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Y2 WIP Adventures (come and proof-read!)

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Dying Wish, stage 2:

Spoiler

The directions you got prove themselves accurate after a relatively short trip into Elumia Proper. From a distance you can see the mostly ruined remains of the Unmarked Temple coming into view, although nothing about or around it looks off or out of place. As you pretty much expected this is going to need a closer look.

"Will [s/he] be willing to help?"

Huh? You look around for the source of the voice, but there's nothing to your left.

"Will [s/he] be able to help, is the more important question."

Another voice, different from the first. Yet there's nothing to your right, either.

"[S/He] has to. [S/He] can hear us, after all."

And the first voice again. Also, nothing behind you...

"[S/He] 'has to' for your sake, not [his/her] own. And whether [s/he] listens to us is [his/her] own choice, do not forget."

Okay, you've looked in front of you, to your left and right and even behind you and yet the source of these voices are still not in evidence. Since you strongly doubt that the phantom horse following you has not only developed the capability of human speech, but either a split personality and/or some excellent ventriloquism skills - which, for the record, would be rather silly even by the standards you're used to - there's only one place left to check. And that's above you. And yes, there! Sitting on a pile of old stone bricks that you imagine used to be a wall at some point, finally. In fact there's both of them. The one to your left is a girl who looks like she's about seven, maybe eight years old, and the one to your right is a boy about the same age. Both look human, but you're getting the sense that they're not. The odd pull you feel, it's not this location. It's these two. Speaking of, the girl is wearing a simple and fairly plain looking, though not unflattering dress with a mix of white and blue colors. Style aside it looks like something that Catherine Chard would wear to a ball. The boy, in contrast, is wearing what you can only describe as a set of fine regalia in royal purple colors with some red accents, trimmed and stitched together with bright gold threads, custom tailored and even enchanted to some extend. A mini-Emperor, is the best way to describe it. The girl is also spotting a pair of small earrings, too small to really tell much of from this distance, and a quite expensive-looking hair pin decorated with gems and plated with gold that keeps her long, dark brown hair from covering her right ear. The boy, for his part, has short hair that's the same color as the girl, just hanging loosely from his head. He's also spotting what you initially mistake for a wedding ring, if one without an obvious gemstone set into it, but given his (apparent?) age you're going to assume it's something different. Maybe a magical ring that he's chosen to wear on his ring finger? Sure, that sounds much more reasonable. "Sorry," the girl quietly says while looking down at you from her make-shift perch with a concerned expression. "I-it's true. B-but I do really, really need your help."

You raise an eyebrow and tilt your head at the two, mostly to try and disguise your hand sneakily reaching into your robe for your wand. Minor tactical error on your part, not having that in your hand to begin with. "Eh, yeah, okay. So...Who are you two?"

The girl actually looks a little aghast when she realizes she forgot to introduce herself. "Oh, s-sorry, you're right. My name is Aria." Doing a little bow, as best she can from her seated position, she adds, "Pleased to meet you."

"Theodore," the boy curtly answers, somewhere between indifferently and impatiently. You can't tell if he's sarcastic by nature or just bored out of his mind right now. Maybe a combination of both.

Shaking her head at Theodore's introduction Aria, with a noticeable hint of irritation in her voice, says, "Oh, please don't mind him, [PC FIRST NAME], he's just...he's just such a boy!" After Theodore shrugs off Aria's icy glare and you mentally remind yourself to add that to the list of descriptions you've heard, once you get back to civilization, Aria turns back to you and politely asks if you're willing - and able - to help her. Of course you don't know what she needs help with, so with a shrug you ask what her deal is. The two kids silently exchange glances for a bit, Aria looking increasingly nervous and Theodore staying as composed as a card player the entire time, until their silent discussion finally ends with Aria just hanging her head in...something. Shame? Disappointment? You can't tell. As for Theodore, he turns to you and explains, in an as blunt and laconic manner possible, what Aria's "deal" is. "Aria wants to be born."

Before you get the chance to respond Aria suddenly looks up at Theodore and snaps something about him wanting the same thing, but he claims that he's only going along with it because he doesn't want to abandon her. Aria doesn't believe it, and like brother and sister the two start ("continue", perhaps) to bicker. "Eh, 'scuse me!" you say a bit loudly to get the two's attention. Once you have it you ask, "So, about what you just said, I'll try to phase this in the most polite way I can: What in Octavius' name are you two...actually, yeah, that's an even better question: What are you two?"

Aria stares at you for a few seconds, looking like she's close to tears, before Theodore speaks up again. "To keep a long story short, we do not know. What we do know is that there exists a form of Gates magic that can be used to...eh, that can allow us to be born. Although what that means, we do not know."

"It means we'll be able to live as humans," Aria snaps, to which Theodore dismissively responds that he's aware of that, but what it means beyond that he doesn't know. Based on Aria's downcast expression it's clear she doesn't know either. Meanwhile you're reeling from that bit of information. Gates magic. Of course it'd be something like Gates magic.

After a rather awkward pause you hesitantly ask the two kids if they intend to keep possessing you, since whether you want to or not you're firmly incapable of helping them either which way. For multiple reasons. Aria refuses to hear any of it and begs you to find a way, but Theodore just calmly nods his head and says that if you can't help them you'll need to find someone that can. "We cannot just disappear," Theodore explains. "As for this 'possession' you mentioned, I am afraid that is not something we can control. We would spare you from it if we could, but we do not know how. If we even can."

Okay, well...this sure is a situation you find yourself in. So, that whole "hearing phantom noises" business and everything? Not negotiable. By no stretch of the definition is that negotiable. So you're going to have to find a way to get rid of these two, one way or another. Admittedly you're a little concerned that going to the temple yourself and getting these two exorcized will end up banishing or killing them, in some way, but on the flipside you've got your own life to worry about. And this is just...not negotiable. So...how are you going to go about this? What are you going to do...

-Inform a professor about this. Quickly.
--With a bit of a dreadful feeling you track down Professor Briardi. Turns out she's either cleaning her office or turning it upside-down. Either way you figure it's not important enough to make you wait, so to get the professor's attention you knock on her open door.

"Can't you see I'm busy?" the professor annoyedly mumbles to herself as she turns around. "Eh, [PC FIRST NAME]? What is it?"

"Sorry to interrupt and all, but I kind of have a small problem with being...possessed, followed? I don't even know what by two extremely human-like creatures who's stated wish is, and I do quote: 'To be born'. So they - or she, at least - can live as humans. Or a human. Sorry, one of them wasn't exactly clear on things. In any case, eh...help?"

That certainly gets the professor's attention. "Again-I mean, really? I don't suppose you know where these creatures are right now?"

On a hunch you decide to peek a bit further into the professor's office. And sure enough. "Sitting on your desk, if I'm not mistaken."

With lightning reactions Professor Briardi jumps back, draws her wand and points it at her desk, startling both of the two kids. Aria even throws her hands up trying to cover her face, crying something about not hurting her. Professor Briardi, wand still drawn and pointed at the two, demands to know who they are and what they're doing here. It's a slow going conversation(/interrogation), but ultimately Aria and Theodore do explain themselves to the professor. Nothing you haven't heard before, though. "[PC FIRST NAME], have you encountered any Ometti in Mineta recently?" Professor Briardi asks you once she's done with the two kids.

"One hysterical Ometti ran me over, yes. According to the group escorting her - or trying to escort her, at least - she was suffering from possession."

Professor Briardi shakes her head. "So this really is a second case, and so quickly after the first, too...and with Orso choosing now, of all times, to play hide and seek...[PC FIST NAME], I'd really rather not send you out to investigate, but you should be at least somewhat familiar with the Ometti who got possessed before. Could you go out into Mineta and investigate this for me, please?"

"I could, although it'd be much easier without these two literally and figuratively pulling me around everywhere, not to mention the phantom horse and all..."

The professor nods and turns her attention towards the kids. "You two, transfer your possession over to me. I won't be bothered by those minor side-effects, so don't worry about that." Theodore calmly nods, although there's a hint of confusion on his face. Aria, for her part, is looking at the professor with an expression you've never seen before, at least not directed at Professor Briardi. You can make an educated guess as to it's meaning, but the professor is ignoring it. Instead, she turns back to you. "Incidentally," she asks, "didn't you try to Negate those symptoms before?"

"I tried, but my spells didn't work. Rather, they didn't keep working."

The professor nods. Thankfully. You've heard horror stories about how she's cursed her own students as a "training exercise", and while they're generally effective they're also generally not pleasant. "Fair enough. In any case, I assume that's all?"

You slowly nod, but take another look at Aria's expression before turning to leave. The pleading look in her eyes, trembling lips, downcast expression, the way her entire body looks tense and how she's blushing, yet her face looks pale at the same time....thinking about it all makes you realize something rather important. What are you even doing? "One thing I have to say, professor: For someone who wants to be human these two look and act very human already."

"Unusually so, yes," Professor Briardi notes. "Yet it's undeniable that they aren't, because any regular human would have set off a number of alarms by now." You ask why these two don't when so many other things would, but the professor just says that without a clear understanding of what, exactly, these two are and you having taken a few advanced Theory of Negation courses you wouldn't understand. Fair enough, you suppose.

So, next stop: Mineta. To investigate this mess.

[Schohanwicht] - Gates magic, huh? See if Euneycia has any advice.
--You briefly hesitate, afraid that Euneycia might get mad, or otherwise offended and banish these two, but...no. She can be intimidating, but she'd never harm someone who doesn't deserve it. You're sure of that. With that in mind you start to head off towards the house in the bog. It's a bit of a longer trip than normal, but when you've reached the familiar-looking shack you waste no time entering it. The floppy-eared dog runs up to you as soon as he notices your smell, which in turn draws Euneycia's attention. With a big smile she turns away from her desk to look at you and says, "Ah, [PC FIRST NAME], welcome. How are your studies at Schohanwicht coming along?"

"Well enough," you answer a bit nervously. "Anyway, sorry to cut the small talk, but could you lend me a hand? I've, eh, encountered two otherworldly entities who asked me for some stuff that's way beyond my means, one part of which is apparently related to Gates magic, and...well, truth be told I want to know what the deal with them is, first and foremost."

You always remember Euneycia as the intimidating, but otherwise downright grandmotherly old woman who always has a smile on her face. So seeing her expression drop to a frown when she hears what you have to say understandably makes you even more nervous. "I see. Alright than, let's head out back into my laboratory, and we'll see what's gotten hold of you." It doesn't take long to walk to Euneycia's lab, but inside is a rather odd sight. Both of the kids are already here, sitting on one of the tables for some reason, and both are looking at Euneycia. Aria's expression is an undisguised mixture of curiosity and absolute terror, while Theodore tries to maintain his composed card player face. "Tries", because he clearly is far more nervous than he was at the Unmarked Temple. He's nervously eyeing Euneycia, who looks the two over with a (for her) neutral expression. "So you two are the ones [PC FIRST NAME] was talking about?" she politely asks, but neither of the kids dare answer her question. When you ask them why they don't respond either. They're completely paralysed in terror. Well, you refuse to give up so easily. You walk up to the two of them and repeat your question.

"T-the aura of magic here," Theodore slowly begins. "It's...it is so thick I can touch it. Such a strong sense of life...who? Who is that...person?"

"T-This isn't human..." Aria adds. She's so afraid her voice is starting to crack. "I-I don't...I don't want this! I don't want to turn into a monster!"

For a second you're afraid that you're going to have to do something to stop Aria from completely freaking out, but just in time Euneycia steps next to you. Aria shudders so heavily when she sees her approach that you could see her right ear move, but at least it keeps her quiet. "I'm not going to turn you two into monsters, dears," Euneycia says in the most grandmotherly way you've ever heard her speak. "[PC FIRST NAME] and I want to know who and what you two are, where you're from. And whether you two should stay here, in Choris, or whether you should be send back home." Both of the kids fall silent at Euneycia's words, although you're not sure whether it actually did anything to calm them down. Actually it probably didn't, because Aria slowly starts crying. Theodore, you notice, actually drops his composure a bit and suddenly looks more...focussed, more alert, seeing Aria cry like this. Like a big brother trying to protect his younger sister, he even sneakily holds her hand behind both of their backs. As for Euneycia, she comforts Aria as any grandmother would, until she's put at ease enough to stop crying. Slowly Euneycia asks Aria about herself, about what she knows of herself, why she's causing trouble for you, and what she wants. It's nothing you haven't heard before, but seeing it like this does make you think. "For someone who wants to be human these two look and act very human already," you observe after Aria finishes explaining (to the extremely limited extend that she can) her wish to be born.

"Unusually so, yes," Euneycia notes, nodding to herself as she walks over to a nearby bookcase. "And yet it's undeniable that, for all their similarities in looks and mannerisms, they're not human. No ordinary human would have been able to beat me to my own laboratory, I can assure you."

"Do you think you can figure out what they are?"

Euneycia confidently nods. "I certainly can. In fact, you three," Euneycia says as she turns around and looks at both you and the two kids. "Aria, Theodore, if possible I'd like for you two to transfer your possession of [PC FIRST NAME] to me. Now mind you, Aria, I'm much too old to actually grant you your wish, but I promise you that if it's a wish that should be granted that I'll find someone who can do so. And don't worry so much. I won't be bothered by those minor side effects of your presence at all, and if the situation ever comes to it I'll make sure you'll get a chance to grow up right and live a happy life."

Aria weakly smiles. There's clearly something she wants to say, but she's keeping quiet.

"[PC FIRST NAME], I want you to go into Mineta and track down the Ometti that these two possessed. I'm not sure how, but I'm sure that Mineta's Ometti community is connected to this...situation. So please, find out how."

"Wait...what makes you say that?"

"Word on the grapevine is that you aren't the first case that something like this happened to, and two possessions like this in so short a time is...unlikely. As for the Ometti, I've heard that the Unmarked Temple in Elumia Proper was primarily build and used by Ometti before it was abandoned and fell into disrepair long ago, so if these two pulled you there, it must be relevant in some fashion. Who the temple is dedicated to I don't know, but it's connected somehow. Or did you think that temple was devoted to Aemean?"

Yeah, no. Alright, so, time to do some legwork. You don't know what you're about to fling yourself into, or why, but you're an overly curious child who can't get enough of forbidden secrets, so off you go!

...That sounded better in your head, admittedly.

-Research. What can you learn about these two?
--One lengthy walk back to the Academagia, not that you weren't going in that direction in the first place (you'll consider meddling with the ruined temple to Gods-knows-who after you sort out this little possession problem, thank you very much), and you find yourself in the Venalicium library. There you head off into what passes for the theology section, basically just a shelf inside the larger history section that shares a common theme, and start looking through books detailing various forms of possession. Later you make a detour to the Negation section that talks about Negating curses, since that's actually some of the best information on the curses themselves that you can find. Why that's the case when students like Philippe gets taught how to turn others into toads in Revision class you're not entirely sure, but you're worked with the system more often than you've really cared to question it.

A solid hour of research and an impressive pile of books later, and you've come to the conclusion that there's nothing of use you're going to find in these books. Aria and Theodore couldn't tell you much about themselves, but what they did tell you and what distinctive traits you could observe from them should have made them easy to identify. Yet none of these books mention anything of the sort. All third or later editions, too. You're definitely being left out here, but if none of these books can help it looks like you've got no choice but to get a professor involved. Well, you could also go to a temple, you suppose, but this complete lack of information isn't doing much for your confidence in that option...

--You trek all the way back to the Academagia, not really a problem since you were going that direction anyway, and end up spending some time in the library coming to a quick realization that you're not going to find anything of use here. If these two are even remotely connected to any form of Gates magic, anything you could find out about them has most certainly been edited out of every book in the Venalicium that you have access to. It's one of the downside to these blanket bans, the lack of information available to people who really need them for reasons other than summoning zombie infestations. Of course, good luck finding anyone who'll admit it.

Looks like you're going to have to get a professor involved in this...

Nothing much to say about this stage, other than that I always got the nagging feeling I missed like two or three things. But I have no idea what it could be...

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Dying Wish, stage 3:

Spoiler

Stage 3:
It's not often that you go into Mineta with the intent of visiting the Lower City, but as it so happens that's where you're going to find the Ometti who live in Mineta, so...here you are. Keeping yourself safe from the Lower City denizens isn't an issue for you anymore, you hope, the real question is how you're going to get the information you're after. You can't expect to just knock on anyone's door, ask politely for some sensitive information and expect a straight answer, after all. With that in mind you've thought of a few options. If you can track down the Ometti you aided before you probably stand a good chance of getting something out of it. Said Ometti might have heard something useful through local rumors, and you imagine that after what happened to their friend they'll be willing to at least share some gossip. Alternatively, you can just ask around, gossip a bit. It'll take some effort to convince people to share the good stuff, but there's ways and means to do that. Finally, you can try to track down an historian. The history of the Unmarked Temple is likely to be of some use to you, it's just a matter of convincing the locals that you're the kind of studious student who'd come all the way out here to get the best information. You'd rather not consider the possibility, but you have to admit that if there is some bigger plot going on here, than keeping your head as low as possible while doing this would be the best idea. So, what method is it going to be?

-Enspell. Track down Margrate.
--There's very little you know of Margrate and you didn't end up with anything of hers landing in one of your pockets when she ran into you (Gods know you'd have found out all but immediately if you did, what with you checking your knapsack three times a minute or so), so she's going to be difficult to track down. Not impossible, mind, but difficult.

You cast your spell and do your best to follow the information it gives you - a process that you're not unfamiliar with, and one that oddly enough doesn't do anything out of the ordinary despite Margrate's recent troubles - until your vaguely aimed wandering takes you to a homely looking building that, to you, doesn't look any different from any other building along the street. This is where your magic lead you, though, so with some slight feeling of doubt you knock on the door. It's opened by a Ometti man you don't recognize. He doesn't recognize you either, as is evident by his perplexed expression when he looks you over. "Eh...good afternoon? Can I help you?" The Ometti asks, clearly unsure of what to say. You politely introduce yourself, explain why you're here and ask if you've managed to find the right address. Suddenly the Ometti looks at you with a bit of recognition in his eyes. "Oh, you're [PC FIRST NAME]? Yes, yes, you did find the right address! Please come in, I'm sure my wife - Margrate, I mean - would love to see you."

You nod and follow the Ometti into his home. This is going pretty great as far as you can tell, yet you don't feel entirely right with this. "Margrate!" the male Ometti happily shouts as soon as you close the front door behind you, "[PC FIRST NAME] is here to visit you!"

A vaguely familiar-looking Ometti pokes a confused head out of one of the doors further down the hall, and after a second she recognizes you. "Ah, wait, you're the student I ran into?" she asks, looking more confused than anything. Her husband explains who you are, although despite his enthusiasm Margrate seems more saddened by your visit than anything. "Did, eh, did you get into trouble because of me?" Margrate asks, confusing her husband in the process.

"Not really...? Oh, if you're referring to Aria and Theodore they're not following me around anymore. One of my, eh, professors took care of that for me."

"Who?" Margrate's husband asks, though his wife ignores his question. "The two kids? Oh those I'm not worried about, I mean didn't you see the pale rider?" she asks you. Margrate's husband actually nods as if that answered his question, and ironically enough you ask it yourself since for you it definitely didn't. "T-the pale one? Riding the pale horse? You didn't see him?" Margrate slowly asks.

"I heard a horse, but I didn't see any. The only ones I saw were Aria and Theodore."

Margrate looks slightly pale, enough so that her husband tells her to go sit down. Margrate doesn't object, she just walks back into the room she walked out of earlier. Her husband then turns to you. "Sorry about that, [PC FIRST NAME], I'm afraid the whole possession thing scared her."

"That's understandable, although I was hoping to get some information from her. I don't know if you've heard, but apparently your wife wasn't the first victim of this kind of possession, and I've been asked to look into it."

Margrate's husband looks compeltely unsurprised. "Hah, heard of it? You're talking to that first victim right now, in fact."

