“Then try. Try again, try harder.”

Elena grit her teeth and tried again, tried so hard that her head spun and her face grew hot. She pictured the boy De Luca must’ve been, forced that boy to grow in her mind. What choices must he have made, what factors must have influenced him to reach this point? How had De Luca become De Luca, and what part had his Storm played in shaping him into De Luca?

It was no use. She was starting to get a headache, but beyond that her temples didn’t feel any different, and they certainly weren’t buzzing.

“It’s random. Or it won’t come when I call it, only when I need it,” she said, “however it works, I can’t get it to work now.”

“More excuses.”

“It won’t work! I’m trying!”

“You know, we get garzoni like you in here every now and then.” De Luca leaned forward, not a scrap of pity in his eyes, “usually Pietro or Bea will catch them, but once in a while a good enough actor comes along and fools them. You don’t actually care about art at all, do you? You couldn’t care less about graduating to journeywoman.”

“I do care-”

“The real reason you’re here is two months of soft beds and luxury, feeding off of this studio. You took the spot that other Stormtouched, true artists, would’ve done anything to have. You’re wasting the time and money that could’ve been spent training them into great artists, all because of your selfish wants.”

“That’s not true!” The tears were flowing now, and Elena didn’t know if they were tears of anger or despair, “I care! I care about art more than anything!”

“Then you’re doing a poor job of showing it. If you really care about art, prove it. Use your Storm.”

“I can’t! But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about being a garzona!”

“Words, useless words. Use your Storm and speak with actions.”

“I’m trying!”

“Elena Lucciano,” De Luca roared, standing from his chair and towering above her, “your continued presence in this studio is based on you being like no Fabera we’ve ever seen. If you can’t justify that, if you are unable or, more likely, unwilling to use your Storm now, then it is clear that Bea’s faith in you…MY faith in you, was misplaced. Use your Storm, Miss Lucciano, or get the hell out of my Studio and don’t bother returning!”

She bit back her tears and clamped her eyes shut. She wasn’t going to get kicked out of the studio, not now, not when she had lasted so long, not when she was finally starting to make friends with the full garzoni. It was everything she had dreamed of, talking and laughing and making art. She wasn’t going to give Leanarda the satisfaction of seeing her leave, she wasn’t going to disappoint Niccolo, and she was definitely going to prove to De Luca that she was a true artist.

Elena focused so hard that her arms and shoulders began twitching, her hands clenched so tight that the fingernails bit crescents into her skin. She focused so hard that everything became dull around her and faded away, her jaw ached, her fingers hurt, but one question remained in her mind like a single point of light that she flew towards like an arrow: “what is De Luca’s power?”

The Storm refused to come.

Elena collapsed into the chair and gasped, unaware that she had been holding her breath until her lungs rebelled. Her shoulders shook with sobs that wracked her so completely that she couldn’t even make a sound to go with them. I’m finished. Chance after chance, close call after close call, and this is all there is. I’m done.

“Elena! Elena listen to me, I’m not kicking you out of the studio,” De Luca’s voice seemed to come from far away, but they jolted her out of her misery.

“You’re….you’re not?” She sniffled.

“Of course not. You guessed that perhaps your Storm only worked when you needed it, and that wasn’t a bad idea. There are some Stormtouched whose power works only at certain times, or under certain conditions, so I thought I would test that theory out.”

“It was a test?” Elena asked, unsure of whether to let herself hope again.

“It was an attempt to help you figure out your powers,” De Luca said sadly, “one which unfortunately didn’t work, but of course you’re still in the studio. Of all of my garzoni, everyone knows how much you love art Elena. I’ve always known how much being a garzona means to you.”

“You were just trying to help me,” Elena said, weak with relief.

“That was very cruel,” Ele’s voice had an edge of hostility in it, and he was glaring daggers at De Luca, “I’ve never heard of a Stormtouched suddenly figuring out more about their Storm by being bullied, or by thinking they lost the thing they cared about the most.”

“Ele-” Elena began, but De Luca held up a hand.

“It’s alright Elena, I quite deserve it. It was cruel Ele. But I happen to know first-hand that such a Stormtouched exists. Elena’s Storm is not mine, but it is is…let us just say we may be different, but I think we are similar in many ways as well. I had hoped what worked for me might’ve worked for her…ah well. I think I have tormented the both of you enough for one day. Elena, you may go now. You and I will continue working on figuring your Storm out, but I don’t think we’ll try this tactic again. We’ll find a gentler way to explore your Storm.”

“Thank you, Master De Luca.” Elena’s legs wobbled when she stood, and she had gone all the way to the doorway before a question suddenly occurred to her. “If my Storm wasn’t working when I guessed, then what is the real reason you live in Milia? You’re one of the best, why don’t you stay in Florezia?”

