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Y2 WIP Adventures (come and proof-read!)

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Wherever the...Friend? Or Foe?, stage 9:

Spoiler

Cautiously the girl opens the front door, finally, and through the crack she slowly pokes a shy head out. Inquisitive eyes who've lost their shine and some of their color look you over while you do the same. You referred to her as a ghost before, but you didn't think that when your mind called her a ghost it meant that literally. The girl's short hair is a dull white color that doesn't look healthy. Compared to, say, Amada Kiffer, this girl's hair just looks dead. Her eyes, as noted, also have a dull color to them, more lime than a normal green. Her skin likewise looks pale. Not quite as pale as Aaran Ledale's, but off of the top of your head you'd say it's closer to him than, say, Zoe Melis. When the girl slowly pulls open the front door you can finally see more than just her face as well, and although you didn't mean to it causes you to frown regardless. When the girl stands upright before you it's noticeable that she's not much shorter than you are. How old is she, exactly? And related to that, how old is Madame Angé, again? You recall that she looked to be in her early twenties, but this girl must be in her early teens. You suppose that a woman making herself look younger than she really is is hardly a new concept, but how many years did she shave off of her apparent age? Five? That still wouldn't add up, more like...ten or so? That's either some heavy-duty Glamours, or...

"Eh, p-please, come in," the girl says, stumbling over her words. You quickly compose yourself, politely nod and slowly walk inside. Her home, what you can see of it, is pretty much just that - a home. Living room, kitchen in the back, dinner table and the like...nothing that you can from here see stands out. As for the girl (who's name you really need to catch one of these days), she seems unsure of what to do. There's clearly something on her mind, but she's not sure what to say. Or, perhaps, how. The whole "speaking Merilien" problem you've already solved, so it can't be that. How are you going to get this girl to open up?

-Empathy. Connect with her.
--It's pretty plain to see what's bothering this girl and why. You'd think. In truth, observing this girl for a little bit, you get the impression that she's not shy because of her looks. At least, not just. More than that, she's anxious. Excited. Perhaps even a little rebellious. She's hesitating because she's doing something she knows she shouldn't - let in a stranger, you'd guess - and doing it anyway, because you present an opportunity to her that she doesn't want to lose. She doesn't want to be your friend, primarily, she wants something from you. And you can make a good guess as to why. Calmly you get the girl's attention, which draws her out of her internal debate on what to do in this situation, and ask, "You wanted to ask me something about the Academagia's musicians?"

The girl's eyes light up at the mention of the musicians, despite her surprised look. "Y-yes, y-yes I do. Eh...c-could you put in a good word with them, for me? I-I...I'm hoping to study music, and composing, and magic! Next year, I'm hoping to get accepted into the Academagia."

"Put in a good word"? Someone's taking after her mother. Also, someone is forgetting a few pages of her etiquette manual, but you're not going to give her too much grief for it. "Before you start to ask favors, perhaps introduce yourself?" you ask with a gentle smile.

"O-oh, right, sorry about that," the girl says, briefly looking embarrassed before composing herself and doing a little bow. "My name is Charlotte, pleased to meet you." When you ask about her last name Charlotte's earlier awkwardness returns. "I-I...I don't...have a last name. S-sorry, mother doesn't want me to talk about that. And honestly, neither do I."

No last name...the possibility of Madame Angé having adopted Charlotte runs through you head, and all things considered it ends up sounding like a sensible theory. It's clear that you shouldn't be pressing this subject any further, though. "That's fine, I'll just call you Charlotte," you say, as if you'd actually call her something like "madame Mérel" otherwise. "Anyway, to move to a less touchy subject, you're hoping to get accepted into the Academagia? Do you think you stand a good chance? You know there's lines of children who hope to get accepted every year, right?"

You'd expect someone as young as Charlotte to be more defensive or...well, "snobbish", but she just heartily nods. "I know, that's why I want-sorry, that's why I'd like you to put in a good word. It wouldn't hurt if the musicians knew my name."

Definitely, oh so very much taking after her (adoptive?) mother. To a downright adorable degree, especially with that politician's smile of hers. "Fair enough, but you know the Academagia only accepts the best of the best, right? I can't just recommend someone on words alone, if you want people to remember your name you're going to have to show them something. And something good. Everyone else will also be putting their best foot forward."

That visibly makes Charlotte nervous. Still, after nervously looking at the staircase leading to the second floor and mentally weighing her options, she turns back to you as determined (if less cheerful) as before. "T-that's fair, so...h-how about I give you one of my songs, the best one I composed, all by myself, for you to show to the musicians? I-if it's good enough...you could put in a good word for me, right? Oh, ehm, I mean...please?"

It's a good thing that Charlotte can't bring herself to look at you directly as she makes that request, especially when she stumbles over her attempt at saying "please" in Renaglian (to her credit, "s'il vous plaît" is somewhat different from "please") once she realizes that she forgot to say it. Because that request sends every gear in your head spinning, and not in a good way, because you're feeling faint by the end of it. This song that Charlotte is apparently willing to give you is, in many ways, the leverage you need. Show that to Madame Angé, make it clear that you know about Charlotte's existence, and that's really it. She'll fill in the blanks herself, and even if she doesn't this situation isn't hard to figure out. And speaking of the madame, what in the world is she scheming? How many pawns on this city's chessboard have to move, and by when, before she'll be happy? What path is she trying to clear, because you don't want to believe that Charlotte is just another pawn to her...and as for how to answer to Charlotte's request? Well, you're not exactly chief of authority when it comes to which prospect students get accepted or not, but you could definitely pass along Charlotte's song. Whether anyone'll care is a different matter, but...people will definitely to care. One way, at least, the issue is that that one way isn't the way that Charlotte would want them to care for it. For right now...you'll just go along with this. You don't think you'll end up actually blackmailing Madame Angé in any way, but you need something if not a new lead, and this is all you're getting, so...gotta make do with what you have.

Hopefully this won't end horribly.

"I just want to make clear that either which way I can't promise anything, for better or worse, but if you'd get your best song, I'll see to it that the Academagia's musicians get to see it."

Barely managing to avoid squeeing like a schoolgirl Charlotte nods, repeatedly, and rushes upstairs. It actually takes a few minutes for her to return, which you use to compose yourself (again), but soon enough Charlotte runs back down with three rolls of parchment that she lays out on the living room table before you. You take a seat and start to examine them while Charlotte takes a seat across herself from you. "These are my personal favorites," she slowly explains, nearly twitching at every muscle you so much as think of moving. "To be honest I'm not sure if they're the 'best' by the standards that the Academagia...eh, 'thinks' of songs, but these are my favorites. They're the ones I could really put my heart into, until they were just right."

You nod and continue to look over the songs, actually holding back a few tears by the end of it because seriously, these lyrics. Madame Angé's schedule must be packed from dawn to the morning hours of the next day, because how could she miss how her daughter really feels? Like the middle song in particular, "All I Want To Be Is Happy"? Just...how much more on-point can you get? Well, either way you pick up the middle roll. Charlotte looks like she might have a heart attack as you do so. "Calm down, please. Anyway, If you don't mind I'll take this one and show it to the musicians. I take it you've got another copy?"

"S-sorry. Anyway of course I don't mind, and as for a copy, I don't need one. I know that one's by heart." Of course she does. Like, it wouldn't be difficult to memorize, but still.

"Alright," you say as you carefully roll up your prize and put it in your knapsack. "I've said it before but I'll say it again: I can't promise anything, for better or worse. I'll see to it that the musicians see this, but whatever happens beyond that I don't know." Charlotte nods, trying her best to appear (and be) confident. "So is there anything else, or-"

"N-no, not at all, but have a safe trip!"

Yeah, sure. Just a little too excited, even if she tries to hide it. You don't blame her, of course, but still. In any case, you take your prize and head back to the Academagia.

--A bit of gentle small talk does wonders to try and get the girl out of her shell, but while she's able to respond to some small talk she's not able to actually answer your questions. Unfortunate, but you don't blame her. This'll just take a little longer...

-Confidence. Just talk to her.
--"If there's something you want to say or ask, just do so. I won't get mad if you make a mistake."

That causes the girl to look at you confused for a second, but more than that, it makes her try and get her act together. She's shy, definitely, but she doesn't want to be. It's not in her nature, if that makes sense. "I-I...I want to meet the Academagia's musicians. Practice with them, become part of them, all of it. The works. I want to become a musician myself, you know? A signer. I even write my own songs! So...you know, could you get me in touch with them, maybe even put in a good word?"

Someone's taking after her mother, you think. Especially with that super serious expression on her...it's so adorable you can't help but crack a slight smile. As for her request, you're not exactly chief of authority there, but you can see how this could end well for you. If the musicians put on a concert using one of her songs you're sure that Madame Angé would get the message that you know her secret, the issue is that you probably wouldn't be able to look at yourself in a mirror afterwards. You have no idea who this girl is or what her story is, but she's got one to tell, you're sure of that. "You wouldn't have a problem with going to the Academagia? Visitors are allowed from dawn to dusk, that's not an issue, but...well, first impressions don't paint you as a very outgoing musician, no offence."

The girl pouts a bit. "I-I'm not scared, just...I get sunburns really easily. But the Academagia has an indoor theatre or conservatory, right?"

"Well, the Spavia has an open roof and a ton of anti-weather enchantments, whereas the Dimmae is an outdoor theatre, actually. If you have trouble with sunlight, though, there's spells to protect you from them."

The girl's eyes suddenly light up - as best they can - and she quickly dashes into the kitchen, taking out a quill and parchment from a drawer. "Sorry, what school do those spells belong to?" the girl asks from the kitchen.

"Negation, preferably," you answer. As the girl starts to write that down you ask, "Incidentally, what's your name?"

With her note written down and secured in the kitchen drawer the girl walks back into the living room. "Charlotte," she answers, doing a little bow as she introduces herself. Of course when you ask for her last name she gets a bit nervous. "I, eh...I don't have a last name, actually."

"Don't have a last name? How's that possible?"

Charlotte just sadly shakes her head. "I-it's...my mother doesn't want me to talk about that. And honestly, I don't want to either."

"Fair enough," you say as reassuringly as possible, while you mind processes the possibility that she could be adopted. In some respects it makes sense, frankly. "To perhaps broach a less sensitive topic, do you plan on studying magic?"

Charlotte heartily nods. "Music and composing is fun, but it isn't enough. I want to learn some magic! I know I can work hard at it, and I've played instruments before (though I prefer to sing), so I'm sure I can do it. My mom even says that, if I'm lucky, next year I'll be accepted into the Academagia itself! Heh, maybe next year we'll be going there together."

You nod at that, but mentally your head feels like it's spinning. Madame Angé...what in the world is she all scheming? How many pieces on this chessboard is she trying to move, and where, in so short a time? You don't think you'll find out from Charlotte, though. But you can get your "leverage", even if you're not sure how or why you might end up using it. "Well, don't assume, or you're liable to get disappointed. And speaking of that, not to make you feel nervous, but you said that you compose songs yourself? I can't promise anything, but show me your best song and I'll forward it to the musicians at the Academagia." Naturally, Charlotte is...excited to hear that. Very excited. "Hey now, remember that I can't promise anything, and the Academagia houses the best of the best, so don't expect to be the only one putting her best foot forward. But if I think your work is good enough I'll do what I can to make sure the musicians at least see it. That's it, though."

Barely managing to avoid squeeing like a schoolgirl Charlotte nods, repeatedly, and rushes upstairs. It actually takes her a few minutes to pick out a few of her best songs for you to choose from, which you take as a good sign. "These are my personal favorites," she explains as she carefully places three rolls of parchment on a table in front of you. "I, eh, I'm honestly not sure if...what's the word, if, like, they're really the best ones, but they're my favorites. They're the ones I really poured my heart into."

"I think the term you're looking for is 'objectively'," you explain as you glance at the three parchments, and slowly start to examine the songs written on them.

"Is that the right term? Well, just so that what I mean is clear, I don't really pay attention to every little rule and fashion that music is supposed to follow. I just sing what I want to sing and work on it until it sounds like I feel like I want it to sound. Sorry if that's not how I should compose, but I don't really care to become world-famous or something. Even if I end up at the Academagia. I just want my music to be heard, mostly."

That humble, but earnest sentiment is honestly more than evident in these song lyrics that are in front of you. Like, seriously, in addition to 'objectively' you can add 'subtlety' to the list of words that this girl hasn't learned. It's not bad, in fact given the right circumstances this could have a powerful impact, but it better when you're throwing around a vocal bag of hammers. "Well, two things," you start to say as you pick up the middle roll of parchment. All I Want To Be Is Happy...it's very simplistic, but it really doesn't get more straightforward than that. "First of all, you'll want to write 'Grammar' below where you wrote 'Negation' on that note from before. Clever wordplay isn't necessary, strictly speaking, but it's something that as a composer you should definitely study and learn to utilize." Charlotte actually quickly gets up and does just that. "And the second thing?" she asks from the kitchen.

"If you don't mind I'll be taking this one to the Academagia. Just to check, though, you do have an extra copy of this lying around somewhere?"

Charlotte shakes her head. "Of course not, and I don't need a copy. I know that song by heart."

Of course she does. Like, it wouldn't be hard to memorize, but still. "In that case I'll be off to the Academagia, unless there's something-"

"Nope, I'm fine! Have a safe trip!"

Yeah, just a little bit excited, huh? Fair enough. Hopefully. Honestly you're feeling a little bad about this since...you might not be able to actually do anything with this, but you've done gone and gotten it, you're going to use it.

And by that you mean you're going to shove it in front of the musicians and have them figure it out. While you figure out where to go from here.

--You're pretty sure you're on the mark when it comes to this girl's desire to not dance around the subjects she wants to discuss, but the cocktail of emotions that she's feeling is too much for her to control. As such, she clams up. Unfortunate, but honestly, you don't blame her. You'll just leave today at getting into her house and come back later, taking this in steps will probably make it easier for her, and she clearly needs that.

There's the lengthy, dialogue-heavy text walls I'm used to.

Frankly I didn't miss them that much <_<. Such a pain to type...

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Wherever the...Friend? Or Foe?, stage 10:

Spoiler

It's been a while since you last met with the musicians, but after finding and informing Katja that you need to speak to them all right now you soon find you doing exactly that. You've got Charlotte's song with you, and after explaining everything that you've figured out and done (leaving out just a few unimportant (and unflattering) details) you give it to one of the senior musicians and ask, bluntly, if it's worth anything more than the parchment it's written on.

"Gods alive, what is that girl's issue?" is the senior's response, after he reads it with ever-widening eyes. You're not sure whether that translates to a "yes" or a "no". The other musicians quickly gather around the senior to take their own look, and after everyone sees what you've brought the mood in the room darkens.

"So, the sum total of your findings is that Madame Angé is sheltering this incredibly lonely teenage girl, and only by blackmailing her with that knowledge are we sure to get her off of Professor Massioti's back?" one of the musicians asks, piecing the awkward silence that fell over everyone.

"In short, yes, that's about the extend of what I have so far," you admit. "I don't suggest that we do that, naturally, but barring using that leverage as a means to get more information I'm honestly not sure what else I could do. I just don't know what Madame Angé's angle is, in any respect, so this is all I have." There's some low murmurs coming from the crowd of musicians, mostly agreements that people aren't willing to stoop to outright blackmail. Also questions as to whether Charlotte's song that you brought could be performed as an outright concert, given some adjustments, which isn't getting many votes of confidence. Some, but not many.

"Are you all still conspiring against Madame Angé?" a familiar, adult voice suddenly rings out. Professor Massioti. When did he get here?

"We're not conspiring, just...collectively deciding on how to respond to a specific situation," one of the musicians insists. It impresses as much as you'd expect.

"Very funny. Regardless, ignoring the rest of you for now, [PC FIRST NAME]? I take it that what I've heard about you digging into other people's affairs is true?"

"I'd say yes, but if you got those rumors from Rikildis you might want to take them with a grain of salt."

Professor Massioti shakes his head. "No, my sources are a bit more trustworthy than that, though of course you didn't hear that from me. In any case I wanted to ask, do you all really think that this little show is necessary? Perhaps you haven't heard, but my position as regent is called into question basically every time the Academagia's Rimbal team loses a match. It's nothing more than coincidental that this time someone was actually serious about it."

"B-but what about the Praetexta Court? I heard that they and the Academagia's alumni were going to meet and-" one of the musicians begins to say.

"Yes, they are, although a bit of pattern recognition would have told you that they're scheduled to meet on the same day that they have been meeting for the past I don't know how many years now. They do gather together on an annual basis, some of them at least, in order to get a feel for the state of affairs of the Academagia and if anything needs to change. Including any of the College regents, although I have no reason to believe Madame Angé will succeed at getting appointed over me." There's a bit of silence as all the musicians exchange glances, some dubious, some curious, others conflicted. Until you ask the regent what makes him so sure. "Because there's one thing that a college regent needs in order to rise to their position, Professor di Lucca Alazzo notwithstanding. And that's mastery of the college's traditional school of magic, or former school of magic in Aranaz' case, if you want to get technical. Point is that Madame Angé might be a spellcaster, but she doesn't know a lick of Incantation. Nothing, not a single Incantation Pheme of spell at all. She studied Astrology, and even with that I doubt she's on the same level as Professor Badcrumble. The latter attended the Academagia, back in her day. Madame Angé didn't." Oh, snap. That explains...quite a few things, actually. "As for myself I'll freely admit that my knowledge of Incantation overlaps considerably with advanced Rimbal techniques, perhaps more so than some students would like, but for what it's worth that still counts as far as the rules outlined by the Praetexta Court are concerned. So there you have it. Proof positive that despite Madame Angé's exceptional abilities at stirring up a hornet's nest, her chance of replacing me are slim to none. Professor di Lucca Alazzo gets enough flak for not being a grandmaster Enchanter as opposed to 'just' an Enchanter, and that aside he fits College Vernin's paradigm perfectly. Madame Angé can't play five notes right, couldn't conjure a glass of water even if she was on fire, and I'm sure her opinion of Rimbal and mercenaries have been made clear. She could be a fine manager for the music department's finances, perhaps, but nothing more than that. If that. Now forgive the sudden departure but if you'll excuse me, I've got a Rimbal team to attend to."

Professor Massioti leaves, and again silence falls over the room as everyone processes what he said. As for you, you're feeling like it would have been wonderful if someone told you all of that, you know, a bit earlier. Before this whole mess got as bad as it did.

...Why did no one inform you, anyway? If Professor Massioti knew about all that before, why didn't he spread the word? It might have stopped the Rimbal team from flying off the handle before you had to step in. And where did he learn about Madame Angé knowing Astrology? Even you weren't aware of that, and you think you did a great job digging into her affairs. Elisa didn't mention it. You don't recall her knowing why her attempts to track Madame Angé failed, even. Hmm...

"Well, I guess that's that, than," one of the musicians says with a sigh. "So's there any reason for us to still be here and all, or...?"

Is there? You feel like there's a mystery left unexplained here, but is there a reason to look further into it?

-Satyric Revelry. Suggest you all put on a concert anyway.
--"Is there ever not a reason? Ladies and gentleman, what we have here is a politically heated situation, troublesome enough to generate outright riots...well, one riot, put to an early, final grave. Do you know what that situation calls for?" Lots of confused stares all around, even Katja is looking at you with a giant question mark written all over her face. You look at everyone a bit perplexed. "What, were you all planning on doing some homework to celebrate? A party! That's what this situation calls for! Put on a nice show to commemorate the end of the stress, awkwardness, misery, whatever else people felt! And then go back to doing homework! How do you people not know this?"

For someone who just suggested throwing a party to celebrate the end of a bothersome problem the reactions you're getting are far too mixed. "I'm in favor of this plan," one of the seniors says.

"Finally! Any other takers?"

"One thing," another seniors says, pointing at Charlotte's song. "Could we actually use that at all...well, any more than we could to begin with, if that's what we'll be doing? I mean I don't know about the rest of you, I don't need an excuse to throw a concert, but that song...it doesn't really fit a party atmosphere, does it?"

"Nonsense," you say before someone else opens their big mouth. Why you're going out of your way to defend Charlotte's song like this, though...you're not entirely sure. It's a complicated mix of reasons. "We all want to be happy, don't we? Especially after a situation like this? So be happy! Hell, use it as the opening act, connect with both the student and faculty's desire for this nonsense to be put to bed and than let 'er rip."

"Let what rip? Someone's violin? Someone's pants? Either way I don't think that'll go over well," one of the musicians asks while most of the others nod at your suggestion.

"You'll see, ye of little faith. Anyway, all in favor of throwing a party?"

Pretty much everyone in the room, in unison, shouts "Aye!"

"Motion accepted! So, problem the first, how to convert Charlotte's song to a concert worthy piece of music. Any suggestions?"

"Leave that to me," one of the musicians says, finally doing something rather than waiting for you to do everything for a change! Oh, you knew this was going to be a great idea. There'll be more kinks to work out undoubtedly, but for right now, that marks the start of a beautiful plan. Truly, this can only end well.

"[PC FIRST NAME], why are you knocking on wood?" Katja asks as you proceed to do what every sane person would do in your position.

"Never mind that. Everyone? Get ready for Operation: End of This Mess Party!"

--To you it seems only natural to throw a party in light of a reason to throw a party, but the musicians don't seem to agree with your opinion. No matter how many great arguments you throw in their collective faces, like asking them if any plan to celebrate by doing homework. Apparently a few of them have a big test coming, so taking the time to study would be appreciated.