"Seriously? Huh, small world," you observe. "That said, does that mean you know anything about it? Anything useful?"

For a second Margrate's husband wonders whether to trust you, but he quickly comes to the conclusion to do so. "Oh, a bit. I'm not a sleuth and didn't care to investigate when it just happened to me, but when my wife got the same thing I shamelessly abused me being a victim to drag up as much info as I could," the man says, indeed, without any hint of shame. "According to one of the brothers at the Imperial Temple this sort of possession doesn't happen naturally - it's something that's caused by people who are beyond faithless, but pious devotion to the New Gods is supposed to protect one from it."

"Caused...that sounds like magic is involved. Illegal magic," you quietly say.

"Oh, I've got even better," Margrate's husband says...not "proudly", but something like that. "My brother told me that our ancestors - and I'm talking about like three quarters of the Ometti who live around here, minimum, not just me - got into a major schism with the Imperial Temple centuries back. Over religion, surprise, surprise."

"You think the Imperial Temple is behind this?" you slowly ask.

"Other way 'round," Margrate's husband corrects. "I'm sure that a few of the Ometti around here are reviving old grudges. Our ancestors come from an old tribe that, during the early days of the First Captivity, got completely isolated. Hidden underneath Mount Edare until...well, at least some time after the forming of the Empire of Man. The Imperial Temple really hated them for some reason or 'nother, but..." Margrate's husband sighs. "But people here are tired of living in the shadow of the Empire of Man, really. Many want to strike out and try to build a new tribe, a new home, but without traditions and values to take cues from...it'd be doomed."

"So...these Ometti who are possessing others want to bring back the old tribe?"

"Basically," Margrate's husband answers. "No clue why the possession thing helps them at all, but I assume they know better than I do. In any case if you want to investigate that further you'll need to find the one entrance to the old tribe that exists, hidden somewhere within the Imperial Palace. I'm sure my brother knows where to find it, though, he knows a lot of stuff, so I'll ask him to draw a map for you. I imagine it might be hidden or something, but...you're an Academagia student, you can handle yourself."

You're only a second year student to be fair, but...sure. "Thanks, eh, sir. Anything else?"

"One thing, actually" the Ometti adds, like he just remembered. "That entrance, if memory serves me, is actually sealed, and only an Emperor is supposed to be able to open it. No idea what condition it's in, though. I suppose you'll figure that out for yourself."

You can make an educated guess, but yes, you suppose you will.

--Your tracking spells take you from one end of the Ometti...district? Suburb? Area? What's the proper term for a section within a section of a city? Well, either which way your spell ends up taking you all over the place, and as you might expect, you're not able to track down Margrate's location. Asking the locals for help gets you a few sympathetic words of "I don't know", but that, too, doesn't really help you. You might have to consider plan B...

-Gossip. Gossip with the locals.
--If Margrate is any indication there must be at least some Ometti around here who don't approve of whatever is going on, and whether you talk to someone who might or might not even remember you or someone who definitely doesn't remember you seems like a rather moot point compared to whether you're talking with someone who can actually give you good information. With that in mind you wander around the Ometti area a bit aimlessly, looking for someone who'd be willing to gossip with you. Sadly you stand out like a sore thumb, so most conversations die down as soon as you look anywhere in their direction. Frustrated, you decide to be a bit more forceful about it and walk into the first tavern that catches your eye - "Lucky 21", according to the sign. Hey, you were getting thirsty from all the walking around anyway.

The lively atmosphere you can hear from just outside the door dies down quickly as soon as you step in. Everyone inside the tavern turns to look at you, most looking confused, but you ignore it and march straight up to the Ometti manning (Ometti-ing?) the bar. "Can I order a glass of water?" you casually ask.

The barman looks you up and down with a curious, almost dumbfounded expression before responding. "I, eh, only serve flavoured water. One quint a glass, but I've got a number of flavours to choose from." The barman points at a rather odd sign hanging off the wall behind him. There's a number of fruits listed on it, but every entry also has a weird slot in front of it. Some of the entries are covered up with a piece of wood. You ask what that's about, and what flavoured water means. With a shrug the barman explains "Ah, some of the locals here don't like the taste of well water, so I just mix it with squeezed fruits and such. Of course what I've got in stock depends on the season."

You put a quint on the bar. "I'll take a glass of that. And I take it that what's not in season gets boarded up on the sign up there? Pretty clever system."

The barman pours you a glass and says, "Aye, my son actually came up with that idea. Hammered together the board, too. Though I imagine you must look at it and think it'd have been much simpler to do with a Glamour."

"Nonsense, if I tried that with Glamour I'd have to recast the spell every other hour. Incidentally, did your son make the welcome sign as well?"

As your small talk with the barman continues you slowly hear the conversations behind you slowly flicker to life again. Exactly as planned. "He did, actually, though the name comes from my great-great-grandfather," the barman explains. "The stories goes that twenty old rivals of him all insisted that they be given a chance to inherit this lot over his son, 'cuz otherwise he'd be favoring nepotism over actually giving other people a chance or some such. To solve the problem he gave all twenty of 'em a number and took a d20 - that's a twenty-sided dice, if you don't know - and said that whoever's number came up, he'd give a chance. His rivals agreed, but when he rolled the dice it landed on it's side. So he asked who was given number twenty-one, didn't get an answer, and said the matter was closed. So his son inherited the lot uncontested after all, and since then it's been the home of the Lucky 21."

"On it's side...? That must have been one heck of a loaded dice, I don't think even Cirillo could land a dice on it's side."

"Loaded, smoated!" the barman says with a jovial laugh. "He rolled it on an old table who's boards were loose and had gaps between them, and the dice got stuck. 'Course his rivals tried to call foul on that, but if he was allowed to roll the dice multiple times he might as well just pick whoever he wanted, which was his son, so they eventually gave up and let it go."

"Clever, but you'll forgive me if I don't try that on my professors since I suspect the table might mysteriously grow legs in that case. In any case, thanks for the drink. Do you serve any food as well?"

"'Course, just take a seat and check the menu. You'll find something that suits your tastes, I'm sure."

You nod and do exactly that, taking a seat which just so happens to be in a quiet spot with a few gossip-y looking Ometti. Hey, not your fault there aren't any empty tables available. Naturally the Ometti there are a bit weary of you, but some small talk gets the conversation going rather quickly.

"Oh, have you heard about Margrate?" one of them eventually asks. Whether that question was actually directed at you you're not entirely sure, but you are the one to (quietly) answer it. After all, you've done more than hear what happened to her. "Oh, that's horrible," one of the Ometti says with a...questionable level of sincerity.

"Indeed," another of the Ometti says. "And so soon after her husband came down with possession as well. I swear that family is just cursed."

"I heard about that, though I didn't know the other victim was her husband," you casually mention.

The Ometti you're sharing your table with look at each other with quite dubious expressions before the chattiest one turns to you. "Is there a reason you came here?" she asks you, fairly directly.

"Does this place usually get Academagia students eating here? Not that the food is bad, but...two possessions in so short a time? It draws attention."

"Y-you're a spy?" one of the Ometti asks with the loudest whisper you've ever heard.

"Eh, more of a drafted investigator," you answer. You'll admit, as inaccurate as it'd be to call yourself a spy...it sure sounds cooler. "Of course I've got a personal stake in it. Margrate's possession? It transferred over to me when I helped her. In case you were wondering why that part of her story is so vague."

"That's a shame, because honestly I think you'd be a good spy." the one Ometti who's eyes didn't just widen says. You had her picked as different from her friends, though you could never put your finger on why. "I guess you can't tell, but I'm Margrate's sister."

"Small world," you observe. "How's your sister doing?"

"Well, at least as well as she could after all that's happened. But you're trying to stop it?"

Technically you were send here to investigate, not to act, but one kinda follows the other doesn't it? "Basically," you answer. "Do you have any idea as to what's going on? What the deal is with the Unmarked Temple, all of that?"

"Oh, a few," Margrate's sister answers a bit darkly. "I did some digging trying to find out why my sister was cursed, and I found out that someone did it to her. And her husband, for that matter. I don't know exactly who, but locals did, I know that much." When you ask why locals would curse someone like that, Margrate's sister just shakes her head sadly. "People trying to bring back the old tribe. I take it you haven't heard, but most of the locals here descend from a tribe who used to live under Mount Edare, isolated from the outside world since the early days of the First Captivity. I know at least my family does. As for why people would want to bring it back, well, just look at where we are in this corpse of an Empire of Man. Many want to strike out on their own, but without a stable tradition to fall back on...they have nowhere to go."

"So they're trying to revive the traditions of this old tribe?"

Margrate's sister nods. "Better that than look at a dead Empire they could never hope to build, right? Not that I know what possession has to do with it, but...it has to be them, and I've got an idea as to where you could find them. The only entrance to the old tribe is hidden somewhere within the Imperial Palace, and reportedly can only be unsealed by an Emperor. I can draw you a map of where that entrance is supposed to be. Probably behind a hidden door or some such, but I'm sure you'll manage."

Not that you're thankful for the lead, but this just bears asking. "That's quite a bit of information you've managed to dig up. Where'd you learn about that hidden entrance?"

Margrate's sister quickly draws you a crude map, and with a coy smile says, "Brush up on that spying talent of yours, and maybe one day you'll find out."

--The local Ometti are friendly enough, initially, but your every attempt to weasel good information out of them is met with awkward silence and people slowly shifting away from you. Maybe this conspiracy or what have you goes deeper than you think, or maybe you're just not a great conversationalist. It probably doesn't help that you stick out like a sore thumb. Either way this is going to require a different approach or a different tactic...

-Study Habits. Talk to an historian.
--Though you'd like to see Margrate again you are here for information, and the best information is probably going to be from someone who's certain to be well educated. With that in mind you look around areas that appear to have a large concentration of Ometti walking around, standing out like a sore thumb in the process, until you find a bookstore that's owned by one. It doesn't take long before you find one - Otto's Paper and Parchment Emporium. The ceiling of the store is a little lower than you'd like, but you're able to walk in and up to the store's proprietor. He looks at you a bit perplexed as he sees you walking in, as do the rest of the people here. "Good afternoon, eh, student? Welcome to Otto's, how can I help you?"

You decide to just get straight to the point. "I'm looking for information on the Unmarked Temple, out in Elumia Proper. I'm doing a paper on it's history - trying to, at least - but the Venalicium's books about it are just not good enough."

While Otto continues to stare at you as if you've got two heads someone from further in the store suddenly blurts out, "The Academagia's pack of letter-shaped ink stains? Likely story!" From behind one of the store's aisles comes an Ometti who you can only describe as "sturdy". Like, it's not that he's got a muscular frame or has the looks of a body builder, he just looks so completely determined that it seems like he could withstand the force of a crashing airship. "Pardon me if I don't believe there's even a single word about the old temple in your school's libraries, student. Yet you still want to know about it?"

Somehow you don't think this Ometti is going to buy your "it's for a paper" excuse. It's the lamest excuse a student could give, you'll admit, but that's because it's often true. "Sure do," you say as confidently as you can.

Looking a little smug the Ometti says, "Alright, I'll play that game with ya'. Let's try and easy one for starters, who wrote So Many Religions, So Little Time?"

"Oh, that's indeed an easy one, Bargo Bargolis."

The Ometti nods at your answer. "Good, good. Old Otto would 'ave to toss you out 'is store if you didn't get that one."

"I-I'm not in the business of tossing out my customers, Herb-I mean, sir Herbert" Otto remarks a bit meekly, but the stubborn Ometti ignores him completely.

"So, next one - who wrote On Empires?"

"The Marquis Wutant," you confidently answer.

Herbert nods again. "Excellent, let's try a harder one this time. Who is - or, perhaps, was - the Unmarked Temple dedicated to?"

Curses. That one you obviously don't know. Although...of course. "I don't know, but if you can tell me, please do."

With a roar of laughter Herbert admits that "only a proper student freely admits [his/her] ignorance", and he invites you to his "table", making you briefly confused as to whether you entered a bookstore or a bar. Either way you follow the old Ometti to a quiet corner where he proceeds to regale you with dramatically told stories of all he knows about the Unmarked Temple, and it's history. Over time Herbert explains that no one is quite sure who the Unmarked Temple is dedicated to anymore, but it should be plainly visible to anyone who just examines the ruins that the building was originally build by Ometti. Specifically, it was build by a tribe of Ometti who lost contact with the outside world sometime during the early days of the First Captivity, driven into Mount Edare by a big, terrifying and...claustrophobic dragon. One of those three? Not like the others. Either way that tribe used magic, ingenuity and determination to survive, isolated inside the mountain all the way until after the founding of the Empire of Man. The Empire discovered the tribe when a group of prospectors discovered the Ometti living deep below the mountains, and after some friction and political bullying done by the Imperial Temple the Ometti were finally allowed to leave their old prison, and home, and join the society that had build up in their absence. It's clear from his enthusiasm that Herbert is very passionate about the story, and when you ask him why he explains that he is actually a descendant of the old tribe...though, to his great shame, he doesn't know what "made" the tribe, so he can't honestly call himself a member of it.

"But you'd be interested in reviving the old tribe, it's virtues, traditions, and so on?"

Herbert heartily nods. "The locals here hold that if a tradition fails, one must not only look back and see what went wrong, but see what your ancestors did right. But now the virtues of the tribe are lost, so like what's left of the human Empire we can do nothing but blindly move forward towards whatever awaits in time. I would love to explore the ancient hallways of the tribe and try to piece together it's history, but we can't. The only entrance into the old halls is hidden within the Imperial Palace, and on top of that it's sealed, and on top of that only an Emperor can unseal it. You can imagine how far our requests to explore the old place go." Indeed you can. "That said," Herbert suddenly adds with a low voice, "I happen to at least know where that entrance is. And truth be told, you're not here just because of a history paper, are you?"

You carefully consider how to respond to that question. This is what you are looking for, so you've got to play your cards right. "Not just, no," you say as calmly as you can.

"I thought so," Herbert says with a big, superior smile on his face. "Alright, you're educated and you're honest. I don't know if telling you this will end up doing anyone any more good in the end, but frankly, at this point I trust you more than I trust whatever is lurking beneath our streets here. You remember Margrate, right? The Ometti who ran into you somewhere around the Empire Market? Possessed, hysterical, ringing any bells?"

"Could hardly forget. Is she well?"

"Thanks to you, yes," Herbert says with an approving nod. "Thing is, she isn't the first who came down with exactly that kind of possession recently. Last time it was another local here - my brother, in fact - who got possessed, and now Margrate. Who, incidentally, I believe you would call my sister-in-law."

"Small world," you casually observe. "As for Margrate being the second case of this kind of possession, I've actually heard that before, though not that the first victim was her husband. Either way people in the know think something is up, and in fact I was send here to investigate it."

Herbert actually looks a bit flattered at that. "Good to see the city's high and mighty haven't forgotten us. In any case, whatever is going on here, it has to do with someone trying to revive the values and magics of the old tribe. I don't know how or why, but I'll bet my entire collection of books on that. We're tired of living in the shadow of what's left of the Empire of Man, and what we need most is a good and stable tradition to fall back on if we're to go out and live independently from the comforts of Mineta." With a sigh Herbert adds, "I just really hope the ones doing this aren't in over their heads. But considering these possessions...they must be. In any case, give me a minute and I'll draw you a map of how to get to the old entrance in the Imperial Palace. The place might be hidden behind a fake wall or bricked up, but...I'm sure you'll manage to get to it."

--You walk around the area and visit a few of the book stores, but no matter what excuse you put on the table none of them claim to know anything about the Unmarked Temple. Admittedly the whole "it's for a history paper" excuse is borderline cliché, but that should be because often enough it's true. Does this conspiracy go deeper than you thought, or do you need a better bag of tricks? Either way you weren't entirely lying about that paper, and now you've run out of sources of information beyond the Academagia's Venalicium. That's a bother. Well, you've got some time still, maybe if you bring some work to show people will believe you? Maybe, or maybe it'll convince them you don't need any help. You'll see what you end up doing...

Bit of a filler stage, really, but...has to be done.

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Dying Wish, stage 4:

Spoiler

Map in hand you slowly make your way to the Imperial Palace. It's nowhere near as heavily guarded as it was back when the old tribe was discovered, but even so the thought of skulking around there makes you nervous. It also makes you question why you're doing this. You're clear from those two kids, or...not-kids, or whatever they are possessing you, and you've got enough information to hand over to a professor and let them handle it. In theory. And that's what keeps bothering you. In practice, would that really end up solving things? In theory, you didn't have to be the one to help Margrate. Any one of the people who passed by that had a wand and some layman's knowledge of Glamour could have aided her, and you're in the City of Mineta. If there's anywhere that you're going to find spellcasters walk passed you along any given road it's here. But despite that...no one did anything. No one helped Margrate, until you did. And that draws your mind to Aria and Theodore. Who and what are they? Why are they so human if, by their own admission and backed on rather undeniable evidence, they aren't? You've seen a large number of street urchin con artists around the Admiratio, you know what crocodile tears and pity acting look like. Aria wasn't that, you don't think. As for Theodore...you're just going to go with what Aria said and say he's "such a boy". And if not you...who's going to help them?

Ultimately, anyone who can display an order of magnitude more (genuine) emotion and politeness than actual humans like Reitz von Luterzee can't be all that bad. That's what you think. Unless you've been tricked in a big way, but you'll cross that bridge when you ultimately never get to it because, let's be honest here, unless you find a way to travel through time you're pretty much out of luck in terms of actually helping those two as much as they want you two. Which is the other reason why you feel like going out of your way for them. So you can at least honestly say you've tried to do something. And if all you end up finding is something useful or interesting that a professor can do something good with, well, that'd be worth the effort you spend, right?

You think it would be, but sneaking around the Imperial Palace...how are you going to accomplish that?

-Move Silently. Let no one hear you.
--You'd write a few pages worth of your slightly less than perfectly heroic exploits here in your diary later, but...either you're lucky or you severely overestimated the people who are tasked with guarding the Imperial Palace. It definitely isn't what it used to be, you knew that coming in, but you're sneaking past these guys like a champ with little more than rudimentary methods...well, rudimentary methods and a wand, to their credit, but than again they're Palace guards. You should be able to expect some things from them.

For better or worse the disappointments don't cease. In fact they get worse as you enter the more abandoned areas of the Palace, where your secret room is hidden. The guards here just don't seem to care. You imagine you wouldn't either after years of walking up and down the same corridor that, centuries ago, was only slightly more relevant than the main building is now, but...yeah. Madness, that's what this is. Madness you'll gladly take, mind. Every job you can walk away from is a good one, after all...or was that about flying and airships? Eh, if you remember you'll figure that out later.

--Climbing over the walls where vines provide a convenient ladder without rustling the leaves more than the afternoon breeze, softly stepping down onto the cold stone floor, and swiftly moving from one place to the next without making a sound...these are the tools of a master. And a master you can...masterfully pretend to be? Eh, good enough. Point is that with these tricks under your belt no one will be able to hear you.

"Hey! What do you think your doing!?"

...In hindsight, stepping silently out into the open where a guard is looking kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it? Whelp...here's to hoping to land in detention with someone who doesn't hate you.

-Glamour. Let no one see you.
--The task sounds intimidating because of how impossible sneaking around the Palace was back in it's day, but these days? You cast a relatively basic Glamour on yourself and march right through the front gate, with neither of the front guards noticing you. You had heard that the City guard is critically understaffed when it comes to people who can deal with mages, but really now. This is just embarrassing. And this is the city that's housed the Academagia since it's founding? Not to mention more magic cram schools than even City Hall can keep track of at times? And here you are, a second year student just walking into the Palace like it's nothing. You'll count your blessings later, but...seriously, where do all of the mages go?

