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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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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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This is probably a terrible idea, but whatever. I'd like to get something done before another year's passed. A Point to Prove, stage 0:

Spoiler

You're in one of the Academagia's practice rooms, leaning back in a chair while lazily looking over a pamphlet of Phemes and Spells that you're expected to have memorised by tomorrow. They were distributed among the student body in preparation for the arrival of some important person or another some time in the not-so-distant future, but...well, you just don't feel like this matters to you at all. You've never heard of this (supposedly important) person before, what she's famed for has nothing to do with you or anything you remotely care about, and just what are the odds that you are going to be chosen to...do what, exactly? You've heard that she's supposed to be filling in as a teacher in some classes, so that could be an issue, except that she's not going to fill in for any of yours, so...what do you really need this for? The Phemes and Spells themselves aren't anything better than what you know already, it's all old first year stuff. And you don't think it's likely that you're going to run into her just randomly in one of the hallways and be given a pop quiz. And even if you were and make a bad impression...so what? You'd like to not embarrass yourself if possible, but...

"[PC FIRST NAME]! Finally, here you are!" The sudden noise almost causes you to fall out of your chair, but you manage to catch yourself in time. Looking at the door you see Aveline Cincebeaux, Academagia's most ruthless (albeit insightful) critic, looking at you with fire in her eyes. She closes and locks the door behind her before she marches up to you and basically snarls out, "I-I've got a project for you, [PC FIRST NAME]. And you're going to help me."

For as intimidating as Aveline is right now you can't help but notice that you (and the chair you're precariously balancing in) are thoroughly unmoved. "Good morning to you too, Aveline. Nice to see that your etiquette courses are going swimmingly."

Aveline crosses her arms and glares at you. You're not sure whether she's offended or being defensive, though. Slowly she snarls out, "[PC FIRST NAME]? Don't question me on this. I-I need...I've got a project for you, and you're going to help me."

Huh. That sounds like blackmail...but if Aveline was going with that why didn't she start with it? Why is she so tense right now anyway? This isn't normal for her. You consider whether to just blow her off right now or whether there's merit to inquiring further, and you decide on the latter. If she does have something she could take to Rikildis you'd very much like to know what it is, and in this state Aveline is likely to slip and spill the beans. "Gods' sake, Aveline, chill. What's this 'project' or whatever you keep stumbling over?"

Aveline doesn't say anything at first, but from the way her body twists and twitches it's clear she's going through a number of emotions before she settles on an answer. "F-fine, if you must know...I need you to sew a dress for me."

-Uh...
--Aveline has more to say than that, but the sound of your chair (and it's passenger) violently crash-landing on the floor drowns out whatever she was trying to say. The sudden noise causes Aveline to flinch, but she composes herself pretty quickly. "Nice sense of balance," she says as you carefully pick yourself back up again. "I'm not going to have to drag you to the infirmary, am I?"

You're hurting in several places right now, but thankfully it's nothing a quick wave of the old wand won't fix. And a night's sleep, but you're not admitting that to Aveline. "No, but thanks for the offer. Anyway, you want me to...what?"

"D-don't give me that stupid look!" Aveline snaps, but you don't drop the giant question mark written all over your face. Instead you cross your arms and engage Aveline in a bit of a staring contest until she finally lets out a sigh and looks away. "D-don't give me that look, [PC FIRST NAME]," Aveline repeats, though it sounds far less like a threat and more like an actual request. As such you do drop your own attitude (justified as it was) and calmly ask Aveline what's going on. "You've heard about Lady Amaran's visit to the Academagia, right?" You nod. "The faculty - don't ask how I know about this, by the way, but the faculty will be organising a surprise ball in honor of the Lady, kind of like the Sententae ball. Underclassmen aren't really going to be encouraged to attend, but I'm going to. And I'm going there looking like a proper lady...but I need you to sew me a dress for the occasion."

There's a number of thoughts flying through your head right now, but despite it all you manage to keep focus on the important questions. Barely. "Dare, or rather may I ask: Why?"

Aveline frowns and looks away again, but you can't tell whether she's embarrassed or...what else might be going through her head right now. "I've got a point to prove, [PC FIRST NAME]. That's all you need to know. And that's all I'm going to say on that subject." You know that trying to press this point further is completely futile, so instead you ask Aveline why she needs you, specifically, to sew a dress for her. If she was just looking for clothes there's plenty of them in the Admiratio. Aveline is hesitant to answer your question, but this point you do press. Aveline caves quickly enough. "I-I need it to be a surprise, alright!? I know I can get clothes made in the Admiratio, but I can't risk getting spotted even just having my measurements taken! No one is going to suspect that you're making one for me and I know you can keep a secret." With a decisively dark undertone Aveline adds, "Be convinced to keep a secret, if that's what it takes."

"Aveline, please, calm down. Your secret isn't going to stay that way if you keep yelling about it." Aveline tries to blame you for that, but of course you're not taking that. Aveline quickly realises her error and apologises for her behaviour as best she can.

"I'm sorry, [PC FIRST NAME], really. But this? I need...I-I can't, I..." Shaking her head Aveline adds, "You have no idea how much I hate having to do this, [PC FIRST NAME], begging you for help like this. But...I need your help..."

"I don't think anyone would classify this conversation so far as 'begging', Aveline. But if that's how you feel about it I feel like I should ask, and for the love of every God out there, answer this question honestly: How important is this to you?" Aveline doesn't vocally answer your question. Instead she lets out a sigh, stands still, closes her eyes and waits patiently for her eyes to water up. Enough for her to start shedding a few tears.

You're not sure how to respond to Aveline stoically waiting as tears slowly roll down her cheeks. You've seen many a weird thing during your time in the Academagia, but as mundane as this might look to the casual onlooker it's borderline incomprehensible to you. You also know Aveline isn't a good enough actor to fake something like this, so...oh dear.