Spoilsports. Those guys are going to throw a party if it's the last thing you do.

-Plot. It's not over until an overweight lady sings.
--"I certainly believe there is. How many of you think that this affair is really over and done with?"

There's a few curious glances exchanged before you're informed that, for the most part, the musicians do think that Professor Massioti's comments pretty much put the final nail in this situation's coffin. "What, do you still think something fishy is going on?"

"You'll recall that I talked to an Avila graduate during the course of my investigation? One who didn't figure out Madame Angé's spellcasting abilities? Yet there the regent was, happily sharing that information with the class. I'd certainly call that fishy."

Some frowns and tilted heads. You're on the right track. "Maybe he just respected the madame's privacy? Like, she's after his seat but it's not like he's really threatened by her, you know?"

"Maybe, but if he told us anyway he could have said as much to the Rimbal team as well, before they nearly flew off the handle. And if anyone was aware of that one boy's hotheadedness it'd be Professor Massioti, right?"

More frowns and dubious glances. Sadly no answers, but it's a step in the right direction regardless. "[S/He]'s making some good points..." one of the musicians silently mumbles.

"Maybe, but what's it all supposed to mean? That that wasn't Professor Massioti just now? Preposterous."

"It means Professor Massioti didn't know himself until recently," you correct.

"Doesn't that just close the lid on this case, though? Professor Massioti learned that the madame's threats are hollow, came here to tell us as much, and...that's pretty much it?"

You shake your head. "He had no way of figuring that out, not that easily. Not if me tracking down an Avila graduate and both of us trying to track down Madame Angé still left us completely in the dark. Madame Angé is doing this. She's slipping the regent information so that he'd tell us off, because we were about to do something she doesn't want us to do." You point to Charlotte's song, that someone pinned to the wall.

"So...you're suggesting that she's admitting that her political pushing is hopeless because she doesn't want us to play her probably-maybe adopted daughter's song? Just...why? Like, what possible reason could she have to-why would anyone ever do that?"

"I don't know, but I'm past the point of believing that what Madame Angé is doing is in Charlotte's best interests. I mean, you all read her song's lyrics, right?" There's some slow, awkward nods, though mostly there's confused stares. Good enough. "So I say we put on a show as planned, for whatever flimsy excuse of a reason one of us can think of, and we bring whatever intricate web of secrets that Madame Angé spun around herself and everyone she comes into contact with down to the ground. I don't know about you all, but I'm tired of being pushed and pulled from the shadows, and she has some things to answer for."

One of the musicians quips that everyone does, but he's largely ignored as the rest nods at your suggestion. There's still some questions as to whether Charlotte's song could really be performed as a full-blown concert song, but a few of the musicians promise that they'll find a way to make it work.

Finally other people are doing something for you for a change! Glorious, just glorious. You're sure that there'll be some kinks to work out before the concert can be put on, but for now you're going to enjoy a much-needed break.

--You're quite sure that there's something more going on here, but the musicians seem content to just let the matter drop at this point. Trying to cheese you out of some sort of admittedly not agreed-upon payment, you think. All that effort and these guys just want to call it a day? Never. They're going to do something before you'll call this quits even if it's the last thing you do.

Those musicians really have been nothing short of useless this entire time, haven't they?

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Wherever the...Friend? Or Foe?, stage 11:

Spoiler

Katja again came running into the Great Hall today, looking for you. Apparently there's something going on with the concert crew, and your input is needed. Needless to say that you go with her straight to the Dimmae theatre. There you see most of the musicians practising their respective parts, preparing instruments, the usual stuff. Nothing looks out of place or on fire, though. "Okay everyone, I've brought [PC FIRST NAME]," Katja announces as the two of you walk in. Everyone stops what they're doing to look at you. This might get ugly.

"Okay, so what's the emergency? Who got killed, what got burned down, what invading army is at our doorstep, what combination thereof?" you ask, dreading what answer you'll be given.

A few of the musicians laugh at that. That's a good thing, right? "Nothing quite so dramatic," one of them explains. "Simply put, we're missing a singer. One of the seniors tried singing Charlotte's song, but it just doesn't fit. We need a young girl to sing these lyrics. You know, get a voice that fits the emotion of the song. And the problem is that we don't have anyone like that."

You glance over at Katja, and before you can even say anything she shakes her head. "I'm on the violin for that song, although I guess I could be a back-up singer if you really want?"

"So Katja brought me here to talent scout, basically?"

"Pretty much. Some suggested recruiting Charlotte to sing the part herself, assuming she's actually good enough to do so of course, but...well, we're not really sure that's a good idea. None of us want to judge a book on her cover, but the way you described her to us before...not really the perfect picture of a concert singer, you know? And let's not even think about what it'd take to convince her mother to go along with that plan..."

Yeah, that's not going to happen without a Mastery textbook in all likelihood. It would be fun to give Charlotte the chance to sing her own song, but...let's not make this needlessly complicated at this stage. A young girl to sing a song...of course you also need one who 'fits the emotion' or some such. One of those art things, huh? You can manage that. Probably. Who to recruit, though?

[FEMALE PC]-Voice. Try signing the part yourself.
--"Any objections to me singing the song?"

There's a few shrugs from the older musicians and a big, goofy grin on Katja, but no one voicing disagreement. "If you think you can, sure."

"Great, let me just grab-does anyone have a copy of the lyrics? Just give me a few minutes to practice and memorise things, and we'll see what I can do."

Someone tosses you a copy of the song lyrics, and you slink off into one of the Dimmae's backstage areas to practice in (relative) peace and quiet. As you thought, signing relatively competently is the easy part. Really putting your heart into it, as Charlotte did when composing the song, is the hard part. You resolve not to let anything get to you, though. You'll do your best, and if that's not enough, so be it.

It only takes a few short minutes before Katja shows up and says the rest are ready for the first full rehearsal. Not is either your time to shine, or come crashing down.

Overall the rehearsal is rocky, rough around multiple edges, but not because of you. Not just. You put your heart into it and manage to sing the part beautifully. So well that no one even calls you out on the fact that you mixed up two lines in the melody!

...You never said that you didn't need practice, but even to untrained ears that's obviously true for everyone here.

You're hired on the spot (sorta), and that's what matters most. Now it's just a matter of getting ready for the big show...and whatever comes next.

--The musicians are more than willing to give you a chance, which is good. What isn't good is that you're having a hell of a time trying to 'fit the emotion' or whatever the musicians said before. You can't put a...well, tone, in this case, on what you're missing or doing wrong, but when Katja gives it a try you can hear that you are definitely missing something.

"Maybe we should have Katja sing, and have [PC FIRST NAME] on the violin?" one of the musicians suggests, but Katja insists that unless there's no other singer in the entire Academagia who can sing the part, she wants to be on the violin. You don't blame her. Her talent is most certainly playing the violin, not singing.

So...looks like you're got some more work ahead of you, either practising or talent scouting...

[MALE PC]-Voice. "Does it HAVE to be sung by a girl?"
--The musicians look at each other questioningly. "It doesn't have to be, necessarily," one of them slowly says to the others. "The key point is that it's a child's voice, right? You know, pure and innocent, that sort of thing?" The rest of the musicians nod at that, although a question is raised about whether your voice will suffice for that purpose.

"Do I sound like an octogenarian chain smoker? Just give it a try. If it works, great. If not at least I'll know I wasn't refused just because a group of musicians didn't think things through."

There's a few disapproving frowns directed your way, but no one can (or at least tries to) refute your point. So with a slightly smug smile plastered all over your face you grab a copy of Charlotte's song lyrics and head off to practice in relative peace and quiet. The lyrics are about as simple as they get, so that's not an issue, the issue is really putting your heart into it like Charlotte did. The fact that you, a boy, is trying to sing a girl's song also keeps circling in your head. "There's no reason I shouldn't be able to do this", you keep telling yourself, "wanting to be happy isn't something gender specific, a guy can want that just as much as a girl". Yet the lyrics just don't click...

"Sorry, [PC FIRST NAME]? The rest are ready for the first full rehearsal," Katja says after peeking a head into your practice room.

"That's great, but I'm not. I swear, these lyrics couldn't be simpler, yet...I don't know. Somehow they don't click."

Katja shakes her head. "You're worrying too much, [PC FIRST NAME]. Just because a girl wrote the lyrics doesn't mean a boy can't sing them. Go out there and let your inner child sing some words, the rest will fall into place."

With a sigh and shrug you slowly nod and follow Katja to the practice stage. "I swear this is all made far too complicated because of...something. I don't even know what."

"It doesn't matter, [PC FIRST NAME]," Katja says with a smile. "Leave art to the artists. You're a singer, so go out there and sing a song."

You figure that you might as well try after you spend those minutes practising, so you decide to just trust Katja on this and sing without thinking about things too much. It takes a few tries before you get it, but afterwards things go perfectly. Or as perfectly as the initial rehearsal can be expected to, anyway. Hell, looking over the lyrics again you realize you actually managed to get two lines mixed up. Good thing no one called you on it.

Most importantly the other musicians are convinced that you're able to pull off the signing aspect, so you're officially added to the team. Now it's just a matter of continuing to practice until the big day...

--The musicians are persuaded to give you a chance easily enough, which is good. What isn't good is that you're having a hell of a time trying to 'fit the emotion' or whatever the musicians said before. You can't put a...well, tone, in this case, on what you're missing or doing wrong, but when Katja gives it a try you can hear that you are definitely missing something.

"Maybe we should have Katja sing, and have [PC FIRST NAME] on the violin?" one of the musicians suggests, but Katja insists that unless there's no other singer in the entire Academagia who can sing the part, she wants to be on the violin. You don't blame her. Her talent is most certainly playing the violin, not singing.

So...looks like you're got some more work ahead of you, either practising or talent scouting...

-Gossip. See if Silke Niederstatter is up for singing a song.
--You mentally go through a list of every Classmate you know of and try to think of someone who'd be able to not just sing decently, but also 'fit the emotion' or some such. That list gets uncomfortably thin by the time you're done, but you think that Silke might be a good student to ask. She's in Godina, but for reasons that you're not entirely aware of, since the traditional focus on grand, flashy magic just isn't her style. Moreover, she despises athletics, yet she's forced to attend Athletics class because, again, she's in Godina. And of course that also means that Professor Massioti puts her through the Rimbal ropes at least once, like he does with everyone. It's impolite to assume, but maybe she can understand Charlotte's desire to fit in, and from there, sing not only decently, but in the proper arts-y form?

With not much in the way of confidence you make your way to Godina's section of campus and look around for Silke. You find her in the mostly empty Common Room, trying to decorate it with nothing more than some colored lines of cloth. Someone likes a challenge, it seems. "Hey, Silke? Can I ask for a favor?" Silke turns around, jumps down from the chair she's standing on and asks with a smile what you want. "You've heard about the project that the Academagia's musicians are working on, right? Katja's part of it as well, and long story short, we're-well, I'm looking for someone. We're missing a singer."

Silke raises an eyebrow at that. "A singer? Really? I thought you wanted me to work on the decorations."

You shrug. "Maybe you can, I honestly don't know who's doing decorative work or even if there's anyone doing decorative work. What I'm looking for, at least what I know I'm looking for, is a singer. Someone who, eh..." Good question you should have answered before entering this conversation, in hindsight: How are you going to explain what kind of singer you need? You know, politely?

"This wouldn't have anything to do with this 'mysterious new composer' that I heard older students whisper about in the common room, would it?" Silke asks with more than just a polite smile. She's curious. That's...a good thing, right? "You can tell your musicians that I'll stop by the Dimmae to audition once I'm done putting these things in place," Silke says, holding up one of her lines of cloth. "Not to alarm you, but I overheard two of the musicians talk about your 'secret' song in the common room, so I have a general idea of what's about. So expect to be hearing from me again. Later."

...Okay? Like, you'll take mission accomplished, but was there a conversation or two that you weren't present for here? Oh, no matter, you've got someone, and unless you need to find someone else you're happy.

Now it's just a matter of either solving the next problem that comes up, or waiting until the big day...

--You find Silke in one of the art rooms, and long story short is that she's currently too busy to also practice her singing as much as she'd need to if she's going to sing in a concert. It's fair enough, Silke attends Music since she's in Godina, but it never was her focus, so of course she'd need to practice a great deal.

Maybe grabbing a first year would be a better option?

-Society. Grab someone from Professor Chastellain's first year class.
--You head over to Professor Chastellain's office and politely, nervously, explain your situation. Despite the nerves the professor is persuaded into letting you "scout" his first year's class easily enough, and when he holds an impromptu "test" during said class one of the first years in particular stands out as the best choice. When you explain the purpose of your presence (and try to avoid sounding like you're the only reason that the kids got a surprise test...) the girl who stood out says she's more than happy to sing the part, so...yeah. Case closed.

You're honestly not sure why you thought it'd be so difficult to find someone with a specific talent. Normally it would be, but you're in the Academagia. If you're going to find talent anywhere, of course it'd be here. You really expected this little bit of talent scouting to turn into a whole ordeal, mostly because everything else you've done for the musicians so far has been, but in hindsight you didn't have anything to worry about. Setting up for a concert isn't a given, but it's not politics either. Things will be fine, ultimately. It's just a matter of solving problems as they come. Until it's time...

--You spend a good half hour trying to find Professor Chastellain after finding out that he's not in his office, and when you finally find him and explain your situation to him he informs you that he's currently doing some work with one of the conservatories in Mineta, so he can't very well spare his best first year for a concert. Should his business conclude before your concert you'd be more than welcome to talent scout his class (provided you inform him beforehand rather than just barge into his class randomly), but currently, the talents are taken.

You briefly consider if this is Madame Angé's doing, trying to sabotage your every effort in every way she can, but...you're just being paranoid, right? Right? She wouldn't go this far-or, heck, even know how to, right? This isn't some grand ploy to keep everyone busy, or...

Forget it, you clearly need to head off somewhere and take a nap.

There actually was also an army of music-averse pirates hiding in the Imperial Reserve, but those got taken care of off-screen :P.

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End of adventure double feature! Wherever the...Friend? Or Foe?, stage 12:

Spoiler

Tonight's the evening of the big show, and one final time all of the Academagia's musicians have gathered in the Dimmae Theater to perform their music concert. Professor Massioti asked some pointed questions as to why this was still a thing, but he accepted your explanation that it was to celebrate the end of a bunch of turmoil that had a grip on College Godina, and more. Just a few minutes, and it's time to get on stage. The audience is filled mostly with Godina students, ironically minus most of it's musicians, who are obviously part of the concert itself. But including the entire Rimbal team, who (rumor has it) were coerced here by Professor Massioti. Something about them needing a dose of "culture", or something? You're not entirely sure, you were too busy with concert business to focus on the specifics of those rumors.

"Alright everyone, five minutes until we get on stage. Is everyone here and ready?" one of the senior musicians asks. One by one everyone confirms they're here and ready, and a few head off towards the stage early to prepare the instruments. Always great to see something actually running like clockwork. "Excellent, excellent. Now, not to unnerve you all, but I've just got word from the Legate that two special guests will be attending our little concert as well. They requested to meet the backstage crew - that'd be all of us, naturally - and I, eh, kind of already okayed it with the Legate, so...they'll be here in about a minute, maybe less." There's a few complaints about the senior overstepping his bounds, but he stands firm. "I know, I know, my apologies, but I was only asked at the last minute myself and when the Legate personally asks you for a favor you don't say 'no', now do you?" Most people nod, begrudgingly or otherwise, but one person asks why meeting the backstage crew counted as a "favor" to the Legate, of all people. "Yeah, about that-"

"Good evening, students."

Dead silence quickly falls over the room as the two special guests, flanked by the Legate, enter the backstage area. You're not surprised, but as far as everyone else is concerned you don't know if people are more shocked by Madame Angé's appearance or Charlotte's.

"Good evening from me as well, students. I trust that everything is ready and waiting for the clock to hit the top of the hour?" the legate calmly asks.

"Y-yes, we're just waiting for the signal," the senior student tells the Legate, after which he slowly turns towards Madame Angé. "Y-you're, eh...right, Madame Angé, I take it?"

She nods. No words said, just a piercing gaze that leaves you to fill in the blanks.

"Bonjour à tous...j-je veux dire, h-hi? Everyone..." Charlotte, hiding behind her mother, says. She looks like she wants to say more, but she doesn't.

"Shall we leave meet and greets for after the concert?" the Legate suddenly suggests. "Less than two minutes left, everyone. Go and get to the stage, the audience is waiting."

Everyone, likely wanting to escape this awkward situation more so than worried about being late, nods and rushes to the stage. Seeing how many students, staff members, even professors are in the audience makes you nervous, but you're confident that this will work. Charlotte's song isn't a wordplay masterpiece, but it's...hang on, wait a minute, did anyone ever...? You quickly grab one of the fliers for this concert and check...there's mention of a "before unheard song from Mineta's newest composer". No confirmation that that's supposed to be Charlotte. In fact the absolutely horrible phrasing wouldn't suggest that that's likely, if even possible, but whoever made these insisted, so everyone just went with it. So did anyone tell Charlotte that you all decided to go through with playing her song before she came here? To listen to it being performed, as it turns out? She looked pretty anxious, so...uh...well, this might get awkwa-

"Good evening, guests and members of the Academagia!" the senior, now on stage and shouting at the crowd, starts. Oh geez, show's on, gotta go!

[PC IS THE LEAD SINGER]-Onto the stage, and quick!
--Ducking slightly you quickly rush to your spot on the stage. Thankfully your starting position is behind the instruments, it's your end position that's front and centre. A few of the musicians frown at you, but you motion to them to forget about it. With a shrug, they do.

"We could start with our take on a series of classic songs you've all heard before," the announcer continues, "but I'm not one that believes in keeping an audience waiting - not any longer than necessary, at least. So for our opening act, let's hear it for Mineta's newest composer!"

So many things you want to say and do at the point, but there's just no time. That was the cue to start, and vocals start before most of the instruments do. Well, nothing you can do about it now. You just do what you can to forget about it all, for now, and do your best to do Charlotte's song justice. Putting your heart into it, and being confident that all the time you've spend practising hasn't been a waste. More to the point, right now? There's something you'd rather be than within this whirlwind of emotions. So...it fits. "All I want to be..."

Right on cue the instruments kick in, and the concert is off to an energetic start! You make good on your own promise, just singing your heart out and forgetting about the rest, while the rest of the musicians playing their various instruments breathe some much-needed life into Charlotte's otherwise simplistic song. Props to whoever adapted it for a concert situation, because they've done a great job. At least you don't feel yourself get pelted by tomatoes, so someone must have done something right.

"...Is happy."

And just like that, it's already over. Mere minutes, but for you it felt like a lifetime. The crowd is cheering. Charlotte (who, incidentally, was doing a decent job singing along by the time she realized what song was being played) has apparently attracted a small crowd of people, including Professor Chastellain, who are curious about the oddity that she was able to sing along so well. The Legate is staring highly amused at some sort of situation that's going on in the back of the crowd, and upon closer inspection that situation turns out to be Madame Angé, on her knees, begging Professor Massioti for...something. It...looks a bit awkward, particularly for the thoroughly confused professor. Likewise the Rimbal team players who were forced to attend the concert, if their various bewildered expressions are anything to go by. Score one for the musicians, you guess?

In any case that's the extend of your performance, so you'll just head backstage and wait either for someone to explain this to you or for the older students to send you away while they hold their wild and awesome late night after party, so that you can talk yourself into it anyway. Hey, you've worked hard enough to get here, you deserve a share of the glory! You think...

[PC IS NOT THE LEAD SINGER]-Into your audience seat, and fast!
--The rest of the musician crew secured a front row seat for you, so ducking your head a little you quickly rush to your seat. Turns out you're seated between to Professor Valenta and Professor Sido, both of which just give you a nod. Why these two are here you're not entirely sure, to be honest. Professor Valenta you guess might see this as an opportunity to connect with the students, attending a concert and all, and Professor Sido probably picked up some knowledge and perpetual curiosity about different music styles. Or maybe they're just here to take a break from work. It doesn't matter, ultimately.

"We could start with our take on a series of classic songs you've all heard before," the announcer continues, causing Professor Sido to break out in a somewhat conspicuous smile. "But I'm not one that believes in keeping an audience waiting - not any longer. So for our opening act, let's hear it for Mineta's newest composer!"

Your entire body twitches a little as you hear that. Right. Charlotte's song is the opening act. But there's nothing you can do about it now. Whatever you'd like to say to her or just in general, there's no time. All you can do is sit in your seat and enjoy the show. And hope that everyone else does likewise.

Right on cue the vocals start, the music picks up, and the concert is off to a good start! Charlotte's song really isn't a masterpiece of wordplay or complexity, but whoever adapted it for this concert situation did a good job, because it sounds great and the audience is eating it up like the tomatoes they aren't throwing on the stage.

And before you know it, it's already over. Mere minutes, yet that moment of listening to Charlotte's song felt like a lifetime. The crowd is cheering, and you decide to look around a bit, see if you can see the "special guests". It's a bit difficult to see from your seat, but you can see Charlotte actually standing up, still singing along and doing a fine job of it. She's drawn a small crowd, including Professor Chastellain, who seems to be listening intently. The Legate, who's also got a front row seat, you noticed staring at something with a very amused grin on his face. And after a quick spell you can finally make out the scene he's staring at, far in the back of the crowd. Madame Angé, literally on her knees, begging Professor Massioti for...something or another. The professor seems thoroughly confused, and embarrassed, just looking around for someone to save him from his predicament. You and the Legate aren't the only ones who've noticed it either, though. The Rimbal team players who were forced to attend the concert? They noticed. And they're just as confused as their professor. You guess that counts as a victory for the musicians, maybe? You've no idea, and you suspect that the Rimbal Team would rather forget it than consider it.