It doesn't get any harder, either. There's a few guards with wands around, but either they're still students in their own right (in which case why aren't they in school uniform?) or they're not paid enough to actually cast spells, because you literally walk right past every single one of them. You suppose you are heading into an all but abandoned section of the Palace, and with intent on going into a secret area at that, but still. Point for the trouble makers, it feels like.

--Hiding behind corners, staying in the shadows, moving only when someone's back is turned......these are the tools of a master. And a master you can...masterfully pretend to be? Eh, good enough. Point is that with these tricks under your belt no one will be able to see you.

"Who's sneakin' 'round here!? Don't think I can't hear you clobbering on the floor!"

...In hindsight, not making so much noise as to draw the attention of the guard who's back was turned a moment ago kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it? Whelp...here's to hoping to land in detention with someone who doesn't hate you.

Filler stage.txt

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Dying Wish, stage 5:

Spoiler

After the last guard fades from sight you double-check your map. The entrance is supposed to be just up ahead, but all you're seeing is a brick wall. As a test you knock on a few of the bricks, and then some of the bricks a bit further away from the entrance. As you were told, there's some sort of false wall here. Problem is, how will you get past it? You don't see any mechanisms you could activate, and destroying the wall would just look terrible on your record once someone found out. Looks like you've got no choice. You're going to have to Revise a temporary door into the wall and step through that.

Magic makes everything so much easier. It never ceases to amaze you every time you stop and think about a problem like this how quickly a bit of wand-waving solves it.

Actually, this is the Imperial Palace, wouldn't the wall be protected against such kind of-actually they probably would be if this pile of masonry was being properly maintained, but it's not, and this isn't a well-travelled section of it anyway. You've got nothing to lose from trying, so time to make with the wand waving.

The spell goes off perfectly. Before your eyes the stone bricks slowly shift into wood, and from there the wood slowly but surely weaves itself into a door. A bit hesitantly you open the door, but once you can see another, dark hallway on the other side of the door you rush through without really thinking about it too much. You don't know how long that spell will last, and you'd rather not merge with the wall today. That seems bad for your health.

With that ordeal and a quick light spell behind you you can actually look at where you've ended up. It's a relatively small hallway, with only two doors - two permanent doors, to be more specific - to your left. A bit worryingly, they're both open. There's also a thin layer of disturbed dust on the floor that, at the edge of the hallway, quickly gets thicker. You're definitely not the first to have come here recently. Well, you knew that already, but seeing the evidence of it here before you is something else. In any case you're not going to accomplish anything standing around here, so you peek your head into the first room. It looks like it used to be a storeroom of some kind, but based on the haphazardly placed tables and boxes, and dust, you'd guess this room was raided recently. What's odd is that whoever raided this room only took what they wanted, and left everything else. Some of the tables are still lined up neatly against the far wall, stone tablets and other such items carefully placed on top of them in an orderly fashion, whereas closer to the door there's a box who's lid has been removed with a crowbar, only for it to be left just on top of it. As to the content of this box, more stone stuff. The box looks full, too, so you're not sure if anything was stolen from it. You look around the room and glance at everything you can easily see, but you can't make sense of anything. In part because of poor lighting, but primarily because everything written on the stone is written in a language you don't recognize, let stand know. As for the other stuff, you can only guess as to what their purpose might have been.

That room was a bust, so on to the next one. According to your map this should contain the entrance into Mount Edare, and according to what you were told, it's supposed to be sealed in a way that only an Emperor could open it. You know what's coming, namely this entrance being broken open to tunnelled into, but you still take a moment to collect yourself before leaving the storeroom and checking out the entrance room.

...Actually, small correction: You didn't know what was coming.

"Who dares?"

Hovering inside the entrance room, which is just a squat, empty square room with no features beyond an open trapdoor leading into Mount Edare, is the transparent figure of a ghost. You're not sure what to make of him, since he looks like death didn't stop him from ageing, at least to a point. The man's hair is long and unkempt, covering most of his face, which you can't imagine is intentional. The dirty, torn rags that he's wearing were certainly custom tailored to him, and there's no doubt they were made of the finest materials because there's no mistaken the crest that's still visible despite what must have been years of wear and tear. The symbol of the royal family, of the Empire of Man. No doubt that when this man was alive he was royalty of some kind. But now, haunting the Imperial Palace like this...what happened here?

"Speak, intruder, or begone from my sight!"

Oh, right. Introductions. "S-sorry, my name is [PC FULL NAME], student of the Academagia. I-I'm here to investigate those who have entered the old tunnels and sought out the knowledge of the old Ometti tribe."

The ghost doesn't immediately respond. You think he's looking you over, but can he actually see through that forest of hair? Either way after an awkward, but thankfully brief pause the ghost slowly asks, "You are here...to end their crimes?" You slowly nod, figuring that one way or another that's what you'll be doing here. "Do you know...what they are trying to do?" the ghost asks.

"Well, they're using Gates magic to summon things that possess people. I don't know why that helps them but that's what they've been doing," you slowly answer. It's difficult to say. The sheer weight of that crime makes it difficult to admit, even through you're here to put an end to it.

Another awkward pause. You appreciate the opportunity to collect your thoughts, but it still makes you nervous. The ghost lets out an eerie chuckle - which, for the record, also doesn't help your nerves - and says, "Oh, their schemes will turn out to be far worse than merely that. But...you are here to stop them, yes?"

"W-worse? A-and yes I'm here to stop them. I-if, you know, I have to," you nervously state.

"Time will not wait for you, little student. So go, dive into the furthest depths and witness the extend of desperation's depravity and misfortune. The seal has been undone. If you reach the bottom in time you might yet stop them."

That...sounds a bit dire. "Th-thanks, but...stop them from doing what, exactly?"

"Gathering - nay, creating - the sacrifices necessary to bring back the old guardian, the old god who watched over the tribe...until he chose to take the tribe with him rather than let the Empire, the Temple of Man have it. Their 'protector' from ages past. Death, itself."

...A tribe who used to worship an incarnation of death as a guardian god. That's...like, were any of them surprised when that didn't end well for them? Because that seems like one of those situations that cannot possibly end well. The ghost, perhaps in response to your sceptical expression, asks, "Doubtful? Why? An undying figure, who has power over life and death...what more does one need to be a god?"

A few possibilities actually fly through your head, but they hardly seem relevant now. You need to get a move on, head to the bottom of this cave network whatever thing and find some means of stopping this insanity before it has a chance to begin. If only a professor would actually believe a word of what you'd have to say...and, you know, pointedly ignore the whole "broke in and sneaked around the Imperial Palace" bit. Of course there's being swift, and than there's rushing head-first into your doom. Haste does make waste, as they say, so maybe you should leave and come back when you're at least better prepared? There's no telling how long of a trip this will be and some tools would be useful, but you are a wizard, so maybe your wand will be enough?

-Continue on.
--"I'm ready," you tell the ghost, and with a grave nod he...floats politely to the side. Not that an incorporeal being would have been much of an obstacle, but whatever, it's the thought that counts. In any case you step forward and take a look at the entrance into the mountain. Just an old staircase, hewn in the stone, leading down into a cave. Really not the impressive entrance you were expecting, but than you suppose this is just the equivalent of an entrance hallway.

Well, no use delaying it. You double-check to make sure that your wand in is hand, take the first caution step down and start walking into the (magically lit) darkness.

-Retreat for now - better go in fully prepared.
--The ghost again insists that time is of the essence, but you resolve to retreat back to the Academagia for a spell anyway. These kind of things have a habit of not actually happening until you poke your head into a bear trap, right? That's how that works? Eh...you're confident enough that it does. And besides, taking a day to make sure you don't get stuck, lost underground for a week or two? As the merchants in the Admiratio would call that, "a net win".

I sort of had this plan where, once you go in, the adventure would bulldoze on through to the end come hell or high water...but that kind of fell through. On the bright side, finally getting to the stages I wouldn't consider filler :).

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Dying Wish, stage 6:

Spoiler

You called this little cave an "entrance hallway" before, but after a solid minute or so of walking through a boring, small tunnel you've come to realize just how apt that description really is. Lack of decor aside, you are making progress. Slowly but steadily you're descending, into whatever awaits below. You keep an eye on the walls and especially the floor, looking for anything of use, but alas, it seems like no one who went through here had a hole in their pocket. Or if they did they didn't lose anything here. That said, you can definitely see what look like recent tracks. Not as distinct in the abandoned hallway in the Palace, but if you look at the floor just so you can make out something of a trail. Hopefully it'll be something you can follow, if need be, but even more hopefully you won't need to. Your musings come to a sudden halt when the path before you abruptly makes a very sharp turn, and than goes on for only a very small bit before making another sharp turn. Unless you're mistaken...no, this must be it. The piece that connects the tunnel to whatever, sharp at the end because the tunnel wasn't dug at the perfect angle the entire way through. Alright. You've got your wand, you've got your wits, and you've got no reason to believe that there's anyone around. Whatever awaits, you're ready.

Past the second sharp turn you see something that you can only describe as a main street, just...entirely underground. Being entirely underground it's actually interestingly designed. Ramps curve up, down, and swing along the entire thing, connecting parts that would otherwise cross over each other. It's a crossroad where everything can go in any direction without crossing over anything else. Amazing, but obviously impractical since it only accounts for pedestrian traffic. Could you make carts entirely out of stone and have them be practical? Probably. You can build airships out of stone, slow ones admittedly, but you can, so surely carts could work? Although without donkeys or horses...no, this tribe had magic, so surely they must-oh now you see it, there is actually a wider lane dedicated to, you imagine, carts. Just from the way the stone looks you can tell that the carts that went through here had at least two wheels, probably two or more pairs of them. Very impressive design, if entirely useless above ground. The real question is where to go from here. There's a good...four, maybe even five paths to choose from. Although it seems like the people who came through here before only took one path. Seems like as good a place to start as any. You follow it, unable to resist taking one of the elevated paths. You can only imagine how these must have looked back in their heyday. How busy was this place, anyway? It's impossible to tell. So far.

Following the trail leads you to a tunnel, which in turn leads you to some manner of building. Based on it's design you'd have to say this was a library. Shelves carved out of the wall line the edges of the large room, some of which are still filled with stone slabs reminiscent of actual books, and there's even stone benches and table-looking things in the centre. Everything is a size too small for you, but you can still stand and walk around this place easily. For the Ometti this must have been a grand library, possibly their biggest (only?) one, which gives you an interesting idea. If this was their repository of knowledge, there might be a map of the cavern system around here somewhere. That would be a major boon to you, although finding it will require some legwork. Needless to say there's no librarian around to ask for advice, if you could even speak these old Ometti's language. Still, finding a map sounds like a better plan than blindly walking around what might be dozens of unremarkable stone tunnels, and you'll admit, you're a little curious as to what knowledge this place houses. How are you going to find a map, though?

-Patrol. Follow the trail.
--You might not know where to find anything here, but you do have a literal trail to follow. With some luck you'll have this case closed before dinner.

Famous last words, some would say, but thankfully you're not that naive. In any case, the trail leads you to one particular shelf that has been completely ransacked. Everything else around it has only been looked at, but this one shelf has had a few stacks worth of slabs just outright taken out. That's...worrying. Whoever came through here before knew exactly where to go, what to grab and where to find it. A cursory examination of the nearby slabs confirms that they're written in the same unknown language as the ones you encountered in the storage room. Which, actually, is odd. Are the ones from the storage room box the ones that once were located here? Did someone-actually they were probably left there intentionally. After all who'd try to smuggle out a box full of heavy stone slabs out of the Imperial Palace, of all things, rather than just make a quick copy of them on a few rolls of significantly lighter parchment and take those out? But than why were they taken out of here at all? Why bring them all the way to the storage room if you could make copies of them right here? You quickly look around the library and check if any of the benches or tables have any slabs on them. They don't, not as far as you can see.

...Actually, there's another trail leading away from this shelf. Smaller, more frantic, but it's definitely there. Where does it lead? You turn back and take one last look at the empty shelf, realize that you're not going to get anything worthwhile from it, and carefully follow the narrow trail. It's significantly more difficult, at times it even seems to disappear, but you slowly manage to follow it to another wing of the library. You'll admit that it's a rather terrifying place. Surrounded on all sides with stone versions of things you're otherwise familiar with in pitch-black darkness that is only mostly kept away by your wand. It feels like you're in the Venalicium, or rather what's left of it after a basilisk went absolutely crazy.

Despite it all you force yourself to keep looking, and after a bit of searching and blowing away dust you manage to find what you're looking for. A map, at least a rough map of the caverns below this...city? Is this entire stone library really just a single building of an entire underground stone city? You'll admit, despite this library clearly not being just some random bit of stonework that thought only just now occurred to you. Either way you've got what you needed, so time to make a quick copy of this and do some spelunking.

--You try to continue to follow the trail that lead you here, and for a bit that works out fine, but inside the library there's a number of small, difficult-to-see trails leading off of the main one, like the group who came before you split up and searched in every single direction. You follow what trails you can, but it just leads you around in circles until you end up somewhere completely unrelated or somewhere you've already been. In the end, no hint as to a possible map. Which is a bummer. And if these trails are enough to have you wander around confused in a surprisingly open room...probably best not to tangle with mysterious cave networks, huh? Yeah. That'd be the smart thing to do...

-Gates. Summon a Librarian's Ghost.
--Let's see, no one around? Check. No reason to believe anyone is going to barge in? Eh...inside of an abandoned building secretly hidden under Mount Edare? No, can't say you're expecting visitors. No alternatives readily available? Well, you can follow the trail, but what would that do? Bring you to a specific shelf full of stone slabs you can't read as opposed to just a random one? Yeah, this situation calls for magic. Gates magic.

Heart slightly pounding in your chest you very carefully string together the necessary Phemes, combine them into a spell, and let it fire. Quickly the space before you shifts and twists a bit as a librarian's ghost is being drawn to it.

...You weren't expecting an Ometti librarian, though.

"Who dares disturb my slumber!?" the ghost Ometti ominously snarls out before immediately beginning to chuckle with a normal, feminine voice. "Sorry," she says before you can even react to her, "I've always wanted to say that. Hey, gotta take the hobbies you can get when you're a ghost, can't exactly file books anymore now can I? Anyway lay it on me, mage, what's got your filing tops stuck in a knot?"

...Has she stopped talking? Okay, she's stopped talking. Hopefully this doesn't end worse than it would have if you had accidentally summoned a Dragon. "The maps section, please? I'm looking for a map of the underground caverns below this city, if there's one to be found here."

The ghost does a polite bow, turns around, scratches her ethereal head as she stares (you assume blankly) at the library before her, and turns right back around with a curious look on her face. "Really?" she asks, looking at you like you just said something unheard of. "Are you on a Death's Run, dear?" the ghosts asks you. Your confused expression answers her question. "What? You're here and you don't even know why? You're trying to get to Death's shrine, right? Underneath Mount Edare?"

"Eh...yes? I guess so, but I wasn't aware that had a term for it. Do - or did, perhaps - people go there often? I assume you're familiar with this place, if...well, you're so clearly familiar with it."

"Oh, I've only heard stories from my grandpa," the ghost clarifies. "And sad to say I don't remember 'em too well either - he got a bit...well, mad, near the end if'n you know what I mean - but point is yes, I have heard of it. People back here used to visit Death...I don't want to say frequently, but some definitely did. Anyway what'd you ask for?"

"A map," you repeat, feeling a little tired for...mysterious reasons.

The ghost taps a finger to her chin. "Right, right, map map map...don't think you'll find one in here, dear, at least not one you could read. You probably figured, but with stone being first, last, second and forty-seventh on the list of available materials you can imagine that the 'books' here are a bit...condensed. So's the maps. Though, actually I think I know of one you could use." All of a sudden the ghost rushes off, and comes back with...nothing. Right. Ghost. "What, you expecting a ghost lady to carry your stuff for you? Come on, don't be shy. Ain't no ancient evils lurking within these halls that'll spring out of the shadows and gobble you up. Probably, anyway."

Reluctantly you follow the chatty ghost deeper into the library, taking a number of, to you, random turns until you end up before a shelf that, to you, doesn't look different from the other twenty-some you walked right passed. The ghost points to a particular slab. "That one, got a map of the city. And the underground caverns, if you can make sense of it. Either way, should be of use to you."

Wanting to get away from this annoying ghost you politely thank her for her help and use your want to send her on her way. Preferably forever. You've got other things you should be-heck, you've got things you should be thinking about in general. You don't need such...distractions.

--You draw out what you think the right Phemes are, string them together as you should, and from a misty haze that pours out of your wand like a steam geyser a...translucent figure appears. Eh...not something you can recognize as a Librarian's Ghost, but...that's not...strictly necessary, r-right...?

Yeah, ye done fluffed this one up. Time to run.

Right as the translucent figure conjures an icicle and sends it flying just barely over your head you turn around and start running, dodging another icicle as you leap out of the building and behind the (temporary) safety of it's walls. Okay, so instead of a librarian you got some sort of vengeful spirit who wants to turn you into a winter-themed porcupine. Eh, you've had worse. Nothing you can't handle, in theory, but...how about making sure that next time you try you can handle in it practice? Or better yet: Make sure you don't have to. Sounds like a plan? Sounds like a plan.

...You should probably stop mentally berating yourself and get to the magical fireworks before it comes to you, though.

One thing I always wondered about summoning ghosts to do your bidding - inevitably you're going to summon Pamela or the ghost version of Mister Pebbles instead of someone useful, right?

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Dying Wish, stage 7:

Spoiler

Not wanting to go into a maze of caves without at least some idea of what you'll be throwing yourself into you decide to sit down on one of the (uncomfortable...) stone benches, roll out your map on the table in front and look it over carefully. Incidentally, the look of you alone in this library that's been abandoned for who knows how long? Kinda freaky, but also a bit hopeful. Mostly freaky, though.

As for the map, it's a giant mess of lines that cross over each other far too often to be of any real use. The city part of the map is somewhat manageable, since it's largely straight lines in a grid-like fashion that gives you some idea as to the size of the "buildings" they connect to, as well as a weird symbol that probably denotes their function which you can't make heads or tails out of. But the underground portion? That's just a mess. Come to think of it, you're not sure how to even enter the underground...eh, "underground-er" portion. There was only the one trail and it lead you here, so these death worshippers apparently haven't gone down yet either. That's a good thing, since it gives you time, on the other side it means you're lost as to how to beat them to their target, which is inevitably going to waste time. One step forward, one step back.

The question of where you're going to go from here runs circles in your head until your eyes land on a specific block on the city portion of your map. It's pretty small, the map, you mean, and of rather poor quality given that this is just a hastily made copy, but you're quite sure that one of the larger buildings in the city portion of the map has a skull-shaped symbol in it. A graveyard? Or, given that these people apparently worshipped death, perhaps a temple? It's a bit presumptuous, that to this old tribe a skull would have the same traditional meanings as it does to you, but what else could a building with a skull be? Unless these people made candles out of skulls-actually they couldn't do that anyway. Candles need wax, wax is produced by bees, and bees don't exactly thrive underneath a mountain. The only other thing you can imagine a skull being used for is cups, but that is A: Disgusting, and B: Unlikely considering that the storeroom above had a collection of stone cups, so at least some were made out of stone. There's just...this has to be it. There's nothing else even remotely plausible that you can think of that this building could be, other than a graveyard or a temple. And if you were going to place the entrance to a twisted, pilgrimage-y path to...death's major shrine? Home? Something, down deep below, where would you put it other than a graveyard or a temple? This must be it. Time to grab your map and navigate your way to this building.

It takes a bit of effort to find your way around the maze-like tunnels, and most importantly to actually orient yourself, but you have to admit that this place is amazing to walk around. It'd be less nerve-wrecking if there was enough ambient light to see without your wand, but hey, gotta take the good with the bad as people like to say. And after a short while of walking around (and playing around with the elevated walkways, you'll admit) you reach the building in question. The "sign" in front of it shows the same skull as the one on your map, so you know this is the right place. A quick test of the rather large stone doors, which looks somewhat over-engineered in terms of hinges, confirms that the doors aren't locked. Not that you couldn't magic your way through it if push came to shove, of course, but sometimes you just want to walk through a front door like a normal person.