"Alright, alright. If it's that important to you, I'll help," you say, much to Aveline's relief. While she takes out a bit of cloth to wipe her eyes you ask when she wants to get started with getting this dress made. "Right now," she curtly answers.

So, this adventure...where to even begin. It started with a simple idea: "The PC will sew a dress". An opportunity to use a rarely used skill, nothing more. Then I wondered who the PC would sew a dress for, and my first answer was a group of older students. But getting the PC involved with older students ended up being messier than I wanted no matter what I did (hard to be invested in people you've never met before, after all). So instead I looked at basically every girl's entry in the wiki and tried to figure out who could possibly want to ask the PC for a dress, without being an obvious pick for it. Gotta have some surprises to keep things interesting, right?

In the end that list got down to Aveline Cincebeaux, Emilia Strolin and Sima Venesico. Sima was ruled out immediately since she's in so many adventure already (including the one right above this one, in fact). Emilia seemed like the more "obvious" choice compared to Aveline, so I checked a few things. And noticed Aveline's Y1 student adventure basically said absolutely nothing about her, and I couldn't recall many other adventures she's in. She's in Regal Palace, she's the one who calls out the Sphinx Syndicate's recruiting lies in that adventure stage, but beyond that? 'Far as I recall, that's it. So I figured "sure, Aveline can use some time in the spotlight".

Then I actually got to typing the adventure, and, eh...yeah. Let it be known that I regret everything and the kitchen sink absolutely nothing.

EDIT: Spoiler tags are super broken right now. Just FYI. Took many edits to get this post to look like it should...

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A Point to Prove, Stage 1:

Spoiler

Once Aveline has fully composed herself you ask her about what kind of dress she wants. "Something that's suitable for a formal ball. B-but nothing elaborate or extravagant! Plain, simple, basic, functional...though not to the point where it's ugly or out of place, of course. I want to look good despite the dress, not because of it." You nod and ask Aveline if she's got any particular design, styles and/or colors in mind. "N-Not really. I...don't know much about fashion stuff. Not that I want a dress that's just a kitchen sink mess of whatever the latests fads are, anyway. I want something that's mine, not something that's made by someone else. If that makes sense." It does, though this is starting to sound like one hell of a project. Not to mention that it's going to be for Aveline. Your mind is already reeling at all the criticism you'll be receiving!

"Alright. Anything else I should know about?"

Aveline shrugs. "Not that I can think of, you're the sewer. N-no wait that's not-" Aveline briefly looks aghast at her poorly chosen words, but seeing you do nothing but playfully smirk at her gaff puts her at ease. As much as she can be at this point, anyway. "S-sorry, I don't really know these terms too well. In any case you're the one who knows what to do and how to do it. Is there anything more you need to know?"

"Well," you say a bit uncomfortably. "I will need your measurements, if you want a dress that's made to fit."

Aveline contemplates that question for a few seconds, but only for a few seconds. "I'll make sure to be there to try it on, at least a few times while you're working stuff out. I'm a growing girl and I want a dress that fits me perfectly, so mere measurements aren't going to cut it. I'll definitely want to see how it progresses from time to time and steer you in the right direction, anyway."

This is sounding more and more like a job that's more demanding than Aveline is going to pay you for it. Speaking of which, actually. "And my compensation?" you blurt out a split second before realizing that no matter how much of a pain in the rear this is going to be, asking to be paid to do this, after Aveline cried right in front of you to answer your question of how important this dress is to her, is probably a supremely stupid decision. Curse you for forgetting, but that's not something you usually need to keep in mind when talking to Aveline! Quickly you add "F-for the materials, I mean, cloth and such. I expect to go though a bit of it if you can't give me a design to work with, since I'll probably have to redo parts a few times."

Aveline raised a twitchy eyebrow when you asked about your compensation, but when you mention materials her suspicion fades and she nods. Thank the Gods. "R-right, the materials, of course. I'll front all of those costs, don't worry. And don't worry about having to sew a store worth of dresses until one suits my fancy, either. I'll make sure to hammer out a design for you to work off of before the actual sewing starts."

That sounds much more reasonable. Hopefully. It's still Aveline you're talking about here. "Alright, so where do you want to begin? With hammering out a design, I mean."

"Actually, I've got some...other stuff I'll need your help with, first. Before we can get to designing," Aveline says. You manage to avoid rolling your eyes, but only just. "I mentioned that I want this to stay a secret, and I meant that. So first off I want to make sure you can keep this secret."

"Isn't it a bit late for that?" you ask.

You expected Aveline to snap at you for that, but instead she silently stares at you with a distant, disappointed look in her eyes. It's more unnerving than if she just screamed at you, honestly. With a quiet, ominous voice she says, "Don't question me on this, [PC FIRST NAME]. Just...don't."

"O-okay, okay, I won't. But, than what do you mean by making sure I can keep this secret, exactly?"

Aveline's expression doesn't change. Her tone doesn't either, really. "You'll need a place to work and we'll need a place to meet up, and neither of us can look too conspicuous while going there simultaneously. Secretly." Regaining a bit of her composure Aveline asks, "Do you know of a place like that?"

A place where you (and Aveline) can work quietly and privately, yet that no one would think odd for the two of you to go to simultaneously. Eh...

-Library Knowledge. One of the Academagia's less used (read: practically abandoned) libraries.
--Aveline quickly points out what she perceives as flaws in your logic, but you answer her questions (or concerns, or complaints, or whatever you want to call them) as best you can. Ultimately you manage to convince her to at least come and look at the library you've got in mind, and after seeing it her tune changes. It's practically to literally abandoned, it's not in plain sight, and even if someone were to come through here there's small study cubicle-like rooms the two of you can use to hide away the dress. There's even no mice or rats around, you've taken care of those a while ago. Aveline is suitably impressed, and agrees to use this location.