In any case, like the announcer said the rest of the concert is just renditions of songs you've heard before, so you'll slip backstage and wait for either someone to explain this situation to you or for the seniors to start their concert after-party. So that you can talk yourself into it, of course. You've done enough work, you deserve a share of the glory...or something like that.

Who doesn't like a simple stage?

Wherever the...Friend? Or Foe?, Stage 13:

Spoiler

The Dimmnae's backstage is rather empty while most of the other musicians are on stage performing, but at least you're not alone - Katja is here as well, congratulating you on a job well done. And of course, both of you can listen to the muted sound of the music being played in the...foreground? Like, surely the backstage area classifies as the actual background. "Good show, [PC FIRST NAME]," a familiar voice says as the Legate steps into the backstage area. Charlotte is also here, closely following the Legate. "Though, perhaps a slight warning next time you decide to use an up-and-coming talent's material, hmm? As amusing as it was to rescue Professor Massioti from his little 'predicament' it'd be better if such things didn't occur in the future."

"Yeah, sorry. Call that a bit of bad planning," you answer, feeling a bit embarrassed yourself. Just a bit, mind. "I also didn't know that Madame Angé and Charlotte would attend, especially with it technically being past visiting hours. I mean, yes, Charlotte composed the song that some of the musicians adapted for being performed in a concert setting, but..."

"You didn't think I'd actually come all the way out here, with...how I look and all?" Charlotte, after a few attempts at trying to remember how certain things are said in Renaglian, asks pretty bluntly. She's really improving, or maybe she's just feeling more confident? You're not sure. As for her question, you shrug in response.

"I honestly wasn't sure. Like, I could imagine you being afraid of going outside for some reason, be it how your appearance or something else, but...I just wasn't sure. Madame Angé definitely seemed to be sheltering you, so...I figured she probably did because that was your choice. What you needed, if not necessarily what you wanted."

Charlotte isn't sure how to respond to that, which gives Katja time to chime in. "Hey, [PC FIRST NAME]? What's so wrong about how she looks? Have you never seen Aaran Ledale or something? Avila student, in our year, quiet type unless you catch him ranting for fifteen minutes about the concept of destiny? I mean, no offence to him, but I'm sure he's got it worse than she has."

"I'm personally not bothered by it, and I don't think most people in the Academagia would be either. I mean you've heard that one of the students in our year is an honest-to-goodness werewolf, right? I'm not going to judge anyone based on a skin condition, but..."

"If it were just a skin condition, than it stands to reason that there's another reason why Madame Angé sheltered Charlotte as much as she did," the Legate points out. You just nod at that, although Katja stares curiously at Charlotte. She just shakes her head, staring at the ground in front of her. Just what story does that girl have to tell? "All you two need to know," the Legate continues, "is that Madame Angé has given up on her ill-planned attempt at Professor Massioti's seat as regent, and instead is going to work with the Academagia's faculty instead of...whatever you'd call what else she would have done. So unless there's something else you two want to say, I'll leave you to the concert and bring Charlotte back to her mother."

"I'll actually be heading back to Godina's common room," Katja mentions. "That one song was it for me, and I'm feeling a bit tired right now."

Katja only got to play one part of one song? Bit of a waste of her talents, but...sure? You assume that was decided that way for a reason. So what are you going to do?

[PC FOUND MEDICINE BOTTLE]-You've got something to show the Legate, actually...
--You watch silently as Katja leaves, and once you're sure she's out of hearing range you walk up to the Legate. "I don't know if you've already been informed or not, but just in case you haven't there's one thing I should show you, actually. In my dorm room, if I remember right."

Both Charlotte and the Legate raise an eyebrow, the latter more so than the former. "Really? Well, Madame Angé should be with Professor Massioti still, and I assume little Charlotte here wouldn't object to a little tour of the Academagia if that's necessary, but what is so important that you didn't think to show me earlier?"

"Aside from the fact that I wasn't aware that you actually cared? If there's one thing I learned about this whole mess it's that there's more layers to it than most people realize, and it's taken me a lot more effort to adjust to Madame Angé's talent of seeing things in those layers than I thought. Even now I'm sure I'm just scratching the surface of it all. Anyway, I, eh...just, please, follow me, it'll be easier to show than explain." Both the Legate and Charlotte curiously follow you to your dorm room, Charlotte insisting on following anyway after you suggested that she might not want to be a part of this. So you lead both to your dorm room, where from the back of one of your drawers you retrieve what you collected from Madame Angé's garbage before. The empty medicine bottle. Charlotte's eyes widen when you show it to her, although the Legate doesn't seem as surprised. He's surprised, rest assured, but not as surprised. "Wh-where did you get that!?" Charlotte demands, conflicted between wanting to yank the bottle out of your hands and keeping her distance from you. You motion to her to calm down, which honestly probably only works because the Legate is right in front of her. "In your trash, shameful as that is to admit, but than spying isn't always glamorous. Anyway, I already looked up what this bottle used to contain based on it's label - specialized medication for people who ingested a nearly lethal dose of a specific poison at some point. I couldn't reserve-engineer what traces of the medicine remains, but in theory I could have figured out stuff like when you got poisoned from that." Charlotte doesn't say anything in response to that. She's shaking, maybe close to tears, but she's not saying anything.

"I'm impressed that you've managed to figure out that much, [PC FIRST NAME]," the Legate slowly says. "Now, if you don't mind me asking, exactly what do you think that that bottle signifies?"

"A lot of things, but I just don't have enough to put all the pieces together," you start to say as you hand the bottle to the Legate. He carefully examines it as you continue explaining. "Sorry to put it so bluntly, but I can make an educated guess as to why the victim of an assassination attempt was and...had to be adopted by someone who's just far too good at maintaining layers upon layers of deceptions and secrecy. I just can't figure out the exact who's and whys."

The Legate nods. "And Madame Angé's attempt at replacing Professor Massioti, in light of this?"

"A desperate grab for power, I'd imagine. I've heard that she doesn't intend - didn't intend, rather - to remove the current core curriculum of Godina, just push it into the background. Of course with her stance against Rimbal her students of that core curriculum would likely end up becoming the mercenaries of Godina's older days. Beyond that, I'm not sure. Maybe she wanted bodyguards, maybe she wanted to secretly build up a private army...I couldn't say for sure." Charlotte tries to defend her mother, or at least the woman who adopted her, but all that her efforts get her is a number of failed attempts at forming a coherent sentence and a few tears. You don't blame her. The Legate, putting a hand on Charlotte's shoulder, nods and calmly asks, "A desperate grab for power, to gain a personal army of some sort...why?"

"...Because she's afraid of someone trying to finish the job. That or she's the one looking to finish off whoever started the job...and than some, probably."

You didn't think that Charlotte's face had any color that could drain from it, but hearing that turns her already pale face into a literal ghost. The Legate, likely in an attempt to calm her down, lightly rubs her shoulder. You can't tell if she even notices. "Anything else you've figured out from your adventures in Madame Angé's garbage?"

"I only had the one adventure, thankfully, but I actually did notice something else interesting - among all of the food remains, there wasn't a trace of meat or anything you'd use to prepare it. So I also suspect that, eh..." After a few seconds of staring at the medicine bottle, which the Legate is still looking over, you add "Well, y-you can figure that out, I'm sure." Charlotte actually nods, though she doesn't say anything.

"I've said it before, but I think it bears repeating: Good show, [PC FIRST NAME]."

"Well, you'll forgive me if I don't feel that way given how the crowd looks," you say, looking at the downright pitiful Charlotte.

"Perhaps not right now, but with this bottle I think I might be able to get Madame Angé to stop playing dumb and actually cooperate with Professor Badcrumble. To undo the webs of obscurity that she's put in place." You protest, asking if doing that wouldn't attract the wrong kind of attention, but the Legate shakes his head. "If there is anyone left who cares, perhaps it would. But the spells and Phemes that Madame Angé discovered and used are better than she gives them credit for. You said that she can keep a perspective on every layer of secrecy she's ever woven, [PC FIRST NAME], but the simple truth is that she can't. Not perfectly. No matter how skilled and talented, in the end she's only human."

"So you mean...whoever is after her and Charlotte is already...I don't know, just...gone?"

"Most likely, yes. As such it's time to raise the curtains and see what remains of the cast, and if that attracts the wrong kind of attention...you didn't hear this from me, but I have it on good authority that Charlotte won't be so easy to get to. Or so helpless, if she indeed can study as hard as she claims."

"W-wait, you mean-!?"

The Legate holds up a hand. "Not for certain. But your mother did put quite a lot of effort into buttering up the folks who have a say in those decisions, and when both the regent of College Avila and the Legate actually support that direction...there's a better chance than your mother had at usurping Professor Massioti's position. Though I'll admit that isn't saying much." Charlotte is naturally excited at that, but the rest of what's been said so far is still weighing on her. As is what she hasn't said, things she could have explained and clarified, but you're not going to ask. Not right now. "As for you, [PC FIRST NAME], when the curtain is finally raised we'll probably need an extra pair of eyes and ears to gather and put together the pieces. Kate Badcrumble and myself, I mean. Worst comes to worst, we'll need an extra pair of hands to...clean up the garbage, as well. Since you've proven yourself to be somewhat capable in that regard, I'll keep your name in mind."

What was it that the senior musician said earlier? "When the Legate personally asks you for a favor, you don't say no"? You don't, of course, but you really hope that clean-up isn't going to turn ugly.

Because if it does...it'll get really ugly...

-Party time!
--You bid goodbye to the Legate, Charlotte and Katja, and wait until one of the musicians walks backstage. Turns out you only have to wait until the end of the song that was playing over your conversation before another senior walks in. Looking slightly confused, he asks why you're loitering in the backstage area.

"Waiting for the concert to end and the party to start. Considering all the effort I put into helping you guys I surely have earned that much, haven't I?"

The senior looks at you even more confused. "What party? Isn't the concert supposed to be the party?"

"Sorry, not buying it. I overheard you talking to the others, I know about the party, you know I've got a knack for those things so don't play coy. Just be honest, have I earned a spot on the invited list or not?"

An awkward silence, minus the muted sound of an upbeat classical piece of music being played on stage that's entirely inappropriate for the tense atmosphere in here, falls over the room until the senior speaks up again. "I suppose it's a futile effort to try and hide it from you. As for whether you've earned an invitation...I can't knowingly allow an underclassmen to hang around with a bunch of upperclassmen throwing a party after your curfew, but don't give people a reason to see you and I'm sure they'll have an...entirely coincidental tendency to miss you." With a smile the senior adds, "It's really rare for a second year to do older students a favor, but honestly? You've earned this one. Just be careful not to waste it."

Finally some recognition. Honestly, that's what you wanted just as much as being at the party. You enjoyed hearing Charlotte's song be played just as much as everyone else, but Gods did it take an unreasonable amount of effort - mostly on your part - to get to that point. And now? Time to mingle with the musicians in ways that Charlotte could only dream of. Complete with free pastries and everything. You'd know - you've seen where they're hidden.

It'll be a late night and you'll probably hate yourself when you have to wake up early the next morning, but for right now, you'll "just be happy"! Or some such poignant thing or'nother.

[MALE PC, mid to high, <11 relationship with Katja]-Call it a night with Katja.
--"Do you mind if I join you?" you ask Katja. She seems a bit surprised, but after a second she shakes her head and smiles. "Actually, no. Not at all."

You and Katja start to walk off together, slowly enough that Charlotte misjudges your hearing range and you both can hear her excitedly ask the Legate if the two of you are boyfriend and girlfriend. Katja can't help but slowly shake her head when she hears that, and she whispers something to you about kids and their silly fascination with such things. The Legate says something dismissive in response, although you can't make out any actual words. Either way, you and Katja walk silently together to Godina's Common Room. Given that the entire Rimbal Team and most of the musicians are still at the Dimmae, it's quite empty. So the two of you have no trouble finding a nice lazy chair or couch to sit on. After Katja sits down you notice that she's more than just tired. She's nervous. She's fidgeting with her fingers, her arms are shaking, and she's hanging her head.

Of course than she suddenly looks up and notices you staring at her. Her anxious expression turns into a nervous smile, but the look of wanting to tell you something doesn't change. "[PC FIRST NAME]..." she mumbles underneath her breath as she shyly looks away from you. "Sorry, but...could you please listen to me? I've...got some thing I really want to get off my chest." You shake your head. A bit casually, perhaps, but that's because you don't know why Katja feels so nervous. Yet. In any case, just that seems to have lifted some weight from her shoulders. "I...honestly, I was kind of hoping that...you'd fail to do this."

You raise an eyebrow at that. "Fail to do what, something with the concert?"

Katja shakes her head. "Save Professor Massioti, although I guess in the end he didn't need saving. It's just...when I overheard the Legate talk to Professor Massioti, when I heard him mention that the Praetexta Court would be meeting to see if he would be replaced as Godina's Regent...I...I felt happy. I thought I could feel happy. I'm not really Godina material, I'm just here because it's the College that the music department is tied to. I'm a musician, a violinist, not a battle-hardened war mage or a flashy, show-off magic performer."

"You're not the only one who feels like that," you say with a bit of a shrug. Really though, the same could probably be said for most of the musicians - the vast majority of them, understandably, are Godina students. Even so, Katja nods appreciatively.

"Y-yes, I know, but I'm still...nervous. Afraid that I won't meet people's expectations, even though I know Professor Massioti doesn't expect much. I'm not a Rimbal player either, after all. Even so, when I heard that he might be replaced, and replaced by someone who would actually focus on the music department, someone who'd recognize the talent I have and really appreciate it...I thought I'd be a good thing. At least for me, I thought it'd make things easier for me."

"Didn't you talk about how Madame Angé would stifle the musician's creative freedom, though? You know, because Professor Massioti doesn't pay any attention to any sort of art department? Weren't you concerned about that?"

Katja weakly nods. "I did, but those weren't my real feelings. Intellectually, sure, I was concerned about it, but in my heart I couldn't care less. I'm worried about falling behind, flunking out, failing because I can't cast magic as well as people want me to. As they expect me to. If I could make people happy by playing my violin, doing what I'm good at on the condition that I play some classical piece or whatever piece of musical fashion of the day it is until I graduate, so be it."

"But the rest of the musicians didn't agree? Didn't feel the same way, I should say?"

Katja sadly shakes her head. "No. If you're wondering why I was working with the musicians, why I got you and asked for help and all of that, the others convinced me. Mostly. At first I tried to argue with them that they couldn't judge Madame Angé on her cover, although we didn't know her name at the time, but the others argued that we couldn't judge a book who's cover we can't even see on it's content, either. So we tentatively agreed to find someone who could answer those questions for us. I looked for you, for someone who could help us all the while feeling like I didn't want anyone to help us. And when you did? The more you found out, the more people started clawing at each others throats because of that woman, the more conflicted I felt." Katja can't help but shake her head recalling that. "It wasn't until you brought back Charlotte's song that I started to sort of accept that I was wrong to think...wrong to hope that she'd be a better regent. Anyone who'd run over everyone else's lives in order to make sure that someone personally important to them can be happy...it's a noble goal, but I hate to admit that it's not a sentiment that makes for a good leader." Under her breath Katja adds, "Which only made me feel even worse, because somewhere deep inside this giant hypocrite's heart I prayed for the same to happen to everyone else in...in this College..."

Goodness gracious. All this time sleuthing around and you never even noticed. If only Katja had asked you'd have gladly lend her a listening ear, too. "Well, you should be happy to know I don't blame you for feeling like that, and if you're not, please, be happy anyway. You can feel guilty all you want, but it isn't going to make anyone happy, Katja."

Maybe that wasn't the best thing to say, but it was the honest truth, so you'll stick with it. Katja, for her part, seems conflicted (which is to say, no different from the past few minutes). "You know, that guilt is why I'm here right now. I didn't want to be part of the concert, I didn't feel like I deserved it. But Charlotte's song...I just had to. I just had to play that part. Not to show off, not because I wanted to make up for anything, but because I wanted to. I...all I wanted, out of all of this, no matter what happened, all I wanted was to feel happy. So that song...I just had to put my heart into it."

"You and everyone else, as far as I remember. Katja, do you really think that you're the only one who was conflicted about this whole situation? That you alone were holding out hope that Madame Angé might, just might, end up becoming a better regent until the bitter end?" Slowly, Katja nods. She quietly mentions that she knows it's not true, but all the same, that's how she feels. A part of you understands, but at the same time you can't help but shake your head. "Katja, as difficult as the curriculum of College Godina is for you, and don't even try to tell me with a straight face that you think you're the only one who has a hard time studying and practising their College's magic, aren't you happy? Happy that you're in the Academagia?"

It takes Katja a surprisingly long time to think of that question, during which the expression on her face doesn't get any better than "mixed". Finally, she shrugs. "I should be. Being here, sharing my experiences with everyone, I should be happy, and don't get me wrong, I appreciate it a great deal. But when I overheard the Legate and Professor Massioti talk, I felt excited. Eager. Like I might find something that was long missing. I just...am not sure what that is."

"So whatever this is about runs deeper than even you have ever noticed. That's...well, Katja? If you ever need help figuring it out or if you need someone to rescue yourself from it, please, next time fine me, or...someone else you can trust and get it off your chest before it starts to pile up, alright? You know that I can help you, if I have time, so...just ask."

It's taken long enough, but finally Katja can look at you again. With what'll soon be a tear-soaked smile she nods and says, "Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, [PC FIRST NAME]. I'll be sure to do that."

[MALE PC, 11+ relationship with Katja]-Call it a night with Katja.
--"Do you mind if I join you?" you ask Katja. She seems surprised, but after a second she shakes her head and smiles. "N-no, not at all."

You and Katja start to walk off together, slowly enough that Charlotte misjudges your hearing range and you both can hear her excitedly ask the Legate if the two of you are boyfriend and girlfriend. Katja can't help but giggle when she hears that, and she whispers something to you about kids and their fascination with such things. The Legate says something dismissive in response, although you can't make out any actual words. Either way, you and Katja walk silently together to Godina's Common Room. Given that the entire Rimbal Team and most of the musicians are still at the Dimmae, it's quite empty. So the two of you have no trouble finding a nice lazy chair or couch to sit on. After Katja sits down you notice that she's more than just tired. She's nervous. She's fidgeting with her fingers, her arms are shaking, and she's hanging her head.

Of course than she suddenly looks up and notices you staring at her. It's a bit embarrassing, but despite it all her anxious expression turns into a nervous smile. "[PC FIRST NAME]..." she mumbles underneath her breath as she shyly looks away from you. "Sorry, but...could you please listen to me? I've...got some thing I really want to get off my chest."

"Of course." Those words come out before you even think about it, you're not sure why. It wasn't what you were planning, you know that much. You suppose it doesn't matter, ultimately. You're curious why Katja looks so...conflicted, although just hearing you say that seems to have lifted a weight from her shoulders already. "I...honestly, I was kind of hoping that...you'd fail to do this."

"W-what? Fail to do what?"

"Save Professor Massioti, although I guess in the end he didn't need saving. It's just...when I overheard the Legate talk to Professor Massioti, when I heard him mention that the Praetexta Court would be meeting to see if he would be replaced as Godina's Regent...I...I felt happy. I thought I could feel happy. I'm not really Godina material, I'm just here because it's the College that the music department is tied to. I'm a musician, a violinist, not a battle-hardened war mage or a flashy, show-off magic performer."

"You're not the only one who feels like that." Again those words come out before you can give any thought to them. At this point you figure that you ought to just go with whatever unseen force is providing these words, though - they seems to work, after all. As for Katja, she nods appreciatively.

"Y-yes, I know, but I'm still...nervous. Afraid that I won't meet people's expectations, even though I know Professor Massioti doesn't expect much. I'm not a Rimbal player either, after all. Even so, when I heard that he might be replaced, and replaced by someone who would actually focus on the music department, someone who'd recognize the talent I have and really appreciate it...I thought I'd be a good thing. At least for me, I thought it'd make things easier for me."

"I appreciate it." When your brain processes this latest gift of words you quickly amend that lots of other people do to, if the concert audience was anything to go by. Katja mostly seems amused by your hasty addition, although you notice that once she's done internally laughing at your mysterious vocabulary misadventures she no longer looks away from you. And instead of a nervous smile, she's smiling gratefully.

"I'm really glad to hear that, [PC FIRST NAME]." Yeah, you'd gathered. "Eh...as for why I was working with the musicians, why I got you and asked for help and all of that, the others convinced me. Mostly. At first I tried to argue with them that they couldn't judge Madame Angé on her cover, although we didn't know her name at the time, but the others argued that we couldn't judge a book who's cover we can't even see on it's content, either. So we agreed to find someone who could answer those questions for us. I looked for you, for someone who could help us all the while feeling like I didn't want anyone to help us. And when you did, the more you found out, the more people started clawing at each others throats because of that woman, the more conflicted I felt." Katja can't help but shake her head recalling that. "It wasn't until you brought back Charlotte's song that I started to sort of accept that I was wrong to think...wrong to hope that she'd be a better regent. Anyone who'd run over everyone else's lives in order to make sure that someone close to them can be happy...it's a noble goal, but it's not a sentiment that makes for a good leader." Under her breath Katja adds, "Which only made me feel even worse, because somewhere deep inside this giant hypocrite's heart I prayed for the same to happen to everyone else in...in this College..."