Dreading what's coming you involuntarily let out a sigh. Well, time to go.

You put a lot of effort into pushing open one of the stone doors, and slowly it creaks open. The inside of the building quickly confirms that this is a temple, rather than a graveyard. Stone benches that look remarkably like pews are placed in a perfect circle around a large statue in the center of the room. After a quick count in your head you come up with enough seats in this room for at least a hundred of you. There's enough room to walk along the highly decorated walls, and the far back of the room appears to be some manner of...ritual area? Something important, it's slightly raised from the rest of the room and there's a good deal of open space there. Point is, that aside the rest of this room is entirely filled with seats. As for the murals along the walls, they were clearly made by the most talented stone artist this tribe had. Beautiful details, it even incorporates whatever light source used to provide light in this room. If lit from the right position the shadows actually look like a layer of paint. You've heard that necessity is the mother of invention, but still, this is amazing.

Amazing, but not getting you closer to your goal. There's another entrance to this room, but it's just another front door. There's no way down into the ground, at least that you can see. Is it hidden somewhere? You could believe that people going to visit death was a big deal, something that called for at least some ceremony. On the flip side, who'd ever want to do a thing like that? Either which way you've got a beautiful room to examine for some manner of trickery, so you'll have to carefully examine all of the artwork. And the benches and all that, but still, all told? You've had worse tasks.

-Theory of Gates. Is teleportation a viable option here?
--Your knowledge of Gates isn't perfect, but you're confident that teleporting to this "shrine" or whatever with any reasonable degree of safety will only be possible if you had an anchor. Something to bring you directly to the place you want to go. Ideally something that was set up as an anchor, but you might be able to manage with "just" an item of great significance, probably some part of the shrine itself. The things is you don't know if you have access to such an item, and even if you do, the ability to identify it. The alternative would be a blind teleportation, but that under a mountain isn't safe in any situation. The odds of you ending up either somewhere that's cut off from any possible exit because of a cave-in that happened millennia ago, or just stepping into solid rock and dying horribly is just far too great. You're going to have to do some manual work here if you don't want to risk getting kidney stones bigger than your actual kidney, and indeed, the rest of your body. And honestly? You'd rather not risk that, if at all possible.

--Maybe it is, but maybe doing so will put you inside a solid wall of rock instead. As much as you want to leverage your unspoken talents this, for all the wrong reasons, is sadly not a good situation for it.

-Natural Philosophy. Critically examine all of this artwork.
--You should be looking for a secret switch or something, but you just cannot take your eyes off of the murals on the wall. These are well preserved, well made, and undeniably significant. If you want to learn about this tribe's history, and you do, this mural will tell you more than all those unreadable slabs in that library, for sure. You do a quick circle around the room and try to gauge which mural you want to start with, and that has got to be the one providing a background for the ritual area. It's not the most visible in the room, but it's the largest, and for it to stare directly at this open space in a room otherwise stuffed with seats, yes, this is the one you should examine first.

Even after just a cursory look you don't know what to say. The mural can be broken down into three parts - left, right and center. The left part depicts a handful of Ometti, all standing stoically before the figure in the centre. To the right is another handful of Ometti, but this time one of them is laying down on the ground - dead, you figure - while three of the Ometti appear to be focussing at the dead one, all three having different expressions and their arms and hands in different places that you can't figure out the exact meaning of, and one last Ometti is instead looking at the center figure, seemingly pointing at the dead Ometti. The center figure, however, is undoubtedly the most impressive and, for you, mind-boggling. The figure of a giant skeleton, by itself bigger than at least two of the left Ometti stacked on top of each other, is for some reason mounted on an equally skeletal horse. The mural's depiction is a bit odd, since you can see both the outline of the horse as well as his(?) skeleton, so you're not sure what is up with this horse. What you can see is that the...human-sized? You guess so, but if this skeleton is supposed to be a human that's...that raises all sorts of questions. Either way the large skeleton riding the horse is looking down at the dead Ometti. In one hand, "behind" the skeleton and the horse, is some kind of tool or weapon you can't make out. Displayed far more prominently out the large skeleton's other, outstretched boney hand, is what almost looks like the actual centrepiece of the entire mural. A...what is that? Two triangular shapes pointing at each other, meeting not at their tips but a ways before it, encased on both sides with a small pillar connecting them? That's-oh now you see it, that's an hourglass. So is the dead Ometti's time up? Is that what this mural depicts? Death, coming to collect someone who's last bell has rung? That's...not something you'd worship, personally, but it's a far cry from the ritual sacrifice or some such that you were expecting. And perhaps most puzzlingly, why is death riding a horse? This tribe, for generations, has lived in a cave that you can comfortably walk around only because you're as young as you are, you can't imagine a regular adult standing upright in some of these tunnels, let alone someone mounted on a horse. So why is death riding a horse? Is it a sign of his divinity, since he's doing something that his flock obviously couldn't? Maybe it's to glorify the afterlife, to show something like luxury by depicting death as having something good that the tribe cannot. Or maybe there's an historical explanation. The tribe didn't always live in caves, so it's possible they knew of horses at one point, but honestly in that case why isn't death riding a dragon? If he's supposed to be this fearsome god that spared the tribe, why isn't he using the tribe's ancient enemy as a mount, to show his superiority? So many questions you can't answer. Speaking of which you can't figure out what the large skeleton figure's tool is, so you decide to start looking around elsewhere.

Next on the list is the statue in the center of the room. It, too, depicts death riding his weird outlined-yet-skeletal horse. Pretty impressive stonework, you have to admit. That aside the statue is honestly fairly plain, you can't really say anything about it, but it does clear up the mystery of the mysterious tool. It's just a sword. Or at least that's what it looks like. Nothing overly impressive, sadly, and with how detailed this statue is you're sure it's not something that's just "lost in translation", as it were. The statue is also holding up the same hourglass-like shape, actually more like he's presenting it to the crowd, which makes you wonder whether it or death itself is actually the more important of the two. What could the hourglass mean, anyway? Is it just one of his signature items? It'd fit, sure, but-

Hang on, you've found something even more important! Along the top edge of the statue there's a...groove? Canal? What would you call this, exactly? Oh it doesn't matter, what matters is that there's clearly a line going around in a circle around the top of the statue's base that was once filled with water. You can see where the water level was based on the discoloration of the stone. And, actually...yes, it's difficult to see but this little waterway is actually angled down somewhat, so that any water put in at the side facing the ritual area will flow down to the other side. And at that side is a hole dug into the statue for the water to disappear into. This might just be it. You decide to give it a shot. With your wand you carefully Incant a small stream of water and let it flow down the waterway, down into the holes in the back. Suddenly a number of magical lights around the statue slowly start to light up, and the statue actually moves! It moves backwards, revealing a hole leading even deeper into the ground. You know it's presumptuous but this has to be it, right? It has to be. Which means it's time to make your way down and see if you can find a path towards...death's shrine, at the bottom of this supposed maze of caverns and caves and such.

...Joy. No time like the present though, so with some reservations you head inside.

--You carefully look over all of the artwork in the room, making sure to check every location that every individual depicted in every mural is looking at or somehow pointing to, but you come up empty. As for what the mural depict, well, you could stand here and speculate for hours on end about what something might have meant centuries back, but that isn't going to get you any closer to your goal, now is it? Although if nothing is pointing towards it could that mean that, to the people here, going on this "pilgrimage" of sorts was-

No! Never mind, stop that thought! If you let yourself start a tangent you're going to be here until tomorrow. You found nothing, time to reconsider your options here.

-Negation. Search the room for magic residue.
--You focus your search on the ritual area, figuring that's probably where the spells were being cast, but even after at least a minute of spellcasting there's barely any sort of aura or trace left to find of whatever there once was. Eh...magical auras do decay over time, yes? At least ones that don't cover living beings? You're pretty sure they do. So that would mean...what, exactly? That you're wrong in one way or wrong in another way? Maybe both? Bah, you don't have to bother with anything that results in those conclusions. Time to look elsewhere.

You look over the room again, trying to determine what the next place to check is, and really, the statue rather conspicuously placed in the centre of the room, with a nice walkway leading to it from this ritual area? Hmm-hmm, that's your...guy? Well, it's your statue alright, but is the skeleton depicted on the statue a guy or a girl? Is there even a way to tell? You shrug - if there is, you don't know, and honestly you see no reason to care. Your wand is drawn, time to look over the statue.

Almost immediately you hit the jackpot. Enchantments that, while slightly faded, are still intact and functional...and some Negations, all weaved carefully around an internal mechanism. Looking over the statue with your eyes you soon spy a small divot, leading down into a small hole. Based on the discoloration of the stone you figure that water is the key here. And water you can create. With magic, of course. That's about as basic as Incantations get.

Suddenly a number of magical lights around the statue slowly start to light up, and the statue indeed moves! It moves backwards, revealing a hole leading even deeper into the ground. You figured that's what the enchantments are for. So this must be the way into the underground caverns, right? Well it sure ain't going to be a secret basement, now it is? It has to be. Which means it's time to make your way down and see if you can find a path towards...Death's shrine, at the bottom of this supposed maze of caverns and caves and such. Joy.

--You carefully search the murals, the benches, the area in the back, even the floor and ceiling, but no matter where you point your wand you're not finding anything like magical residue. Hopefully that's just because you're either missing it or miscast your spell or something, because if it's truly faded away completely you're going to have a hell of a time trying to figure out how this building worked. Mages can do brilliant things with, well, magic, but making sure that the next guy can figure out how the latest contraption works without a blueprint? Yeah...you're going to need either a better spell, or a better idea.

-Traps. Look for a mechanism of some kind.
--You very carefully look over the many murals that line each wall, but no matter how many stone bones you poke and prod nothing moves or clicks. Where did these people put their secret switches if not-actually, this was a temple, right? That means you're not looking for a secret switch, you're looking for a religiously significant switch!

Dang. Those are generally a bigger pain to find than the secret variety...usually because with the secret ones you generally just look in the last place your eyes see of any given room, and boom: Switch. Well...if you were the guy in charge of this place's interior decoration, and you wanted to put a switch somewhere where people could be an awe of what it did, where would you-the centre statue. No need to even finish that thought, it's the centre statue. Time to give it a once-over.

Nothing along the base of the statue that you can see, no plaques or anything on the side of the side of the pedestal, but ahah! A divot circling the top! Gods, and you spend minutes looming over every mural looking for that? Kinda embarrassing, but it's a rare occurrence that you're hunting around old ruins looking for something that it's former inhabitants want to be re-discovered, and probably plundered mercilessly. As for the divot, there appears to be something like a shore in it? It's weird, but the color of the stone is definitely different. Heck, if that's the trick that's fine. Magic up some water, let's see the show.

You asked, and you receive. Suddenly a number of magical lights around the statue slowly start to light up, and the statue indeed moves! It moves backwards, revealing a hole leading even deeper into the ground. So this must be the way into the underground caverns. Which means it's time to make your way down and see if you can find a path towards...Death's shrine, at the bottom of this supposed maze of caverns and caves and such. Here's to hoping this whole trip to visit Death is a literal and not a figurative thing, because if you trip head-first into a pit full of rusty spikes you are going to be so mad...

--You examine the many benches, examine the wall, examine the area in the back and the artwork very carefully, but nothing shows any sign of being able to move. Although with magic just about anything could move without leaving a trace behind, right? Curses. How are you supposed to find something in these poor conditions that, for all you know, could be invisible? There's a surprising amount an engineer can do, even without magic, and based on the murals you have to assume that these Ometti weren't ignorant of that fact. Either you need to bring magic to the table and hope that there's traces left to find, or you need to find a better source of light...which, currently, you provide via magic, so back to square one it is.

...You try to ignore the fact that finding the entrance would be all well and nice, but getting it to open could be a whole ordeal in it's own right. Admitting to that would just be depressing, at this point.

I'll be honest, typing this I kind of ended up expecting people to go with the Natural Philosophy exit even though that's not at all a commonly raised skill. I mean who descends into ancient ruins with nothing more exciting to look forward to but hopefully finding the ancient boulder trap before you trip it and cue the Benny Hill music, right?

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Actually had a :huh: moment while typing that. Good to know my coin toss was a total bust :P.

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Dying Wish, stage 8:

Spoiler

Right below the statue in the main temple room, much to your surprise, is another room. You were expecting the (mostly) natural maze of caves to begin immediately, but this room is just as...Ometti-made as the one above. As to it's purpose, you're not sure. The room is divided in two by a smooth walkway leading, you imagine, into the actual cave maze. The floor on both sides is lined with chair-like objects, and the walls have enchanted torch-like objects attached to them, though their light has dimmed considerably over the centuries. More importantly, the walls are decorated with murals much like the room above, but these ones...you don't want to say they look different, because they really don't, but looking at them gives you the sense that these ones are different. As you walk forward you realize why. The ones above are just murals, decorations, but these one are telling you a story. At the start of the room you see Death, the human-sized skeleton riding his weirdly transparent horse, actually helping what looks like an Ometti's child climb up his horse. Two adult Ometti look at the scene with (at best) mixed expressions on them, but the child actually looks excited, enchanted by what you imagine he (she?) sees as an exotic animal that he or she gets the chance to ride. On the one side, you can understand that. On the other side, kinda morbid.

The next mural depicts death and the child Ometti, both sitting on the transparent horse, looking ready to leave. But the two adults are kneeling on the ground before death, looking like they're begging death not to take the child. The child looks more confused than anything, which...again, is kinda morbid. As for Death you can't tell what his expression is, mostly since he's only got a skull to work with, but he's holding out an hourglass before the two adults, apparently in response to their plea. You have to get real close to see it, thanks mostly to the poor lighting conditions, but the hourglass that death is holding has all of it's sand located on the bottom. It's time is up. Again, you can see how this fits, but it's really morbid...

The third mural depicts one of the two adults from before, again kneeling before death, and with another empty hourglass hovering between them. This time death clearly looks upset, or at least different from how he's been depicted before. He's got his sword drawn, stabbed into the ground before him so that on the mural it appears right next to the adult Ometti's neck, and (yet?) he's pointing away from the adult Ometti, which from your perspective looks like he's pointing further down this corridor. Actually, looking a bit closer you notice another empty hourglass on the mural, apparently attached to the belt from his sword's hilt. You're not sure what all happened to this Ometti, but you imagine that things didn't go well and they'll get worse before they get better...if they get better.

Between the third and the fourth mural there's a relatively long stretch of the adult Ometti navigating a mess of caves. Goodie. That looks exactly what you've been waiting for. In any case you suspect it's an in between bit rather than the fourth mural itself, since the room itself seems to break it's own pattern - there's no chairs lining this mural - so you assume that the mural does as well. The fourth mural proper, assuming that's correct, depicts the adult Ometti again, standing before death in what you imagine is death's shine. Once more the Ometti is kneeling before death, although the latter doesn't appear to be doing anything other than just staring at him. Next to death, on a stone table, stand two empty hourglasses. You also see a multitude of pots in and around the shrine, although what their significance is you can only guess at. Urns for cremated bodies? They look a bit too large for that, but that's your best guess.

The firth and final mural is odd enough to make you stop in your admittedly slow, already stop-prone path. You see a depiction of the entire Ometti family, happy and reunited, while death watches annoyedly from the sidelines. His horse is also there, although this time death isn't mounted on it. Instead he's got one boney hand on what you can only imagine must be some invisible girdles, and in his other hand is his sword, which looks oddly dirty compared to the previous mural. Between the two and the Ometti family is the table from the previous mural as well as the two empty hourglasses, but this time there's also the two halves of a broken hourglass. Oddly, there's sand located in both halves.

The wall, and indeed the long-ish corridor, ends here. Now at the end there's a grating before you, locked in place by what seems like a very crude and rusty hourglass-shaped lock. Beyond the grating is just a bit of cave that quickly disappears into darkness, although from here you can tell that it's a very steep climb back up. Without magic you'd need climbing gear to get back up, no question. Just out of curiosity you test the lock, to see if it's actually locked, but it is indeed locked. Of course that aside the lock looks like a hard enough hit with a rock would cause it to fall to pieces, and if there's anything around here that's not in short supply it's rocks...

-Lockpick. Pick the lock.
--Initially you think that this lock has long since rusted shut, but thankfully your lockpicks quickly prove you wrong after you get to work unlocking this thing. Honestly, either this lock was mostly ceremonial or these Ometti were terrible locksmiths. Your dorm room lock would be embarrassed by this thing.

Well, either which way, you unlock the grating and slide it open. One last obstacle, and you'll be able to end this madness.

--Despite the oddly shaped lock having what looks like a slot to put a key in you're not able to unlock the thing. Maybe conventional lockpicks can't actually pick this lock, or maybe the lack of light is a problem, or maybe you're just terrible and are trying desperately to find something else to blame this failure on. Whatever the case might be you're not able to pick this lock open, so barring something that can smash through this you're stuck.

-Brute Strength. Break the lock.
--There's really nothing much to say about this. You grab a nearby rock, take a second to aim, and smash the lock into at least three pieces with just one swing. If fact you think you damaged the grating itself as well, although at least visibly it still looks to be in one piece. Alright, barring any more museum exhibits between you and this shrine, you should only have to conquer the maze and you'll be done with this.

--First you try a small rock, figuring that just a pebble would be enough to crack this thing. In the process you bruise your thumb. Next you decide to go for a bigger pebble, figuring some more weight and surface area is what you need. This, painfully, nearly dislodges one of your fingers. Finally you get a sharp piece of rock and, somewhat annoyed, you decide to go to town on the lock.

And so you do, rather more literally than figuratively, but at least you've (unintentionally!) left a blood trail leading back to where you got stuck.

-Revision. Revise the lock (and grating) into parchment.
--You expected the lock to be protected against magic shenanigans, but it doesn't provide any resistance as you slowly turn the grating into something so soft and brittle that you can easily rip it to shreds with your bare hands. Rather pitiful, really, but you've got no time to be concerned about that. Just the maze left, and you'll be able to end this madness.

--You cast your spell and, perhaps foolishly assuming that it worked, proceed to try and kick in the grating. Your foot is met by still sturdy iron, and the kickback you weren't expecting is enough to make you fall flat on your backside. Well, that was fun, but if this is proving to be an effective method of stopping you you're clearly in need of a break.

Kind of a filler stage in terms of the rolls, but...

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Since I sort of mostly finished the adventure and might be busy tomorrow, have the rest of it. Dying Wish, stage 9:

Spoiler

The maze of caves and caverns that you were told about turn out to be exactly what you were told they would be. Namely, a maze of caves and caverns. Unfortunately that means there's nothing interesting that can be said here - you're just applying the usual tricks in order to not get lost, and with most of those tricks being wand-based you're at no risk of, say, running out of string to mark off dead ends or some such. You'd feel more anxious about, say, getting lost or something, but worst comes to worst you've left a very clearly marked path back towards the entrance of this mess, so...you're not really at risk of getting permanently lost down here. Good thing, too. You don't think anyone could find you if you did.

The real problem is that you're getting the feeling that you're being followed. It might just be your nerves, but almost every time you turn around you think you can see a shape moving in the shadows, and every so often you walk through a small piece of unnaturally cold air that just disappears almost as quickly as you notice it. Yet no matter how much light you shine down any of these tunnels you never see anyone. Or hear anyone, come to think of it. Not that that's a surprise, you know there's spellcasters of some calibre involved in this mess. This is a problem you think you're going to have to deal with sooner rather than later. With how heavily you're relying on your wand to not get permanently lost down here you're hesitant to rely on it even more, but there must be something you can do to outsmart or out-something whoever is so carefully staying behind you...

