A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

5.2 – De Quatuor Garzoni De Luca {The Four Garzoni of De Luca}

“You know, if you went back inside you’d be able to stop shivering.” Niccolo paced back and forth in front of the bench that Elena occupied, hands in his pockets.

“If going back inside is such a great idea, why aren’t you doing it?” Elena said.

“Because…” Niccolo trailed off, glancing up at the door which Master De Luca, Bea, and Pietro had left through an hour ago, “…because I want to know as soon as humanly possible. And I know that’s why you’re here too. Just because I can give advice doesn’t mean I can take it,” he sighed.

“You know that all you fragile humans could have us Echoes wait for the news and come tell you, right?” Ele said, sprawling out on the freezing courtyard tile with his hands behind his back. “It would only add a few seconds to your wait, and you wouldn’t have to suffer the cold.”

“I can’t wait for a few extra seconds,” Elena mumbled, “I feel like I can barely wait as it is. I have to know as soon as I can.”

“Niccolo, stop pacing,” Nicci said soothingly. “You’ll get in, you know you will, and your friends will too.”

“We won’t though,” Niccolo barked a humorless laugh, his pacing unabated. “That’s the thing, isn’t it? Four slots. Me, Elena, Vittoria, Carlo, Frederica, that’s five people. We won’t all get in, infernum mea selecto and I don’t even know who to hope for any more. I almost hope I don’t get in if it means taking a slot from one of you.”

“Don’t say things like that.” Vittoria sat on the other end of the bench, staring at her hands not looking up as she spoke. “This isn’t going to change anything between the five of us, Niccolo, you have to understand that. None of us are going to blame you if you get through and we don’t. Frederica will be just as annoyed by you either way, I’m still your friend no matter what, Carlo will keep being Carlo-”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Carla snapped.

“-and Elena will still blush at the mention of your name,” Vittoria finished.

“I do not-” Elena began, before realizing that she was blushing. Ele chuckled from his spot on the ground, and even Niccolo flashed her a nervous half-smile. For the fifth time since De Luca had departed, Elena realized that her knee was bouncing nervously. “Who…who do you think he’ll pick?”

“I like Niccolo’s odds,” Vittoria said, “from what I’ve heard De Luca keeps one dedicated fighter around the studio all the time, it helps him keep his top spot in the interstudio fights.”

“Lorenzo is probably a shoo-in, has been since the beginning,” Niccolo glanced at the door to the workshop, “no way De Luca gives up a Machinator.”

“Can we please talk about something else?” Vi interrupted. Of the Echoes, she was the only one who stood, leaning against Vittoria’s side of the bench and hugging herself. “Talking about it doesn’t help any of us, and I’d prefer to not have to think about it until it actually happens.”

“What should we talk about then?” Niccolo asked. As if on cue, the door from the dorms opened and Frederica emerged, alone.

“Fred and Freja are talking,” she explained, at the curious looks. “He’s catching her up on things she’ll need to know. Thought I’d come out and hear the news with you all.”

“Is she going to be alright?” Vittoria asked.

“She has a hard time in front of her,” Frederica folded her arms and stood, legs apart, glaring at nothing. “Living sculptures live their lives in stasis. Freja was born with a gash, the pain of that gash isn’t going to go away. I’d hoped the Storm would’ve interpreted it as a scar but…” she trailed off for a moment.

“Freja’s going to feel like she’s been cut open forever?” Vi asked, aghast.

“Not forever. I’ll fix her in the next few days but…it won’t be pleasant.” Frederica said grimly. “I’ll have to cut the sides of the gouge to smooth them, then sand it down.”

“But…but she’ll feel that.”


The group descended into a tense and nervous silence. The morning was so still and quiet that when Leanarda left Mella, Mell, and Leo to move towards them, it was enough to draw all of their attention. The gathered Stormtouched and their Echoes watched silently as she crossed the distance, her footsteps sounding strangely loud in the quiet courtyard. When she reached them she paused a moment, hesitating and clearly trying to choose the right words.

“I didn’t break your stuff,” she finally said.

“What a strangely specific and pre-emptive denial,” Nicci said.

“I’m not an idiot. You full garzoni have been shooting glares in my direction for the whole day, the day you find out someone broke all of your things? You think I did it, so I’m telling you I didn’t.”

“How are we supposed to take that at face value?” Frederica said flatly. “You think tearing others down is a perfectly valid way to lift yourself up.”

“Destroying a final project is going too far. I wouldn’t do that.”

“But you have done things to tear us down.”

Leanarda looked down at her feet at the accusation, and even with the nervousness, Elena felt a spark of anger towards the girl.

“I didn’t destroy your final projects,” Leanarda said after a long pause.

