A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

4.9 – Unum Plaustrum Tempestatis {A Stormy Cart}

Even after the shock and horror of Slug’s attack and Garnet’s escape a week ago had slowly faded, Elena had been more quiet around the Studio than normal. The stress of a broken Storm and the worry that she might never find out how to fix it had weighed down on her shoulders and dampened her mood. This morning, she wasn’t alone. The entire breakfast meal was muted and reserved, each of the garzoni at the table lost in their own thoughts and plans. Even Elena had come up with a plan for a project that would keep her in the studio, and her heart had been beating a steady staccato ever since she had put the final touches on her Storm-less designs the night before. Vittoria’s warm and comfortable room seemed to call to her, and it was almost physically painful to be sitting still.

The table was already quiet, but when Master De Luca cleared his throat the brief murmurs went silent immediately. At the Echoes’ table, Bea and the other Echoes quieted and turned as well, all attention on the Master of the Studio as he rose to his feet.

“Many years in the past, I used to pretend as if the upcoming few days were no more important than any day in the studio,” De Luca sounded tired as he spoke, his grave voice loud in the quiet room. “I’ve since come to realize that acting so casually, as if you aren’t all preparing furiously, isn’t fair to you garzoni. Now, when this point comes around every year, I’ve learned to speak plainly. This Saturday marks a point exactly two months after our newest batch of garzoni arrived. In accordance with tradition far older than any of you, Studio De Luca only trains up the best four garzoni in all of Milia. Unfortunately, this means that on Saturday four of you will be dismissed from the Studio.”

He let the statement hang in the air for a few moments.

“Bea and I will make this decision based on the skill and artistry you have displayed over the past few months. I understand that all of you are finishing up rather large projects in the next few days…and those without large projects I’ve instructed to start one,” he smiled at Mella, “so I’m sure it will come as no surprise that this last project will play a great part in the decision that we make.”

In the silence that followed the proclamation, Elena gazed across the table, at the men and women who listened to De Luca’s speech. Lorenzo chewed thoughtfully on a thin cut of pork, but he was staring off into space as if his mind was elsewhere. Mella poked at a nearly-full plate, and Leanarda seemed more concerned with her friend than with De Luca’s words. Carlo looked restless, as if he couldn’t wait to get back to work, but Vi and Frederica gave the Master their full attention. Niccolo was watching Elena, and when she saw him looking she blushed and stared down into her empty plate.

“The skill, dedication, and artistry I’ve seen from you eight over these past few months has been…” De Luca’s voice faltered for just a moment before he continued, “…has been breathtaking. I will be quite sorry to see four of you go.”

He paused for long moments, as if at a loss for words, and from the Echoes’ table Bea spoke.

“Much as we enjoy sharing meals with all of you, we’ve decided to give you every last possible moment to prepare for Saturday…‘Showing Day’, some of the past garzoni have called it. For the next few days you are all excused from morning and evening meals and chores, so that you can adequately prepare. Now, we won’t detain you any longer. When the De Luca garzoni eat together again, it will be a party of ten Stormtouched and Echoes. Go make works of art, garzoni.”


“Why doesn’t Carlo ever join us in your room Vittoria?” Elena asked as she curled her feet up in the now-customary spot in the chair in the corner. Vittoria and Niccolo lit the lamps around the room as the other garzoni and Echoes spread about into their little work areas.

“He gets a little stressed, this time of year,” Vittoria said, “more stressed than the rest of us, I mean. Being around anyone but Carla is like torture to him when he’s so anxious, so he holes up in his room working until Showing Day arrives. This year especially, since someone broke the old brushes he had lying on his workdesk.”

“I think he does it to spare Carla more than his own anxiousness,” Vi said from the bed, where she lay sprawled on her back with a sketchbook on her legs. “Sometimes I think Carla wants him to be a Master Artisan more than even he does.”

Elena considered the statement as she rolled her design sketches out on the floor, sinking down from her chair so that she could consider them all at once. The warm room and company of friends over the past week had carried her through some very rough days, and she couldn’t imagine facing the stress of the next few without them.

“Is today the day you finish sketching and start assembling?” Nicci asked from the desk where she and Niccolo worked. Her tone was light, but Elena thought she caught a hint of concern from the Echo. The deadline was approaching, the time for casual doodling over.

“Today’s the day,” Ele replied.

“In fact I think we start assembling…now,” Elena said hesitantly. She had already secured the small boards of wood from Frederica, as well as one of the Calaetor’s old knives, but she still looked down uncertainly down at the designed in front of her.