-Religion. Pray for protection.
--You say a quick prayer, but rather than settle the shadows it only seems to aggravate it. Is an evil spirit following you? That's...actually not unreasonable, considering the whole dead civilization above you and this whole "pilgrimage to Death" stuff and...everything, but...huh. Well, in any case that's...not "fine", really, but point is that you can work with that. With practised ease, and the knowledge that as far away from home as you are you're not alone, you recite a (relatively) ancient, but still powerful counter-curse, calling on the authority of the Emperor and the grace of the divines that founded the Empire to protect you from those who don't follow their example. And with one final rush of cold air, blowing past your ears with something like a scream, the shadows fall back and disappear.

In truth you can't feel bad for those who thought that trying to call on Death was a brilliant idea, but even so, the remnant of their enmity shouldn't have stayed here for so long just to try and stop you. Hopefully by the end of this you'll be able to put them, too, to rest.

--You do your best to maintain focus and periodically whisper a quick prayer, but the constant shifting of the shadows around you and feeling of dread all but destroy your ability to concentrate. You don't want to believe you'd be completely abandoned in case the worst happened, but honestly, you can't help but feel like that if there's anyone you should be praying to, it's you.

-Ambush. Make the hunter the hunted.
--Ambushing someone in an environment like this is nigh-impossible without a wand you're not already over-relying on. That's not to say you can't think of a plan, but...it's a dangerous gambit. Than again continuing on like nothing is wrong is dangerous in it's own right, and as explorers say, [s/he] who hesitates is lost. And that fortune favors the bold. And that people who try to apply that logic to a lion's den will be messily turned into lunch. But there's no lions in here (plenty of bats and rats though), so you should be fine. Probably.

With that in mind it's time to head into a dead end...and lie in wait. Sooner or later your stalker will follow, and then...you strike. And maybe die horribly. But probably not. Why, yes, walking around a giant underground maze while being followed by moving shadows is rather unnerving.

In any case you find a dead end (it's...not hard) and wait. And wait some more. And you continue waiting...but nothing ever comes. The shadows ahead don't shift. There's no sound of movement, so signs of Glamours coming your way...nothing. Were you just imagining things this entire time? Maybe. Certainly can't discount the possibility. Either way you shake it off as best you can and move on...and keep an eye on your escape route, just in case...

--You do your best to try and move silently, get into a position to ambush your stalker and hear for his or her (their?) approach, but no matter how often you jump at the shifting shadows whatever is behind it escapes your grasp. You keep trying, and with every failed attempt your nerves get just that little bit closer to completely breaking. It feels like this cave itself is out to get you. And at this rate it might actually succeed...

-War. Apply some creative tactics.
--You're got an idea, you just need one small-okay, a few small items to make it work. Let's see...yes, these'll do. Small rock pebbles, where would the plucky spelunker be without you? With these you don't have to rely on your wand anymore, these things are your wand. All you need is a good throwing arm.

Periodically as you're moving around you throw a rock in a random direction. The clattering noises end up startling a number of wild bats, rats and other creatures that have made this place their home, and all the noises and general chaos should be enough to keep whoever is behind you off of your trail. Add in a few rocks tossed right at your feet (hey, free rock!), and you're confident that you're safe from anyone trying to trail you in these conditions. The shadows keep playing tricks on you, but that only serves to make you realize just how fatigued you're getting. You better find this shrine that you're looking for fast, and hopefully without unwanted surprises.

--There's one, here's another, one-two-three more over yonder, few more right there...okay, this'll for for ammunition. Time for every spelunker's inevitable pastime.

Throwing rocks.

Every time you see the shadows move in the distance, you respond to it by throwing a rock in some direction. Later you even aim before carelessly tossing a rock against a wall, only to have it bounce back right in your face. Also, getting assailed by a few of the animals around here - bats and rats, mostly - who've made this place their home and don't appreciate you tossing a rock at the equivalent of their foyer. All the same you think that under these conditions anyone would have a hard time following you.

...The shadows don't go away, though. You're getting increasingly unnerved by the shadows moving around you and eventually resort to just throwing rocks right at the distortions. It accomplishes nothing that you can see, but it makes you feel just a little bit better..."less bad", really.

No, I will never get tired of having a mage prodigy solve problems by throwing rocks.

Dying Wish, stage 10:

Spoiler

After a gruelling trek that lasted you don't even know how long, finally you peek your hear around one last corner and find yourself standing before Death's shrine. It's...eh...modest? It's a flat, raised floor with a few pillars and purely decorative archways surrounding it. You've literally seen parks in Mineta that were a model of complexity compared to this. Those underground crossroads were amazing in their complexity, yet functionality and (ultimately) simplicity, but this is the best that this tribe could do? Or is it all that Death wanted? The murals from before did leave you with the impression that this wasn't a place you were really meant to visit, and really, all things considered, it shouldn't be. Still, you're here, and you don't see any signs of any recent disturbance, so you think you can safely assume you got here before the Ometti madmen did. Now it's just a matter of examining this place, figuring out how to put an end to nefarious schemes and going all. The. Way. Back. To the Academagia. On foot. You are not looking forward to that, but you'll have to. Either way, time to look around.

Of course you say that, but there's not very much to see. Death's actual shrine, as mentioned before, is as simplistic and minimalistic as it gets. The room you're in is, surprise surprise, just a room inside of a cave. Not exactly a stark contrast compared to everything you've seen since you first entered the old tribe grounds. Finally, there's really nothing magical here that you can make out, let alone use. The auras are just too old and faded. That said you do find, in addition to a number of large pot shards laying around, four intact pots behind the shrine, a bit tucked away in a shadowy corner. You examine the pots, mentally making a few generic observations about their age and the quality of the stonework (nothing useful, sadly), but what stands out is their unusual content. One pot is filled with stagnant, if clear water. Somehow the many animals living around this cave haven't touched or dirtied it. Another pot is filled with what looks like regular dirt, an admittedly rare commodity so far underground, and another pot is filled with a black dust-looking substance. Ashes, you guess. The fourth pot is completely empty. You take a step back and scratch your head. You can see the theme with these pots, although you're not sure how to-

"[PC FIRST NAME], look out!"

Instinctively you turn your head towards the familiar-sounding voice, and a spit-second later you dive to the ground. Just in time, because some manner of magic bolt that seemed to be oozing pure darkness flies right over your head and harmlessly impacts the wall behind you. Well, harmlessly apart from the part that looks like it just got hit with acid, but if the darkness was chemically acidic you'd have heard the stone sizzle. Magically acidic, though...yeah. You quickly scurry behind the empty pot, hoping that it'll provide some form of cover, and try and get a look at your mysterious attacker...and saviour.

"Mors!" a cold, shrill and also familiar voice screams into the echo-y room. "I know you can hear me! Come before me, lest I summon you here by giving you someone else to ride your damned horse!"

Recalling the series of murals from before...that's probably not a good thing. Worse, you can't get a good look at whoever is behind this. The room is just too dark, and your light spell doesn't seem to work.

"You can't!" the voice that warned you before cries. It takes a second to click, but you do recognize it - it's Aria! What's she doing here, of all people!?

"You are the last person to tell me who I can and cannot sacrifice, scorn of Iudocia!" the cold voice snarls out. "Go! Stand on Their hollowed ground like you're welcome! Use the power you don't have to stop me! I'm the one brought you here, child of Inanis. I have the power to send you right back. In short, I will decide who lives or dies!" With the most hate-filled, bitterness dripping from every word voice you've ever heard, the cold voice adds, "Do not forget your place."

Aria repeatedly tries to say something in response, but every attempt just brings her closer to tears until she breaks. If Theodore is also there you don't hear him say anything. You can kinda, sorta see vague shapes in the distance that could be them, but the room is too dark. Considering how much effort you've put into trying to light things up you're going to assume that you're fighting against someone controlling the shadows in this room, at least to some extent. That...is not good news.

...Yeah, you really can't think of an angle of attack here. Your opponent is invisible, excessive force would risk bringing the entire mountain down on you both (which is somewhat more of a bother for you than the ghost)...the exit is between you and him...these pots? You don't know how to use them, if you can use them. Eh...if he's controlling the shadows you probably can't sneak out of here under cover. Think, think, there's got to be something...

Your mind keeps racing through possibilities until a(nother) sound you really weren't expecting to hear echoes through the room, loudly enough to drown out your own thoughts. Okay, so you weren't expecting Aria or your attacker either, but there's not expecting something and than there's this. A horse, neighing as loudly as some of the drama queens (mares?) dragging along carts full of goods in the Admiratio do. Not only that, but the unnatural shadows hanging about the room seem to...shiver? Something, it's difficult to tell. Either way something is happening, and that means that either you're about to be rescued, or the final nail is about to be hammered into your coffin. You really hope it's not the latter.

"Foolish boy, clinging to broken dreams. Haven't you learned your lesson yet?"

Hesitating you nevertheless slowly poke your head above your hiding spot to try and see what's going on. And you're not sure what to make of this. The ghost from before, the fallen royal, is here, wand drawn at...at the figure you saw depicted so often. A large skeleton, human sized, sword drawn in one hand and holding an hourglass in the other, sitting on a horse who's mostly opaque, but still transparent skin shows nothing but the shadowy shapes of bones underneath. The large skeleton is wearing a pale white robe, partially transparent like his horse, but with his hood down you can clearly make out the clean, faded grey color of his bones. You've seen animated skeletons before, you've seen undead before, but looking at this...this being you can feel that this is something else entirely. There's a pale radiance in the air you can taste with your tongue, as odd as that sounds, and you're sure it's coming from...Death? The expression on the royal ghost's face, what you can see of it, you thought could not possibly get any more enraged. It...does.

"You!" he snarls out a second before throwing another bolt of oozing blackness at Death. The latter is so unimpressed he doesn't even bother to move out of the way, and rightfully so, because a direct hit from the bolt ends up accomplishing absolutely nothing. "You've had your fun bringing your own flock to ruin and setting me up as a cursed guardian, but no more! I've got what I need, to create and take life as I see fit, so now it's finally time for you to be replaced!" The enraged royal ghost throws another bolt of oozing darkness, and just like the last one it completely fails to accomplish anything. Is Sir Rage-a-Lot seeing a completely different battle than you are? Because as far as you can see he's not making any sort of progress whatsoever.

Death stoically looks at this display. If you didn't know better you'd say that he's trying to figure out whether his "opponent" has just lost his mind completely since the last time they met. "Replace me? Do you mean to tell me...that you seriously believe that in stringing along those children of the void, two crying unnoticed in uncertainty and agony behind you as you speak, you've gotten what you were lacking to take my place?" Death asks like he's trying to make casual conversation with the guy actively trying (and failing) to...kill him? How does that work, exactly? In any case, if you didn't know better (and you very well might for all you know) you'd say that Death is genuinely confused at this display. The ghost, for his part, doesn't even respond, he just continues to fight his imaginary battle against an opponent who, in reality, isn't even bothering to dodge the completely ineffective shots thrown at him. Seeing that Death just shakes his skull-eh, his head. "That you, in time, lasted longer than the Empire you were heir to did. What a disgrace. But, very well. If time has taken your ability to comprehend your suffering from you, I'll do you a favor. And end it."

Before your eyes you see Death hold out the empty hourglass in his hand, and although he lets his boney hand and arm drop the hourglass remains, hovering in the air. Then, with a slash so quick you couldn't blink without missing it, Death uses his sword to cut the hovering hourglass in half. The two halves start to fall to the ground, quickly disintegrating into nothingness before anything hits the stone floor below. As for the royal ghost, as if time has caught up to him his ethereal form begins to age rapidly, his long and unkempt hair graying, whithering, and dying so quickly you can see it happen, and the rest of him follows suit. Before disappearing the rage in his eyes fade, and he looks at Death not with hatred, but with...something else. You're not sure. Fear? Surprise? Disbelief? Something. "Pray that the Gods you so often condemned have greater mercy on you than those they condemned because of you, son of Octavius," Death calmly says to the now fading form of the royal ghost, who doesn't respond. Instead he just silently disappears, into nothingness. "Now, as for our special guest..."

...Wait, is that referring to you? Eh...Death did turn around and is looking right at you, still mostly hiding behind that empty pot. Eh...this isn't going to end badly, right? You've done nothing...too horrible...at least recently, right? Hesitantly, nervously, you step out from your hiding place and look up at Death. Why anyone, for any reason, would ever want this is completely beyond you. Heck, didn't you come here to prevent this? That plan sure fell through, didn't it?

"You have no idea what role you truly played in all of this, do you?"

You shake your head. That the royal ghost betrayed you, lied to you most likely in an attempt to lure you here so that, worst case scenario, he could kill you to summon Death, you've figured out. But beyond that? You don't know. You're not sure what part the Ometti actually played in this. Whether they, too, were tricked in some way. Probably, but...you don't know.

"I thought as much," Death says, looking over at either the place where the ghost disappeared or where Aria and Theodore are sitting. They, for their part, are just silently looking at this display, Aria still in tears and Theodore maintaining his card player expression. You'd be willing to bet that deep down he's even more upset than Aria, though. Death turns back to you. "That fool of a prince thought he could make himself an immortal king - an immortal god, even - all before his father's hourglass ran out. He manipulated his subjects, manipulated the tribe of Ometti, tried to manipulate the Imperial Temple, manipulated his father...and when it all failed, he came to try and manipulate me. The Ometti who used to live here held that if you made your way here, to me, that I would grant you a wish. So he came to me, and wished to to rule his kingdom, his empire, for all eternity. He lived and died a fool. A fool that nevertheless outlived the empire he sought to rule forever. Such irony. Such disgrace."

You'll admit you're not exactly feeling like you could pay perfect attention even if you wanted to, but you definitely caught one bit. "Y-you...grant...wishes? But...then why did you let this old tribe, this old home die? Did none of them wish for it to stay?"

"Something that does not die is something that is not alive. Be it a person, or an empire," Death explains, although you're not sure you really get it. "As for your first question, yes. Tradition was that those who made their way here, through the maze of caverns, would be allowed to ask me for a wish. It was - is, even - a tradition that I wish would have died before it's time was up. Far too often was I asked not to take the live of someone's beloved, or worse, asked to waste the time of one who thought that without their beloved the sand their hourglass had left had no meaning." Death actually shakes his head as he remembers that. "Such a waste of sand. Of time. But, of course, I never judge. No matter who someone is or what they've done, even if they find themselves abandoned by everyone at time's end...I will be there."

"I-is? You mean that I...?"

Death nods. "Yes. You, having made your way through the tunnels and standing before me, may make a wish. Although if I may give you one piece of advice," Death adds, pointing his sword at the space where the royal ghost disappeared, "be very careful about what you wish for."

Right. Careful about what you wish for. You've heard that before. You can do that, right? It's not like you're actually giving up the chance to gain great, unimaginable power when said power comes with a cost you're not willing to pay, right? Right. So...just carefully "wish" for something reasonable, and you won't regret it immensely. That's how this works.

...But looking at Aria's tear-soaked face you just can't help but hear her desperate voice in your head, begging you to find a way. Again, it's like the situation in the Admiratio and the hysterical Ometti. If you're not going to help, who will? Admittedly your decision to actually do something in that situation is what got you into this entire mess in the first place, but...what are you going to do?

-It may be a genuine opportunity, but no. It's just not reasonable...
--This may be a once in a lifetime opportunity, but there is just too much you don't know and can't be certain of. It'd be a risk. A major, huge risk that could very well cost you more than your life. As much as you might want to help Aria and Theodore, you can't do that if you're dead or worse. So...you're just going to have to let this opportunity pass by.

"I...forgive me if you think this is beneath you, Death, but honestly? What I want most at this point is a ride out of here. I'm tired, I'm spend, I'm lost and I'm just...I just want to go home at this point. Or, back to my dorm room I suppose." Having said that you shift your eyes towards Aria and Theodore, who don't appear to be reacting to your request one way or another. You thought they'd be mad, sad, maybe even feeling like you betrayed them, but they're just sitting there. Aria is still trying to dry her tears, and Theodore...well, he was never the most expressive individual you've met. "I'm sorry...for not risking it all just on the off chance that I could give some hope to you two..." you say, a bit shamefully.

"I-it's fine," Aria responds. "The old lady, as scary as she is...she promised to help us, if she thought it's for the best, so...we're not hopeless." A part of you feels like Theodore has something to say to that, but he's keeping quiet. No emotion on his usual stoic face, even though he's staring right at you.

"Are you ready, then?" Death asks, and after letting out a sigh you nod. Then, with nothing but a wave of his hand, Death commands the mountain above you to crack open, and the floor below suddenly shoots upwards. You were expecting something Gates-y, not a magical circus ride! Thankfully it doesn't last long, and before you know it you're safely above ground, staring a bit wide-eyed at the city of Mineta in the distance. Based on the location of the Palace and the Academagia you're just a bit west of the Palace, easily within walking distance if you discount the elevation. Even that isn't much of a problem, though. Well...a bit of an abrupt end, but...you suppose that's that. Nothing left to do but walk all the way back to the Academagia, inform a professor like you probably should have done several hours ago, and...back to normal everyday life, or whatever comes next.

It turns out that informing Professor Briardi of everything that's happened isn't that much more exciting than the walk back to the Academagia, and that was only vaguely interesting at first when you didn't know exactly where you were. You're not given a reprimand for going as far as you did, and you didn't do anything that justifies special attention more so than whatever the professor is going to have to do in terms of clean-up, so all things told you're off the hook. Had you taken Death's offer that probably wouldn't be the case, but a part of you can't help but wonder what you would have gotten from it.

And, more importantly, how much you'd regret ever getting it.

-Wish for the power to grant Aria (and Theodore?) their wish.
--You might regret this, but it's a risk you're willing to take. "I thank you for the opportunity, and the warning, Death. As for my wish...I want to be able to help Aria, and Theodore."

The two kids look at your declaration from a distance with shocked expressions, whereas Death...well, reading the expression of a skull is a bit difficult, but you imagine that he's not actually about to burst into a fit of hysterical laughter. You hope. "Interesting," Death says with an almost bemused tone. "Tell me, do you have any idea as to the implications, and the consequences, of such a wish?"

"No, I don't. You're a god, I...think? If nothing else I'm pretty sure you're at least an adult, by my standards, so you tell me. I'm just a teenager living in an age where Gates magic has been banned for centuries, and the only things people tell me are 'Gates is dangerous' this and 'Gates caused a horrible plague' that. But that's exactly why I want to help them - I can't believe that Gates is only bad. No one else will do anything, and I don't want to believe that someone who looks and acts so much like a human, someone who's so polite and seems to care so much, is...I don't want to say that Reitz or Catherine are unworthy of living, but I guess it's always going to sound that way anyway if I say that if they're allowed to live their lives, than surely Aria and Theodore must deserve a chance as well. I don't care that they're from another dimension, or that Iudocia rejected them for...whatever reason. I believe in them. And I want to give them a chance."

Slowly realizing that you either made a good impression or just signed your own fate worse than death warrant, you watch anxiously as Death takes out another hourglass from somewhere inside his robe. Only this one isn't empty. "The ways and means to breathe human life into these outsiders, these children from the void is something that was lost to time's relentless march...and the fury of the Imperial Temple, ages ago. Time, itself, could not bring that lost knowledge back from oblivion...but given time, someone devoted to the task could rediscover it." You know you asked for this, quite literally, but nevertheless this is all making you nervous. And you've right to. Death holds out the still running hourglass, like before, only this time instead of breaking it with his sword he flips it around. Strangely, the sand inside the hourglass doesn't react, it just keeps falling upwards like gravity is just an outdated fashion to it. Like he's performing a ritual Death draws his sword close to the hourglass and ceremonially cuts it in half. But not like a swordsman striking at an opponent, trying to horizontally slash the hourglass in two. This time it's more like a surgeon cutting open a patient, cutting the hourglass vertically. You don't understand the difference, but for a brief second you can see the sand inside the hourglass freeze in place, mid-fall...and the effect thereof quickly becomes apparent. Before your mind can speculate on what's happening every part of your body feels like it's trying to fly off in a different direction, at different speeds, all at once. It...you're actually not sure whether it hurts, because it's such a bizarre thing that you're not entirely aware of it. At least you think. Either way as you feel like you're being moved in multiple different directions at once you see the shrine before you become a blur, shifting and twisting as if someone was throwing away a disappointing drawing of the place before you. Feeling at least a little afraid you decide to just not question it and pray it won't last long. You've made your bed, so to speak. Nothing left to do but hope you've made it well.