You stand up. It kind of feels like an extension of your mysterious word fairy or whatever, since again you didn't really...think about doing this, but at least this time you don't have to. You walk over to Katja's couch, sit down next to her and throw...actually more like "slide" an arm around her shoulders. She blushes, but at the same time also slides a bit closer. More significantly, she doesn't look away from you, and her grateful smile slowly melts into something...honestly into something more drowsy. She wasn't lying when she said she was tired earlier.

...You're supposed to say something to her right around this point, aren't you? Something soothing, poignant, something...eh...probably one or two other things your mind can't think of right now? Blast, why did that mysterious word fairy decide to fly off right now, it worked so well before! Eh, quick, gotta think of something...and not make a fool of yourself, ideally, eh...

"Now that it's all said and done, with how things turned out, are you happy?"

Katja stares at you for a second, then quietly admits that she does feel happy when she feels that someone appreciates her. It makes you think your own wordsmithing skills did a good job...and then suddenly the corners of Katja's lips curl up into a mischievous smile. Katja leans in a bit closer, resting her head on your shoulder like she wants to, well, rest her head. Instead she sneakily reaches over and plants a quick kiss on your cheek.

"Please do me a favor, and forgive me for all of this," she whispers into your ear. You just nod in response, a bit meekly. You, eh, weren't prepared for that. Kinda took you by surprise...not an unwanted surprise, though...

The two of you silently stay like this, for a while, knowing that while the concert is going on basically every other Godina student is going to be coming through here. It's funny that after all that effort of getting to the concert, the part of the night you end up appreciating the most is this silent moment...

[FEMALE PC, mid+ relationship with Katja]-Call it a night with Katja.
--(pretty much the same as the mid-high relationship male text, just cut out Charlotte's "boyfriend and girlfriend" remark, maybe replace it with something utterly mundane)

And you guys thought the "Friend...or Foe?" part referred to Madame Angé :P. I, eh, I assume that's what people thought, at least :huh:? I mean it fits, so...

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And after a while and a half, have a new adventure:

Wrapping up in Rapture, Stage 0:

Spoiler

You're in your room, slowly but surely working on the least interesting of all homework projects that has you dragging your feet despite the fact that you've been sitting down for the past few hours now. The past few long hours, for reference. Studying magic and making things happen with just the flick of a wand is all well and nice, but man if the nitty-gritty doesn't get profoundly boring sometimes.

You're...honestly, you're not even halfway startled back to reality when you suddenly hear a knock on your door. Sweet salvation or one final kick in the teeth? Only one way to find out...

-Decline the invitation, whatever it entails...
--You've complained a fair deal about this homework, but is it really all that bad? You are here at the Academagia to study and all, you knew what you were signing up for, and what alternative is there? Mass Mastery? You'd rather do homework the old fashioned way, thanks. And you've no idea how long this distraction will take, so if it takes long enough for you to be unable to finish up here there's going to be hell to pay. Which means...bah. Hopefully it's Joana or someone else who is less than likely to provide a nice distraction anyway.

"Sorry, really busy with a homework project. Can't play right now."

You swear you recognize the voice on the other side, but your mind blanks on where to place it. On who to place it? Eh, minor details. This isn't a Dialectic project so you've got no reason to feel guilty. "The big one? Hah, you're cutting it a little close then, aren't you?"

"Fair enough," you admit, "but can you honestly say that you've finished it already?"

There's a moment of delicious silence before the voice replies "...Yes?" in the least convincing way possible.

"Well, maybe you ought to review it."

You can just imagine the expression on...Gods who does that voice belong to again, it's on the tip of your...brain? Memory? Whichever. "Y-yeah, yeah, I guess that wouldn't be the worst idea. Talk to you later, then."

Footsteps of someone quickly walking off. Well, there goes your chance to ask for a name. Eh, whatever. You'll remember at some point. Probably.

(male PC)-Get up and open the door.
--Anything is better than what you're doing now, or more accurately what you aren't doing right now like three quarters of the time you spend here. You need a break, you need a snack, some fresh air perhaps, just...something. Anything. Even Joana can't be worse than simply staying here.

Probably.

...Feeling a little hesitation you take a deep breath and slowly open your dorm door. Behind it stands Sima Venesico, arms crossed and a smile on her face. "Good afternoon, [PC FIRST NAME]. What, did I just wake you up?" she asks, looking at your tired expression.

"No, no, just working on a boring homework project that's dragging on for far longer than it should and I haven't taken any breaks yet. Speaking of which, I don't suppose you've got any plans today?"

Sima's smile slowly turns into a predatory grin, though after a second she tones it down to merely "bemused". It leaves you wondering whether or not that's a good thing. "Plans for today...?" Sima slowly says, looking at you almost like a cat that's managed to sneak right up to a tasty little mouse. "Hmm, one or two. Are you a good dancer, [PC FIRST NAME]?"

Are you a good dancer. Huh. Wasn't expecting that one. "Good enough, I'm sure. Why?"

"There's a dance hall in Mineta that I have to go check out, a place in the Upper City called Rapture. And I was hoping you'd come with me."

...Is Sima asking you out on a date? What? Like, you remember thinking that anything is better and all, and so far you don't disagree with that assessment, but just...what?

For a second Sima's predatory grin returns. "Well? Is this the break you needed, [PC FIRST NAME]?"

You end up staring pretty hard at Sima for a few seconds, looking for something without knowing what you're looking for. It's not that you'd be opposed to going on a date with Sima, necessarily. Even without setting the whole "underclassmen aren't allowed to date" rule stuff aside, you know Sima well enough to know that she can get away with it. It's just...well, really that's just it: You know Sima. You can tell something is off here. You know her better than this. And as the tense, silent seconds pass your theory is proven right when Sima's bemused confidence quickly melts into something else. Though she tries to hide it, you can see it. Nervous twitches, eyes darting back and forth, and after she repeats her earlier question she starts to blush. Not from embarrassment, mind. Sima gets like this when someone calls her out on her nonsense and she can't think of a way out. Better just cut to the chase than. You hate to see her like this, and you're sure she doesn't like it any more than you do either. You stare right into Sima's eyes and ask "What's really going on, Sima?"

Sima looks around the empty hallway, and after confirming that no one is around she drops the cheerful act. "Exactly what I said. There's a dance hall in Mineta that I have to check out, and I was hoping you'd come with me." You ask whether Tabin and Magsa are coming along as well, and Sima nods. "We really need a fourth person to come along, and while I don't think the dance hall is going to be a problem I have no idea what'll comes afterwards. Though probably something bad. So I-we, sorry, we wanted someone along who's specialty is not getting killed. Just in case." You raise an eyebrow and that, and Sima adds that technically speaking the dance hall doesn't actually open until late in the evening, so...there's that as well. Just one thing on top of another, huh? At least it promises to be an interesting day, though you keep going back and forth on whether "just" an actual date would have been better.

"So...will you come along?" Sima asks, one final time.

"Yeah, I will," you answer to Sima's visible relief. "Just ask me directly next time."

After a nod from Sima the two of you end up setting off, with Tabin and Magsa joining up at the Great Gate. The latter two, you note, were staying somewhat concealed and out of sight just in case you took Sima's invitation at face value. According to them the plan in that case was for the two of you to meet with whoever is waiting in the dance hall by yourselves, with the other two taking a different, slightly less direct route and staying behind in case everything went belly-up. You actually offer to go with that plan anyway, but Sima insists that it's probably best for you four to stay together. Apparently whoever is waiting in the dance hall is more than likely expecting at least three students, so if only two show up that might cause problems. You try to ask a fair number of questions about exactly where you four are going, who you're meeting up with, why you're meeting up with whoever you're meeting up with, among others, but every last question is either deflected or answered with some variation of "I don't know". At least it passes the time.

(female PC)-Get up and open the door.
--Anything is better than what you're doing now, or more accurately what you aren't doing right now like three quarters of the time you spend here. You need a break, you need a snack, some fresh air perhaps, just...something. Anything. Even Joana can't be worse than simply staying here.

Probably.

...Feeling a little hesitation you take a deep breath and slowly open your dorm door. Behind it stands Magsa Nembo, arms hidden behind his back and a dopey smile on his face. "Good afternoon, [PC FIRST NAME]. Sorry, did I just wake you up?" he asks, looking at your tired expression.

"No, no, just working on a boring homework project that's dragging on for far longer than it should and I haven't taken any breaks yet. Speaking of which, I don't suppose you've got any plans today?"

Magsa's dopey slowly turns into a predatory grin, though after a second he tones it down to merely "bemused". It leaves you wondering whether or not that's a good thing. "Plans for today...?" Magsa slowly says, looking at you almost like he's trying to mimic a cat that's managed to sneak right up to a tasty little mouse. And succeeding only partially. "Hmm, one or two. Are you a good dancer, [PC FIRST NAME]?"

Are you a good dancer. Huh. Wasn't expecting that one. "Good enough. Why?"

"There's a dance hall in Mineta that I have to go check out, a place in the Upper City called Rapture. And I was hoping you'd come with me."

...Is Magsa asking you out on a date? What? Like, you remember thinking that anything is better and so far you don't disagree with that assessment, yet, but just...what?

For a second Magsa's predatory grin returns. "So what do you say? Is this the break you wanted, [PC FIRST NAME]?"

You end up staring pretty hard at Magsa for a few seconds, looking for something without knowing what you're looking for. It's not that you'd be opposed to going on a date with Magsa, necessarily...well, you know that you are literally halfway bored to death right now and that factors into that decision more heavily than even the whole "underclassmen aren't allowed to date" rule stuff. You know Magsa well enough to know that he can get away with it anyway, and would people really believe it? Eh, Rikildis probably would. That'd be a problem. More to the point, however, you know Magsa. You can tell something is off here. You know him better than this. And as the tense, silent seconds pass your theory is proven right when Magsa's bemused confidence quickly melts into something else. Though he tries to hide it, you can see it. Impatiently tapping a foot against the floor, fiddling with his fingers behind his back, and after he repeats her earlier question he even starts to blush. Not from embarrassment, mind. Magsa isn't so shy as to get embarrassed like this. Better just cut to the chase than. You don't want this charade to continue for a second longer than it has to, and you're sure he doesn't like it any more than you do either. You stare right into Magsa's eyes and ask "What is really going on, Magsa?"

Magsa looks around the empty hallway, and after confirming that no one is around he drops the cheerful act. "Honestly? Exactly what I said. There's a dance hall in Mineta that I have to check out, and I was hoping you'd come with me." You ask whether Tabin and Sima are coming along as well, and Magsa nods. "Got it in one. We really need a fourth person to come along, since while the dance hall itself isn't going to be a problem I have no idea what'll comes afterwards. Though probably something bad. So we wanted someone along who's specialty is not getting killed. Just in case." You raise an eyebrow and that, and Magsa adds that technically speaking the dance hall doesn't actually open until late in the evening, so...there's that as well. Just one thing on top of another, huh? At least it promises to be an interesting day, though you keep going back and forth on whether "just" an actual date would have been better. A date with Magsa weighed against "probably something bad" and "someone who's speciality is not getting killed"...yeah, that's really not a hard sell when you think about it. Shoot.

"So...will you come along?" Magsa asks, one final time.

"Yeah, I will," you answer to Magsa's visible relief. "Just ask me directly next time."

After a nod from Magsa the two of you end up setting off, with Tabin and Sima joining up at the Great Gate. The latter two, you note, were staying somewhat concealed and out of sight just in case you took Magsa's invitation at face value. According to them the plan in that case was for Magsa to "coincidentally" notice the two loitering at the Great Gate, striking up a rehearsed conversation and hopefully turn the thing into a double-date. You frown heavily at that plan, and Sima insists that it probably did sound better in their heads, but it was just so out there that they had to try and go with it. You can't say for sure whether a double-date would have made you more or less suspicious, but you suppose it doesn't matter at this point. As for this dance hall, apparently whoever is waiting there is more than likely expecting a total of three students, so if four show up that might cause some good confusion. You promptly point out that their "double-date" cover might have actually worked too well in that case, but Magsa reminds you that the business is closed right now, so that wasn't a concern. Fair enough. You then try to ask a fair number of questions about exactly where you four are going, who you're meeting up with, why you're meeting up with whoever you're meeting up with, among others, but every last question is either deflected or answered with some variation of "I don't know". At least it passes the time.

...That wordy, huh? No wonder it's taking so long. Anyway, new adventure with everyone's favorite trio. This one...is going to be a thing I guess? *Shrugs*

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Interesting story. Why did you choose Magsa rather than Tabin as the male dater for female PCs? Do you (like me) find Tabin a creepy character unrelieved even by Sima's sincere willingness to help others (I.e., Tabin's Y1 adventure is all about his revenge)?

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Magsa's got a higher Charm stat and a focus on Persuasion and relationships, so I figured that between the two of them he'd have the better chance to charm the PC.

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Ah, fair enough. Sound reasoning, and an excellent example of gameplay-story integration.

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Wrapping up in Rapture, Stage 1:

Spoiler

When the much discussed (but not really told anything about) dance hall finally comes into view you give a thorough once-over. What must have once started as a squat, ugly stone box of a two story building has been transformed into a busy line of detailed stonework decorated with the rare oddity that really makes the place stand out. And not just from the surrounding buildings, this place just screams for attention. To start with, the main double-door entrance is located below a hexagonal second floor balcony, held up by four stone pillars that have each been shaped into a unique form. There's a Minotaur, a pair of humans facing each other, a literal stack of Ometti and Gnomes haphazardly trying to form a living ladder of sorts, and finally a mermaid who's tail spirals around the base of her(?) pillar to further break up what little pretence of symmetry the entrance area had. The walls next to the entrance on the ground floor are decorated with a long line of detailing in the stone that makes you tilt your head six different ways to try and see all of the shapes hidden within it, and even than you're not sure if you caught them all. Heck, you're not sure if there's any real rhyme or reason to them. They seems to be just a bunch of vaguely recognizable shapes that you're supposed to fill in the details for yourself until you see some form of abstract artwork. The only break in the mess are a pair of large shaded windows, one on each side, which seem to have been treated in such a way that the glass isn't actually clear at all. Almost like there's a thick layer of black dyed frost on the glass. The second floor, in contrast, seems downright plain compared to the madness that's happening downstairs. Flat walls, a simple door leading to the balcony that's got a few potted plants on it, a few small windows here and there...downright mundane. It makes you wonder what purpose that part of the building serves, assuming it's even technically part of the same building insofar that the same people are using both spaces. Finally, smoothly integrated into the small wall and fence that surrounds what passes for this building's small front lawn, is a sign advertising the business housed within. Written in stylized font on a background of vaguely humanoid shapes dancing is the places' name, Rapture. Below that in as straightforward calligraphy as you can get is the place's opening hours, entrance fee and minimum age requirements - 8:30 PM to 4:30 AM, 50 Pims and 18 years (or, if applicable, the non-human equivalent thereof), respectively.

"Wow," Magsa says while looking the place over. "Class act. How'd we miss this place all this time?"

"Didn't you check the minimum age requirement?" Sima asks. "This isn't the Roses of Coventia. Underclassmen like us would stand out like sore thumbs here."

"Every Academagia student would stand out like a sore thumb in there," Tabin observes, pointing at the sign. "See the small print at the bottom? It says the place serves alcoholic drinks. And most students graduate before they hit eighteen anyway."

Upon closer inspection it does say that. Why it's specifically pointed out you're not entirely sure, but whatever, not important. "In any case, how are we going to get in? The place is closed, we're not allowed, so on and so forth, so what's the plan?"

Sima points out that whoever is in there is expecting you four, so you could probably just knock on the front door and be done with it. Magsa mostly agrees, but suggest that you four at least check to see if there's something like a kitchen back door to knock on rather than just knocking straight on the very visible and conspicuous front door. Tabin straight-up suggests breaking in, probably through the balcony door, using whatever magical means necessary to cover your hides and your tracks. Neither Sima or Magsa much like the idea, but Tabin points out that with the business closed there's not likely to be too many people around, and being able to see who you're here to see without getting seen in the process couldn't hurt. Unless, as Sima points out, you all get caught, but Tabin insists that you'll just have to not get caught. He's confident, but whether he should be you're not entirely sure.

In any case, how to enter this building without something like a nosy guard walking up to you four and asking unnecessary questions?

-Confidence. Knock on the front door.
--While the three continue to argue it over you walk over to the front door, give a few good knocks, and wait. The other three, turning in surprise at your initiative, quickly run over just in time for an intimidating adult woman to open one of the front doors. Her outfit isn't anything noteworthy, but she's got a world-weary expression on her that makes her look at least ten years older than she is, along with a cold, piercing gaze. She takes a second to glare at each of you four, then asks, "What do you four kids want?" in clear Bassan. A quick check confirms that you're the only one of the four who speaks that language, so you confidently respond, in what sounds (and upon closer inspection, looks) like the woman's language, that you're here to see "you-know-who". You'd have mentioned an actual name, but you actually weren't told the name of who you're here to see, so you decided to go for the next best thing.

"Heh, weren't even told...my husband's nickname, huh?" the woman responds with a mischievous grin. "You sure you've got business with him?" You nod and plainly state that you're not here to dance. The woman continues to glare at you, trying to intimidate you into backing off, but you don't budge. Soon enough she nods. "Fine. I'm sure he'd prefer that you four never learned even that much anyway. Come on in, I'll lead you to his office." The last word rolls over the woman's tongue like it was said by a serpent, and with an expression to match she steps aside and waves you all in. The other three are quick to follow you, and you in turn follow the woman through a secure door, up a staircase leading to the second floor, and through a hallway to an unassuming door. A quick look around reveals that this floor seems to be a living area, but that's all you can make out. The woman doesn't even knock on the door, she just abruptly turns around and walks off. Less than a second later the door is opened from the inside, and by a man that you've got to take a second look at just to confirm what you saw the first time. The man is wearing a custom-tailored outfit fit for a king, he's got a full head of hair that must take an hour a day to maintain (with complimentary moustache and small beard, both carefully trimmed), his fingers are adorned with a number of gem-encrusted rings, and to top it all off, he's got a broad grin plastered all over his face that could put at least half of the Admiratio's merchants to shame. Sima, Magsa and Tabin, not without reason, are all left speechless at the sight of the man, so you decide to be the first to say something. Of course you don't have much to say since you don't even have half a clue as to why you're really here, but to at least get the conversation started you mention (still in Bassan) that you four have come here to see him.

"Ah, so that's how you got past Victoria," the man responds in plain Renaglian, with a voice that oozes (over)confidence. "Into my office than. We'll talk more there."

On that ominous note the four of you walk into the guy's office, leaving you with many questions left unanswered...

--While the three continue to argue it over you walk over to the front door, give a few good knocks, and wait. The other three, turning in surprise at your initiative, quickly run over and join you in waiting.

And waiting.

...And waiting some more...

And just as you're about to knock again a guard suddenly knocks on your shoulder, asking what your business here is while pointing at the sign. Sima tries to charm the guard, but he's having none of it and suggests, with a meaningful tone, that the four of you leave the premise. With no other options the four of you do and run off, promising to try again another day.

-Persuasion. Talk your way in through the back door.
--A quick check confirms that there is a back door leading, presumably, to a kitchen, so with the other three standing behind you (for...reasons you're not quite sure of) you give the door a few good knocks. You think you can hear some footsteps on the other side, but they're quite faint. Than all of a sudden a child's voice from the other side asks, "Wh-who goes there?" It takes a second to click, but the child's speaking Bassan.

You look at Magsa, expecting him to take the lead since this was his idea and all, but he just shrugs and quietly admits that he's got no idea what language that is. You look at Sima, same story. You turn to look at Tabin, and sure enough, same story. Well...guess it's you or nothing.

"Students of the Academagia, we're here to talk to...you-know-who." You'd have dropped a name, or at least something more respectable than "you-know-who", but unfortunately no one told you the name of who you're here to meet so you've got to work with what you've got.

"No I don't know who," the child indignantly responds, although suddenly you hear her tone change as she redacts whatever she was about to say next. "But, wait, did you say you're students from the Academagia? Like, you guys can cast magic and stuff?"

"Of course! Better than my friends can speak Bassan at any rate."

"Than...why don't you guys just magic the door open?"

You're not entirely sure as to the age of the child you're speaking to, but if you had to guess yours would be "not high". "Because it's rude to break into people's houses without permission? We're here to meet someone, not make an enemy of him!"

"I live here," the child responds, apparently considering that to be the end of that statement despite you being pretty sure she's missing a point or two there. Unsure of how to proceed you turn to look at your confused allies and ask what they think the child is talking about. They come to the same conclusion you did - the child wants you to open the door with magic. Probably interested in seeing a spell being cast, which is true for most children in this town. You're not sure whether you should, so Tabin takes charge and uses Sergei's Timely Doorjam to reduce the door to a fraction of it's size, revealing, as expected, a young and very impressed child on the other side. Her eyes are basically lit up. Quite rapidly she says, "Wow, that's so cool! You know my mom used to work where people used lots of magic so I know a bit about it, could you teach me how to cast that spell, please? I promise I won't tell anyone."