“Your final project is a carving?” Fred looked over with interest from the large block that had slowly been gaining definition over the past several days. Though the individual features were still rough, it was quite clearly the form of a young woman, her wavy hair captured perfectly in the pale wood.

“Don’t be dense Fred,” Frederica didn’t even look away from her work, “Elena is a Fabera, Fabera build things.”

Elena cut careful notches in the wooden pieces, moving slowly so that she wouldn’t cut herself on the unfamiliar tools. She tried to follow the designs she’d laid out for herself, but the cuts were inexact and awkward, and she knew she would have trouble putting the whole thing together.

When she finished the final notch cut into the boards, Elena looked up to find that Fred, Niccolo, and Vittoria were watching her work.

“I don’t get it,” Fred said, “you’re a Stormtouched, why does your work so far look so…shitty?”

“Fred!” Vittoria scolded.

“I’m just confused! We know she’s a Stormtouched, shouldn’t her final project be something…I don’t know, artistic and of fine quality?”

“This isn’t the final project,” Elena picked up two pieces of the notched wood and began carefully lining up the grooves and notches in them, “this is just a…a tool that I’m using for the final project.”

The notches and grooves didn’t fit perfectly, and she had to use the handle of the knife to hammer the two pieces together, but when she set them down the snug fit kept them together. Elena picked up a third and fourth piece, fitting the notches into the first two.

“It’s a puzzle,” Niccolo said, tilting his head to one side, “a puzzle in three dimensions.”

Neither Ele nor Elena answered, and Ele pointed to show Elena where one of the notches was sticking. The mental image of her flesh fitted together like puzzle pieces in her dream made Elena shiver.

“I don’t know.” Fred raised a skeptical eyebrow, “it’s still shoddily put together…”

“Fred, maybe you should keep still and let Elena work in peace,” Vittoria said, her dreamy voice firm. Fred lapsed into silence, and Elena kept on working, fitting the pieces together one by one. Occasionally one would need a few extra cuts or a little application of force, but when she was finally done and set the little box down on the ground, it held together firmly. She leaned back to admire her handiwork.

“It’s DeRose’s Studio!” Niccolo exclaimed, “I recognize the front, and the layout of the place. You see Fred, it’s more than just a puzzle.”

“I suppose a puzzle that’s also a model could pass as ‘art’ for a Fabera, but is that really going to be enough to impress De Luca? And how would you use that to fight other studios, we already know DeRose’s Studio’s layout.”

Elena ignored Fred’s criticism, steepling her fingers in front of her and staring at the small model. DeRose’s Studio was the studio that Arturo had joined when Master De Luca had turned him down. Modelling it correctly wasn’t impressive; she had seen it before, on the Street of Grey Artisans when she’d gone with Frederica to sell her sculpture. The model was only a tool, one that hopefully she could use.

“Don’t try to hold the studio in your mind anymore,” Ele murmured from her side. “The studio is there, in front of you. Use your mind to fill it in.” Elena tried to clear her head of everything, tune out the warm room of friends around her and focus on the little studio. Without having to keep it in her mind, it was easier to focus on the little details that weren’t there…the way the iron gate swung back and forth on smooth wheels set in the wall, or the slope of the roof that kept rain from pooling in its courtyard. “Are you getting anything?” Ele asked. Elena shook her head, fighting disappointment.

If my Storm can’t use this, I’ll have nothing to show for a final project. I haven’t come this far to leave without a struggle. Her past experience had taught her that forcing her Storm was useless, so instead she simply stared and focused.

“Maybe enlighten us as to what you’re doing with your little model Studio?” Fred asked. “I’m dying of curiosity.”

“‘My little studio’,” Elena replied, “needs to get food and supplies somehow, and I’m trying to figure out how my little studio gets them.”

A cart, the same cart for both food and supplies, she thought, it could deliver them in crates at sundown to ensure that it’s not caught up in the roads’ traffic.

The Storm that buzzed down her spine, her temples, and her fingernails was as refreshing as a stream’s current and energizing as a strike of lightning. She looked up at Ele and saw the same surprise and excitement in his eyes.

“It’s back…my Storm is back!” she cried. “They get their food and supplies on a cart, at sundown!”

Niccolo leaned back and whistled, and Fred nodded thoughtfully.

“Your Storm let’s you…what, tell the future?” Fred asked. “A bit like Carlos’?”

“Faberi build things…I think my Storm gives me the ability to build whatever things that exist in the present,” Elena said excitedly, “DeRose Studio exists in the present, so I can build a model and use my Storm to build how it works in my mind!”