“You planted the wine under my pillow, didn’t you?” Elena asked.

“But I warned you about it!” Leanarda said, “I thought if you had time to get rid of it that no harm would come to you, and you would trust me!”

“I almost missed it, even with the warning!” Elena rose to her feet, “I came within seconds of being expelled from the studio because of that wineskin!”

“But you weren’t expelled. You were fine, there was no harm done. I did that so you and I would be closer.”

“You’ve either ignored me completely or made snide comments about me for almost the entire time we’ve been in De Luca’s studio.”

“I was hurt!” Leanarda protested. “I was the first one to reach out a hand to you, even though I was scared and nervous, and you ditched me as soon as the full garzoni started hanging out with you. So yes, maybe I was a little mean, a bit snide, but I didn’t want to see you get kicked out of the studio, and I don’t want to see you go now. I still want to be friends, and I’m telling you now so that when we both become full garzoni you won’t think I’m just trying to make up after the fact.”

“You just admitted that you tried to frame me.”

“And I explained why. I just…I wanted you to see me as your friend, Elena, that’s all I’ve ever wanted. That’s all I ever wanted with any of you.”

“Is that why you broke my bird?” Frederica asked suddenly. Leanarda’s face twitched for a split-second before her mask of innocence fell back into place.

“I just wanted to help Elena-” she began.

“You wanted to help yourself,” Frederica snarled.

“Yes, myself, but also my friends!”

“You have a very warped idea of what friends are supposed to be. And if you think any of us are going to be your friend if you become a full garzona, you have a very warped idea of how forgiving Stormtouched are.”

“That’s not fair! I’m taking the blame for sabotage I didn’t…why are you smiling?”

“I just realized,” Frederica grinned, “that you have absolutely no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into. But you will, in the next few days. And then you’ll meet Maple.”

“Frederica, stop, Leanarda is right.” Vittoria said quietly. Elena, Frederica, Niccolo and their respective Echoes turned to stare at her in disbelief. “If she becomes a full garzoni, at least some of us are going to have to live with her. If she’s willing to make up now…it can’t hurt to try to get along, can it?”

She. Broke. My. Bird.” Frederica snarled.

“Of course she’s willing to make up now!” Niccolo said, “after she’s landed her final stroke to boost herself into the studio, at the expense of one of us!”

“I want to make up because I can’t stand the thought of a year living with people who hate me!” Leanarda exclaimed.

“Shut up,” Frederica said.

“Don’t tell me to shut up, I’m honestly making an effort to-”

“No,” Frederica whispered, pointing, “shut up.

The garzoni turned. De Luca and Bea moving slowly across the courtyard, towards the point at which they had demonstrated their final projects. Elena’s skin, already cold from sitting in the courtyard for so long, suddenly felt even colder and prickled with goosebumps. Her legs almost gave way, but Niccolo caught her arm, and they moved along with the others towards De Luca and his Echo.

Master De Luca looked tired, somehow, more worn than he had when he’d left. Bea stood quietly at his side, her hands clasped in front of her. The two were silent as the garzoni and Echoes gathered round, and their silence combined with the uneasy quiet of the students combined to give the courtyard an eerie hush.

“So many years I’ve had to stand here and make this speech,” De Luca said, looking out at the fountain over his garzoni’s heads. “So many students I’ve had to turn away. I used to hope I could find some way of doing this to make it easier but…there isn’t one. Giving a speech only extends the anticipation, blurting out names is too brutal. I’ve settled on this method as the best, but I realize there’s no-” His voice suddenly broke, and he paused for a moment. “Before I begin, is there anyone who would prefer to hear it in private, whether or not they will be continuing as garzoni?”

Elena couldn’t look around, couldn’t do anything lock her gaze on Master De Luca’s face as his eyes swept over the large group.

“Very well. The demonstration was in alphabetical order, I shall run in reverse order now. Frederica Vasari…” All attention turned to Frederica. She didn’t tense, or even worried, but she stood as still as a statue herself, not even blinking. “…your sculptures are beautiful, functional, and true works of art. You will continue your training in my studio.” Elena breathed a sigh of relief. If anyone deserved to continue on it was Frederica, with her love of real art.

“Leanarda Mocenigo. Your Storm is quite intriguing, and if you can better understand how to use it, I foresee a great future for you. You will continue your training in my studio.”

Two slots gone already, only two left. The dread was building again, in ever-increasing waves as if every moment of worry in De Luca’s studio had been waiting for this moment to raise its head. The very first interview, the failure, the worry after the attack on Ele, even the aftermath of Slug all seemed to pale in comparison.

“Mella Rosso, I don’t think I’ve ever before seen an artifex with a gift like yours, transferring their art from one medium to another. Your art will be amazing to watch grow, but unfortunately I will not have that honor. I’m afraid there is no room for you in the studio. I’m sorry.”