Before any of you can react an intimidating woman walks into this...kitchen? Eh, kitchen-looking area and glares, with a world-weary expression and an icy, piercing gaze, at each of the four of you. "And what do you kids think you're doing?" she calmly asks.

"That's what I'd like to know," Tabin answers, which prompts you to ask whether he can speak Bassan. "No I can't," he answers with a grin. "That one I could tell from context."

You're not sure how to respond to that. In fairness, neither is the woman, though she's pieced together what happened already anyway. "Aibti, what did I tell you about talking to strangers?" she asks the kid.

Already halfway to tears the kid says, "Th-they're not strangers, are they? Th-they cast magic, so I thought they were old friends of yours."

The woman lets out a sigh. "Just because they cast magic doesn't mean they're my friends, and Sergei's Timely Doorjam isn't a Glamour anyway. You go to your room and read through your Glamour textbook again and tell me if a spell like that shows up in there anywhere, little missy." The kid, eyes watering up, runs off. You're not quite sure whether or not to feel sympathetic, because while you can understand that she might not know better, man did she do something stupid. "As for you four, my apologies for Aibti's lack of restraint, but perhaps you should set a better example in the future. That said, I assume you were trying to...'enter' my house because you're here to talk to a certain someone?" You nod and don't do much else, because all you know to do in this situation is nod. Thankfully for the woman that's enough. "Fine. Follow me, than."

The four of you you follow the woman through the kitchen type are into the main room, through a secure door, up a staircase leading to the second floor, and through a hallway to an unassuming door. A quick look around reveals that this floor seems to be a living area, but that's all you can make out. The woman doesn't even knock on the door, she just abruptly turns around and walks off. Less than a second later the door is opened from the inside, and by a man that you've got to take a second look at just to confirm what you saw the first time. The man is wearing a custom-tailored outfit fit for a king, he's got a full head of hair that must take an hour a day to maintain (with complimentary moustache and small beard, both carefully trimmed), his fingers are adorned with a number of gem-encrusted rings, and to top it all off, he's got a broad grin plastered all over his face that could put at least half of the Admiratio's merchants to shame. Sima, Magsa and Tabin, not without reason, are all left speechless at the sight of the man, so you decide to be the first to say something. Of course you don't have much to say since you don't even have half a clue as to why you're really here, but to at least get the conversation started you mention (still in Bassan) that you four have come here to see him.

"Ah, so that's how you managed to talk with poor, poor Aibti," the man responds in plain Renaglian, with a voice that oozes (over)confidence. "Into my office than. We'll talk more there."

On that ominous note the four of you walk into the guy's office, leaving you with many questions left unanswered...

--A quick check confirms that there is a back door leading, presumably, to a kitchen, so with the other three standing behind you (for...reasons you're not quite sure of) you give the door a few good knocks. You think you can hear some footsteps on the other side, but they're quite faint. They also don't seem to want to move towards the door either. You turn to look at the three and shrug, silently asking for their opinions.

"Maybe they didn't hear you?" Sima suggests. "If those footsteps you mentioned are really faint - I couldn't tell, I can't hear them - they might be from someone standing far from the door? Or...pacing far from the door, I guess?"

Magsa and Tabin start to discuss why someone would be pacing back and forth in a kitchen, far from the door, but you don't exactly care. You instead just give the door a few hard knocks and wait.

...Definitely heard some movement on the other side there. But still no response.

"Let me handle this," Tabin says as he kneels down a bit and tries to get a good look at the place through the keyhole. Sima asks with what Glamour he intends to make out anything, but Tabin confidently responds that his own wand isn't for show. You can see Sima and her smug grin want to say (or do) something in response, but she doesn't get the chance. Out of nowhere Tabin suddenly backs off from the keyhole, sputtering some incoherent nonsense and falling flat on his backside in an undignified heap.

"What happened!?" Magsa quickly asks while Sima's smug grin fades as quickly as it appeared. You're pretty sure she didn't do anything, though. In fact you're sure she didn't, since you were watching her the entire time and can confirm: Sima didn't do anything.

"S-something got into my eye!" Tabin says, trying to rub out whatever did. "What was that!?"

Sima and Magsa tend to Tabin while you examine the keyhole. With your wand, from a distance, mind. You cast a few spells and physically check to confirm what they're saying, but both your magic and your hands are in agreement here - what got Tabin is just regular old water.

"You're telling me someone threw a glass of water in Tabin's face...through a keyhole?" Sima asks, looking a bit confused. Mostly amused, but she tries to hide it behind the confusion. "Ha, that's just...I mean, who'd do that?"

It's a fair question. Who would do something like that?

"Forget about it!" Tabin barks out. "If this is the kind of welcome we get than that guy can wait. Next time we'll just go right through that blasted door and be on our way. I'm not going to be bested by someone who throws water through keyholes!"

And with that mighty boast, which Magsa and Sima proceed to lampoon heavily on the trek back to the Academagia, you four have officially hit your first delay since Tabin's patience has sadly been dissolved. With a glass of water, through a keyhole. Of all the things to get hit by, who'd ever even think of throwing a glass of water through a keyhole? Heh, a question to ponder another day...

-Lockpick. Break in through the balcony.
--"I say we break in. That balcony door up there looks more flimsy than our dorm room doors, I can get that open in five seconds. Can you three get us up there quietly? And invisibly, if possible?"

"I've studied Glamour," Sima says with a slight frown. "Getting up there though...I don't suppose you two know how to climb up those weird pillars and hoist yourselves up onto the balcony with no climbing tools? And while invisible? Because I sure can't."

"Climbing isn't really my thing," Magsa casually says. "But I mean, levitation is a wonderful thing, right?" Tabin asks if Magsa is sure he can accurately levitate all four of you without messing with Sima's Glamour. Magsa nods in response. "If she can give me enough leeway, sure."

Sima says she can, and you four start to put your plan into motion. Setting up Sima's Glamour somewhere where no one can see you, than making your way back to Rapture's entrance and coordinating Magsa's Negation so as to work on all four of you equally is hard, but it's manageable. "Alright," you say as you stare at the basic wooden door in front of you and reach into your knapsack for your lockpicks. "Five seconds, just watch-"

"Wait!" Tabin suddenly cries out, putting a hand on your lockpick set. With a wand he points to the door and says, "That lock is trapped, someone's put a spell on it. I can try to disarm it with some Revision magic, but you'll have to work quickly."

"That's it? I mean, good call, but do you take me for a amateur? Like I said, five seconds, that's-"

"You get three. Maybe four, if we're lucky. That trap is set up to zap people, not stop them from picking the lock."

...Oh. Three seconds? Eh...okay, that's a little bit more of a challenge. You can manage that, but...better take out your wand first, just in case. A quick spell, deep breath, you're good to go. You coordinate with Tabin, and between the two of you the lock is picked open within the most nail-biting two-point-eight seconds of your life so far. With a faint crackle of electricity coming from inside the keyhole the door opens.

Not even a second later a door a little down the hallway inside is pushed open by a man you've got to take a second look at just to confirm what you saw the first time. He's wearing a custom-tailored outfit fit for a king, he's got a full head of hair that must take an hour a day to maintain (with complimentary moustache and small beard, both carefully trimmed), his fingers are adorned with a number of gem-encrusted rings, and to top it all off, he's got a broad grin plastered all over his face that could put at least half of the Admiratio's merchants to shame. "Well done getting past that little lock of mine," the man says with a voice that oozes (over)confidence. "I take it you...four must be my latest appointment, than? Ah, no matter. Into my office, and without the invisibility, please. We'll talk more there."

On that ominous note the four of you collectively shrug your shoulders and walk into the guy's office, seeing as how stealth clearly isn't an option anymore at this point.

--"I say we break in. There should be a back door somewhere that's less conspicuous than the front one and more accessible than that balcony one, so that'll be our point of entry. I assume you three can make us less visible and less audible anyway, just in case, though?"

Sima nods, and while she starts preparing spells Tabin and Magsa head off to find a back door to use. They come back within about a minute with the best, which is to say, the only one. Either which way it'll have to be good enough. Under the cover of Sima's Glamour the four of you proceed to the back door in question, and after checking to make sure it's locked you take out your lockpick kit.

You don't manage to get to work on a single tumbler before a crackle of electricity escapes from the lock and travels down your conductive metal lockpicks right into your uninsulated hands, giving you a rather nasty shock. It's enough to drop you right down onto the ground, though thankfully you don't think that did anything permanent. Hopefully it didn't...

Sima is the first to ask if you're alright, but Tabin quickly interrupts by saying that if there's a trap there might be an alarm, so the four of you better cheese it. And cheese it you four do, causing you a bit of additional pain because your muscles are still reeling from that shock. You'll be back, though. Come hell or high water you will be back...

Let's see if I did this whole "subtlety" thing a bit better than I usually do.

Incidentally, on this adventure's requirements: Probably having done the Triplets' side of the main adventure in Y1 and a number of ranks in Bassan, like 5+ or so. Maybe something else, but those are the big ones.

Edited by Metis

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Wrapping up in Rapture, stage 2:

Spoiler

"So," the man begins, "what business do you four have with me?" The question is fair and he says it neutrally enough, but there's a distinct undertone of "what business do you four peasants have with me?" Similar to when most people talk to Catherine Chard, only she doesn't even try to hide it.

"We're here to buy information," Sima answers, neutrally. "A friend of ours mentioned that you can get us in touch with Professor Strom. Or former Professor Strom, if you want to be technical."

You don't want to stand out too much, but that statement makes you raise an eyebrow all the same. Thankfully the man doesn't seem to notice. Or perhaps he just doesn't care. "Former Professor Strom...ah, yes, the Academagia regent that got booted out of his office after his smuggling hobbies were revealed by that upstart newcomer. Contact information for him...how much do you have to offer me?"

"Before we mention that," Tabin interjects, "do you know? How we can get in touch with him?"

The man flashes a catty grin at Tabin. "Perhaps, or perhaps I don't. That depends on what you've got to put on the table." Tabin tries to glare at the man, but the latter doesn't care one bit. Magsa gives Tabin a nudge in the ribs while Sima steps forward. Trying to sound as confident as she can she plainly sates, "Fifty thousand Pims. That's what we have to offer."

Yeah, you can't help but be surprised at that figure. Even worse is the man's reaction. He just looks bored, of all things! "Ah, no more than a pittance, than," he notes far to casually. "Shouldn't have expected much of a group your age I suppose, but really now, I can understand that you three-four, sorry, haven't had as much time to get to know this business as I have, but surely you three...again, you four realize that, say, detailed knowledge of one particular trio of your peers alone is more valuable than that? Why are you three travelling with a fourth person, anyway? Rest assured, even just that information could be worth more than fifty thousand." You're genuinely not sure whether you should be terrified or flattered that this guy thinks your friendship with this trio is worth that much money. Gods alive, what is this man thinking and do you even want to know the answer to that question?

"We're not whatever trio you think we are," Sima lies, trying to hide the fact that her hands are twitching. "In any case if Pims aren't enough, than what do you want?"

"Ah, now that is a good question," the man says in the slimiest way possible. "If you four are so interested in making contact with that old professor, ah...hmm..." All of a sudden the man's facial expression changes, his overconfidence slowly replaced with something more inquisitive. Scheming, even. "...I was going to say that the identities of the trio would be an acceptable trade. Particularly if, as you say, you four have no connection to them. But there is actually one relatively small matter that I need dealt with, which, if money is all you have to offer, you four should be able to deal with." Sima nods and asks what needs to be done. She looks a bit pale as she says that, as do Tabin and Magsa you notice, but the man doesn't react to it. "Victoria, my wife, owes a debt to a gang of small-time smugglers called Roger's Crew, located wherever the wind happens to take them near the Tanner's District. Make sure her debt with them is settled, one way or another, and I'll provide the information you want."

You almost want to ask, rhetorically, whether said gang will actually accept any amount of money in return for settling that debt (this guy could have done that himself several times over if so, after all), but you wisely keep quiet. Sima, after a few seconds of thinking, nods and says that you'll deal with that gang. The man nods and says you four are excused, and none of you take a second longer than necessary to walk out the door and back into the streets of Mineta. The fresh air does a lot to return a shade of color to your friends' faces, but it alone isn't enough.

"So, something I apparently should have been more persistent about asking before: What the heck is going on?" No response, just a trio of tired faces looking at each other in the vain hope that one of them will actually answer your question. You've half a mind to start walking, but than you know that abandoning them isn't going to get you any answers, so...in for a Pim, you suppose. "Alright, than where do you guys want to get started? Tracking down the gang's leader or whoever we'd talk to about this debt, I imagine?"

"That'd be the place to start, yeah," Tabin says. "How are we going to track them down, though? We don't exactly belong in those parts of town, you know." Magsa suggests asking Victoria about it, since she'd obviously know, but Sima insists that given the circumstances it's less than likely that she'd be willing to tell you guys about it. Instead Sima suggests that you four head to that part of town and ask around. Since you can speak Bassan it's probable that the locals will give you the time of day, and if something is needed to grease the wheels, that can be arranged. Tabin, in turn, suggests that you four head to the Docks and do some digging until you either find a location or a smuggler to follow back to his hideout. It's not perfect, since there's more than a few gangs in Mineta, but you guys do have a name, rough location, activity and the name of at least one individual they should recognize, so it's not that much of an unreasonable search.

Your opinion on the matter...

-Astrology. Use a bit of magic.
--"Victoria herself might not talk, but if someone visits her we can put a spell on him and track wherever he goes. Alternatively we could just try a divination, but I'm not familiar enough with the Tanner's District to tell one street from another."

"What are the odds of someone visiting Victoria just when we're here hoping that someone does?" Tabin asks, which is a question you answer with taking out your wand. Tabin grins at that. "Right. We'll try and keep any guards off this street or at least looking in a different direction, you find a position from where to cast some magic and work it. Just try not to make it too obvious. We don't know how knowledgeable or paranoid Roger's Crew is yet."

"Any gang described as 'small time' isn't going to be double-checking themselves for Astrology effects I don't think, but point taken all the same. Now get moving, whoever is getting drawn might very well be buying groceries in the Admiratio right now rather than walking halfway across town."

The three nod and spread out, and you sneak into a nearby alley and climb up a few pipes onto the roof of a building that's advertised as being for sale. From here you've got a great view of anyone entering or leaving Rapture, and if the other three do their jobs properly you shouldn't have to worry about any guards asking undue questions. Of course you've got your own ways to make you less visible even in these conditions, but an extra layer of security never hurts.

Now that you're in place you cast your pulling spell, which goes off perfectly as far as you can tell, and wait. You were ready to sit here waiting for up to half an hour, since it very well could have taken that long before someone walked halfway across town to show up. Thankfully for you, about five minutes later you notice a hooded figure turning a corner and seemingly walking towards Rapture. You're not sure if this is your guy, but he does stand out a bit, and he seems to be looking around a fair bit as well. Looking for the mysteriously absent guards, perhaps? Whatever he's looking around for he doesn't seem concerned that he's not finding it, and he definitely doesn't look like a tourist either, so...must be. Oh, and he is. The guy walks right up to Rapture's front door, knocks on it, and speaks with Victoria for a bit before getting the door slammed right back into his face. You couldn't hear a word, but you don't need to. You just use the opportunity you're got while he's shouting something at Rapture's closed doors to throw your tracking spell at him and duck down back into the alleyway. Just a quick test to make sure your spell works by waiting here until your spell tell you that he's coming into view...and there he goes, right on cue.

Now it's just a matter of finding the other three and following your target back to his hideout, or wherever he goes...

--"Victoria herself might not talk, but if someone visits her we can put a spell on him and track wherever he goes. Alternatively we could just try a divination, but I'm not familiar enough with the Tanner's District to tell one street from another."

"What are the odds of someone visiting Victoria just when we're here hoping that someone does?" Tabin asks, which is a question you answer with taking out your wand. Tabin grins at that. "Right. We'll try and keep any guards off this street or at least looking in a different direction, you find a position from where to cast some magic and work it. Just try not to make it too obvious. We don't know how knowledgeable or paranoid Roger's Crew is yet."

You're quite sure any gang described as "small time" isn't going to be on the lookout for Astrology influencing them, though in hindsight perhaps you should have been. Because even after repeated attempts to lure one of Roger's Crew over to Victoria you're still left with just nothing.

Eventually the other three lose patience, right around the time when you do in fact, and the four of you decide to try a different tactic. Tomorrow. After the half of Roger's Crew that you may or may not have misdirected aren't spread out all over Mineta like they're playing the world's largest game of hide and seek...

-Awareness. Ask around the bad part of town.
--"As much as I hate to say this let's head to the Tanner's District and see what we can find out. Sima is right, with me speaking Bassan the people there will probably give us the benefit of the doubt, and even if no one answers our questions directly you three can keep an eye out for whoever reacts to my inquiries and decides to run off with it. I imagine that a group of Academagia students asking, in Bassan, for directions to a specific gang is a situation that the members of said gang will want to bring to their boss. Even if they don't want to bring us there, necessarily." The others agree to that plan, and so the four of you slowly start to head to the Tanner's District. The neighbourhoods you end up travelling through look pretty run down (if no different architecturally from the rest of Mineta) and seem to be eerily quiet, not to mention most people eye you like you'd make a good treat for their dog, but asking for directions in Bassan is enough to get people to give you the benefit of the doubt. Quite a number of confused faces that have to think about whether they want to answer your question, although you figure that most of them are honest when they say they don't know. You're getting the impression that Roger's Crew doesn't have a set hideout or headquarters so much as it has a series of low-rent tenements that they use as hideouts as the need arises, meaning that while most people have heard of them they don't know where they're located at any given point in time. It matches what the guy at Rapture told you about the gang, so you're going to take people's word for it.

Suddenly Tabin taps you on your shoulder. "Someone just ran out the tavern we just asked around in, looked like he had something important to say. You think he's our guy?"

"Even if he isn't it's not like I've got a better idea of which direction to go in other than flipping coins, so sure, let's go after him."

Tabin nods and takes the lead as the four of you start chasing after this mysterious man. You just hope that Tabin was right about him...

--"As much as I hate to say this let's head to the Tanner's District and see what we can find out. Sima is right, with me speaking Bassan the people there will probably give us the benefit of the doubt, and even if no one answers our questions directly you three can keep an eye out for whoever reacts to my inquiries and decides to run off with it. I imagine that a group of Academagia students asking, in Bassan, for directions to a specific gang is a situation that the members of said gang will want to bring to their boss. Even if they don't want to bring us there, necessarily." The others agree to that plan, and so the four of you slowly start to head to the Tanner's District. The neighbourhoods you end up travelling through look pretty run down (if, architecturally, no different from the rest of Mineta) and seem to be eerily quiet, not to mention most people eye you like you'd make a good treat for their dog, but asking for directions in Bassan is enough to get people to give you the benefit of the doubt. Quite a number of confused faces that have to think about whether they want to answer your question, although you figure that most of them are honest when they say they don't know. You're getting the impression that Roger's Crew doesn't have a set hideout or headquarters so much as it has a series of low-rent tenements that they use as hideouts as the need arises, meaning that while most people have heard of them they don't know where they're located at any given point in time. It matches what the guy at Rapture told you about the gang, so you're going to take people's word for it.

You go for a long time asking questions. By the end of it no one has given you useful information, one way or another.

"Let's call it a day," Tabin suggests. "If we keep asking around word is going to spread sooner or later, and than they'll probably come looking for us. Not the best situation, probably, but it's one way to get the job done."

You agree, but also think that the more cards remain on your side of the table the better. You'll have to think about making other options work...

-Sleuthing. Hit up the Docks.
--"I get the feeling that figuring out some of this gang's smuggling methods while we're looking for them isn't going to be a waste of time. Where should we start, though? Asking around?"

Tabin shakes his head. "Diving into records and looking for patterns. Keep in mind, if the Minetan guard was aware of this gang's smuggling operation than they'd have rolled the thing up already. Rumors might point us in the right direction, but that's about it."

Good point. So the four of you end up heading to the docks, where Sima charms a bureaucrat into letting you four look through some shipping and receiving records. Well, Magsa and yourself, since Tabin and Sima head off to try and dig up any leads for Magsa and you to look into. It doesn't take long for them to come up with a number of warehouses and ships that seem to have something suspicious about them, so at least you've got no shortage of work. Unfortunately Magsa has a shortage of patience for these things, but...take what you can get and all.

It takes a good bit of searching, but you eventually manage to find something interesting on one of the leads that Sima and Tabin brought in. One particular ship who comes in semi-regularly that always sells it's random collection of various goods to a group of "merchants" from the Tanner's District as soon as they're offloaded. It's really weird since there seems to be no pattern or consistency with what goods they bring, yet the same "merchants" always buy everything at roughly the same price rates no matter what market prices actually are. The ship's papers all seem to be perfectly fine, though, and as far as you can see dock inspection has never found any illegal or undocumented goods on their ship, so they seem to be on the up-and-up. It's not impossible for this to be completely legit, family businesses who ship cargo from one island to the other tend to do exactly the same on paper and whatever kinks exists are all handled internally and not recorded by dock authorities. But the absolutely random nature of the goods in question make you suspicious all the same. Unless you've stumbled upon a business chain of Strozzan pawn shops, but...

"Found something?" Magsa asks, and you show him the series of documents you've uncovered. He smiles. "Hook, line and sinker, seems like. Shall we go check it out?"