“I’m…not sure about that,” Ele was furrowing his brow thoughtfully. “We’ve built lockpicks from wire and thread…and what about the wheel of the cart that we fixed with braided quorley? Or when we built your Uncle that basket that could hold water without leaking.”

“Lockpicks, wheels, baskets, they exist in the present don’t they?”

“But then why has the Storm not been working lately? Don’t you think there’s more to this that we might be missing?”

“Don’t be such a pessimist, not now that we’ve finally discovered how it works!” Elena brushed Ele’s objections aside and focused on the little model.

“What are you doing now?” Niccolo asked.

“My studio gets its deliveries at sundown, but I need to know which day so that I can check the real-life studio…” The buzz was like a pair of wings, flying her mind through the answers to questions before they were barely out of her mouth. “…Mondays and Wednesdays,” she finished. “Today. There will be a delivery today, at sundown. That’s how I’ll know if my Storm is telling me the truth; DeRose Studio will get a delivery of food at sundown today.”


“You didn’t have to come with me.” Elena and Niccolo waited at one end of the Street of Grey Artisans, watching its front gate in the yellow light of the evening.

“I don’t know, you seem to get into an awful lot of trouble when left on your own.”

“That’s not…” Elena thought back over the course of the past few months, “that’s not entirely…well alright. But still, you have your final project to work on as well, don’t you? I feel bad that you’re missing out on valuable time preparing.”

“I’ve already made the arrows I’ll be showing off. Showing day is a little different for me,” Niccolo glanced down at her, and she was reminded again how much taller than her she was. “I don’t think De Luca even expects me to come up with anything new. We’re not much for surprising displays of artistry, us Saggitari. Shoot an arrow, hit a target.”

“You’re artistic!” Elena protested. “What about your whole speech about ‘form and function’, and how function is just as important as form?”

“Function is important, my favorite little Fabera,” Niccolo said, “but De Luca is an artist, first and foremost. An Artifex, no less, which is the most arty of artists. In the real world function is king, but in the land of artists form is also important. I’m surprised I’ve lasted this long as one of his garzoni.”

“Yes, he just used the word ‘arty’,” Nicci said.

“Why have you lasted this long?” Ele asked. “I mean, I’m sorry to be blunt, but with only four spaces for students, wouldn’t De Luca want to have as many artists in his studio as he could have?”

“Partially because a Saggitari is good in a Studio fight,” Niccolo said. “Partly because a Saggitari who can incapacitate instead of mortally wound is even better in a Studio fight. Mostly, I think, because he likes my attitude.”

“I like your attitude too,” Elena said before she could stop herself. She stared very resolutely at the gate as she tried to explain, “I mean, you’re always so carefree and supportive. Even now when we should all be at each others’ throats for the four spots, you’re here helping me instead of trying to make me fail.”

“I mostly try to ignore the fact that only four of us are getting through. That kind of thinking makes a person feel like ranking his friends, deciding who he wants to get through, and that doesn’t end well for anyone. I’d much rather be there for my friends, and worry about myself when De Luca lets me go.”

Elena had been trying to ignore the thought, but his words brought it to the forefront of her mind. If she became a full garzona, which of her newfound friends would be sent away to make a space for her? Frederica, who seemed so tough but loved art more passionately than anyone Elena had ever known? Carlo, who struggled desperately for his spot and for his Echo? Vittoria, who had been so kind and gentle to Elena when she needed a friend? Niccolo, who…

Elena wasn’t quite sure how to put her feelings for Niccolo into words. Niccolo, whose smile made her heart feel warm. Niccolo, with his strong arms and a grin that made her weak. Niccolo, who smelled like leather and violets. She suddenly noticed that he was looking at her again, and she stammered a reply.

“You…You sound so certain that De Luca isn’t going to keep you around.”

“He doesn’t have much choice in the matter. There are amazing, talented garzoni in his studio that he can’t afford to let slip through his fingers. Like you, for instance.”

Elena froze, still staring at the ground. They were still on the corner of the busy street, Ele and Nicci were still there, but all of a sudden nothing seemed to exist but him and her.

“What…what’s so special about me?” Elena murmured.

“Well…” Niccolo paused for long moments, and her heart leapt in her chest, “…for one thing it looks like your Storm is going to be incredibly useful.” Elena looked up to see Niccolo pointing down the street. In front of DeRose’s Studio, lit by the rays of the setting sun, a cart was unloading large crates, and several strong men were carrying them inside the Studio’s gates.