The odd sensation of moving in multiple directions at once at different speeds continues, no matter how long you wait for it to stop and spit you out somewhere else. Slowly, it even seems to get better. The unseen forces pulling your every limb weaken, and the jumbled mess of lines and colors before you slowly seem to twist themselves back into their regular shape. They're not exactly as you remember them, but it's definitely Death's shrine under Mount Edare. Kind of regret ever going there, by the way. Probably not going to go out of your way to help anyone for any reason again for at least a year, you think. You...you've had your fill. In any case, the lines before you slowly go back to their original shape. Pillars, arches, and the flat, raised floor. The pots located next to it, too. You never did figure out what they were for, did you? Does it even matter at this point? Does anything? Once your vision returns to normal you take a look around. Definitely Death's shrine, only oriented differently. The pillars and arches tower above you, rather than just doing what decorative arches sitting on pillars do. Even the pots seem like giants compared to how you remember them. Did you shrink since the last time you were here? Did you even leave?

...Actually, wait, you're laying flat on your back. When did that happen?

Looking around as you try to stand up you see Death, looking at you with an hourglass in hand. There's still time left in it, the sand inside is dropping like gravity would suggest, only the hourglass is surrounded by odd wisps of light. They appear to circle the hourglass in undecipherable patterns, and nothing else. "As you wished for, the power to assist the children of the void," Death says with a tone of voice you're not sure of. With a boney finger he strokes the edge of the hourglass, drawing all the wisps to him, until they gather in his hand in a small ball of light. With but a gesture Death then commands the ashes, the dirt, the water and the air inside the four pots to come to him, and they obey, gathering above death's hand in a mess of...mess that initially blocks out the light. Then, before your eyes, the mess of elements and the light unite into one solid shape. A book, thicker than any of your textbooks, forms out of the four (five?) elements, which Death then hands to you. The title reads "Gates and the Gift of the Gods". Going to have to keep that one concealed, clearly. When you see the author's name, however, you flinch. "[PC FULL NAME]". No way. Surely it couldn't be?

"Over twenty years would Aria and Theodore have waited for you to be able to grant their wish," Death says as casually as you've talked about the weather before. "If need be, they will wait for that long again."

You look over at Aria and Theodore, sitting in the distance, staring at you as confused and shocked as you feel. They don't say anything, probably for a lack of words to express what they want to say, if they're even sure of that much. You...you don't even want to imagine what this all means, but you went through a lot of effort to get this book, so as soon as you get back you're going to read it.

...As soon as you get back. All the way to the Academagia. From a cave, deep below Mount Edare. You know what, the former Ometti village is as safe a place as any, right? No distractions? Got a wand to provide light, murderous ghost is banished, all of that? Let's just go there instead. For now.

Getting the impression I left a few B-plot threats dangling, but honestly I expect them to be heavily modified by the Team if the entire thing won't get tossed outright, so...don't really see much need to go into great detail myself? If nothing else the Legate of course gets access to the behind the scenes, so at least in theory what's important will be heard.

Dying Wish, stage 11:

Spoiler

Ultimately you do actually go all the way back to the Academagia, sneaking back out of the Imperial Palace and walking to your room before so much as opening the book. You were just...so absolutely done with that place that even your curiosity could not convince you to stay down there a single minute longer than was absolutely necessary. Now here you are, on your bed, absolutely exhausted, feeling like you don't even have the energy to turn the pages of the book you apparently wrote. You want to take a bath. And a nap. Forget this day ever happened. But this is what it was all for. All that effort. You can't just let it sit in your wardrobe without taking so much as a peek at it. Gods, you've got to inform someone of what happened, too, otherwise who's going to stop the Ometti that the royal ghost...person duped from doing even more stupid things? Why do you always get yourself into these situations?

Well, no time for self-pity. You force yourself up and take another look at the book. "By [PC FULL NAME]". You don't think that'll ever stop being a surprise to you. You've seen so many unfamiliar and somewhat familiar names listed as authors, to see your own on a book like this is just bizarre. Well, it's yours. Time to read it.

You don't get to flip open more than the front cover before something catches your attention. Turns out two letters were stuffed inside the book this whole time. One is addressed to you, the other is completely blank. The letter addressed to you also has something else in it, though you're not sure what...

-It's addressed to you, so read the letter.
--You open the envelope, and a bit randomly a hair clip falls out of it. Decorated with an array of, you assume, fake gemstones and a gold finish, you're sure you've seen this exact thing before. Yeah, isn't this Aria's hair clip? How'd it end up here? Is it the same one, even? And where did she get hers from in the first place, anyway? Figuring that the letter will explain you carefully place the hair clip on the book and start to read the letter.

"Dear [PC FIRST NAME],

How are you doing? Does this letter find you well? It's been so long since I attended the Academagia that I'm afraid I've forgotten what it was like. Before that fateful day. You remember, right? Oh, of course you do. After all you're still living it, aren't you? I'm sure you're doing fine. After all, I did fine. Of course there's a few things I did during my time that you won't have to. I'm sure that'll help, too. But, [PC FIRST NAME], I really need to talk with you about that. I know this is only a letter, but still, please read through it carefully.

The book that Death gave you, Gates and the Gift of the Gods, was indeed written by me. That is, it was written by you. A you who, from the day you read this until the day I'm writing this letter on what will soon be my death bed, focussed all of [his/her] effort into being able to one day write this book. I'm proud of it, proud of my accomplishments, and I'm especially proud of my children: Aria and Theodore. You remember them, right? For twenty-odd years I searched, researched, and did everything I could to develop and perfect the ritual that would allow me to grant them their wish. That would allow Aria, and Theodore, to be born. And if Theodore still insists he doesn't want to, don't believe him - he's just shy, scared, afraid to get his hopes up and disappointing his sister. When I was finally able to bring them properly into this world they turned out to be the best children I could have asked for. Well, Aria was a bit of a crybaby until she grew up and Theodore still can't just be honest about how he feels, but everyone has their quirks, right? They're not inhuman, they're not hollow shells animated by dark, unseen forces, and they're certainly no different from those who would call them outsiders like they don't have any feelings to be hurt. Don't make Aria cry in front of Theodore, by the way - he gets quite temperamental when someone bullies her. Or even worse, when someone fancies her. Aria's daughter is old enough by now that she's noticed boys and asked a few of them out to dance at the Columbina, yet we still tell jokes about how long it took for Theodore to realize that Aria wasn't his little crybaby sister anymore. Hell, I wish I could spend the rest of my life telling you stories about those two, but I've only got a little time left. So I'm afraid I've got to mind how I spend it.

[PC FIRST NAME], the book you have is the complete record of all of my years. My life, my research, my magic, my observations, everything I could record about my precious children, everything. It's one part my autobiography, and two parts a textbook for Gates students and natural philosophers alike. Now I'm sure that must worry you. Gates magic is illegal for you, and being caught with a Gates book that you, yourself, wrote? I'm sure I don't have to explain to you how much of a problem that would be. Yet, and I apologize for bringing up this old story, I'm afraid you're not old enough to read this book. Not yet. Yes, "but I wrote it!" I know, just trust me. There are things I've done and encountered during my lifetime that I'm not proud of. Could you tell me how often you'd let a house of cards fall before being able to build one that stands? I did that not with cards, but with life and death. Letting life be pieced together, only to fall apart, for twenty years before I could bring Aria and Theodore into this world. And to make sure those mistakes I made never have to be repeated, I made sure to record every last aspect of them that I could in as much detail as I could. The knowledge that with my death those atrocities will be lost to the void beyond time, banished to an oblivion where even Gods cannot look, is the primary reason why I'm not afraid of Death coming to break my hourglass. To erase that horrible past I'd take Death's sword and break my hourglass with my own hands. I don't want you to know what I had to do, [PC FIRST NAME], and as much as you might believe otherwise, you don't either. I know what it'd do to you. Aria I could never bring myself to tell the truth to, and she grew up as happy as any child I've seen. But Theodore couldn't help himself. Against my wishes he rooted through my notes and found out, and he was never the same since. I still blame myself for his reluctance to open up. I'm sure that the knowledge of what his life cost weighs on him still. I know that to you it must seem like none of it ever happened, so you might think that the knowledge won't change you, but [PC FIRST NAME]? There are some things that people are better off not knowing is even possible. Please, for Aria and Theodore's sake if not your own, don't look into things that you were never meant to look into.

You must be wondering about what you're supposed to do with the book I explicitly told you not to read right around now. Don't worry, I've got that figured out. As much as you probably don't want to do it, wrap the book up (you wouldn't want to be seen carrying it around the Academagia, I'm sure) and give both it and the unnamed letter to Polisena Briardi. She's still the Regent of College Durand in your time, right? I'm sure she was, you must know her. Give the book and the letter to her, and tell her to deliver it to Euneycia, in Mineta's bog. And don't worry about trying to explain yourself, she'll understand. Just don't ask questions like why she does, who Euneycia is, or why she can read the book that you can't. [PC FIRST NAME], there is a lot about responsibility, consequences and (I'm sad to say) politics that you, for better or worse, have yet to learn. Once you do you'll realize why sometimes it's best to wash your hands of something, and continue with your life like nothing ever happened. Aria and Theodore are not the shadows from the space beyond the void you need to be worried about, [PC FIRST NAME]. And neither is Death. Who you should be worried about are those who carelessly bring shadows from the void into this world, without knowing for sure whether it is good, and whether they can control it. Aria and Theodore are wonderful children, I've seen that with my own eyes. But their kind contain just as many bad apples as humanity itself. Don't be afraid of the bad apples, [PC FIRST NAME]. Be afraid of those who can't tell the difference.

Ah, yes, I almost forgot: The hair clip I included in the letter is indeed Aria's. She gave it to me decades ago as thanks for granting her wish. I then returned it to her when she was a child, and she kept it until her own daughter was old enough to wear it. But my granddaughter suddenly gave it to me just yesterday. I think she understands that I'm about to die, and that obviously upsets her, but she doesn't know what to say. She's very much like her mother in that way, actually. Aria hasn't been herself lately either, and neither has Theodore...as ineffectually as he still tries to hide it. In any case, I know the hair clip wouldn't do me any favors at this point, and in some way, I feel like you earned the right to wear it. It's got quite the powerful enchantment by itself, rather necessary when you're trying to get away with the things I've done, but before my time in this world is over I'll add something special to it. One of the gems, you should find, is actually not colored glass, but an actual gemstone infused with the power to cast one very specific spell, once, before turning into dust. [PC FIRST NAME], from experience I know you could never imagine having Aria and Theodore as your own children. Twenty years, and it still took me by surprise when it happened. And maybe you never want to. You're still too young to have decided one way or the other, and I honestly don't remember how I felt back then. I...resigned myself to my fate, I suppose, and I have for so long I can't remember differently. Either way, if one day into the future you decide you want to have Aria and Theodore as your children, or you find someone else who'll take them, the gem can be broken to cast the necessary magic to make it happen. Keep Aria's hair clip safe, and you'll have that option. I know it's a lot of power, but I'm sure you can handle it.

Yours, and you in spirit until my dying day, [PC FULL NAME], 11th of Veranix, 1727."

...Why, in the back of your head, do you feel the odd desire to jump out your window and scream hysterically until the impact with the ground below provides sweet release? 1727...roughly seventy years from now. Seventy years. That...you can understand the content of that letter, and it's implications to some extent, but...part of your mind just refuses to believe it. Seventy. Years. Heck...subtract twenty, that leaves you with fifty, subtract another...thirty-five and you're left with fifteen. So...Aria's daughter was almost certainly older at that point than you are now? That is just...how...

"For the record, I categorically deny everything that is written about me in that letter."

Still half in a daze you look up, not even surprised that Aria and Theodore are in your room, sitting on your dresser. Your Familiar is looking at this situation like you just grew another head, but you're not even surprised anymore. "Including the part about you being protective of Aria?" you ask, not even questioning how they managed to read the letter.

Theodore nods, although that just prompts Aria to look at him questioningly. "Will you please stop lying to yourself?" she asks, halfway between offended and exasperated.

"So you do not object to being called a crybaby?" Theodore retorts. Aria frowns, looking for a few seconds like she's about to defend herself, but than she suddenly relaxes. "You know what? No. I don't object to it. I'd rather be called a crybaby than a hollow shell, like you always pretend to be."

And already the two start to bicker. You don't even try to stop them. You just get up, wrap up the book and the other letter, and head off to Professor Briardi's office. You officially just want to get this over with.

Fortunately Professor Briardi is in her office, though she doesn't look up from the papers on her desk as you walk in. "Sorry, but can this wait until later?" she quickly asks.

"I'm afraid not, professor. I've got a, eh, package for you, to be delivered to...Eurneycia? Something like that, in Mineta's bogs."

All of a sudden Professor Briardi looks up at you, and for a second she forgets to hide her surprise. "Euneycia?" she asks, and you nod, putting both the book and the letter where there's space on the professor's desk. She barely even looks at it. "Who gave that to you?"

You shrug. "I don't think I could properly explain even if I understood that myself, and I don't. But [s/he] said that you'd understand."

Frowning heavily Professor Briardi takes the unaddressed letter and quickly reads it, after which she turns to look at you with slightly wider eyes and a significantly higher eyebrow than before. "You...you're the one who broke in the Imperial Palace and looked around the Mount Edare tribe grounds?" You nod, and from there you summarize (and slightly edit) the adventure you had. You didn't exactly mean to go into detail like that, but it seemed like if you didn't than the professor would have just asked you to. After hearing you out the professor lets out a very large sigh. "At least that half-cooked bastard of a prince won't deceive anyone again, even if this...so, about this book, [PC FIRST NAME], I trust you weren't foolish enough to read any of it?" You nod again, and Professor Briardi lets out another sigh. "Well, at least there's that," she mumbles beneath her breath. "[PC FIRST NAME], I'll see to it that this 'package' is delivered to the right place. Just don't pull these kind of reckless stunts ever again, and never tell anyone about this book or what happened under Mount Edare. Is that understood?"

"I'm not that stupid. Besides, no one would believe me anyway," you say as you nod one final time and walk out. You'll probably get yelled at later, but you're too tired to listen right now, and you imagine that Professor Briardi will soon be too tired to yell at you. Lost the book, but...to hell with it, you're just going to go to your room and fall down on your bed. You deserve it at this point.

Of course when you open your dorm room door you see Aria and Theodore are still here, bickering. "Don't you two ever give it a rest?" you ask after closing the door behind you.

"Actually, there was something I wanted to ask," Aria says, looking a bit embarrassed. You sit down on your bed, and after a (literal) poke from Theodore she finally blurts out "T-that gem on m-my hair clip...actually I guess t-that one is yours, b-but...y-you know what I mean! S-so, do you...do you ever plan to...u-use it?"

Do you ever plan to use it. You pick up the hair pin from your desk and carefully look at the fake gemstones. Indeed, touching them confirms that one of them isn't as fake as it looks. The thought of what this gemstone can do makes a chill rise from your spine. That this is in your hand, right now...well, maybe you'll grasp the full implications of it one day. You know, twenty-some years from now. For now you just put it back on your desk and tell Aria the truth: You can't use it right now whether you want to or not, and a half-decade down the line? You thought you had something like a grasp on what decisions you'd be making years from now, and what you'd be doing insofar as that you've planned for them, but now? You've lost all confidence in what you thought you knew your answers would be. Aria briefly looks like she's about to cry, but she quickly picks herself up. "That's fine," she says, fighting back a wave of tears better than she usually does. "I...just like Death said, if I have to wait...I'll wait."

The answer to the question of whether you'll ever use the gem...you suppose you'll have to wait on that as well.

[Schohanwicht] -It's addressed to you, so read the letter.
--You open the envelope, and a bit randomly a hair clip falls out of it. Decorated with an array of, you assume, fake gemstones and a gold finish, you're sure you've seen this exact thing before. Yeah, isn't this Aria's hair clip? How'd it end up here? Is it the same one, even? And actually where did she get hers from in the first place anyway? Figuring that the letter will explain you carefully place the hair clip on the book and start to read the letter.

"Dear [PC FIRST NAME],

How are you doing? Does this letter find you well? It's been so long since I attended the Academagia that I'm afraid I've forgotten what it was like. Before that fateful day. You remember, right? Oh, of course you do. After all you're still living it, aren't you? I'm sure you're doing fine. After all, I did fine. Of course there's a few things I did during my time that you won't have to. I'm sure that'll help, too. But, [PC FIRST NAME], I really need to talk with you about that. I know this is only a letter, but still, please read through it carefully.

The book that Death gave you, Gates and the Gift of the Gods, was indeed written by me. That is, it was written by you. A you who, from the day you read this until the day I'm writing this letter on what will soon be my death bed, focussed all of [his/her] effort into being able to one day write this book. I'm proud of it, proud of my accomplishments, and I'm especially proud of my children: Aria and Theodore. You remember them, right? For twenty-odd years I searched, researched, and did everything I could to develop and perfect the ritual that would allow me to grant them their wish. That would allow Aria, and Theodore, to be born. And if Theodore still insists he doesn't want to, don't believe him - he's just shy, scared, afraid to get his hopes up and disappointing his sister. When I was finally able to bring them properly into this world they turned out to be the best children I could have asked for. Well, Aria was a bit of a crybaby until she grew up and Theodore still can't just be honest about how he feels, but everyone has their quirks, right? They're not inhuman, they're not hollow shells animated by dark, unseen forces, and they're certainly no different from those who would call them outsiders like they don't have any feelings to be hurt. Don't make Aria cry in front of Theodore, by the way - he gets quite temperamental when someone bullies her. Or even worse, when someone fancies her. Aria's daughter is old enough by now that she's noticed boys and asked a few of them out to dance at the Columbina, yet we still tell jokes about how long it took for Theodore to realize that Aria wasn't his little crybaby sister anymore. Hell, I wish I could spend the rest of my life telling you stories about those two, but I've only got a little time left. So I'm afraid I've got to mind how I spend it.

[PC FIRST NAME], the book you have is the complete record of all of my years. My life, my research, my magic, my observations, everything I could record about my precious children, everything. It's one part my autobiography, and two parts a textbook for Gates students and natural philosophers alike. As exciting as that must sound to you, and I apologize for bringing up this old story, but I'm afraid you're not old enough to read this book. Not yet. Yes, "but I wrote it!" I know, just trust me. There are things I've done and encountered during my lifetime that I'm not proud of. Do you remember how often those who know Gates warned you about it's dangers, and how those who don't respect their creations will end up not respecting life itself? I had to experiment not with just grafting floppy ears onto a dog, but with life and death itself. Letting life be pieced together, only to fall appart in the most horrible of ways, for twenty years before I could bring Aria and Theodore into this world. And to make sure those mistakes I made never have to be repeated, I made sure to record every last aspect of them that I could in as much detail as I could. The knowledge that with my death those atrocities will be lost to the void beyond time, banished to an oblivion where even Gods cannot look, is the primary reason why I'm not afraid of Death coming to break my hourglass. To erase that horrible past I'd take Death's sword and break my hourglass with my own hands. I don't want you to know what I had to do, [PC FIRST NAME], and as much as you might believe otherwise, you don't either. I know what it'd do to you. Aria I could never bring myself to tell the truth to, and she grew up as happy as any child I've seen. But Theodore couldn't help himself. Against my wishes he rooted through my notes and found out, and he was never the same since. I still blame myself for his reluctance to open up. I'm sure that the knowledge of what his life cost weighs on him still. I know that to you it must seem like none of it ever happened, so you might think that the knowledge won't change you, but [PC FIRST NAME]? There are some things that people are better off not knowing is even possible. You, of all students, should understand that better than anyone. Please, for Aria and Theodore's sake if not your own, don't look into things that you aren't ready for.