"You're just looking for any excuse to get out of this building and stop looking these through records, aren't you?"

"Yeah. Aren't you feeling the same at this point?"

...You don't want to admit it, but frankly? Yes. Without admitting anything you say, "Go grab Sima and Tabin, we need to go check this ship out. Well...actually it looks like it's rented out a warehouse to offload their cargo in ahead of time, so let's go check that out." Magsa doesn't bother to call you on anything, he flies right out the door with a spring to his step. Wonderful.

After meeting up with the others the four of you head out to the warehouse, and yeah, there's a shady figure who looks like he'd belong in the Tanner's District asking a dock officer some questions. It seems their conversation isn't going much of anywhere, however, since the shady man only speaks Bassan. The dock officers don't. You, feeling a little impatient at this point, walk up to them and ask the shady man, in Bassan, "Excuse me, but can I help you?"

The shady man looks surprised at you, which is good, because the dock officer briefly looks like you just saved his life. "Ah, yeah? Maybe," the man answers, looking at you confused. "Where is the Safinat Qursana, the ship that was supposed to dock here? It's late, and that means I'm late hauling goods!"

As if you or people working at the docks would know the answer to that. What, does this ship have a carrier pigeon that the captain uses to relay messages or something? Whatever, you know what you want and that dock officer isn't going to know any better, so the stage is yours. "If the ship isn't here it must be running late. Since it's rented out this dock and that warehouse for unloading cargo ahead of time it shouldn't be docking elsewhere. Unless it's taken so much damage that it can't fly up high enough to reach this dock."

You can tell that you've got the man's attention in a bad way and he wants to start trying to intimidate you, but with the dock officer standing right next to him he decides to restrain himself. The officer might not speak Bassan but he can still read expressions, after all. "Is that so? And how, exactly, do you know about that, child?"

You can't help but smile right now. Hook, line, and sinker. "Because me and my friends have been looking for a group called Roger's Crew. I don't suppose you've heard of them?"

The shady man's eyebrows shoot up when you mention the gang's name. His gang's name. Even the dock officer raises an eyebrow at the shady man's reaction, and he wastes no time trying to play it off as nothing. "Ah, eh, no, n-never heard of them," the man lies. Badly. "A-anyway I'd better get back and tell the...boss that his goods are going to be a bit late, so...later." The shady man runs off, looking like he's suddenly discovered something important to do. Gee, you wonder what.

Tabin wastes no time. "After him?" he asks.

"After him," you confirm. You just hope he's not going to cause any unnecessary problems...

--"I get the feeling that figuring out some of this gang's smuggling methods while we're looking for them isn't going to be a waste of time. Where should we start, though? Asking around?"

Tabin shakes his head. "Diving into records and looking for patterns. Keep in mind, if the Minetan guard was aware of this gang's smuggling operation than they'd have rolled the thing up already. Rumors might point us in the right direction, but that's about it."

Good point. So the four of you end up heading to the docks, where Sima charms a bureaucrat into letting you four look through some shipping and receiving records. Well, Magsa and yourself, since Tabin and Sima head off to try and dig up any leads for Magsa and you to look into. It doesn't take long for them to come up with a number of warehouses and ships that seem to have something suspicious about them, so at least you've got no shortage of work. Unfortunately Magsa has a shortage of patience for these things, but...take what you can get and all.

An ungodly amount of searching through a large number of shady, but ultimately legitimate (or at least not shady enough) documents later and you're left with absolutely nothing. Well, a sleeping Magsa and a headache, but nothing useful. "Let's just call it a day," Sima suggests, pointing at Magsa. "I don't think we'll get much done with old sleepy head in that condition."

You don't disagree there. Well, at least you can be sure the various Dock workers actually do their jobs, right?

The ship's name if Google Translate is to be trusted translates to "privateer", in case people want to try and read something into that ;).

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Wrapping up in Rapture, stage 3:

Spoiler

When the guy you're following knocks on the door of a ramshackle house-looking building with boarded windows in a specific pattern you know you're in the right place. From a distance you see someone opening the door and the man slipping in, quickly closing the door behind him. It's too dark inside to make anything out, not even the shape of whoever opened the door. "That's definitely it," Tabin notes as Sima quickly drags the rest of you into an alleyway. When you ask why she notes that if you're going to stick out anyway you might as well stick out somewhere where you're at least not as visible. "Point taken I guess. Anyway, what now? We know that's where...what was their name, Roger's Crew? That gang is located. How are we going to talk to their boss? We can try knocking on their front door, we know the proper way to knock so they'll presumably open the door for us, but I don't think they'll give us the time of day." Sima nods and looks at Tabin and Magsa, as if asking for their ideas. Tabin suggests mentioning Victoria, since that's why you're here and all, and they should be interested in discussing that. You doubt they'll believe a small group of Academagia students on their words alone, and you say as much, but Tabin assures you that proper inflections and...some other words is all he needs to make sure they'll talk. Sima, however, points out that these people speak Bassan, which only you do, so whatever method they decide to go with it's going to have to be you doing the talking. Now if you can catch their attention like Tabin could, great, but if not you all will have to come up with another idea. Not coincidentally, Sima suggests that simply talking to them in their own language might be enough to catch their attention. An Academagia student showing up here to talk to their boss is odd, but one who speaks their language clearly has to mean it. Of course that requires you to be properly fluent in Bassan, but if you are, that'll work. Tabin frowns at that suggestion, but not as much as at what Magsa suggests - simply bribe them with a bunch of Pims. Sure, it costs, but if a gang of smugglers is going to listen to anything it's money, right?

You can't help but grin at the straightforwardness of Magsa's idea, but it just lacks a certain...elegance that merely talking your way in has. Not that elegance is the primary concern here, the primary concern is not making enemies. You don't think that these gang members would send you guys back to the Academagia bruised and bloodied, but if you can avoid finding out for sure, all the better. So what to do?

-Negotiate. Grease the wheels with a few Pims.
--You nod to yourself, tell the others to follow you and walk up to the front door. A few shady-looking people, actual gang members set to guard the front door you imagine, stare very curiously at your approach and seem to reach for what look like make-shift weapons. You've got your wand in case everything goes wrong, but hopefully that won't be needed. You knock on the front door in the same pattern as the guy before, and within a few seconds the door is opened to a crack. "The hell do you kids think you're doing here!?" a gruff voice on the other side asks in an odd dialect. You answer his question by tossing a Gint through the door crack. The doorman himself doesn't pick it up, but someone behind him does and (you assume) show what you tossed in to the doorman. "You seriously think that's going to convince us not to make an example of you?" the doorman slowly asks. You feel like calling his bluff, though.

"Do you often get visited by random people who toss money into your door for no reason? Make an example out of us if you wish, but I don't think your boss will be happy if we take our business and leave." you reply in Bassan. Regular Bassan, but Bassan all the same. The doorman has a quick discussion with his friend about how untrustworthy you lot are and how obviously stupid it would be to let you four in, but at the same time how their hands are pretty much tied because you do make a point and if you guys are legit it'll be on their heads. "Ah, okay, fine," the doorman says after concluding the discussion with his friend (one that you're sure he didn't think you could overhead, by the by). "I'll show you to the boss, but Gods help you if he doesn't like what you've got to say."

You're not worried, which is to say you don't show that you're worried. Instead you walk in and follow the doorman's directions, not paying attention to anything else.

--You nod to yourself, tell the others to follow you and walk up to the front door. A few shady-looking people stare very curiously at your approach and seem to reach for what look like make-shift weapons, but you're not concerned. You've got your wand in case everything goes wrong, and hopefully it won't be needed. You knock on the front door in the same pattern as the guy before, and within a few seconds the door is opened to a crack. "The hell do you kids think you're doing here!?" a gruff voice on the other side asks in an odd dialect. You answer his question by throwing a coin through the crack. Your answer, in turn, is answered by the doorman throwing the same coin right back in your face. "Get outta here before we throw you troublemakers in a pot of gold and roll you off the highest tower of the Academagia!" the man barks out. Well, he doesn't say exactly that, but that's the polite version of his response. In short that didn't work as well as you thought it would. Of course you don't feel like testing this man's patience, so you decide to come back later and maybe try another approach...

-Bassan. Speak to the man in his own language.
--You nod to yourself, tell the others to follow you and walk up to the front door. A few shady-looking people, actual gang members set to guard the front door you imagine, stare very curiously at your approach and seem to reach for what look like make-shift weapons. You've got your wand in case everything goes wrong, but hopefully that won't be needed. You knock on the front door in the same pattern as the guy before, and within a few seconds the door is opened to a crack. "The hell do you kids think you're doing here!?" a gruff voice on the other side asks in a particular dialect of Bassan. One you're familiar with and are comfortable with replicating, so with the same voice and tone you respond "Settling a debt. Now open this door and lead us to your boss!"

You responding in the same language and accent as the guy behind the door takes him off-guard, and after a few seconds of silence he responds, "Okay, sure. Your funeral, kids."

You're not worried, which is to say you don't show that you're worried. Instead you march inside like you're every right to and head off in the direction the doorman points.

--You nod to yourself, tell the others to follow you and walk up to the front door. A few shady-looking people stare very curiously at your approach and seem to reach for what look like make-shift weapons, but you're not concerned. You've got your wand in case everything goes wrong, and hopefully it won't be needed. You knock on the front door in the same pattern as the guy before, and within a few seconds the door is opened to a crack. "The hell do you kids think you're doing here!?" a gruff voice on the other side asks in a particular dialect of Bassan. One you're familiar with and are comfortable with replicating, so with the same voice and tone you respond "Settling a debt. Now open this door and lead us to your boss!"

The doorman is clearly confused by you not just speaking their language, but also replicating their accent. "We don't lend money to kids," the doorman gruffly says. "Nor do we let kids, 'specially kids with wands, handle other people's business. Now shoo before we drag you back to your school kicking and screaming."

That didn't work as well as you thought it would. Of course you don't feel like testing this man's patience, so you decide to come back later and maybe try another approach...

-Intrigue. Mention Victoria.
--You nod to yourself, tell the others to follow you and walk up to the front door. A few shady-looking people, actual gang members set to guard the front door you imagine, stare very curiously at your approach and seem to reach for what look like make-shift weapons. You've got your wand in case everything goes wrong, but hopefully that won't be needed. You knock on the front door in the same pattern as the guy before, and within a few seconds the door is opened to a crack. "The hell do you kids think you're doing here!?" a gruff voice on the other side asks in an odd dialect. Well, here goes nothing. "We're here to settle Victoria's debt," you say as convincingly as possible. "As such we need to talk to your boss, so if you're kindly let us in and point us in the right direction?"

After a moment of silence the doorman responds, "Victoria? The boss'll be interested in hearing what you've got to say about her, but for your sakes I hope it's good news."

"It will be," you say almost dismissively as you march inside like you own the place and head straight to wherever the doorman points you to.

--You nod to yourself, tell the others to follow you and walk up to the front door. A few shady-looking people stare very curiously at your approach and seem to reach for what look like make-shift weapons, but you're not concerned. You've got your wand in case everything goes wrong, and hopefully it won't be needed. You knock on the front door in the same pattern as the guy before, and within a few seconds the door is opened to a crack. "The hell do you kids think you're doing here!?" a gruff voice on the other side asks in an odd dialect. Well, here goes nothing. "We're here on Victoria's behalf," you say as convincingly as possible. "So if you're kindly let us in and point us in the right direction?"

There's a noticeable pause before the doorman responds. "If Victoria wants to settle her debt with us she'll do that herself, not through a group of random kids! Now get!"

That didn't work as well as you thought it would. Of course you don't feel like testing this man's patience, so you decide to come back later and maybe try another approach...

Bit of a filler stage, really. So why not have something more interesting as well? Like, say, Stage 4:

Spoiler

You open the door you were directed to and step inside. Two mean-looking guys on either side of the door, each wearing something akin to a pair of gloves with bits of sharp metal haphazardly glued onto them, take a menacing step in your direction, but the guy sitting behind a desk (or what likely passed for one back before an elephant tried to sit on it) motions to them to back off. They do. The gang boss, easily identified by a string of facial tattoos that, in order, spell out something along the lines of "rookie", "grunt", "brother", "leader", and finally, "boss", gives each of you four a menacing once-over before leaning back a bit. "What do you four kids have that's worth my attention?" the boss asks, and as you're the only one who speaks his language you take the conversational lead.

"We're here to settle Victoria's debt," you explain. The boss seems surprised. Taken aback, even. With wide eyes he says, "Victoria!? The bartender at Rapture? That Victoria!?"

You nod as confidently as you can. "That Victoria, yes. We have fifty thousand Pims, we were told that is enough to pay back her debt."

The boss runs through a number of thoughts before responding. You've no clue what he's thinking or feeling, but for what it's worth he at least doesn't seem offended. "Ordinarily it would be," he starts, and it's all you can do to not let out a sigh right then and there. Of course it wouldn't be that simple. Of course it wouldn't be. "Victoria defaulted on her debt, and we don't take such slights lightly. She doesn't have to get hurt, much, but money alone will not erase her debt. She must share all her wealth, that is, all the profit from her business, Rapture, with us, or she will remain in debt."

That sounds unreasonable, but than that's to be expected when you don't take a loan from a bank. Or from someone you can get away with pushing down a flight of stairs afterwards, either or. In any case you definitely can't promise to make that happen right here and now, so you decide to play the part of the ignorant messenger and hope this guy doesn't think that roughing you guys up could possibly intimidate Victoria into complying with them. Thankfully the boss proves to be entirely reasonable in that regard, and he simply asks that you four make sure to inform Victoria of the situation and to meet up with him directly to discuss the matter. It's a fair request to make and you're not about to say no to this guy, so you promise that you'll deliver the message and get out of their hair. The boss nods, and the four of you are allowed to leave the place with no questions asked. A number of glares and dirty glances, probably a number of unflattering things said behind your backs, but that's it. All in all you'd say that went rather well, relatively.

The four of you decide to head back to the Admiratio and grab a table at a restaurant to discuss the situation further there. Once you guys are all seated, served and anti-eavesdropping Glamours have covertly been cast Sima is the first to speak up. "There's no way in hell that Victoria is going to agree to that demand," she says a bit indignantly. "And just how unreasonable is that guy, anyway? All the profits of her business? What kind of person would ever agree to that?"

"I'm sure that's the entire idea," Tabin notes. "He's got an ulterior motive. And he's being unreasonable precisely because he doesn't want that debt to be paid off. He wants the excuse. How much money could Victoria have borrowed from him, anyway? Surely they'd have stopped letting her borrow more long before she hit fifty thousand. If they cared, that is."

"I'm with...Tabin...on this," Magsa adds in between bites. You didn't realize he worked up that much of an apatite. "Guy's full of it...hell, both of them are."

"'Both of them'?" Sima asks.

"Yeah, 'course," Magsa answers. "I mean that boss 'n whats-his-name, the guy from Rapture. If he - the Rapture guy, I mean - if he could settle this debt by paying it off he'd have done it long ago, right? He's got more money than he knows what to do with, 'least he seems to think that he does."

"I wondered the exact same thing," you add. "But than that guy told us to deal with this debt 'one way or another', right? So if he knew...are we supposed to get rid of that gang entirely, somehow, or...what?"

Silence falls over the table as each of you get lost in thought. You recall the guy from Rapture mentioning something like "if money is all you have, you can deal with this", but at the same time money alone clearly can't deal with this situation, and the guy must have known that. So...what's the deal here?

"I say we get more information," Tabin suddenly suggests. "If there's a way we can settle that debt, I want to know how. If there isn't, I want to know what that gang is really after and why. The guy from Rapture, too." Magsa and Sima nod at the suggestion, but you're not entirely sold on it yet.

"Does it really matter what they're after, though? If they don't want fifty thousand there's clearly nothing they want for that debt that we can provide. Right?"

"You're probably right on that last point," Tabin admits. "But knowing what they want is at least information we can use. To set a trap, if nothing else. And I don't know about you, but I'm itching to get some actual answers from someone, one way or another."

Both Magsa and Sima nod in agreement, and at this point so do you. Too many unanswered questions, and getting some kind of leverage on the gang wouldn't be a horrible idea either. Especially if you four are going to have to take drastic measures to settle that debt. And if fifty thousand Pims doesn't work, let's be honest here, drastic measures it will be. But how are you going to get information about the gang's true motives? And the guy from Rapture (who's name you'd really like to catch one of these days)?

-Glamour. Just a little bit of magic...
--"So quick check, who was enrolled in Glamour last year?"

Both Tabin and Magsa shake their heads. Sima just rolls her eyes and points to her Hedi uniform. "Let me guess, you've got something magically sneaky planned?" the latter asks.

"Hey, if you want to get information without people knowing you're there, invisibility is a great thing," you casually answer. "Eavesdropping on that gang will be a piece of cake considering the state of their hideout, so I guess Sima and I will check that out. Tabin, Magsa, what will you two be doing? Checking out Rapture, I take it?" Magsa just shrugs, but Tabin has a little more to say about it.

"Hmm...good question. My first thought was actually lookout and potential distraction, but if you two are going to be walking around completely invisible there's not really any need for that. Not to mention that two Academagia students loitering around so soon after four of them showed up might raise a few eyebrows. So I guess we'll go back to Rapture and keep an eye on things there, yeah. It's a long shot, but maybe if that gang boss doesn't trust us - and really, why would he - he'll send some goon to talk to Victoria and maybe we'll get the chance to listen in?"

Suddenly a light goes off in Magsa's head. "Actually, what if we relay the boss' message to Victoria and see how she reacts? If she doesn't know we're on the case, so to speak, maybe she'll speak to the guy in Rapture about it and we can try to learn something through that?"

Tabin shrugs and admits he doesn't have a better plan, so unless someone else can think of something better that's what they'll be doing. Neither Sima or you can, however, so the four of you split up and head off to gather information. Heading right back to the bad part of town you just left, only this time while Glamoured up to be as invisible and inaudible as possible and absolutely no excuses should either of you get caught, is even more unnerving than the first trip. But at least you can be reasonably sure that the gang doesn't have anything in the way of wards or other methods to counter magic users. This is the one city where you might expect someone to actually have access to such things when they otherwise wouldn't, admittedly, but the sorry state than their hideout was in and the fact that the boss relies on basic bruisers for protection suggests he doesn't have anything better. And even a first year with some knowledge of Revision could have made that house look a lot less broken and worthless, so go figure.

The two of you manage to sneak up all the way to the right neighbourhood without anyone either noticing you or caring enough to point you two out. And once the hideout is in sight Sima suggests splitting up, both to increase the chance of getting information and the chance of only one of you getting caught, if it comes to that. You agree, feeling a bit nervous when Sima mentions getting caught, but you bite back your fears and sneak up to the window where you figure the boss is hanging out. You can hear the man talk, and it's a good thing you're the one who decided to come this way because he's speaking in Bassan.

...Sima never considered the fact that she can't understand a word of what these guys are saying, did she? Oh dear. Well, hopefully she knows a Glamour spell or something to at least get the gist of things, or better yet, hopefully you'll just learn what information you want to hear and save Sima the effort of having to piece things together. And come to think of it, with both of you being invisible and inaudible, after either of you learns something worth discussing you two are supposed to contact each other how? Gods you two did not think this plan through...

While your mind keeps spinning in circles, trying to figure out a way to get in touch with Sima in a few minutes or so, you actually manage to overhear the boss welcome in someone who he apparently respects. Or at least offers the pretence of respect. You don't know who the boss is talking to and you dare not look, but from context you quickly piece together that this is the gang equivalent of an ambassador from an allied gang, who says he was told there was progress on the "Victoria front" and asks for details. Lucky you manages to overhear not just the boss' take on recent events (which aren't exactly as you thought them to be), but he also reiterates his actual motives when his ally asks whether he still intends to go through with what he was planning. And what a plan it is. The others will definitely need to hear about this, which means you've got to find Sima and head back to Tabin and Magsa. Gods where is that girl hiding!? Now is not the time to play invisible hide-and-seek!

"Looking for me?" a familiar voice behind your back suddenly asks, and when you turn around you see the vague outline of Sima. Though apparently you're the only one who can see that, because no one else around here is reacting to it. Either way you nod and frantically gesture that the two of you need to leave. It takes like three attempts for Sima to get the memo, which is somewhat frustrating, but when she does both of you run off without being spotted by anyone along the way. Now it's just a matter of heading to Rapture, grabbing Tabin and Magsa and discussing where to go from here...

--After some discussion it's decided that Sima and you will attempt to shadow the gang under a Glamour, while Tabin and Magsa investigate Rapture some more. It's a solid idea, but unfortunately on your way to the gang's hideout the two of you end up getting caught up a magic-trained guard. You'll be honest: You were careless. Magic trained guards are so incredibly rare that you assume all guards don't know the front end of a want from the back, which unfortunately makes the magic trained ones that much more effective. Well, unfortunately in this instance. Thankfully Sima is able to talk you two out of getting hauled all the way back to a Professor at the Academagia, and the demerits and detention that would almost surely follow, but afterwards Sima notes that you two will definitely want to lay low for a bit. Because if you two are caught again on the same day she will not be able to talk her way out of getting detention again, and unsurprisingly, she'd rather not get stuck in detention right in the middle of an important job like this. And for very suspicious reasons, at that.

You don't object at all. Sima just saved you from getting detention once if not twice, are you really going to talk back to her? No. You decide to join up with Magsa and Tabin and just do some down-low investigation for a day...