--Aveline quickly points out what she perceives as flaws in your logic, and despite your efforts to alleviate every concern she brings up you're not able to convince her that your idea will work. To be fair, though, despite how critical and, at times, judgemental she is this isn't Aveline's fault. Not entirely. You simply don't know of any really hidden, long forgotten libraries on campus. The ones you do know about are rarely visited and dedicated to one topic (or series of connected topics) to the point where only a narrow set of students would have a reason to visit it, but for Aveline any potential students is too many. She wants a place that no one will have a reason to go to, and that fewer still know how to find.

You'd call that demanding, but Aveline...you obviously still recall what happened like ten minutes ago. It hasn't been that long. So you're hesitant to call this a problem of too high standards on her end.

Maybe some place else would be better to use, if you can't find a location up to Aveline's...satisfaction. If you can't find a good enough place to hide the dress in the conventional way, perhaps you could try to hide it in a less conventional way?

-Deceit. The Dimmae Theater. You could disguise the dress as a costume.
--Aveline seems sceptical of your idea, and a bit put off at the idea of hiding her beloved dress among random theatre costumes, but you manage to convince her that the best place to hide something is in plain sight. With a slight hint of concern on her face Aveline agrees to try out your idea, if only because she can't think of a better one.

--Aveline seems sceptical of your idea, and a bit put off at the idea of hiding her beloved dress among random theatre costumes. Your attempts to convince her that hiding the dress in plain sight is the best course of action is another thing she finds wanting, which she's more than happy to point out to you. In, literally and figuratively, excruciating detail.

Could not tell you whether Aveline would consider this an overdue time to stand in the spotlight or slander. One of the two.

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A Point to Prove, stage 2:

Spoiler

Today is the first meeting with Aveline, but she's running late. Literally running, as it turns out. When she finally shows up, eyes darting around nervously and cold sweat breaking out on her forehead, she immediately makes it clear why. "Rikildis tried to follow me when I was coming here, that witch! I managed to lose her, but I can't keep doing this song and dance of keeping her off my tail every single time! As I feared, we're going to have to deal with her before our plan can start in earnest."

"Our" plan. Right. In any case you can see the problem here, but at the same time you also kinda...don't. "What's so bad about Rikildis knowing about this? I mean, what is she going to tell people, that you're going to attend a ball that you're allowed, if not necessarily encouraged, to attend?"

Aveline's eyes seem to turn into thin slits as she glares at you. "Setting aside the fact I'm not supposed to know that this ball is something that the faculty is planning on organising," she snarls out, "Rikildis is after every damn skeleton, imaginary and otherwise, that she could possibly try and drag out of my-hell, our closets if she finds us here! We've got to do something about her!"

You know, you can perfectly imagine all of the reasonable, but ultimately untrue slander that Rikildis can think of if she so much as sees you and Aveline meeting up like this. She'd probably spin an even worse story out of the actual reasons why, as well. Yeah, this is going to have to be resolved immediately. You ask Aveline to calm down and voice your agreement, adding that you'll gladly help. You wait for Aveline to take a few deep breaths, and ask her if she's got any ideas.

"Oh, yes, I've got an idea you can try," Aveline answers. Coldly. "I tossed a red herring at Grainne before meeting you that first time, to get - and keep - her and hopefully Rikildis off of my back. But it seems that Rikildis didn't manage to find anyone else more interesting to stalk in the meantime, and I guess Grainne just doesn't need the help. Or doesn't think she does. Either way I'm sure there's an angle for you to work with there." Possibly. You'll need some more details, though, so you ask Aveline what "red herring" she tossed at Grainne. "Olivia Solari. And Cyrus, I guess. I told Olivia about the ball and not-so-subtly suggested that she 'invite' Cyrus to go with her, and then told Grainne about it...leaving out the detail that it was my idea in the first place, of course." Hmm...yes, that could work. It's a question of how to go about it, though. You ask Aveline if it'll be a problem if Rikildis learns about the ball. If she does it's inevitable that it'll be plastered all over the school newspaper, after all. Aveline shakes her head in response. "Grainne already knows, I'm sure she does since I literally told her about it, so I'm sure Rikildis already knows as well. In fact that's probably why she's stalking me. She must have figured out my ploy to keep Grainne busy. In any case, if word about the ball leaks out that's not a big deal. The faculty won't cancel their plans. Change it, maybe, but the ball will happen. I'm sure of that."

Alright, that gives you plenty to work with. But what's the best approach to take...

[Rikildis AND Aveline IN SAME CLIQUE]-Walk up to Rikildis and make clear to her how important this is to Aveline.
--Risky as it is you decide that it's best if you just walked up to Rikildis and confronted her about this. Aveline is her friend, one of precious few that she has (that either of them have, really). She should be able to be talked into giving Aveline some space. Probably. You don't know what's going on with Aveline, so who knows, but maybe Rikildis can shed some light on that in the meantime. Hopefully.

You find Rikildis stalking the hallways where she lost track of Aveline, systematically looking around for which direction she fled in. When you call out to her from a distance she turns around and draws her wand, ready to throw some magic around. Seeing that you're the one walking up to her doesn't cause her to lower her wand, either. What's going on with those two? "[PC FIRST NAME]?" Rikildis asks as you get within polite-conversation-at-wand's-tip range (a rarely observed, but very useful measure of distance). Eyes narrowed she looks you over, but you don't have your wand drawn and pointed at her. For what that's worth. "You're here to meet up with Aveline, right? And unless I missed you she came through here first, so...are you the one who's been bullying her?"