Mella didn’t say a word, didn’t make a sound. She seemed to collapse in on herself, as if she had only been barely holding her chin up before. Without looking to the left or the right she turned and ran for the dorms, head down, her shoulders shaking.

“Lorenzo Malatesta isn’t here,” De Luca continued, “but his machinations are as fascinating as they are unique. He will continue his training in my studio.”

Even though Elena had been expecting Lorenzo to make it, the words were like a slap in her face. She glanced over at those left to hear; Niccolo, Carlo, and Vittoria. Of the four of them, there was only room left for one.

“Elena Lucciano,” De Luca said. Elena’s heart beat so loudly in her ears that she was worried she would miss what he was saying, her hands shook, she forgot how to breath, and time was somehow standing still and all moving too fast at once. “Your Storm is clearly quite powerful, your desire to assist your fellow garzoni admirable, and Bea herself has seen something in you that she finds utterly fascinating.”

I didn’t make it. With a sudden, terrible clarity, Elena knew, even before De Luca continued speaking.

“Sadly, I cannot take on a garzona for a role in support. Were I able to open a fifth spot for you I would, but I cannot afford to dedicate one of four places to a Fabera whose work can instead be duplicated by a well-trained craftsmen. I’m sorry Elena, but there is no room for you in the studio.”

Elena nodded once, her eyes dry. A feeling of calm and tranquility had enveloped her, one that she didn’t understand.

“Niccolo Loredan, your expertise is invaluable, and the fact that you still strive for creative application of it is an art in and of itself. You will continue your training in my studio.”

“Thank you Master De Luca, but you’re making a mistake sir,” Niccolo’s voice barely filtered through the odd film that surrounded Elena’s senses.

I didn’t make it, she thought, as if repeating the fact in her head would change something, would make it suddenly real to her. There was no change, no sudden revelation, it was just the purest of bare facts. Her time was over, her attempt at reaching for her dreams had failed. Why was she so calm?

“Carlo Donato, I want you to know that your oracle did not play into my decision. As a fellow Artifex, I know that not every attempt is a success, and I did not judge you on the fresco’s failure.”

“I know, Master De Luca. I appreciate the lessons you’ve taught me,” Carlo said.

I didn’t make it, Elena thought aimlessly, I’m not a De Luca garzona anymore. I will never be a graduate of De Luca’s studio. The thought did not seem to mean much.

“Vittoria Arcimboldo, I think you know what words I would say to you, what advice I would give. I’m sure that your sister told you…”

“I know, Master De Luca.” Vittoria’s voice wavered when she spoke, as if she was on the verge of crying. “I know. She would…” her voice broke in a sob, “…she would forgive you.”

“She and I are different in that respect then.” De Luca turned to address the group, looking as if he had aged five years in the space of a handful of minutes. “If any of you wish to speak with me…any of you…I will be in my office. I would truly like to have a chance to talk with each of you before anyone leaves…as soon as you’re ready.”

“Could I speak with you for a moment first, Master De Luca?” Leanarda asked.

De Luca, Bea, Leanarda and Leo turned to leave, and Elena watched them go with a detached disinterest.

We didn’t make it. Vittoria, Carlo, me. None of us made it.

Niccolo’s arms wrapped around her, and suddenly Vittoria was there too, clinging to them both. Carlo joined the hug, and after a pause Frederica grabbed them all and embraced them. The crush and weight and fierce affection of her friends wrapped Elena tight, and all of a sudden she gasped.

“We…we didn’t make it?” she stammered in a whisper. Suddenly there were tears in her eyes, her heart felt as if it would burst, and the horror and despair and panic clawed at her for the first time. “We didn’t make it.”

“It’s going to be okay,” Frederica said fiercely.

“We didn’t…we didn’t make it.”

The five garzoni stood in the courtyard, clasping each other tightly, surrounded by their Echoes, and cried.


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15 responses

  1. Shhh shhh it’s okay dear readers, things will probably get better. Maybe. Someday. If you would like to inflict the pain of Twisted Cogs on other people, help those other people find it by voting on TopWebFiction!

    For those interested in asking questions who are also redditors, I threw up a casual AMA (ask me anything) that you’re free to check out and, well, ask me anything you like!

    Also, I would like to send out a very special thank-you to MamaHeart8. You know what you did MH8. I’m onto you.


    2014-11-12 at 11:26 pm

    • Welp. That didn’t quite turn out as I expected. When she suddenly became calm, I was half expecting a Deus ex machina moment where she would say who the culprit was, how they did it, why, etc, thus getting them kicked out of the spot and her taking their place.