-Lip Reading. Observe from a distance.
--"So I take it the two of us will be spying on the gang's boss?" Sima asks you. You slowly nod, since that is what you figured the two of you would be doing, but...

"I think I've got a better idea, actually. Sima, do you think you could use Glamour to replicate the effect of a telescope, just enough to clearly see into the boss' room from a distance?"

Sima raises an eyebrow at that. "Eh, yeah, I think so, but why? Isn't sneaking up to his office under a Glamour much simpler? You know Bassan, so you could eavesdrop on everything he says, right?"

"Right, but it's also riskier I think. We'd have to sneak right up to his office, and with him having seen four Academagia students literally less than an hour ago I'm worried that he's keeping another eye out. I mean, we literally just all agreed that he's not expecting Victoria to go along with his demand, so what do you guys think that boss is going to do? Sit around and wait for Victoria to drop in?"

The others seem sceptical, but they're also nodding slowly at your theory. "If you're sure you can read lips - in Bassan, at that - well enough to get information that way, than we don't have to get so close if you don't want to, and I see no reason to unless we have to, so...sure. I'll call that a plan." Sima turns to the other two and asks, "Tabin, Magsa, I take it you two will scope out Rapture in the meantime?"

"Hmm...good question. My first thought was actually lookout and potential distraction. You sure you two can handle Roger's Crew by yourselves?" Sima confidently nods, as do you, which causes Tabin to scratch his head. "In that case I guess we'll go back to Rapture and keep an eye on things there, yeah. It's a long shot, but maybe if that boss doesn't trust us - and really, why would he - he'll send some goon to talk to Victoria and maybe we'll get the chance to listen in."

Suddenly a light goes off in Magsa's head. "Actually, what if we relay the boss' message to Victoria and see how she reacts? If she doesn't know we're on the case, so to speak, maybe she'll speak to the guy in Rapture about it and we can try to learn something through that?"

Tabin shrugs and admits he doesn't have a better plan, so unless someone else can think of something better that's what they'll be doing. Neither Sima or you can, however, so the four of you split up and head off to gather information. Heading right back to the bad part of town you just left, only this time Glamoured up to look less horribly out of place. Thankfully you guys are just walking along public streets rather than any place specific, so this second trip is actually less unnerving than the first. The two of you manage to walk up all the way to the right neighbourhood without anyone either noticing you or caring enough to point you two out. And once the hideout is in sight Sima quickly points to a rooftop you two will be able to use as a vantage point, with a good enough angle to look right into the boss' room and whoever he's talking to. It's good enough for you, so you follow Sima up and watch as she casts her Glamour. Fine-tuning it to your liking takes some fiddling, but by the end of it you can "hear" everything that is being said to the boss, since you can't actually see the man's face at all. As for lip reading in Bassan, it's not something you haven't had much opportunity to practice. But based on a quick look at the boss' guards you're sure can manage. You ask Sima about the possibilities of getting a view of the boss himself, but she responds by saying that someone important-looking just entered the hideout and you've got no time to figure something out. Well...time to test this out.

You get a very clear look at the man who steps before the boss, and based on his appearance you'd guess that he's a low-class sailor. Maybe even a pirate. Based on his body language and what little you can see of the boss' you have to assume that these two are allies, maybe even old friends. The boss' guards, you note, salute the man with what seems like as much respect as they'd show their own boss, so these two are clearly on good terms of some sort. As for conversation, after some small talk the pirate says he was told there was progress on the "Victoria front" and asks for details. You only get the pirate's reactions to whatever the boss is saying at first, which the pirate isn't surprised by in the least (for what that's worth). More importantly the pirate actually spells out the boss' plan when he asks the man if he really plans on going through with it. And what a plan it is. The others will definitely need to hear about this. When you tell Sima you've got what you came for and should leave she naturally starts to ask questions, but you tell her to save them for later since the others will need to hear it as well anyway.

Your logic is sound and Sima understands that, but you still feel a vague sense of satisfaction from locking Sima out of the loop, if only for a bit.

--After some quick discussion it's decided that Sima and you will be spying on the gang, whereas Tabin and Magsa will investigate Rapture. You do manage to get into a decent position to spy on the gang and all of that, but to quickly summarize several boring hours of looking at someone: You didn't learn anything of note. Neither did Tabin and Magsa, for what it's worth, so the four of you are going to have to try your luck again later.

The vagueness is because it's explained in the next stage's main text block rather than both success texts in this stage. Which would be a good cliffhanger...but I don't like cliffhangers, so how about a triple feature? Stage 5:

Spoiler

"Both of them!?" Sima asks, just barely not shocked enough to be stunned speechless in disbelief. You just hope she won't draw unnecessary attention to the conversation, looking like she does right now.

"Undoubtedly that's what the boss said," you confidently state, tapping a finger against the table as your mind tries to mull over this situation. "We could set Rapture on fire and salt the ground beneath the rubble for all he cares, he wants Victoria and her child. As well as the guy from Rapture 'out of the way', whatever that means. But given the choice I imagine he'd prefer something permanent."

Tabin, who's joined you in the art of tapping a finger against the table, shakes his lowered head. "So that 'debt' really is just an excuse to try and claim something they have no right to, and the real reason they say to want Rapture is because that might get them Victoria and her kid in the bargain. And access to the guy, to either run him through or out of town, whichever they'd prefer. Typical. Only thing is that that's...not negotiable."

"So...we're going to have to deal with them some other way? Whatever that means?" Magsa asks. Tabin nods in response. "Well...shoot. How are we going to do that?"

"Before we start discussion plans," you suddenly interject, "I wanted to ask: I don't suppose either of you two learned anything noteworthy while Sima and I were spying on Roger's Crew?"

Tabin shakes his head, Magsa shrugs and says, "I don't know about 'noteworthy', but we did learn a few things." You nod, as a motion for Magsa to continue. "First of all we did a bit of digging into Rapture, how it operates as a business and all, just in case that would come up at any point. Rapture, as a business, is pretty much exactly what it looks like - a place where people come to drink, dance, have a fun night and whatnot. It's mostly visited by adolescents in their late teens or early twenties, some claiming that it's where they can forget about 'restricting' social traditions that they disagree with and have a wild party or some such, but in practice that's pretty much just a glorified marketing slogan thing-or-another. People who go there generally have common sense, and Victoria - or 'Mother Vic' as she's known to regulars - makes sure that people don't leave with so much as a bad hangover. We talked with a few of those regulars, and according to Tabin that place is less dangerous on a day-to-day basis than Professor Aventyrare's Revision class." Tabin nods at that while Magsa continues explaining. "The guy there we didn't learn much about, since regulars don't really interact with him beyond rarely seeing him walk from the upstairs area to the downstairs kitchen or coming over to chat with Victoria. But they call him 'Prince', and know him as a guy you couldn't share a conversation with without wanting to punch him. And for whatever reason they see that as en endearing trait. Yeah, I don't know either. Apparently they think of him as Rapture's mascot or something."

"I imagine that absolutely none of the customers there have dealt with that guy the way we did, so they probably think they guy is just putting up an act. That and I imagine the guy's got some measure of restraint hidden deep inside him somewhere, which he probably uses on his customers," you speculate.

"That or the only people he talks to are as drunk as 'Mother Vic' allows them to be," Tabin bluntly puts. You're honestly not sure which of the two theories you think is more probable.

"[PC FIRST NAME]'s theory probably has some merit to it, actually," Magsa, to your surprise, notes. Tabin looks like he was expecting it, though. Both Magsa's comment and your reaction. "That guy is a ball of slime and a half, but there's more to him than he lets on, or if nothing else he at least has a soft spot for his daughter. Apparently there was one incident where Aibti snuck downstairs during business hours - something her parents forbade her to do, but the kid got curious - and someone accidentally dropped a glass on her foot. Prince, who no one had ever seen without that smug smirk on his face before, came down running when he heard his daughter cry with a look on his face that could petrify a basilisk. Some of the regulars said it felt like he 'forgot to put on his mask', and there's an urban legend that someone passed an exam for one of Mineta's guild because of that incident. Specifically, they could deduce the effect of the Sunder Pheme because they saw them taking shape around Prince that night. And Sunder, if you're curious, is a Pheme made for brutality and murder. The guy who dropped the glass didn't get into that much trouble, mind. Aibti wasn't supposed to be there in the first place, and it was just an accident."

"I guess that confirms that there's no way that boss' demands are going to be met, so that's something I'd call noteworthy. Anything else?"

Magsa thinks for a few seconds, than says, "Um...let's see, Aibti apparently has something odd about her hearing. Like, if she's walking through the Admiratio everything is fine and normal, but when it's quiet she can apparently pick up on the slightest noise and even wake up because of it, she's a really light sleeper. Now the dance hall downstairs isn't an issue, that entire floor's been magically sound-proofed so you can't hear anything unless someone opens a door somewhere, but if there's an owl hooting around on the balcony it can apparently keep her up all night. I don't know if it'll ever be relevant, but I guess if we ever end up trying to break into Rapture during business hours, there's that to consider? Along with Aibti's bedtime, though that we didn't figure out."

"Don't think we'll ever need to," you say dismissively. "Anything else?"

Magsa shakes his head. "No, that's pretty much all we figured out. Victoria didn't really react to the message from Roger's Crew at all, and no one came to talk with her about it, so we got nothing there. So what are we going to do about Roger's Crew? That debt of theirs is never going to be settled, so...what do we do?"

Tabin mentions that he's curious as to why Victoria and Aibti are so valuable that Roger's Crew would, at best, only briefly consider taking fifty thousand Pims over of the chance to maybe, possibly, potentially get their hands on them one day, but you dismiss it as unimportant - what matters is that their demands are never going to be met, and whatever Victoria and Aibti's stories are, you guys aren't going to get any closer to getting on Prince's good side by figuring it out. Tabin reluctantly agrees and Sima and Magsa likewise agree to focus on getting rid of Roger's Crew, at least for now, but how are you possibly going to manage that?

-Law. Get the lot of them arrested.
--"The easiest way would be to get the entire gang arrested. I mean they are smugglers if what Prince told us is true, so couldn't we just tip off the guards?"

"The guards won't arrest anyone on our words alone. Not an entire gang, not without solid evidence," Tabin notes. "There's an angle we can make work in there somewhere, though. We'll need to get the gang caught red-handed with something something truly awful if we want the guards to round up all of them. But I think that is possible."

"What's bad enough for an entire gang to be rounded up for smuggling, though?" Magsa asks. "Mastery textbooks?"

"That'd probably do it, yeah," Tabin notes. "Just one problem: Where are we going to get like a crate of those? Not the Academagia, I'll tell you that much."

Definitely not the Academagia, no. Not that they don't have those textbooks hidden somewhere, just that you four would die long before you collectively smuggled a crate's worth off of campus. Though it would be a very ironic way to go, thinking about it.

"Well, what else is there? Poisonous plants? Weapons? Posters of the Captain in a dress?" Magsa stops when Sima can't help but laugh at that last one. You, meanwhile, are wracking your brain trying to think of something. Because there's a problem here beyond what to use and supply. The other three might not know, but the leadership of a gang is usually treated differently than their minions, legally. Leaders get harsh sentences, while their minions tend to only get minor ones, sometimes even nothing if they manage to strike a deal with the guard to testify against their former boss (which, while nothing formal, in practice happens all the time). But in your case there's no telling whether any random minor of Roger's Crew might have overheard something about Victoria's debt, whether the gang's allies - whoever they are exactly - would try and claim that debt if they took over the business of Roger's Crew if the latter got removed...there's more factors in play here than the three are aware of. And all it really takes is one greedy advocate to ruin everything for you guys. And that's not acceptable. Whatever you guys do right now, it's going to have to cause the irrevocable, irredeemable downfall of Roger's Crew and everyone who's ever worked with them. No half-measures or worrying about supply. What you need is something that's worth death by association, nothing else will do. But no matter how often you run down your mental list of things...

"Hey, [PC FIRST NAME], are you still with us?"

You look up and see the other three staring at you a bit worried. Seeing them like that suddenly gives you the inspiration you needed. The one thing that'll get rid of Roger's Crew permanently. The words fall out of your mouth without any sort of context, confusing the hell out of your friends. "Dragon worship."

"Ex-cuse me?" Sima asks, looking at you like you just...like you just said exactly what you just said, actually.

"There's more to this problem than just Roger's Crew, so unless we want to be one random minion or shady advocate away from being right back at square one we can't afford any half-measures. With that in mind there's only one thing we can accuse Roger's Crew of doing that'll get our job done. And that's Dragon worship."

"That's a little...extreme, don't you think?" Magsa asks.

"Maybe, but in this case it's the only way to be sure. Gangs come and go on a monthly bases and the guard has stopped even trying to prevent the inevitable rise of one when another falls, so we're going to need drastic measures. Nothing else will do, and believe me, if there was I'd have remembered it already."

The three nervously eye each other, unable to come up with a better idea or an argument to refute yours. Not that they'd do well trying to debate you against your own point anyway, and they know they won't. "I think I can get us a box worth of Dragon worship-y stuff within a reasonable time frame," Tabin says with narrowed eyes. "Just...don't ever ask any questions about that, [PC FIRST NAME]."

"I won't," you say as reassuringly as you can. "I doesn't have to be a box just stuffed with the bad stuff, anyway. I mean if the guards find a box of Dragon statuettes and a few copies of The Rights of the Dragons - you've heard of that book, right? - laying on top of them they're not going to assume it's for an art exhibit."

"Never read the book myself, of course, but I've heard of it yes. And good, because rest assured that's what you'll get."

And that is all you'll need. Get that box, get Roger's Crew caught with it red-handed, and watch as they disappear. Just a little more, you're sure, and you'll finally be done with this arduous task.

--You know for a fact that getting the gang arrested would be the simplest way to deal with them, but what about the chance of someone else picking up Victoria's debt? What if one of them is cleared of charges for whatever reason, what if one of them escapes? Smuggling isn't that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, and there is just nothing that comes to mind that would both get the gang arrested and be available to you guys to get a crate of. The problem keeps spinning circles in your head like a broken off cartwheel gone mad, but you just cannot think of an answer.

As it turns out, neither can the other three. If you just cannot think of a solution to this problem...maybe you'll have to try another method of getting rid of the gang?

-Brew. Poison them.
--Silence continues to fill the air as neither Sima, Magsa or Tabin can think of any way to deal with the gang. You don't like to suggest it, but it seems like this is a time that calls for desperate measures. "I've got an idea, actually."

"Yeah?" three people, if in slightly different ways, ask at once.

"We...ah, I'll have to think about the method of delivery, but assuming we can get our hands on some booze or something and get Roger's Crew to accept them we offer them a drink. And poison them."

All three stare at you, unsure of how to feel about your suggestion. "Poison them? To death, you mean?" Tabin asks, voice shaking a little.

"Preferably, yes. We're not going to get rid of Victoria's debt if all we do is give them a bout of nausea, now will we?"

"That's going to unleash hell if some of that poison finds it's way outside of the gang's clutches," Sima notes.

"We'll make sure the poison is all in the same kind of bottle. Even if one of the bottles vanishes people will be able to piece two and two together in time before someone is stupid enough to drink it. Hopefully."

"Hopefully." Sima says, frowning.

"I don't have a better idea," you reluctantly say. "So, I'm thinking we procure a box with bottles of booze, poison them, than make sure that Roger's Crew gets it in name of their allies as a 'celebration' for making progress with nabbing Victoria or some such rot. I'm assuming that you guys can better handle those details than I can, but as for brewing up some poisoned alcohol...yeah. There's one mixture that should be easily concealed and unhindered by a high alcohol content, not to mention easy enough to brew up that we won't have to use the equipment from the Academagia's Brewing classroom to cook it. It is a messy one, but...it gets the job done." Sima asks exactly how messy, and you answer that she probably doesn't want to know. She's not sure how to respond to that.

"We can make that happen," Tabin slowly says, clearly thinking...but unable to come up with a different solution. "[PC FIRST NAME], how long is that poison going to last for after you've cooked it?"

"A while, if you're asking about how long you can use it. If you're asking about how long Roger's Crew will have to live after ingesting it...if we go with the dosage I'd recommend, about a minute. Maybe two. Suffice to say that by the time they'll notice it it'll already be too late."

Before either Sima or Magsa can speak up (though you're not sure whether either was going to) Tabin quickly says that that'll be the plan, and to start preparing for it. You job is to prepare the poison, while they obtain the required crate, booze, story and so on. If everything ends up working out you'll soon be done with Prince's request, and than finally you can get the information you...well, the other three are after. As for you...you'll have to think about why you're willing to go so far in this situation, but you're not going to back out now.

You just hope that you'll have a chance to later, if the need arises.

--Silence continues to fill the air as neither Sima, Magsa or Tabin can think of any way to deal with the gang. You can, in theory, but no matter how you try to convince yourself you just cannot bring yourself to even suggest it. The issue is that you can't think of a poison that is going to get the job done in this instance. As in, something that'll work and you have access to and all of that. The logical solution would be to bring up your suggestion and ask if one of the other three know of something you could use...but you can't. You can't bring yourself to suggest something like this, say that you mean it, and than not be able to actually put it into practice.

Shoot. You're going to have to do some research and think of something, otherwise you're going to be stuck with this problem for the rest of your life! There has to be a solution, but what?

-Minetan Swagger. Who is Roger's Crew friends or enemies with?
--As far as you know Roger's Crew's only 'friend', if they can be called that, is a group of small-time pirates from the south who supply them with illegally obtained goods to smuggle into the city and sell to fences, private buyers or whoever else they can convince to offer them money. As for enemies most people just generically don't like them because of their heritage, but there's actually one group under the thumb of the Thieves Guild who've tried to muscle in on what Roger's Crew regarded as their turf before. And the response from Roger's Crew was to stab three people and almost literally throw them back over a fence into the territory of the Thieves Guild with a bloodied note saying "don't try that again". As you recall it baffled the Minetan guards, because it seemed like such an overreaction for something so relatively minor. Though knowing what you do now maybe the Thieves Guild wasn't actually after territory or pirated goods to smuggle? Hmm...if so there's probably an angle for you to exploit there somewhere...

--Aside from the fact that they're got one ally of some kind, based on the person the boss met with earlier, you've got no clue.

I'm assuming you folks will be able to mostly piece the puzzle together at this point. Also no quadrupole feature because the next stage actually isn't anywhere close to done yet :P. The stage after that one, actually the last one, is, so if I can get stage 6 done by tomorrow (it's a doozy) expect a double feature to end out the adventure. Yes, only 7 stages. It's not a long one, I'll admit, but hopefully it's a good one.

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Since it's done anyway, Wrapping up in Rapture, stage 6:

Spoiler

It's the moment of truth for your adventure with Prince's request. The box has been obtained, the content has been prepared, the story has been rehearsed and the pieces are in place. There's just one final problem that Tabin explains when you four gather up after splitting up earlier.

"We just can't figure out a way to convincingly give the box to Roger's Crew and spring the trap. They're still a bit guarded from when we showed up before, and since they think we delivered that message-I mean technically Magsa and I did deliver it, even, so...anyway, they're expecting Victoria to show up at some point, and they're getting anxious with waiting. Of course Victoria told us that if we ever ended up talking to that boss again we should tell him - I'm using polite terms here - that he should drop off the island and get torn to shreds by the Maelstrom. So take a guess as to whether she's ever going to visit him."

"I'm going with a left field guess here: No?"

Tabin laughs at that. "Pretty much. In any case, we need to find a way to have that guy you mentioned was talking to Roger's Crew's boss earlier deliver this box and spring the trap. Anyone else and they're not going to fall for it."

One last obstacle. But if this works, you'll be done. You've made sure of the fact that you will be done. But how to convince someone to backstab their allies like that?

-Mastery. Master the pirate into cooperating.
--"So, quick question: Can you three get that pirate somewhere alone and isolated?"

The three share a confused look, and with a shrug Tabin notes that they can probably do that. "Why, though? You've got a plan?"

"Something like that," you say a bit hesitantly. "This just isn't a trick I can pull off in a crowd."

More confused looks. But the three of them agree that if you say you've got a plan, they'll trust you. It's a statement that makes you pause for a second. They'll trust you. You're sure that's a big deal, and if it isn't, than within about five minutes it's going to be. You're not going to back down, though. That pirate is going to do as you want him to, whether he wants to or not. You'll make sure of that.

Sima, Tabin and Magsa manage to find the man in question at the Docks, overseeing his shady crew unloading their ill-gotten goods off of their fraudulently documented vessel. Ordinarily this is where Roger's Crew shows up to aid the pirates with quickly getting their cargo away from any potential inspections from legal authorities, and that's exactly what they're going to be doing. Only this time they'll be adding one extra crate, and if all goes well that crate will be their last.

From a distance you can see the three tricking the pirate into thinking a Dock inspector is going to show up soon, much to the pirate's displeasure of course, and the three convince him to wait for said inspector in the warehouse they're using. The rest of the crew, having hauled all their cargo, is given a brief leave to hit up a tavern "until the inspection has been finished", and of course none of them decide to stay with their captain. Not that they'd need to, ordinarily. The man can handle himself after all.

But he's not going to be able to handle this.