Bullying her? You quirk an eyebrow at that, but the fire in Rikildis' eyes doesn't change. "I am here to meet up with her, yes, but I got here first. For what that's worth. I don't know anything about what's going on with her, Rikildis. What's bothering her? Something is, I can see that much, but she refuses to say anything about it. If you care enough to tell me what you know, so that I'll at least know as much as you do, for her sake, do want to exchange notes?"

Rikildis' narrow eyes look you up and down, again and again, looking for any lies you're trying to tell. You're not lying, though. And eventually Rikildis lowers her wand. "Like I said, someone has been bullying her lately," Rikildis plainly states. "I don't know who, I don't know why, I don't know how, I don't know far too many things about what's going on myself. The only reason I'm shadowing Aveline is because I'm desperate. She hasn't told me anything either, but I was hoping that whoever was behind it would be following her. I suppose that hope was misplaced, though." You nod and tell Rikildis that Aveline asked you for help with something, though of course she looks sceptical. "What 'project', [PC FIRST NAME]? What are you doing, who else is involved, what's it all about? Please, if you don't want me to drag it out of you, and don't think for a minute that I won't, tell me everything you know. I'm not doing this to get a juice story for my newspaper, not because I want to set your reputation on fire or anything like that. Aveline is my friend. My friend that someone is hurting. Badly. I want to know who's behind it. I want to know why."

Hmm...you promised to keep it a secret, but given the circumstances, you suppose this is for the best. Rikildis is her friend. Hopefully Aveline will forgive you. "You're probably not going to believe a word of this, but the only thing Aveline asked me to do is sew a dress for her. Well, that and keep the whole thing secret, but, eh, you know..."

Rikildis looks at you as if you just sprouted another head. "I'll grant you this, [PC FIRST NAME]: You're right. I don't believe a single word of that. I-I mean, a-a dress? I've heard about you being skilled with needle and threat, I don't doubt that you could sew a dress for Aveline, but...W-whatever for?"

"The ball that she's not supposed to know about," you answer. "I take it you know of it?" Rikildis nods and, as an aside, confirms that Grainne filled her in. "Aveline said something about wanting to attend it 'looking like a proper lady' or some such. That she had a point to prove. Sorry I can't say more, I know what it's like being kept out of the loop when one of your friends is clearly hurting, but that's all Aveline told me."

"I'll be the judge of whether Aveline is your friend or not, [PC FIRST NAME]," Rikildis remarks with an oddly bitter tone. Like she's not sure who or what to believe anymore. "Still, thank you for that. Honestly that's the information I was missing to put the pieces together." When you ask if Rikildis is going to share she hesitates for a moment, and lets out a sigh. "[PC FIRST NAME], I know you're Aveline's friend as well, and I can believe that she'd ask for your help with...sewing a dress. Odd as that sounds to say. So...I'll spill my secrets too: Professor Badcrumble must be behind this, somehow. Aveline was working on an Astrology essay when this started - and a few other things, but given what I know now it must have been that essay that did it. She was having trouble with it and asked the regent for help, and ever since than she's been acting strangely. Distant, distracted, irritated. It's like she can't find a moment's peace no matter where she goes, or who she's with."

...You can see the logic in that conclusion, you trust Rikildis to know what she's talking about, but just...why? "Why would Professor Badcrumble do something like that? Isn't she supposed to be doting on all the Academagia's girls or something, Avila or not? I mean, even if Aveline ticked her off while asking her some questions this is just poor conduct. Much worse than I'd expect from Professor Badcrumble, at any rate."

"You're not the only one who'd expect better from Professor Badcrumble, but the proof is on the table and I don't see room for another argument. [PC FIRST NAME], please, if Aveline is waiting for you, go back to her and do whatever you can to put a smile on her face again. Sew the best dress you've ever made, offer a listening ear, offer your shoulder if that's what it takes, just...just do what you can to support her. I'll get to the bottom of this, and mark my words, if the regent is behind this, I'll tear her entire office to shreds to the point where Professor Strom would hide behind Professor von Rupprecht if he ever came back from the dead or wherever that man is right now." Those words make you think. And unfortunately you make the mistake of not keeping those thoughts within your head. "What are you mumbling about, [PC FIRST NAME]?"

Rikildis is not in a state where you want her thinking you're against her right now. That's the usual sane attitude to have, and now is no exception. "I said I might actually have to. Offer Aveline a shoulder, I mean. I, eh...I never told you - or anyone else - this, of course, but when she barged in demanding for help like she'd gone crazy I asked her how important her request was for her. She made it sound like blackmail and I...didn't believe her. Obviously. She, ah, she didn't answer that question with words. She answered with tears." Rikildis' expression changes. Understandably, but...to you, not in a way that doesn't make you worry. Gone is the doubt, gone is the concern, gone are the gears spinning madly in her head when she found a target to direct her anger towards. Within the blink of an eye she stares at you with the expression of someone who's been driven over the edge. You've seen Rikildis when she's excited, you've seen her when she's disappointed, and you've seen her when someone thought they could get away with offending her.

You've never see her this...determined.

"[PC FIRST NAME]?" Rikildis asks, slowly. The tone of her voice is that of a madman...eh, madwoman, like she's waiting for someone to give her a command to set the entire horizon on fire. "Did Aveline seriously start crying? Right in front of you? That's not just some poetic reference I'm not getting, she seriously started crying right in front of you?" For a second you're afraid Rikildis is about to blow up and rip your head off, but after you nervously nod and confirm, as sincerely as you can, that Aveline did indeed do that, Rikildis only nods in turn. Slowly. "Right...I got it. [PC FIRST NAME], please, go back to Aveline and do whatever it takes to cheer her up. Offering a shoulder or not. I'm going to get the bottom of this."