You must be wondering about what you're supposed to do with the book I explicitly told you not to read right around now. Don't worry, I've got that figured out. As much as you probably don't want to do it, wrap the book up (you wouldn't want to be seen carrying it around the Academagia, I'm sure) and give both it and the unnamed letter to Euneycia. She might get mad at you for your recklessness, but don't worry. She'll be able to handle my failed experiments, and make sure that they won't be repeated again.

Ah, yes, I almost forgot: The hair clip I included in the letter is indeed Aria's. She gave it to me decades ago as thanks for granting her wish. I then returned it to her when she was a child, and she kept it until her own daughter was old enough to wear it. But my granddaughter suddenly gave it to me just yesterday. I think she understands that I'm about to die, and that obviously upsets her, but she doesn't know what to say. She's very much like her mother in that way, actually. Aria hasn't been herself lately either, and neither has Theodore...as ineffectually as he still tries to hide it. In any case, I know the hair clip wouldn't do me any favors at this point, and in some way, I feel like you earned the right to wear it. It's got quite the powerful enchantment by itself, rather necessary when you're trying to get away with the things I've done, but before my time in this world is over I'll add something special to it. One of the gems, you should find, is actually not colored glass, but an actual gemstone infused with the power to cast one very specific spell, once, before turning into dust. [PC FIRST NAME], from experience I know you could never imagine having Aria and Theodore as your own children. Twenty years, and it still took me by surprise when it happened. And maybe you never want to. You're still too young to have decided one way or the other, and I honestly don't remember how I felt back then. I...resigned myself to my fate, I suppose, and I have for so long I can't remember differently. Either way, if one day into the future you decide you want to have Aria and Theodore as your children, or you find someone else who'll take them, the gem can be broken to cast the necessary magic to make it happen. Keep Aria's hair clip safe, and you'll have that option. I know it's a lot of power, but I'm sure you can handle it.

Yours, and you in spirit until my dying day, [PC FULL NAME], 11th of Veranix, 1727."

...Why, in the back of your head, do you feel the odd desire to jump out your window and scream hysterically until the impact with the ground below provides sweet release? 1727...roughly seventy years from now. Seventy years. That...you can understand the content of that letter, and it's implications to some extent, but...part of your mind just refuses to believe it. Seventy. Years. Heck...subtract twenty, that leaves you with fifty, subtract another...thirty-five and you're left with fifteen. So...Aria's daughter was almost certainly older at that point than you are now? That is just...how...

"For the record, I categorically deny everything that is written about me in that letter."

Still half in a daze you look up, not even surprised that Aria and Theodore are in your room, sitting on your dresser. Your Familiar is looking at this situation like you just grew another head, but you're not even surprised anymore. "Including the part about you being protective of Aria?" you ask, not even questioning how they managed to read the letter.

Theodore nods. Aria, who you'd expect have something to say about that, instead just looks down at the ground and fidgets. She's hiding something, but you don't care to figure out what. You just wrap up the book and the unnamed letter and head off towards the house in the bog.

When you arrive there you don't even get close enough to knock on the door before Euneycia opens it. She looks a little irate, which you take as a bad sign when she asks you to quickly come in. Thankfully as you explain what happened it turns out she's mad because of what happened in Mineta, with the Ometti being duped by the ghost to abuse Gates magic, not at you. "And this book you mentioned?" Euneycia asks once you're done explaining, after which you slowly offer her the book. You'll admit it, you're nervous. Your name on a book of Gates magic? You don't know how she'll react to this. Or the faculty over at Schohanwicht, for that matter.

Euneycia takes the book, glances curiously at the cover, and then quickly reads through the unaddressed letter. You're shaking on your seat the entire time, but by the end Euneycia looks more happy than anything. "I'm sure your parents would be proud if they heard of this," Euneycia says, proudly, with her grandmotherly voice. "However, I believe it'd be best if they and...our community were left unaware of this, at least for a little while. This...you should have an idea of how significant this is, and I'd like to read through this myself before informing Schohanwicht."

You can't help but shake your head, because honestly? No, you don't. You know you've done something here, but you've got no real grasp on it's size and scope. You just know that at least you tried to do the right thing, or what you thought was the right thing, but if there's one thing you've learned it's that your idea of right and wrong isn't necessarily an opinion people share (in example, you studying Gates).

"Don't worry so much," Euneycia calmly says. "It's good that you can judge beings like Aria and Theodore without any bias because of their origins, and in the end I don't see you as having done anything wrong. No one knows of what happened under the mountain, a source of Gates magic abuse in Mineta has been destroyed, and we got knowledge that was thought lost to show for it. The Ometti will have to be dealt with, of course, but that can be arranged, and in any event their actions certainly weren't your fault."

You nod, but even that doesn't completely still your feeling that you did something horribly wrong. It must be because you knowingly meddled with magic you knew you couldn't control. All's well that ends well, but...you suppose that actually depends on what Euneycia finds within the book. How she, and Schohanwicht will react to it.

"Eh...[PC FIRST NAME]?"

Aria's voice draws you out of your thoughts, as does the sight of seeing her sit right next to Euneycia. On her desk. Theodore is here, too. "Excuse me, it's not polite to suddenly barge in and just sit down on people's desks," Euneycia says, sounding a bit irritated.

"S-sorry, I'm really sorry, but I-I need to...I need to talk to [PC FIRST NAME], and...and...I-I can't just..." Aria's words slowly make way for sobs, but Euneycia (reluctantly, you note) does her best to comfort her. All things told you can see why you...well, the you that wrote that book called her a "crybaby".

"I'm all ears, Aria, what do you want to ask?"

It takes a few attempts to put her thoughts into words, but with some effort Aria manages to ask you what you intend to do with her - rather, your - hair clip. Euneycia asks what Aria is talking about, but rather than explain you just show Euneycia your copy of Aria's hair clip. And after she uses a spell to carefully examine the enchantment Euneycia just stares at the gem, eyes wider than you've ever seen her. "This is...if there was any doubt as to the validity of that book, I believe this just answered it."

"Should I leave that hair clip here?" you offer. "You know, for research purposes and all that?"

Euneycia shakes her head. "Everything should be inside this book here, but [PC FIRST NAME]? When this gem is broken it won't be a quiet affair. Be very careful that this doesn't break before you are ready to break it. Somewhere safe, quiet, and remote, where no one will think to look for magic traces."

"I can think of a few good places," you say a bit more casually than you intended to. "As for your question, Aria, the truth of the matter is that I can't use the gem right now, and won't be able to for at least a few more years. After that...I honestly don't know. I thought I knew, had an idea and all of that, but...I don't know."

Aria doesn't seem really happy with that answer, but there's nothing she can do about it and she knows it. So for now there's nothing to do but wait.

I'll just quote what I told the Legate about this: "... I get the idea that the "rewards"/consequences are off by like an order of magnitude and I have no idea how to fix them." Ultimately this story might just be beyond my modest bridges, but...I at least had to put the idea on the table.

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Just posting this here now so that maybe, possibly, potentially, I'll actually get off my lazy chair and finish this one one of these days. Wherever the....Friend? Or Foe?, stage 0:

Spoiler

It's lunchtime and you're in the Great Hall, enjoying some food, some gossip and some entertainment in the form of a first year failing to Revise her food into something more edible and being stuck trying to either finagle something with Negation or eat whatever horrible mess she's turned her food into. Ah, if only she knew the Dispel Pheme.

"[PC FIRST NAME]? C-can we talk?"

You look up and see Katja Quinnecht, standing awkwardly in front of your table. She's fidgeting with her fingers, and her face looks a bit pale. "Sure? Take a seat, what's bothering you?"

Katja indeed takes a seat, and it doesn't take long before she rests her arms and head on the table. If you had to guess you'd say she just came from Athletics class. "S-sorry, I just...I'm a bit tired of running from one end of the Academagia to the other. I really need someone to help, but...no one I've talked to so far..."

"Well, start at the beginning. What's going on?"

Katja straightens herself as best she can before explaining. "College Godina...might end up getting a new Regent next year." While you try and catch the eyebrows that just flew off of your head Katja continues. "I just, eh, overheard the Legate talk to Professor Massioti. He's not fired or anything, yet, but before the next school year the Praetexta Court is going to be assembled and the Academagia's Regents - the alumni supporting the school, not the-I mean not just college regents, I mean - are going to hold a vote on whether Professor Massioti is going to be replaced starting next year."

Still haven't caught your eyebrows, by the by.

"I don't know exactly who's trying to replace him, just that it's a wealthy and well-connected woman from Meril who recently moved here, to Mineta. She doesn't have anyone in her pockets, or so some the seniors told me. But apparently she's used to debating and public speaking, and the arguments she puts forward makes the alumni who aren't great Rimbal fans think. And as much as Professor Massioti insists that Rimbal is a part of the Academagia's prestige, well...you've heard that the Academagia's team hasn't actually been winning so much recently, especially before Professor Massioti's appointment, right?" You nod, listening intently. "This woman apparently wants to take over College Godina and change it into a proper arts college. Theatre, painting, music of all shapes and sizes, name it. From what I've heard the gist of her argument is that the age of bloody wars should be over, and a College that breeds mercenaries instead of artists only holds society's advancement towards a more peaceful age back."

"...Okay, I can kind of see where she has a point, but that's taking it a bit far, don't you think?"

Katja sadly shakes her head. "That's just it, does she? Mineta has been shifting to becoming a city supported on pilgrims and tourists, something that definitely calls more for artists than the mercenaries that it actively discourages from recruiting more members of, if only ceremonially. Heck, last I heard the city doesn't even have a standing army anymore, just a large group of magic students that, worst comes to worst, can be drafted into a make-shift militia. And before you say that that make-shift militia would be even more doomed if it didn't have proper Godina students, tell me when the last time was that the Captain or the Golden Council called on you to, say, defend the walls of the Lower City against an invading army."

"That's the gist of that woman's arguments, I take it?"

Katja nods. "The problem is that even if everything she says makes perfect sense, in practice her running the College isn't going to work out as she thinks. The various students who aspire to become artists, of all stripes, can join and find a place in whatever College they want, and at least the musicians specifically have actually benefited from Professor Massioti's apathy towards everything that isn't Rimbal. There's no one to stifle our creative freedom - within reason, of course - and in terms of funds we're more than well off enough without the Regent's active support. You've heard about the music room that had parts of it made of solid gold because the amount of funds available to the music department is just insane, right?"

"The Henna Ilyon Music Room?"

Katja nods. "I don't-we don't want that woman to become the Regent of our College. The musicians, I mean. But despite out best efforts we just can't seem to make a difference. The Godina seniors, at least the few that aren't musicians? Rimbal fanatics, all of them. They're headstrong in their insistence that they've got the situation 'under control' and can make everything go away just by playing a better game of Rimbal, even though there's no guarantee that they will and even if they do they're just playing right into the woman's hands. None of them have any grasp of politics or intrigue, I'm afraid. That's why I'm looking for help. I need help organizing the musicians' attempt at fighting back against this power play, I need someone who can actually figure out who this woman is, I...I need help."

Basically, Katja needs a spy, a diplomat and a leader. Possibly a saboteur, physically or socially. But are you able to fill those roles, and if so, are you actually willing to help her?

-You're not confident you'd be the best person, honestly.
--You just slowly shake your head, and Katja drops hers. "You too? I mean, I don't blame you, I know I'm asking a lot, just...I really need help with this..."

You do what you can to try and reassure Katja, but the effort is mostly wasted. Still, you couldn't really help her...could you?

-Promise to help Katja.
--Katja actually sheds a single tear. "Th-thank you, [PC FIRST NAME]. Really, you don't want to know how many other students either don't care or don't think they can help. Or should. Anyway, to start, shall I introduce you to the musicians' temporary Clique...eh, Clique-type thing? Sorry, I'm not sure what else to call our group."

"Good idea and lead the way, just, Katja? Grab a snack from the kitchen and relax for a bit after this, you look like hell."

"I feel like hell, so I'll just take that as a compliment. Thanks again, [PC FIRST NAME]. I really appreciate it."

If I can't see that what I typed about the Praetexta Court, the Academagia's alumni or the City of Mineta is wrong it's because I can't see through all the egg :blush:.

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Wherever the...Friend? Or Foe?, stage 1:

Spoiler

After making sure that Katja has grabbed a snack and something to drink (something that she badly needed, it turns out) she takes you to the Dimmae Theater. There the rest of the Academagia's musicians have gathered, to stand around uselessly because none of them have any idea what to do in this situation. "Hey everyone, I found someone!" Katja excitedly announces as she steps into one of the many backstage areas. You follow, and are greeted by about a dozen curious glances, stares, and one person who's about to fall asleep. Clearly, this crew was made for miracles. "Everyone, [PC FIRST NAME]. [PC FIRST NAME], here's...everyone! Sorry, I don't know everyone by name."

"Hi, everyone," you say, rolling your eyes a bit. "Katja told me that apparently Professor Massioti is in a bit of hot water, and you've all banded together to try and drag him out of it. So, are there any plans already going on I should be aware of?"

"Operation 'find someone who can at least pretend that [s/he] knows what [s/he]'s doing' has just been completed by 'everyone', and...that's pretty much it." One of the older students, who's looking at you dubiously, answers.

"That bad, huh? So, what about the woman who's trying to usurp Professor Massioti's seat, anything more that any of you can tell me about her?" Everyone stares silently at Katja, who sighs and slowly turns towards you. Hanging her head she answers that, no, there isn't. All of them have done what they can to investigate and interrogate the grapevine, but most students aren't sure, and those who are have sided with the Rimbal players that are insisting that it's "their problem". That's...problematic. "Seriously? Is it that hard to find information about someone who's actively trying to become an Academagia college regent? Like, surely someone at least knows her name, right?"

Awkward silence. This is going to be a long day.

"That. Bad...okay, is there a reason why it's so difficult to find information about her? Like is she trying to remain anonymous or something?"

"Maybe," one of the musicians answers. "If we knew for sure we'd probably at least know her name, too."

"...Got it. Alright, first things first, if you all want to make a difference you're going to have to be less comically in the dark about what's going on. Of course since I assume that you all have already used your various means of getting information I'll handle that myself, and in the meantime...in the meantime what, actually? I take it the lot of you are planning on putting on a concert or something? Show the alumni that Professor Massioti does great things for you, if indirectly, that the woman's arguments hold no water, that sort of stuff?"

"That was the plan," another one of the musicians answers. "And I do mean that 'was' the plan because the lot of us putting on a great show might just play into her hands. We know she's manipulating the Rimbal team like they've got strings, and we can't be sure that she hasn't tied a few around us already. Like, she's actively trying to kick out Professor Massioti and we don't even know her name. Between the, what, dozen of us here you'd assume that unless she was some sort of manipulative mastermind one of us would have been able to figure out at least that much, right?"

That sounds a bit too much like an excuse to you, but on the flipside you can't completely deny the possibility either. You're just going to have to do some digging yourself and see with what you come up with. These musicians aren't going to be of any use at this point in time, if ever, but you knew that coming in and it's entirely possible that they might end up doing more harm than good.

So, sleuthing. How to get some information on this mysterious woman from Meril?

-Bureaucracy. Question the Legate.
--There's one person in the Academagia that you're sure has to know more about this woman. And that's the Legate. Getting him to talk might be difficult, but amid this political pushing you're sure you've got an angle. So with that in mind you hunt around for the Legate's current hiding place. In all likelihood he's hiding in one of his better ones, but you're going to bet on the man's actual office. After all, anyone who knows the Legate knows that his office is the last place he'd want to be right now, so...

Sounds of a quill scratching against parchment coming from inside. Sometimes it's great to be you. You politely knock on the door, and (a bit rudely) enter the office anyway when that gives you no response. "Sorry," you say to a surprised Legate sitting behind his desk...and his mountain of paperwork. As expected, pretty much everyone has something to "officially" say about this. "Pardon the interruption, but I'm looking for information about the woman who's trying to replace Professor Massioti as Godina's regent. And I know for a fact that you know about her, professor."

"Me and literally everyone else, if these damned 'votes of confidence' (or lack thereof) are anything to go by! Look, I don't mind a friendly face - heck, I'd welcome an unfriendly face at this point - but Polisena and Kate both asked for a compilation of this information, and apparently it's my job as Legate to string these statements together into a neat essay. Can you believe it? Legate of the entire school - the Legate - and I'm still making essays for my friends like some first year! So I'm afraid I don't have time to play twenty questions."

"Is any of the information sensitive?"

The Legate frowns at that. "Setting aside the fact that miss Causes Trouble For Me values her privacy, no, I wouldn't say so. Nothing interesting at all for you to bug me about. Now is that all?"

"Depends. I do need information, even just basic information, and badly enough to keep bugging people about it if need be. But if you wanted to, say, assign that essay project as detention, since I did just barge into your office, I mean...I can't very well run around like a headless chicken in that case."

"You're seriously that despera-I mean...oh to hell with it, I'm too tired for the pretence. You're seriously that desperate? Why? Does the Rimbal team have you running errands for them?"

"The Academagia's musicians, actually. They also have a stake in Professor Massioti remaining Godina's Regent, but they're being kept out of the loop, and they're not sure how and whether to move against someone who seems to be adept at manipulation. Not that the Rimbal team poses much of a challenge on that front, but..."

"Yeah, you can say that again," the Legate says with a sigh. "Alright, if only because there's more important things that I feel deserve my attention than this mess of useless opinions, congratulations with your latest conduct reprimand. Do a good job with this essay and I'll see to it that it won't stick on your record. Also, try not to barge into people's offices in the future."

Not the most entertaining way to get information, but hey, it gets the job done. And this way you'll also be informed of so many people's completely useless opinions that you'll just pretend you never thought that because it just reminds you of how much work you've put in front of you. Well, time to get to it...

--You're quite confident that the Legate knows about this woman, but regrettably you're having a hell of a time finding the man. You know a few of his hiding spots, but all of them are empty. You even stoop to asking around once you're getting desperate, but no one knows where he's hiding.

That's just great. You're going to have to try and find him at a later point.

-Rimbal. Question the Rimbal players.
--If the Rimbal team players are hogging all of the information than it seems clear that getting in good with them is the best way to get said information for yourself. Of course it'll be a bit of an uphill battle, but what isn't when upperclassmen are involved? You head off towards the Rimbal field, where a group of seniors from various colleges (though primarily Godina) are playing a practice game against each other. Actually it looks like Zorzi is also here, but he's just acting as someone's pack mule. That boy really ought to get a clue one of these days...

One of the benched seniors gets up and walks up to you as soon as he notices you approach. "We're playing a game here, squirt. Or do you think we need another attendant?" He points to poor Zorzi, who actually doesn't seem as miserable as underclassmen being slaves to seniors usually are.

"Not at all. I'm here for information. I'm sure you can guess the rest."

The senior frowns. "Yeah, I'm sure I can. So what makes you think any of us'll share? Didn't you hear this is our problem? Or...do you think you can play a game with us, on our level?" You confidently nod. The senior looks somewhere between perplexed and impressed. Mostly the former. "You really think you're all that special? Sure, whatever squirt, just don't blame us when you break a leg." He turns towards his friends, who's practice game looks like it's pretty much been decided already, and shouts, "Hey, guys! I got another second-year hopeful here!"

The game slowly dies down and one by one the sweaty, smelly players walk over. "Let's go easy on this one first. Wouldn't want to get yelled at by the infirmary nurse again, do we?" one of them suggests. The rest nod in agreement, and so you're told to show off some basic moves and plays on your own, first. You do your best, show some promise and potential, and the seniors collectively nod to themselves. "Okay, sure," one of them says. "You clearly know what you've signed up for, so...time to play ball."