You sneak into the warehouse, hide behind a bunch of crates, and take out your wand. Now is your time. Pheme, Pheme, Pheme, one after another, until this poor sap's mind is yours. You know what you want, you know what magic you can cast. You know that your will shall be done. Today? That's going to be this pirate's job. And your magic works like a charm. Just a bit of extra work, and you can control this puppet's very thoughts like he's got strings on body. His friend will never be the wiser. He'll not have a chance to learn from his mistakes, either. And speak of a Dragon, there is the boss right now...

"Ahoy there, captain!" the boss of Roger's Crew you met before yells, hailing his old friend. Like nothing is wrong. "Brought in a good haul today, eh? I take it my guys can start clearing this place out immediately?"

No inspector will arrive. No member of the pirate's crew is going to come. No help. No hope. No matter how much the "captain" wants to break free and warn his friend, he won't be able to. His words are no longer his to choose. When he speaks, he speaks for you.

"S-sure thing!" the captain says, still fighting the enemy he can't see. Futilely. He'll not break free. "I even managed to nab something real good this time. Call it a special treat, I know you need it."

And he does need it. The nerves, the anxiety, the stress of grasping at the strings and politics, whatever they are, that he does. He needs a break. A long break...

The boss lets out a sigh. "You're damned right I do. This Victoria business...well, let's not dwell on that, shall we? Today will be a good day, my friend! Give me a hand, we'll tell my boys to bring the goods to the hideout and and take the good stuff there ourselves. And than we'll have ourselves a drink. Your own crew's gone off to drink already, I take it?"

Oh, if only he knew.

"Always do after they're done hauling," the "captain" responds. "The box is right over there. It ain't to heavy, but I'll help you carry it."

The two men grab the fateful box and start to carry it back to the hideout. You make sure that the only thing, the last thing, that that captain will do is make sure the trap is sprung. Technically, this is called a "suggestion". You, however, make sure that there is no room for doubt.

...After the two men walk out of sight Sima, Magsa and Tabin emerge from the shadows. They were hanging back in case the worst happened, but it didn't. They each stare at you with mixed expressions, all glancing nervously at your wand at least once. Tabin is the first to break the silence. "That wasn't a Glamour, was it?" he asks with a tone that sounds like he's trying to maintain his composure, and succeeding for the most part.

You let out a sigh. You know what it was and you're sure they do, but that doesn't mean you care to admit it. "Does it matter? It worked. Now lets get out of here before someone actually shows up and starts asking questions."

All three nod, and you four manage to escape without drawing unnecessary attention. You suggest going to see Prince and settling this matter once and for all, but the other three say they're tired and that it won't hurt to wait a day, since that way Prince will actually hear about the fact that Roger's Crew has been taken care of without having to take your word for it. It's a fair point and you can't even pretend like you're not feeling drained yourself right now, so you agree to handle that meeting another day.

--You've got a plan that you're sure will work, but it's not a plan that you dare put into action where the other three are going to be able to see you. Or figure out what happened. Or any of that stuff. It's not impossible to convince the others to spread out and give you some space, under the pretence of investigating, but getting the pirate alone, on your own, in such a way that you can work the magic you have...

...It's just not possible. Too much crew, too many witnesses, too little shadow and spots to hide behind. This is impossible, the Docks is just too populated. If you could play it off as casting a Glamour, yeah, you'd be set. But you're rather clearly not. And the others...maybe you need their help? Or maybe you just need to hope that one of them ends up finding something to work with and forget about this whole idea. Situations like these is why you studied this, but...that doesn't mean it's safer not to use it...

-Blackmail. He'll deliver that box, or else...
--There's one question that has been running circles in your head for a while now. Why did this pirate, the person who's responsible for delivering goods to Roger's Crew to smuggle, show up on the boss' doorstep to ask about potential "progress" on the "Victoria front"? Not only that, but how did he learn about it in the first place, anyway? Sure, the four of you weren't the most subtle by any stretch of the definition, but word spread fast. Too fast, almost. You're also starting to wonder how these pirates are able to continue operating in this area without getting caught. Piracy is illegal in Mineta, and while they've done an admirable job covering their tracks you four managed to figure out this much, surely the paid professionals working for the Dock authorities could have done the same? Speaking of that, how did a crew of people notorious for being uneducated and often downright illiterate manage to falsify a bunch of documents, again? Okay, so there's more than one question running circles in your head. Point is, you're pretty suspicious that these pirates aren't what they claim to be, and as such, you think it's time to do some investigating. Should anything of particular interest show up...well, the pirate will probably be willing to negotiate. He ought to understand the prospect of blackmail if he's wanting to assist Roger's Crew with getting their hands on Victoria and Aibti. At least you can't imagine a reason for them to forgo fifty thousand Pims unless they're worth more to someone else. As blackmail.

You explain your feelings to the others, and they all nod in agreement. Plans are made to investigate the pirates further, with you assisting Magsa in his reluctant quest to scour a record building for any potential faulty paperwork that could doom the pirates if brought to light...but it turns out to be unnecessary. Sima and Tabin manage to get a lucky break, and after only a handful of minutes searching through records they rush back to the two of you with a letter in hand. "Correspondence in name of one of the merchant princes from Strozza, to our pirate," Tabin explains. "Or rather, our 'pirate'. As it turns out, these guys aren't actually pirates!"

You raise an eyebrow at that. Honestly, Tabin's grin more so than his less than evident revelation. "Wait, what do you mean? How's a pirate not a pirate? He pirates other ships and...other pirate-y stuff, right?"

"Oh, he does commit acts of piracy, but he's not a pirate. The more proper term for him would be 'privateer'."

You blink. The guy you're after, a privateer. As in, someone who commits semi-sanctioned acts of piracy, usually against specific targets, in service to their country. So...basically, one of the merchant princes is using a privateer to sabotage his rivals, and using the city of Mineta to either outright fence or smuggle his ill-gotten goods to wherever. The dock authorities would go nuts if they found that out. And what about Roger's Crew? Do they know? Or...

"I see you've realized the problem," Tabin says as he sees, with a smile, the deep frown slowly forming on your face. "Our old pirate isn't just secretly a privateer, more than likely he's also part spy. Whatever Roger's Crew wants with Victoria and Aibti, this merchant prince probably wants it as well. And honestly, I don't think Roger's Crew is going to want to share. They might share a common heritage, but privateers and refugees...not really sailing in the same boat anymore, you know?"

You do. Operation Blackmail is officially on. You assist the other three with putting together their blackmail message properly, pointing out stuff like being vague while suggesting that you do really know everything as well as how to make sure the captain gets it without being caught or seen in the process, and most importantly, how to leave the impression that you're trying to "help" the privateer without that message falling flat in the face of the whole "blackmail" aspect. But it's important that this captain delivers this fateful box and believes the content is in his best interest, otherwise things might not end well anyway.

It's hard, but your skills combined with the suggestions of the other three are able to make it happen. One piece of paper, on top of the correspondence with it's seal broken, is all that's needed. Now it's just a matter of giving it some time and, if it all works out, going to see Prince and getting your well-earned reward.

--The other three agree with your assessment that a pirate likely would have gotten greedy every now and again, and if you found evidence thereof you could blackmail him into "making amends" on your terms. Unfortunately no matter how deep the four of you dig into the pirate's belongings, history and reputation you just cannot find anything convincing enough to use.

Either the four of you will have to find something better to work with, or find a way to make what you guys did find work. Though you're not going to be betting any money on which option is better one way or another.

-Plot. Pride before the fall.
--What are the odds that this pirate wouldn't take the bait if he got the chance to sink his own fangs into Victoria and Aibti? You four have generated far too much suspicion to be able to give Roger's Crew the box yourself and have it succeed, so why not turn that to your advantage? "Okay, so here's an idea: Roger's Crew is waiting for Victoria to visit them to discuss their debt and get roughed up and whatever else they've got planned, right?" The other three nod, unsure of where you're going with this. "And we've established that we're working, directly or indirectly, on Victoria's behalf to settle her debt, right?" More confused nods. "So what if try to settle the debt through the pirates, and we offer that box as a means of settling the debt? Roger's Crew would never accept it, sure, and the pirates know that, but do they know that we know that? We can pass it off as Victoria figuring that she has to go through an intermediary to settle her debt, and the pirates can fill that role."

The faces of your friends turn from confusion to surprise. Unfortunately mixed with a fair bit of doubt as well. "It's definitely an interesting direction, but I see one major problem with this," Tabin notes. "The pirates might believe that story, but would Roger's Crew believe it? And believe it to the point of accepting the box?"

"I think so. Remember, that boss told us that Victoria must settle her debt with the profits of Rapture, they didn't tell us that what they're really after is Victoria herself. So we, in turn, presumably never told Victoria. So is it really that unreasonable to think that Victoria might, say, get together a bigger bribe than we offered the first time and try to deliver that as payment?"

Tabin is still unsure about the plan, but than Sima speaks up. "I don't think the important part is what the boss of Roger's Crew thinks, but what we can make the pirate believe. Think about it, the entire reason we need the pirate in the first place is because he's the only source that the boss will trust. Even if the box is from Victoria, if the pirate will vouch for it, isn't that enough?"

"And depending on how much the pirate does or doesn't know, we can probably convince him of quite a few things," you add. Tabin slowly starts nodding.

"Okay, I can see where this plan could work. Risky, but I like it. So...shall we just walk right up to the pirate and say our piece?"

You nod, and the others follow suit. You'll admit that this approach makes you feel nervous since this isn't something you can mess up and try again later, but it'll succeed. With the other three to back you up, or the other way around, you know that you four will succeed. Actually you'll probably need to take conversational point because the pirate speaks Bassan. Curses. Well, you'll get the job done all the same, you're sure.

The four of you manage to find the pirate (and his crew) unload their ship of their ill-gotten cargo at the Docks. Sima, Tabin and (mostly) Magsa are busy "carrying" the box on a flat bed of levitation magic while you boldly hail the pirate and walk up to him. There's a brief flash of weariness on his face that he quickly hides with a more casual demeanor. "Well, well, well, if it isn't the four students I've heard so much about!" he begins, causing a line of muscles along your face to tense for a split second. How much did the boss of Roger's Crew tell this guy? Everything here relies on your ability to work his ignorance. "First you talk to Roger's Crew and now you wish to talk to little ol' me? What, are the four of you contemplating a switch in career?" The pirate lets out a hearty laugh, than suddenly stops as he eyes the fateful box. "Whazzat? You working for someone else now? 'Cuz I don't recall anyone owing me any money."

"This is from Victoria," you lie, being careful to maintain eye contact and keep an eye on his expression. "She wants to settle her debt with Roger's Crew, but...doesn't trust them enough to visit them alone, in person, for reasons I hope are understandable. And not upsetting." The pirate scratches his head. You can see the exact moment where he connects the dots about what he already knows and what you presumably don't.

"Ah, alright, I get it. So this box is her payment? Her first payment, rather?"

You really don't appreciate these questions, but you can't exactly do much about them. "All I was told is that it is a payment, sorry. Still, could you please make sure this gets delivered to the boss of Roger's Crew? I'm hoping that if he accepts this payment that it'll ease Victoria's fears enough to discuss the matter personally." That last part came a bit out of nowhere, but it makes sense in your head. Right now you feel more like an actor desperately trying to piece together [his/her] part than "just" a liar. The pirate looks over the box with a suspicious eye, but you can tell that he's more confused as to what to do in this situation. And honestly you don't blame him. He knows that the boss doesn't give a damn about whatever is in this box, but he also knows he probably shouldn't tell you guys that, so what's he supposed to do?

Suddenly, briefly, the pirate looks like he got an idea. All your kingdom for a chance to know what this guy is thinking right now. "Okay, I get it. You four kids don't worry, I'll make sure the boss gets it."

"Really?" you ask with a genuinely relieved voice. Seriously, this is the first honest thing you've told this guy since this conversation began.

"Yes, really. Like I said, don't worry, I'll make sure the boss gets it. There'll be hell to pay if he doesn't and asks me where it went, after all."

The pirate actually sounds somewhat friendly when he says that. Almost like...is he scheming something? Does he want you guys to leave right now? Does the box have value to him?

...Has you plan really worked?

...Well, you sure as hell aren't going to stick around here to find out. You nod, politely excuse yourself and tell your friends that it's time to go. Once you four are well out of sight and hearing range (as in, halfway between the Docks and the Academagia) you relay what impressions you got from the pirate, impressions that Sima agrees with, and ask if it's just a waiting game now. Tabin confirms that it is, and if it worked, you four will be visiting Prince next. Finally, hopefully, this struggle can be at an end...

--In theory it's a good idea, make the pirate believe that delivering the box what entirely his own idea. But sitting down to think about how to make it happen is the hardest puzzle you've ever heard of, and you've heard of some insane puzzles during your stay at the Academagia so far. What could possibly convince this pirate that the crate is his? That he should deliver it to Roger's Crew rather than pass it off as just more stuff to smuggle, like every other crate the man has brought in these past you don't know how long?

Even with the other three pitching in it's a puzzle that none of you are able to think of an answer for. Getting that pirate to do what you want him to do of his own accord...if you're going to make it happen this'll have to be your most devious plot yet...

As I said, a doozy. It took some tries to think of something that could possibly work for the Plot exit.

And Stage 7:

Spoiler

Sometime during the afternoon you meet up with Sima, Magsa and Tabin to conclude their deal with Prince. Now that you four have done what he wanted you to do it's time for him to honor his end of the bargain. You just hope he's good on his word. Really hope...

Getting into his office you can't even pretend to be a challenge. Victoria recognizes Tabin and Magsa when you four knock on Rapture's front door, and without even having to ask she agrees to lead you to Prince's office. You do note that she has an uncanny smile on her face. Like a bullied kid who's just gotten sweet, cold revenge. It's unsettling, but if it improves her opinion of you four you're not going to complain. Gifted horses and all of that.

Prince is even more of a class act in that regard. You find him leaning back on his chair, feet propped up on his desk like he hasn't got a care in the world, reading a copy of the Times. There's a large article about Roger's Crew on the front page. "Ah, yes, you four. Please, take a seat if you wish, I do believe I owe you four some information."

"That you do," Sima says, trying to sound neutral but failing. She's staring at the newspaper article, and she's not a fan. Prince casually throws his feet off his desk and puts down his newspaper. "Indeed. Although that does bring me to one last question." Nervous glances and one clenched fist on your side, nothing but a smug grin on Prince's side. You're pretty sure he's winning this. Whatever "this" is. "Specifically, you, [PC FIRST NAME]."

You meekly point to yourself, and Prince nods. "The other three I can clearly see being and having been a group for a while now, but you...you are one who stands out a great deal. Almost like an outsider, a friend who was brought on for the ride rather than part of the actual group. And so I'm curious, this information that the other three asked for and will receive shortly...do you actually have any personal stake in it?"

...You can't honestly say that you do. It's something, sure, but can you use it? Can you even think of a use for it? The other three know what they're doing, whatever they're doing, but you've got no clue. All in all Prince has you dead to rights here, but you don't want to speak against your friends, so...so that's what you'll do. "I've got as much stake in it as they do," you lie. You're pretty sure that Prince sees right through you, but he only seems amused by it. "Truly? Those three...and you, working together as one toward a common goal? Fascinating! Than...perhaps the special three will soon become the special four, non?"

As if this guy couldn't be any more pretentious, gratuitous Merillian? Someone give you a break. "Special, sure. But I don't think we're the special three - or four, or however many - you think we are."

Another lie that...actually, you're not sure if Prince saw through that one. Instead he puts on a more serious expression, still with the smug grin mind you, but not an expression that just does not buy anything you're trying to sell. "The great irony," Prince begins, speaking with a voice and tone that's almost normal, "is that in truth, I really don't. Are you three those specific individuals? I don't know. I can guess, I can speculate, I could even trust my instinct and hope for the best...but I do not know. The greatest irony, however, is that I don't need to know. After all, who cares about one particular group of unknown individuals when the four right before me are so special and capable in their own right...like this?"

(arrested ending)-Like what?
--Prince unlocks a drawer and takes out a very familiar-looking Dragon statuette. That's...there's no way. Where the hell did he get that?

"I wouldn't put that thing on display if I were you," Tabin coldly notes.

"Oh, rest assured, I won't," Prince says, sounding serious for all of two seconds there. "This particular statuette I think would do well to take a very close look at the Maelstrom. Much too dangerous to keep on display, certainly. Wouldn't want people getting the wrong idea."

"So...that means you're not going to try and blackmail us?" Tabin cautiously asks, eyes narrowed.

Prince shakes his head. "Oh, no. I certainly don't make a habit of that. Too risky, too bad for business. Far too likely to come back and bite me right in the ass. Just ask Roger's Crew how their attempt at getting their foot into the blackmail door went for them. 'Quite poorly' I'm sure they'd say...if anyone was willing to let them talk. Or listen." There's a brief pause before Prince continues, sounding just as jovial as he usually does. "Incidentally, I've got it on good authority that the investigation into Roger's Crew is going to turn up absolutely nothing as far as, say, out-of-place seeming Academagia students is concerned. Students, after all, are carefully investigated background wise, so surely no Dragon worshipper would ever be able to set foot on their campus ground unnoticed. Ah, but that's enough talk about grim business. You four wanted to know where to find Professor Strom?" The four of you nod, and despite your ignorance of the whole affair, you all nod in sync. It makes you feel like you've become part of the group somewhat...and considering what all happened, you better.

Prince unlocks the other drawer and takes out a small roll of parchment, which he hands to Sima. "I believe that contains all the information you four wish to know." Sima, with Magsa, Tabin and you looking over her shoulder, quickly reads it, than rolls up the parchment and drops it into her knapsack. "That's all we wanted to know, yes. Pleasure doing business with you, Prince."

Prince nods, and the four of you are dismissed. On the way back to the Academagia the other three inform you that they've got "personal business" to take care of with Professor Strom, which is likely going to take a while, so if you want to talk to him yourself you'll probably have to wait a while. But aside from that you've earned that information just as much as they did. "Thanks. And I know it's 'personal business' and all, but if you three ever need another hand you know where to find me."

Seeing Sima, Magsa and Tabin nod at that, each with a smile on their face, is honestly the best reward you could have hoped to have gotten from this whole mess, and now that you're here...you're really glad that you did.

(poisoned ending)-Like what?
--Prince unlocks a drawer and takes out a very familiar-looking bottle. That's...there's no way. Where the hell did he get that?

"I wouldn't drink that stuff if I were you," Tabin coldly notes. It's downright eerie how icy his voice sounded there, almost like he wants Prince to take a swig.

"Oh, rest assured, I won't," Prince says, sounding serious for all of two seconds there. "This particular bottle I think would do well to take a very close look at the Maelstrom. Too dangerous to keep around, certainly."

"So...that means you're not going to try and blackmail us?" Tabin cautiously asks, eyes narrowed.

Prince shakes his head. "Oh, no. I certainly don't make a habit of that. Too risky, too bad for business. Far too likely to come back and bite me right in the ass. Just ask Roger's Crew how their attempt at getting their foot into the blackmail door went for them. 'Quite poorly' I'm sure they'd say...if they still could." There's a second of tense silence before Prince continues, sounding distinctly less jovial than he usually does. "Incidentally, I've got it on good authority that the investigation into the cause behind the poisoning is going to turn up absolutely nothing as far as, say, out-of-place seeming Academagia students is concerned. Surely none of the Crew is going to contradict anyone on that point. Ah, but that's enough talk about grim business. You four wanted to know where to find Professor Strom?" The four of you nod, and despite your ignorance of the whole affair, you all nod in sync. It makes you feel like you've become part of the group somewhat...and considering what all happened, you better.

Prince unlocks the other drawer and takes out a small roll of parchment, which he hands to Sima. "I believe that contains all the information you four wish to know." Sima, with Magsa, Tabin and you looking over her shoulder, quickly reads it, than rolls up the parchment and drops it into her knapsack. "That's all we wanted to know, yes. Pleasure doing business with you, Prince."

Prince nods, and the four of you are dismissed. On the way back to the Academagia the other three inform you that they've got "personal business" to take care of with Professor Strom, which is likely going to take a while, so if you want to talk to him yourself you'll probably have to wait a while. But aside from that you've earned that information just as much as they did. "Thanks. And I know it's 'personal business' and all, but if you three ever need another hand you know where to find me."

Seeing Sima, Magsa and Tabin nod at that, each with a smile on their face, is honestly the best reward you could have hoped to have gotten from this whole mess, and now that you're here...you're really glad that you did.

And that's that, pretty short for one of my adventures but whatever works (and considering that like 90% of this adventure's plot was pretty much made up on the spot, I'd say it works pretty good). Now it's just a matter of crossing one's fingers and hoping that ol' Strom hasn't actually spend the past however many years lying face-down in a secret compartment underneath von Rupprecht's desk. That'd be mighty unfortunate :rolleyes:...

Edited by Metis

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@Metis: So, why was Roger's Crew blackmailing Victoria? Was Aditi the cause?

And amazing that you actually allowed the PC to commit mass murder. Dark. But then, the Triplets seem to be associated with such casual nefariousness.

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Aibti. And in a sense, I suppose? It's a story that's intended to be figured out (or not, who knows if the Team will go with it after all) later, I believe, though I believe part of it is foreshadowed in this one. And by that I mean "indirectly spelled out", because someone, not naming any names, does not know how to do foreshadowing.

I wouldn't call it casual, but it just seemed like the perfect opportunity to use an otherwise basically unused skill. Hence the Mastery option as well, chronic lack of opportunities to use it that's one of the things to be corrected in Y2.

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