Rikildis turns around and stomps off like a girl possessed. You really hope she's not going to do anything...unfortunate, but despite her anger she's got a good head on her shoulders. She should be fine. Should be. In any case it's clear that she won't be bothering Aveline and you any longer, so that's mission accomplished. Sort of...

-Beguile. Give Grainne so much work that she'll ask Rikildis for help.
--You think about what rumor to spread. It's not going to be easy to divert Rikildis' attention away from Aveline, unfortunately. You're going to need a solid, scandalous rumor with all kinds of potential for broken hearts, smashed feelings and complicated consequences further down the line. You need something big to catch Rikildis.

...Then an idea hits you. Partially to check, though mostly to try and put Aveline at ease, you decide to run the idea by her first. "Okay Aveline, how's this for an idea: I convince Olivia Solari that in order to get Cyrus to accept her invitation she needs to play coy about it. You know, suddenly drop the subject, act like she doesn't want him anymore and is looking around for others to invite instead, that sort of stuff. Make him jealous, basically." Aveline slowly nods, and as expected she points out the biggest flaw she sees with that plan - it'd never work, and Olivia probably knows it'd never work. She also notes that she doesn't see the point where Rikildis is going to get involved, or, rather, interested in this. "Well, what do you think will happen when Olivia suddenly gives up? What do you think Cyrus will do?"

Aveline shrugs. "Nothing? I mean, what else is he supposed to do when the girl he wasn't interested in in the first place seemingly gets over him?"

"Well, Olivia spilled the beans about this ball to him, right?" Aveline shrugs and agrees that, yes, she most likely did. And if not convincing Cyrus of it wouldn't be difficult, if it came to that. "What do you think the odds are that Cyrus will invite someone out to that ball himself, behind Olivia's back? You know, when she's 'clearly given up on me and doesn't care anymore about what I do'? And who's attention will get caught when Olivia finds out about that?"

Aveline thinks about that plan for a moment, looking decisively unconvinced either which way. Still, after a while she nods. "If Cyrus has anything floating around in that skull of his, probably not." But with a thin smile she adds, "But than when was Cyrus known for his social awareness and quick wit, right? Do you think you can make him fall into that trap, if necessary?"

"One way to find out," you say with a smile as you get up to leave. Aveline, smiling a devious smile herself, gives you a thumbs-up and wishes you luck.

You make your way to the Avila Common room and inquire about Olivia. You're directed to the Venalicium, where you find her working on an Astrology essay. Or at least pretending to. She seems a bit...distracted. Perfect. You sit down next to her, and whispering (so as not to invoke the ire of the librarians) ask if you could talk to her in private real quick. Olivia quirks an eyebrow at that, but she agrees to meet you in on of the Venalicium's study cubicles. When she asks what you want you spin a sob story about how you and "someone special to you" have heard hushed rumors about this "special event" that's being planned, and you were hoping to get invited, but...you're tired of even thinking it, but "insert theoretical person here" seems conflicted about it, and you're not sure whether they're being coy or whether you've done something wrong, and you want to know what they're thinking so badly but you're not sure if you should approach them directly about it, and quite frankly despite you going on for a bit longer you should get the idea by now.

Olivia certainly did. With a mischievous glint in her eye she tells you that no one likes a worry wart anymore than anyone likes being a worry wart, so if you're that concerned about it you should just go up and talk to your "special someone"...it sounds even more corny coming from her than it did from you, somehow. Great. Nevertheless the seed has been planted, so you thank Olivia for the advise and politely excuse yourself. It'll take a bit for Olivia to put her plan in motion and for Cyrus to notice and react to it, however he might choose to do that, but given that you've clearly shown you're capable of getting Olivia (and Cyrus, should it come to that) to dance you're sure that it's only a matter of time.

You consider whether to tip off Grainne about the change in situation and the incoming events, just to make sure she knows and will call in Rikildis for help, but no. There's no need for that, she'll figure it out on her own. Best that your hand in this remain as invisible as possible.

--You run a number of ideas by Aveline, asking her whether she thinks that they'll be good enough to get Rikildis' attention, but like an archer that Gwendy can only dream of being Aveline shoots down one idea after the next, and despite you spending an inordinate amount of time planning you're left with nothing but a heap of shredded ideas to show for it. Aveline herself also looks less than thrilled about it, but at least she's willing to admit that she doesn't have any better ideas herself, either.

You think you actually did learn something from Aveline ruthlessly tearing your theories in half, though. Such as "learn to better appease girls that are feeling stressed. Particularly when that girl is Aveline".

-Sleuthing. Find someone more interesting for Rikildis to stalk.
--You decide to do some, shall we say, "private investigating" into how Olivia and Cyrus are doing. As far as this ball in concerned. First you approach both of them separately, and just make casual conversation. Nothing inquisitive, nothing that shows you know more than you should (the ball isn't supposed to be public knowledge yet, after all), just a polite chat about how life at the Academagia has been treating them lately. Olivia, from what you gather from her and can piece together with what Aveline's told you, is having a hell of a time trying to get Cyrus to accept her invitations. But, of course, she's not giving up, and she seems confident that her latest plan will work, or if not than her next plan, or if not that the plan after that, so on and so forth. Olivia is feeling positive, long story short. Cyrus, in contrast, is somewhat of a nervous wreck, though talking to him casually he attributes this to sharing his dorm room with Aaran Ledale. And to be perfectly honest, if you didn't already know he was lying he wouldn't have to try very hard to convince you he's actually telling the truth. No mention of Olivia or the ball at all. So you decide to dig into Cyrus' side of a story a little deeper, and find that he's been trying his best at letting Olivia down gently, or as most normal students would call it, blowing her off without having her blow up at him in turn.