“Oh just because your Storm wasn’t working doesn’t mean all of your wild guesses were wrong, Elena.” The wizened man carefully opened his book to the place he had been reading, but he gave Elena a friendly smile that made the corners of his eyes wrinkle. “I am far too dangerous for royalty to risk being around me for too long.”


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19 responses

  1. CaptainPedantic

    That was an emotional rollercoaster I didn’t know I needed. ),:

    Like

    2014-10-02 at 2:05 am

  2. CaptainPedantic

    My guess is that De Lucas’ storm is the ability to see a structure physical, political, or societal, understand how it functions and manipulate it however he pleases. Using this he could change the very structure Italoza and do what he wishes with it and the world. Just a half-butt geuss though.

    Like

    2014-10-02 at 2:12 am

  3. zeuseus

    I’m thinking something more to do with people. An artist whose medium is people. He shapes them, guides their path, releases their potential.

    That or I’m reading too much Worm fanfiction and I have jack slash on the brain.

    Like

    2014-10-02 at 6:34 am

    • CaptainPedantic

      I disagree, he said that his storm is similar to Elenas. Elena is able to understand existing physical structures and improve them (and to some extent societal ones). With the chapter from Elenas dream about the faceless people, who told her she was just a cog, I’d say that the ability to build societies is similar to building physical objects. He also didn’t understand Elena enough to realize that giving her an earth shattering ultimatum would not work, which weakens this theory. It is possible that his storm may not have been working, because when it is it guides people to the right choices. Him being a manipulator of one cog is less dangerous than being able to manipulate many.

      Like

      2014-10-03 at 3:26 am

  4. panster

    Oh no! I cringed so much with the Lorenzo/lore scene. She totally got tricked.

    Like

    2014-10-02 at 8:25 am

    • Oh man, you’re right. He’s gonna steal her design for his own project.

      Like

      2014-10-02 at 9:49 am

      • Bobby

        Steal her design for a bow that isn’t actually any better than any other bow? She spent one week researching stuff about bows and doing math with zero help from her Storm. Assuming Elena and Lorenzo have an equal ability to do research, taking her notes will save Lorenzo at most one week of work. Less so, probably, since he already knows what it is that inspired him and he would be able to focus his efforts there.

        I’m not sure what it is that has you guys so horrified.

        Like

        2014-10-02 at 9:11 pm

        • panster

          They looked so fascinated. My guess while reading that was that she stumbled on something awesome.

          Like

          2014-10-02 at 9:17 pm

          • Bobby

            No offense to Elena, but without her Storm she’s only a reasonably bright and educated eighteen year-old, not any sort of genius. I’d be very surprised if she made some sort of bowmaking breakthrough after one week of work. It seems more likely to me that something about the ideas of tension and flexing wood triggered a flash of inspiration for Lorenzo and he’s going to create some sort of magnet-bow or whatever.

            Like

            2014-10-03 at 2:07 pm

            • Crossbow railgun.

              you heard it here first.

              Like

              2014-10-04 at 6:19 pm

              • Bobby

                -I don’t know if there’s a word for it in English. Magnetic slingshot, maybe?
                -Magnetic slingshot? You mean…
                *shoots through tank*
                -You have a hand-held railgun? How is that possible!?

                Like

                2014-10-05 at 5:04 pm

        • That may be true but it is still kind of a dick move either way.

          Like

          2014-10-02 at 10:09 pm

        • CaptainPedantic

          Machinators get their inspiration from even small things, by seeing her design he could’ve thought of some revolution in technology he would not have otherwise.

          Like

          2014-10-03 at 3:29 am

          • Bobby

            Sure, but she has no control over that: as soon as he read over her shoulder and got the flash, it was a done deal. Not letting him have her notes would have been petty and a mere annoyance to him (since, as I said, the notes only represent at most one week of mundane work and research), it wouldn’t have prevented him from following through on his inspiration. There was no “tricking” involved.

            Like

            2014-10-03 at 2:01 pm

  5. tijay

    I thought he might be a Bastard

    Like

    2014-10-03 at 2:11 am

  6. Gareth

    First Readthrough, calling something no-one else seems to have guessed at… He’s the Artifex that draws the living dead. De Luca was telling a story about himself.

    Like

    2015-07-28 at 10:03 pm

  7. de luca animates Storms. the longer he spends around a Stormtouched, the greater the understanding he has of how they are Touched, and the more telling his illustrations will be.

    he obviously has illustrated his garzoni in the pioes of parchment rolled up on his desk.

    Like

    2015-08-28 at 7:50 pm

  8. mcherm

    One thing is finally made clear to me as I reach this point in the story. Elena’s storm is not triggered by being under threat. But we CAN tell what it IS triggered by if we look back at when it came to her. (At least I think I can.)

    Like

    2016-01-11 at 2:13 pm

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