      On a side note, it says that a new chapter comes out today. By the date you used, I assume you’re not in Australia, thus technically you could have several hours left. But I AM in Australia. So I’m basing it on Australian time. So if it is not out within the next hour, I WILL GIVE THE LINK A LOOK OF DEEP AND CRUSHING DISAPPOINTMENT, that this new serial I’ve found that seems so interesting and caught up to in a day did not have 1 extra page despite the dozen other pages.
      Oh, and nice serial. I can see the possibilities branching out. If it was a novel, I would say this concludes the first one and next would be about her suddenly traveling, meeting the other twisted cogs, some whole sinister plot developing, etc etc etc.
      Would be interesting for her to become an anti-hero…. Make something happen for her to suddenly snap…. Show us how this has affected her by making her dream self have missing or broken pieces…. SO. MANY. POSSIBILITIES.


      2014-11-16 at 7:00 am

      • Oh my poor Australian friend :( I am sorry that the link had to suffer its crushing look of disappointment, but it’s no more than I deserve! Chapters are released on their due date at 11:59pm CST, which means that depending on where you live in Australia it doesn’t come out until anywhere from 10:59am to 3:59pm Monday/Thursday (your time)! Ack!

        Funnily enough, I will be releasing Twisted Cogs as a novel, and it will be concluding within the next few chapters, followed directly afterwards by the start of book 2! I’m glad it comes across as a nice ‘concludey’ point, and I’m REALLY glad you’re enjoying it!


        2014-11-17 at 12:05 am

  2. Panster

    Oh my god. :( The pain, the pain! I wasn’t expecting that final four, for sure.


    2014-11-12 at 11:34 pm

  3. Heheheh. Little does he know, he’s only setting himself up more competition. I am almost certain that group of five can hold its own artistically, and Elena has inside knowledge of the inter-studio combat and some rather unique insights… I’m sure they can make something interesting of that.


    2014-11-13 at 1:30 am

  4. Eduardo

    Yes, the worst possible thing that Elena can do is go back to her mother. I hope that the others will convince her to avoid this fate.
    The best thing to do is leave the city. They are still powerfull stormtouched that will be welcome in many places.


    2014-11-13 at 4:45 am

  5. Though she’s not thinking along those lines, Elena is far from without options, and not just among the other studios.

    Now, methinks, or very soon, we will find out how she fits in with the Twisted.


    2014-11-13 at 5:18 am

  6. There are better places than under de luca. One thing that i am curious about. Its mentioned that teh excused garzoni often go to other studios… wont that be next year? or do some of the less grand studios not even have the four they need?

    also, offering her services to tool crafters in the city for making tools for the other artists would totally make her enough money and a name to rise the ranks on her own.


    2014-11-13 at 9:11 am

  7. DeNarr

    Wow, I did not expect Frederica to be one of those who made it. On the bright side, there will be another opening after she kills Leandra. :P


    2014-11-13 at 10:53 am

  8. CaptainPedantic

    I have a feeling that leanarda will be the hinge on which this next chapter swings. Firstly she has a very useful storm that she might be able to utilize to get enough resources to support more than four (if she can convince de luca and if it is within the law). Secondly she might excuse herself and leave an open slot. Or thirdly… I dunno, she has some sorta plan.


    2014-11-14 at 2:30 am

  9. Andrew Lister

    Like Elena, I almost forgot to breath, too. Then I remembered it was breathe, and I was OK again.
    [I’m sorry to be the one to point it out, but you have mentioned elsewhere that you do appreciate the proof reading. This is a mistake you have actually made several times in the entire arc of the story, but I imagine it is easier for you to do a Find All than it is for those of us doomed to only read this one chapter at a time. And it is not a simple case of Find and Replace All, because there are as many times you wrote breath and meant it as you wrote breath and meant breathe.]


    2014-11-15 at 2:00 pm

    • Oh man, yeah I mess this up ALL the time. Thanks for the catch, and no need to apologize, I do appreciate the catch, it makes it much easier when I go through to turn the draft into a published work :-)


      2014-11-15 at 3:01 pm

  10. Andrew Lister

    “Lorenzo is probably a shoe-in…”
    Really should be shoo-in, i think.


    2014-12-04 at 2:03 am

    • Huh…how about that. For most of my typos, it’s simply a matter of my fingers slipping on the keyboard or missing a mistake in my editing passes, but this one I honestly thought was spelled “shoe-in”

      Apparently the etymology of the phrase is related to the word ‘Shoo’, as in to urge someone in a certain direction. Learn something new each day :)



      2014-12-07 at 11:26 pm

      • Anonymous

        You’re welcome. It’s a nice example of an eggcorn ;-)


        2014-12-08 at 12:08 am

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