That's not really a surprise, definitely not interesting enough to catch Rikildis' attention. But after a bit of old-fashioned shadowing a suspect you discover that Cyrus is actually wanting to invite someone else to the ball with him, which he's planning to do as soon as he, somehow, manages to convince Olivia to drop the subject and not care about the ball enough to take offence to him going there without her. A futile effort that makes you count your lucky stars all you got recruited for was sewing a dress, which is a relatively easy and much simpler job in comparison! But as for Cyrus and his intended date, unfortunately you're not able to get any names. You are able to get a likely College for his intended date, though, based on where he spends time stalking around - Aranaz. And that's interesting to know, because last you checked Cyrus was still on Aranaz' bad side. Admittedly that concerned the boys more so than the girls, but are the boys going to sit by and watch Cyrus take one of their girls? Will the girls take that, knowing what a flirt Cyrus is and that Olivia will be...a problem if they accept? All questions that you feel are very important to answer...for Rikildis. You don't care, personally, Cyrus can do what Cyrus wants unless he messes with someone you care about, but Rikildis? Oh, she will care.

...That prior thought causes you to pause as you're on your way to Rikildis' editorial room. What if-no. Straight up, completely and utterly, finally and forever, no. You're done with that entire line of conversation. You don't believe for more than a quarter second that of all the girls in Aranaz, Cyrus' target would be Aveline. You can't imagine Rikildis would believe that, either. She better not, or you very well might be right back at square one here.

When you reach the editorial room you notice that Rikildis isn't in, unsurprisingly. Grainne is, however, and is more than happy to take the information about Cyrus' plans off of your hands. "That said," she says right as you turn to leave, "do you really think that I can't see what's going on here? Rikildis came by earlier, told me you conspicuously left the same isolated spot where Aveline went to meet someone. That Rikildis couldn't find it confirms that Aveline's meeting was held in secret, and in case you didn't know, she was the one who set Olivia and Cyrus up in the first place. Now you're here trying to get Rikildis off of Aveline's back by selling Cyrus out, based on information that, last I checked, only a few students even know about...but Aveline certainly does, since she personally told me about it? What's your angle? I'm not willing to buy that you're selling Cyrus out just because, or just because Aveline asked you to."

You shouldn't have expected this to go so smoothly, but hey, it'd be a nice change of pace if it did. As for Grainne's question, the honest answer is that a friend of yours asked you for an important favor, and you did as a friend should in that situation. Mostly. Some gaffs were made along the way but you both did your best. As for what to tell Grainne, though..."If you're not willing to believe that regardless, than ask yourself - why would I do Aveline's bidding like this? Assuming, for the sake of argument, that that's what I'm doing of course."

Grainne really should have attended Dialectic and Rhetoric last year, probably Grammar too. She's not dull-witted, but her conversational skills aren't the greatest. You can tell because you've asked her a question she can't answer. Not in a way that'll get you to spill information. "I'll figure that out later. Assuming I have time, that is. You can consider yourself off the hook for now, [PC FIRST NAME]. But I won't forget this."

That threat, if it was intended as such, would have worked better if Grainne (or Rikildis, for that matter) at any point seemed physically capable of forgetting about anyone's most inconvenient bits of gossip. You don't let it bother you as you wave Grainne goodbye and start walking off.

--You decide to try and get more...direct information about how Olivia and Cyrus are acting right now, given what Aveline told you, but unfortunately all your searches earn you is a pile of conflicting information. Some say that Olivia hasn't been acting oddly at all (not that her asking Cyrus out would be considered odd in and of itself, but you assume that if she's determined people would notice...probably), others say that she's been bugging Cyrus more than average lately, yet others believe that whatever is on Cyrus' end and Olivia is merely reacting to it. As for Cyrus, he basically denies everything, some of it or most of it depending on who asks him what questions at what time, and you're not able to figure out anything consistent about (or from) him either.

This is going to be harder than your thought. There's enough here to get Rikildis' attention, you're sure of that, but Rikildis isn't going to jump on mere conflicting hearsay. She's going to need big ticket gossip that she can really sink her teeth into, and that's something you're just not going to be able to manage unless you make sense of all this.

Maybe it's a better idea to give Olivia (or Cyrus) the "push" they need to get the ball rolling for you? You don't have to sort through this mess yourself, necessarily, Rikildis can do that just fine on her own. You just need something substantial to get her attention, and if you could convince Olivia or Cyrus to provide that, that'll be all you really need...

I'd like to believe that Rikildis could actually be protective of what few friends she has, rather than seeing the situation as a font of scandalous information that she should have readily available access to. She at least ain't shy of going up against a professor, if they've ticked her off enough...and if Y1 is anything to go by she's got a really short fuse for that sort of stuff...

Edited by Metis

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1 hour ago, Metis said:

I'd like to believe that Rikildis could actually be protective of what few friends she has, rather than seeing the situation as a font of scandalous information that she should have readily available access to. She at least ain't shy of going up against a professor, if they've ticked her off enough...and if Y1 is anything to go by she's got a really short fuse for that sort of stuff...

In my Y2 adventures, I treat Rikildis as loyal only to her very closest friends - but always trying to use them to advance her journalism regardless.

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A Point to Prove, stage 3:

Spoiler

With your secrecy secured you and Aveline are able to finally start working on the dress. Of course getting started is the hard part. "I really don't know where to even begin with this," Aveline reluctantly admits. "I've looked at a few catalogues hoping to get a better idea of what kind of dress I want, I even braved the Admiratio and looked around while pretending to be shopping for other stuff, but every last dress I found was even more elaborate than the last. Gaudy must be in this season." Inconvenient, considering that's the exact kind of dress Aveline doesn't want. "I've also looked around at materials, since I thought maybe at least that will give me some inspiration...but it just left me feeling confused. So many fabrics and cloths. And I've no idea how to tell one from the other."