“It works! The model works!” Ele crowed. Niccolo clapped Elena on the back, and Nicci clapped her hands as Ele continued. “Do you realize what this means Elena? Once the other Studio models are done, we can start discerning things like weaknesses, strengths, we can figure out whether they’re attacking on a certain night, or what forces they have…” Elena tuned out Ele’s babbling as the group turned to head back towards De Luca’s Studio; most of it they had already discussed between the two of them.

She was equal parts excited and relieved that she’d finally figured out her Storm, and that she’d have a truly impressive final project to show De Luca, but as she watched Niccolo smiling and talking with Ele, she couldn’t help but wonder what might’ve been said if the cart hadn’t shown up.

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14 responses

  1. My loving spouse said to me today

    “I’ve totally figured out your overall writing strategy.”
    “Oh yes?” I say
    “You sit down and say ‘okay, if your name is Elena you’re going to have a bad day today’, don’t you?”

    So I guess what I’m asking is: does anyone know how to come up with new writing strategies after your current ones have been figured out? Anyone?

    EDIT: Don’t worry guys I figured it out; it should be ‘if you’re in Maddi’s story at all you’re going to have a bad day (eventually)’. Whew, problem solved! :D

    Liked by 1 person

    2014-10-29 at 10:30 pm

    • … Nope. I think your lover figured out the secret to writing all stories, there.


      2014-10-29 at 11:47 pm

    • Try swapping what side of the story drives the plot. Instead of thinking about what the main characters will do next, pick a “backstage actor,” as I call them, to lead the show for a bit.
      For example, rather than “Elena has a bad day,” try “Baron Von Vile has an excellent day,” and see how that effects the main story. The fallout from a background event or reactions to the actions of a background character can be an excellent way to get the plot going, as long as you don’t rely on them too much (it can make the focus characters too passive if abused).
      For example, you could take some minor character from the past and make them a problem- like the girl she met when auditioning for the place in the studio.

      Liked by 1 person

      2014-10-30 at 12:43 am

      • It’s funny you should mention Isadora…I was worried for when she plays a larger role later on that no one would remember her :) Glad to see that isn’t the case


        2014-10-30 at 6:15 am

    • It’s not necessarily a new strategy you need here. That method is incredibly good for creating conflict. You just need to remember two important things.

      First, that you need to break up the conflict, like you do in this chapter. A nice stress free breather that still moves the plot along and sets up potential conflicts.

      Second is to make the conflict worth it. At the end of the day, you have to look at what your character goes through and ask if they got anything from it. Development, compensation, allies, enemies, things like that.

      Also, when you make us like a character as much as your doing with Elena, make sure that you give her a chance to rest after you throw her into the lion pit. Otherwise you just make us feel bad.

      Liked by 1 person

      2014-10-30 at 2:24 am

    • If you are in Maddi’s story, you will have a bad day often, but occasionally, you’ll also get some really hot loving to make the bad days bearable.

      and now… my dirty mind is making jokes about Sagitori’s aim not being as good between the sheets.

      Ele, ” I bet that was the first time he was ever told he hit the wrong target.”


      2014-10-30 at 7:54 am

  2. I have the opposite problem… I’ve been working on having more action in my own story. Standing around talking has its place, but one needs a balance, after all.

    Hm, wanna switch serials for a week? :D


    2014-10-30 at 9:12 am

    • We did that WAY back when in… god… 2009? for an april fools thing a bunch of us wrote an update for each other, heh. I enjoyed mine a lot, because I got picked to do a post for a guy that was doing lots of unrelated flash fiction, and I put together a long rambler that tied them all together into a singular world. Heh.


      2014-10-30 at 11:03 am

  3. Anonymous

    Great chapter


    2014-11-02 at 8:07 am

  4. Anonymous

    How many times is Elena going to ignore Ele’s opinions before she finally stops being an idiot? It’s so frustrating to see the smart, level-headed Ele constantly trying to help Elena only for her to dismiss him time and time again. If it wasn’t for her gift occasionally raising her IQ by 100 points she would be in the running for ‘stupidest protagonist ever.’


    2015-07-31 at 3:01 pm

    • The answer is “All of them.”

      All of the times.

      *whispers* aaall of theeem


      2015-07-31 at 3:14 pm

  5. Small typo:

    Don’t be such a pessimist, not now that we’ve finally discovered how it works!” Elena brushed Ele’s objections aside and focused on the little model.

    You’re missing a quotation mark at the beginning of the sentence.


    2015-08-09 at 11:13 pm

    • Fixed, thank you very much!


      2015-08-10 at 12:12 am

      • No problem! It’s the least I can do for one of my favorite web stories!


        2015-08-19 at 1:00 am

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