Most of the seniors, enough that with you they form two practice teams, walk up, and without saying a word they move into position and get ready to start. You just go along with them and play your part. Naturally you're somewhat outmatched by the opposing seniors, they're part of the Academagia's Rimbal team for a reason after all, but despite the three year gap you manage to stand your ground pretty well. You can't manage to contribute to scoring a point, but you manage to block the opposing team from scoring a point a downright staggering amount of times. It's not even that they keep underestimating you, that's a lesson they learn quickly enough, you're just always there to add that little bit of extra defence (which figures, since you going on the offence is something that you quickly learn is a futile effort). Soon enough the senior acting as the referee announces that time is up, and confirms that the match ended with a draw. Zorzi seems excited, he's even cheering for you.

"Son of a-" one of the seniors from the opposing team begins to say before catching himself. "I mean, that was just embarrassing. How'd we get blocked so frequently by a squirt?"

"You didn't," one of your team's seniors corrects. "I say this one has proven [him/her]self well enough. Anyone want to fill [him/her] in?"

"Sure," the senior from before says with a sneer. Even so he takes you aside and (begrudgingly) answers your questions...as well as "politely request" that you leave out the exact hows and whys as to how you got that information. You've got no problem with that, of course. You've got what you need, time to head back to the musicians.

After taking a shower. Cuz' damn, you're just drenched...

--It stands to reason that the Rimbal team players have the most information, it's just a matter of getting them to share. And you're no slouch in the Rimbal department, you...don't think, so you figure, why not? Find a few Rimbal team players and connect with them. Simply, right?

That's what you thought, but in practice it doesn't work out so well. Everyone you try to talk to is as headstrong as the musicians said they are, and while a few suggest that if you're really that good you can prove it on the Academagia Rimbal field they also warn you that a first year who really wants to be on the team recent tried the same thing, and he's currently in the infirmary with a broken arm. Totally his fault for not being able to pace himself, of course. Briefly you think they're talking about Zorzi Galea, but than you remember that he's no longer a first year. Unless they mistook him for one. He's not the tallest and most buff second year around, admittedly...

Even so you decide to sneak up to the Rimbal field and gauge your chances. And against the flurry of seniors that are playing a practice game there right now? Yeah. You'd be joining the first year in the infirmary, no question. Time to re-consider this strategy.

-Manipulation. Question the other Academagia students.
--You head off towards the Great Hall and start carefully poking people for information. As it turns out basically all of the underclassmen are completely in the dark, minus notably hard to manipulate exceptions like Rikildis, whereas the upperclassmen have a roughly 1:5 ratio of people who know anything at all to people who are likewise completely in the dark. Seems like the Rimbal team players told their direct friends and that's about it. Naturally that makes thing difficult for you, upperclassmen are likewise not inclined to easily spill any beans, so you decide to instead look up Tacito Viadana. You figure that if anyone he's got a clue, and while his investigative abilities are (in)famous his social skills...aren't.

Of course when you get to him it turns out that one of the upperclassmen got to him first and asked him not to share. Bothersome. That's not an impossible obstacle for you, though. You know that Tacito has a thing for following rules and of course an investigator is always curious, so you're able to appeal to his sense of fairness and inherent distrust towards anything he hasn't investigated fully (why else would he feel a need to investigate, after all?). Tacito having attended Rhetoric last year, as all Hedi first years do, actually works against Tacito here, since his (over)confidence just leads him to step right into your hands.

Tacito spills the beans, and after thanking him you head off towards the musicians to share your findings.

--You head off towards the Great Hall and start poking around for information, but no matter who you end up talking to you end up hitting a brick wall somewhere along the way. For most people it's because they don't know anything. For the very few that do (and there are seriously around twenty students who know nothing for every one that so much as admits to know something no matter how minor) you're told, on no uncertain terms, that this is a matter for pride for the Rimbal team players and no one else. Of course none of them are willing to so much as entertain the idea that this mysterious woman might have an ace or two up her sleeve that they should be careful of, either.

Worthless fools, all of them. You'll have to see about shaking someone down later, maybe, when the story is less fresh from Rikildis' school newspaper (which doesn't tell you anything more than it's "chief editor", which is to say "absolutely nothing", by the by).

In case anyone is curious why this stage wasn't posted with the zeroth page as I usually do, it's because I literally just finished it :rolleyes:.

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Wherever the...Friend? Or Foe?, stage 2:

Spoiler

Information in hand you head to the Dimmae Theater and outline what you've figured out to the rest of the musicians. The woman's name is Bonnie Mérel, born to a wealthy family in Meril and raised there. She's had an interest in theatre and orchestras since an early age, but she lacked any sort of talent that she could put to use in either field. At least, directly. While she couldn't act herself through an unlocked door or play more than three notes without making someone's ears bleed she did have a mind for numbers. And not just numbers, but layers of numbers. Using her family's wealth as a starting point she's invested in, outright bought and founded a number of theatres, music conservatories and schools who are training the next generation of actors, dancers, musicians and painters. Most of which end up staying in the Mérel family's employ, because if there's one thing that Bonnie excels at it's accounting. Even if any of the graduates don't end up owing some kind of financial debt to the Mérel family (apparently tuition can, on occasion, be paid for with signing a long-term employment contract) they end up finding no better offer. Because Bonnie doesn't just consider her nearest competition, she also considers the ones in the next state or duchy and how expensive it'd be to travel there. Politically neither her or her family are said to be anything important (their wealth aside, although wealth is hardly a unique quality), but even so Bonnie's mercantile background and repeated attempts at becoming an actress paid off, because she knows how to best phrase her opinions and she's not afraid of letting them be heard. And heard clearly.

Of course, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. The Mérel family has had it's highs and lows over the years, from both internal and external sources, but as far as you could find (which is to say, not much) Bonnie mostly stayed out of whatever the disaster of the day was. Supposedly Bonnie values her personal independence, since at some point she started to throw around the weight that her last name carries far less. In fact, more recently she's even been careful about using her first name, although you couldn't figure out why. Not even rumors, just...nothing. As for the rest of the Mérel family currently you again couldn't find any solid information on them, so...you're not sure why Bonnie would try to distance herself from them. Some sort of internal schism is your best guess, since that seems to fit the fact that so few people know anything about it. But that's all you've got on that front. As for her sudden emigration to Mineta and going after Professor Massioti's seat, there's likewise surprisingly little you've found out about that subject. As far as you could figure out she just appeared out of nowhere, kicked a political hornet's nest and send everything a-buzzing. Of course her ambitions appear no less serious because of it. Supposedly she's got her schedule packed basically every minute of the day, meeting every important person that she can to help spread her word, day in and day out until the Praetexta Court assembles. That said you couldn't find anyone who'd admit that they've talked to her or has plans along those lines, so...the judge is still out on that one.

"I'll admit, I'm impressed that you've managed to find that much," one of the senior musicians says. Katja, hearing that, give you a confident thumbs-up as well.

"Thanks, although that brings me to the obvious problem: As I'm sure you all can agree, this woman is a bit too mysterious for her own good. And if not her own, ours." Indeed, there's a wave of nods of agreement coming from your audience. Katja especially. "I'm not sure if digging further into her history would be productive or prudent at this point. Personally I think it's time that we start to poke around in her affairs and see what manner of relatively polite sabotage we can manage to perform. And yes, I'm aware that by 'we' I definitely mean just me. If only because all of us trying that at once all but guarantees everyone gets caught and likely causes the effort to backfire. Any ideas, comments, complaints or suggestions so far?"

"Sounds to me like you've got this well in hand. Too much, even. I mean save some glory for the rest of us, this is supposed to be our thing and all."

"Hah, duly noted. Although seriously, I've actually been thinking about that. That plan to hold a concert of some sort you mentioned before? I think we should proceed with that, only on the down low. If we take Ms. Mérel by surprise she won't be able to spin it in her favor, at least immediately, and we'll have made our statement clear in the mean time: Professor Massioti is the better regent for us, even if he doesn't seem like it. Of course, here's the problem: Do you guys think you could plan, practice and perform like that...without anyone knowing until the last second?" Shaking heads and a resounding "no". As you expected. "I figured as much. Even so I think it's the best plan, so while I snoop around some more I'll-"

"Serious trouble, everyone!" announces a first year student that suddenly runs into the room, eyes wide. "The Rimbal team players are planning to stage a full-blown riot against this usurper woman! All the students supporting them are planning to make a mess of the Great Hall and their dorm's Common Rooms!"

"What!?" a dozen-some people ask at once.

"A-why? Is this her doing?" Katja asks.

"I can't rule it out..." you answer, scratching your head.

"Either which way you better go to the Rimbal players and talk them down."

"Why me?" you ask a bit indignantly. This really sounds more like professor work. Although...

"If this plan goes through than not only will a bunch of students supporting Regent Massioti look horrible in detention, but you just know that Mérel isn't going to let anyone forget it."

Right, you just thought of that as well. Okay, you don't really want to do this, but it sounds like it's do or die time. What to do?

-Heraldry. Talk down the Rimbal players.
--Head held high you head off towards Godina's dorm, figuring that the idiot behind this would be holing up there and perhaps conveniently falling off the island for a bit as all of his pawns end up getting detention. Naturally there's a tense atmosphere in the common room, and the dorms are all but barricaded from outside entry (meaning anyone but Godina's actual seniors). But to the impromptu-guard you make it clear, on no uncertain terms, that you're perfectly aware of what plot is about to be put into motion and if you're not let through right now every bad thing that every last one of them have ever dreamed of will be dragged out of their closet for all to see.

The guard complains about the situation being a pile of...well, unpleasant stuff anyway and "conveniently" excuses himself for a bathroom break. Glad to see that there's still some sense to be found within the older students. In fact, you'd expect that to be the norm rather than the exception. Why is...they're taking orders. From who? You're not sure, but they won't be taking orders from him (of course) for long.

You march right into the dorm building, find the most important-looking room (admittedly only because there's two more guys standing in front of it, beyond that it just looks like a commandeered broom closet) and march right in, ignoring the feeble protests of the "guards". The no doubt self-appointed leader of this sham of a strategy meeting is of course upset at this intrusion, but before he or his cronies do anything to force you out you stomp up to his fancy table, slam both hands on it and explain, in as great a detail as you can manage, the exact ways in which his grand plan is going to go completely awry at every possible turn. The big guy just gets more enraged by someone daring to defy him, but all of his cronies are awkwardly staring at each other with a look that makes it clear that they're reconsidering being part of this sinking ship.

You're quiet sure that with the pawns turned against their king and said so-called king in disgrace this plot has flown off course. Again, good to know that at least some degree of sense among the seniors is the norm, not the exception.

--More than a little irritated at this situation you find the nearest Rimbal player and demand to see their leader, as a proper commander of lesser men (and woman) should. Yet the senior still refuses, and keeps refusing even as you keep insisting and repeatedly explain in increasingly simpler terms why it's in his best interest to stop being a nuisance. Suffice to say that by the time all is said and done it only did because Professor Badcrumble got in the middle of you two. Literally. Your not assigned detention for getting into a shouting match with another student in one of the hallways, but you are deducted Merit for your lack of social graces. You'd be upset about that were it not for the fact that the senior was assigned detention, basically for the same reason. But Professor Badcrumble gave him less slack than she did you. A part of you suspects that she heard about what the Rimbal players were planning, but until a student actually does something wrong she can't go around and slap them with detentions. But now he did. Nothing major, admittedly, but still.

That might really work in your favor, actually. If Professor Badcrumble keeps the pressure on this guy it's likely that he and all his friends won't go wildly out of line, until she loosens her leash. That gives you time to put a stop to this plan permanently, rather than turning some Merit into a pincushion for the sake of a temporary delay. Not the best outcome of a situation you've ever had, but you can't be too mad when it as certainly isn't one of the worst.

-Enspell. Derail the plan. Spectacularly.
--So someone wants some property destruction, huh? Sure. That sounds like fun. Why not give them what they want, hmm? Exactly what they want...

Using your wand you start to create some intricate illusions. Glamours of parts of the garden being on fire, and not just looking like it, but actually spreading like a real fire would, complete with giving off a sense of heat and the sounds of cracking branches. The gardeners and groundskeepers nearly lose their collective composure seeing that, and it actually takes a professor to finally realize the trick and just Negate the illusion. It leaves some slight water damage from people trying to put the "fire" out, but nothing that even a first year couldn't just fix with Revision.

Next you slink off to a hallway and animate the statues lining the wall, ordering them to smash the walls with their (utterly ineffectual) statue-y props or fists. They manage to knock loose a surprising amount of dust, though. And this time it's some of the janitors who go crazy and immediately drag the nearest three professors to clean up the mess that, again, a first year taking the right classes could undo and fix easily. Just some Negation and Revision, you didn't put any effort into actually protecting these statues from being returned to their normal state and all.

Incidentally, around now it clicks in your head that at least some members of the faculty must have also heard about what the Rimbal team is planning, because these responses are both too fast and too much compared to how people would normally react. Well...it's said that the best performer never shows the same trick twice, but...you need just a little more. Ah, yes, here's where you need to be. the Venalicium. When exam months are going it's the home away from home for students who just want to get away from it all. And what do you know, it's quite packed today. Perhaps because people think the common rooms aren't a good place to be right now? Perhaps, perhaps. Let's just...make sure that they go back, hmm? Wouldn't want anyone to do something bad to them without resistance.

You repeat your fire illusion outside the Venalicium, close enough that small wisps of "fire" manage to jump in through the windows, and after the initial panic from the students inside you can hear screams. Not screams of panic, mind, but screams of fury. The head librarian, if you're not mistaken. And she is livid. Ranting and raving like you'd think only a possessed madwoman could she actually climbs out the window and jumps straight into the illusionary fire. Not bothered by the Glamour at all she looks around for a culprit, and you're glad you decided to quickly Revise yourself into a spider and crawl up the wall when you started to hear her screaming. She can't see you hiding on the roof, thankfully. Once the head librarian gives up she resumes her mad ranting and marches off straight for Godina's dorms. Presumably because she thinks the Godina seniors did this.

Even if they don't ultimately get blamed for your spellcasting they're sure not to pull any stunts while there's professors out looking for them everywhere, and you don't think a Dragon could stare down the head librarian in the state she's in. So...mission accomplished. Now you're just going to have to sneak back to your dorm and fix your robe. It, eh, didn't respond to your revision so well. And with the professor everywhere...oh, heck, why bother doing it the hard way? Nothing a quick Revision won't fix.

--All you really need to stop this plot is a few professors walking around. That way whoever would want to make a mess of things will realize that trying would just be met with being immediate caught and reprimanded, which is somewhat contrary to their goal. And what way to attract a few professors? Well, you could always bake a pumpkin pie to attract old Professor von Rupprecht, but you'll need multiple professors to cover every ground you want covered. So it's time for the old standby - thunder and lightning! Yes, just a localized rainstorm. Always great for instilling a sense of dread in people and ye gods the attention it draws from professors who do not want to be on the wrong side of a schism with Mineta's weather institute. Of course you don't need to really mess with the weather, just...give people a reason to be concerned. Nothing else. Just some extra clouds and some thunderous noise, nothing that'd cause any real trouble. It'll take some effort, but you're sure you can manage. So time to find a good spot and start casting.

One spell, another spell, chained and cast into another spell, nothing to it. You're a painter, and the sky is your canvas. Although you should probably use fewer purple, in that case.

...Actually you shouldn't be using purple in any case. Why did that cloud turn purple? That's not right. Oh, no problem, just a slight correction and that'll-that will turn it and every adjacent cloud dark blue. What...why is this not working? Like, you'd understand if you overdid it and ended up causing a slight monsoon, but why are the colors all wrong? The only Glamour aspect should be the thunder, and you haven't even gotten to that yet! Scratching your head to inspect your palette for any incorrect Phemes. You don't see anything wrong, though.

"[PC FIRST NAME], what in Octavius' name do you think you're doing!?"

Oh-oh, and that'd be the army of professors you wanted to attract. Come to think of it you probably shouldn't have attracted them to your location, huh? Well...at least they're out and about?

Yeah, you can't even take two steps before you're frozen in place and taken to detention. On the bright side it mess you've created has put any other, say, major plans of certain students on hold, so at least you accomplished that? You don't think the Rimbal team players will really cancel their plan given these circumstances as opposed to just postponing them, though. Still, you'll be ready next time.

Seriously you will. Because you'll have plenty of time to review your every mistake in detention...

-Duel. "Talk" down the Rimbal players, come hell or high water.
--You patiently wait outside Godina's dorm for the fool who masterminded this plot to show his face, and as soon as you see him (of course it's the most hotheaded of the Rimbal players) you march up to him, wand drawn, and explain on no uncertain terms that he's either going to rethink his poor life decisions peacefully or you're going to make him. His crowd of friends (pawns?) seems amused at this scene, a second year trying to push around a senior, but the big guy seems like he's about to explode from anger. So just a bit of suggesting that he might be a coward later and he's the one demanding for a duel. Gods, that was too easy.

Terms are quickly agreed upon, a duelling circle is quickly drawn, and after the proper salute the duel begins. Naturally the senior is able to get a spell off before you can, but he's so focussed on just burning down everything in front of him that he spreads his spell too thin, meaning you can Negate it, and than send a hail of more concentrated icicles his way. Naturally he tries to melt them into vapor before they can hit him with an impressive blast of fire that you have to quickly duck out of the way to avoid, and while it's difficult to tell you suspect that for the most part he succeeded at melting your little strike. But one of them maintains enough of a solid form to cut right across the seniors cheek, drawing blood and a surprised yelp.

And the duel was until First Blood, so that means you won. The duelling circle fading confirms as much.

The "big" guy's friends are just staring wide-eyed at this situation, while the man himself seems like the amount of hate and fury flying around him broke his head. You thankfully don't have to worry about it, because a shocked Professor Badcrumble stumbles across the scene at just the right time. "[PC FIRST NAME], Richard, everyone else, what the hell are you doing trying to set the entire grounds on fire like that!? If you two want to Duel there's less flammable places to-...eh, wait, hang on, you two were fighting a duel? And [PC FIRST NAME] won?"

"Seems that way," one of the other seniors says with a shrug. Actually, he seems more amused than anything.

Professor Badcrumble looks confused. "A senior losing a duel to a second year? You know what, I was about to give you detention for careless spellcasting, but I think instead I'll assign detention just to make sure you've got a quiet place to contemplate where this day went wrong. As for you, [PC FIRST NAME], congrats on your victory but perhaps try more peaceful solutions in the future, please?"

"Oh, I think my method of problem solving is peaceful enough, so long as my opponent isn't such a firebrand," you say with a coy smile. As expected Professor Badcrumble being this nearby wasn't just a coincidence, since she just nods as she starts to escort Richard to detention. The rest of the seniors are told to go back to their usual business. With a pointed emphasis on the "usual" part.

--You march off to find the nearest Rimbal player who'd know whoever is behind this nonsense and demand to be taken to him. At first you're told to buzz off, but when you draw your wand and demand a duel the senior stops trying to ignore you. After that...

...You know, you're honestly not sure what happened after that. But it probably has something to do with your current bedridden predicament.

"Sounds to me like you got your hotheaded wand handed to you!" the (thoroughly unimpressed with you) infirmary nurse who's trying to find the last of the injuries you've sustained points out. All in all you have to agree with her assessment, although it's not one you're really happy about.

The good news, at least according to Katja when she stops by to visit, is that the senior who, eh...kinda kicked your ass three ways straight into the infirmary was apparently a key player in the whole riot plot, but thanks to your shenanigans he's in detention. And given enough magic, you'll heal before his detention is over, so it sounds like you'll get another shot at this.

You know, once your arm stops feeling like it's about to fall off...

So...many...words...

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