"Just leave the materials to me. I know what to use to make a good, comfortable dress," you say in an attempt to calm Aveline. It doesn't really work. "Of course I'll need a design to get started. Any idea how we'll be able to fit you in a hundred dresses - or however many it takes - to find the right one?"

Aveline frowns at that remark, though she doesn't comment on it. "No, especially not quietly. I figured that worst case scenario I'd just brave the Admiratio...again...and come up with whatever excuses necessary to justify that later. But the Admiratio seems to be filled with nothing but frills and flair. Unless you know of a place, I don't see a point in going back there." You nod and ask Aveline if she's got any other ideas. "Well, Glamour would be the obvious solution. But I never studied it, and don't think a poor first-year's Glamour is going to be enough to convince me. I want this dress to be perfect, down to the small details."

"Demanding perfection is just setting yourself up for disappointment, Aveline. I'm only a student, and if not that, only human." You expected a sharp retort, but Aveline's expression darkens in a different way. Like you just summoned a raincloud above her, she looks with a dour expression at the floor. "H-hey, I'm telling you not to worry about it too much. Dresses don't have to be perfect. We'll make it happen, don't worry." Aveline stares at you, but you're unable to tell whether you're comforting or annoying her. Change of topic, than. "Anyway, unknown parts of the Admiratio or Glamour. Any other ideas?"

"None that I can think of," Aveline answers with that same dour expression. There's something left unsaid here, but you're not sure whether it's a good time to pry. Better to focus on moving on, than. How to get Aveline to try on a bunch of dresses, which are to her liking, quietly?

-Minetan Swagger. Find the right store.
--"I know that comment was probably just sarcasm, but do you happen to know if 'gaudy' really is in this season?"

Aveline stares at you confused. Which is at least an improvement over her previous expression. "Eh, I-I don't...do you really think I keep up with the latest fashions? No, I don't know what's in this season. Why do you ask?" You explain that if gaudy dresses are current fashion, than it stands to reason that the less gaudy ones no longer are. You know of a few stores that sell, basically, yesterday's fashion for the price of a second hand dress. Even when they're actually brand new. If plain and simple is yesterday's fashion, that sounds like the perfect place to hit up. Aveline slowly goes from moody to lit up as you explain. "That sounds perfect! Why did I never hear about those stores before? Where are they?" After a second Aveline suddenly frowns and adds, "What's the catch?"

"They're not really relevant for Academagia students most of the time, school uniform and all, and most students don't look further than the Admiratio for all their shopping needs while these stores are located down, closer to the docks. Basically, as far as I understand it, old fashion gets dumped there and shipped off to wherever people are willing to pay for them. The stores prefer to sell their stock to locals, though. Export fees and piracy risks and all of that." Aveline nods along with your economic viewpoint and repeats her earlier question: What's the catch? "Eh, well, two things. First, when I say 'store' I mean less of an actual store front and more 'some guy preferring to quickly offload goods from his warehouse'. Which leads me to point two - Academagia students like us? Kinda conspicuous. Like, if Rikildis catches us there, it's curtains for us."

Aveline frowns. "Any possible excuse you can think of for why we'd be going there, if not to look for dresses? Rikildis knows about the ball and she's not stupid. She's going to put two and two together."

"Exactly," you say in agreement. "As for excuses...I mean let's hope we won't need it, but..."

"Forget about it, [PC FIRST NAME]," Aveline suddenly says. "I'll handle that problem if and when we get to it. For now let's just go and look at dresses, I'm going crazy from just sitting around cooped up in here." You don't really think that's a wise plan, but if that's how Aveline feels you're not going to try and convince her otherwise.

Feeling a bit tense the two of you head out into Mineta and you lead Aveline to the place you were talking about before. You called it a "store" before, and by the exact definition of the word that's what it is...but calling a warehouse on the edge of the Docks a "store" is just a little bit generous. Compared to what you'd expect a store to look like. Aveline certainly doesn't look impressed by the, eh, "venue", nor is she impressed with the so-called proprietor or, for that matter, most of his current inventory. Though Aveline is rarely impressed with things. Still, after turning the entire warehouse upside-down and back again, the two of you do manage to hammer out a simple, but nevertheless flattering design that Aveline is happy with. "This is such a great start," she excitedly exclaims as she eyes the dress that's closest to her liking. Several sizes to large for her and in the wrong color, naturally. So much for your (admittedly dim) hope of being able to modify an existing dress rather than having to sew a new one. That'll be a whole lot more work...

"A great start?" you ask, tired from all the discussing and criticism and a few other things. "I see a dress that's been criticised down to your...every critical wish, Aveline, as you asked for. What more do you need?"

Aveline's face pales when you ask that. You didn't mean for it to sound that bad, you certainly didn't think it did, but Aveline seems shocked by it all the same. "O-oh no, t-the dress is fine, really!" she quickly says. "I-it's just that I've got other things to do to prepare for the ball! Y-you know, like my hair and such. Th-the dress is fine. Really."

You can't help but feel like you hit a nerve there, but...which one? Needless to say that you've never been in a situation like this before with Aveline, so you're genuinely not sure. Eh, this isn't the right time and place to ask anyway. Not with the warehouse owner quietly staring daggers into your backs. Understandably, considering the amount of window shopping the two of you did. "Right, just forget about it than. But these other things, do you have all of those covered already?" Aveline quickly blurts out that she does, but you stare silently at her for a few seconds and her tune changes.

"N-no. Not even remotely," she reluctantly admits. "But I don't know-I can't ask you to keep helping me while you're sewing this dress for me."

You contemplate the obvious choice before you...and conclude that, yes, it's best if you do. "I've got enough magic to make sewing relatively simple, and even sewing the entire thing myself this dress is a pretty straightforward job as far as those go. If you need someone to help you prepare for the rest of the ball, Aveline, I'd be happy to help."

Aveline falls silent at that. Her head falls, her hands are shaking and her cheeks are drained of color and blushing at the same time. It's...off. Unnerving. With one hand clenching into a fist Aveline raises her head and asks, as as composed and confidently as she can, "[PC FIRST NAME], will you...could you please help me with the rest, as well?"

You nod, feeling like you've gotten one step closer to figuring out what's going on with Aveline.

--There's a number of stores you can list off the top of your head, and than a few more that an Academagia student wouldn't normally know about. You're not sure whether they really deal with whatever isn't fashion on any given day, but surely they must. Fashions change pretty frequently, so where would all of the old fashion go whenever something new comes along? You describe the locations to Aveline...and she slowly shakes her head. "Been to all of the already, [PC FIRST NAME], including the 'supposedly' rare ones. So do you have any other ideas, or...are we at a dead end already?"

You know it's a bad idea, Aveline is a ruthless critic after all, but you ask her about where yesterday's fashion goes if seemingly every store in Mineta only sells the latest and greatest fashion. "Discount bins in the Lower City, I imagine," Aveline says, looking decisively unsure of herself. "Obviously I'm not going there to look at clothes...though, I have to admit, I can't remember the last time I saw anyone from the Lower City wear a frilly dress. I mean, even if it was second hand outdated fashion, cheap as dirt since no one else wanted it, it's just not the kind of clothes I could imagine people wearing there. Do you think they modify those clothes, before selling and wearing them?"

All good questions, honestly. It's not going to get you any closer to seeing Aveline in a dress that's up to her standards (hello list of things you've never thought you'd say), but it's a step in that direction...

-Enspell. Cast a few Glamours. A few *very good* Glamours.
--You take out your wand. "I'm sure I'm good enough with Glamour to make this work. Want to give it a try?"

Aveline perks up a little. "That'd definitely be the easiest, least risky way to solve this problem. If you think you're up to snuff, be my guest." You might just be crazy, but you could swear that for a brief second Aveline smiled a little, saying that. Undeterred you start working your magic, and slowly Aveline's robe seems to transform itself into a dress. Of course a dress in the style of Aranaz' school uniform is not up to Aveline's standards, and slowly but surely the two of you piece together how Aveline wants her dress to look like, one part at a time. It's tiring work, not helped by the fact that Aveline's critical eye is no less adept at picking out every single potential issue and fault in your Glamour (or your casting thereof). But several hours (and several attempts) later you've made significant progress, and Aveline is happily twirling around in her Glamoured school uniform. "Wonderful! This is such a great start!" she excitedly exclaims.

"A great start?" you ask, tired from all the casting and criticism and a few other things. "I see dress painstakingly designed to your every critical wish, Aveline, as you asked for. What more do you need?"

Aveline's face pales when you ask that. You didn't mean for it to sound that bad, you certainly didn't think it did, but Aveline seems shocked by it all the same. "O-oh no, t-the dress is fine, really!" she quickly says. "I-it's just that I've got other things to do to prepare for the ball! Y-you know, like my hair and such. Th-the dress is fine. Really."

You can't help but feel like you hit a nerve there, but which one? This entire situation of Aveline acting like a princess only half the time, as opposed to exactly never, is just plain confusing. "Right, just forget about it than. But these other things, do you have all of those covered already?" Aveline quickly blurts out that she does, but you stare silently at her for a few seconds and her tune changes.

"N-no. Not even remotely," she reluctantly admits. "But I don't know-I can't ask you to keep helping me while you're sewing this dress for me."

You contemplate the obvious choice before you...and conclude that, yes, it's best if you do. "I've got enough magic to make sewing relatively simple, and this dress is a pretty straightforward job as far as those go. If you need someone to help you prepare for the rest of the ball, Aveline, I'd be happy to help."

Aveline falls silent at that. Her head falls, her hands are shaking and her cheeks are simultaneously drained of color and blushing at the same time. With one hand clenching into a fist Aveline raises her head and asks, as as composed and confidently as she can, "[PC FIRST NAME], will you...could you please help me with the rest, as well?"

You nod, feeling like you've gotten one step closer to figuring out what's going on with Aveline.

--You take out your wand. "I think I'm good enough with Glamour to pass muster. Want to give it a try?"

Aveline nods, and you get to weaving spells. The good news is that you demonstrate that you know your Glamour, being able to Glamour Aveline's robes into a dress that the two of you can use to start designing. The bad news is that you also demonstrate that you've got a ways to go before being able to get all the finer points of spellcasting right, which are always the hardest part. Aveline wasn't kidding about how she wants her dress to be perfect down to the details, and unfortunately, those details get lost in a blurry mess when you take a close look at Aveline's Glamour dress. Aveline herself, naturally, is also quick to point this out.

She only put your self-confidence like...three, maybe four feet under in the process of pointing that out, too. Which, for her, is an improvement...or so you wish to believe. In any case, you're going to need to either study up on how to cast more refined spells or you're going to have to come up with an alternative solution.

-Illustration. Draw sketches until something strikes Aveline's fancy.
--"I'm not too confident drawing stuff with my wand, so how about we try drawing out your dress the old-fashioned way?"

Aveline's quirks an eyebrow at that. "That's poor form for an Academagia student, [PC FIRST NAME]...though I suppose I don't have any higher ground to talk from, huh?" You nod, since honestly? Aveline really doesn't. She...you're not really sure how she reacts to it. You want to say her moody expression from before returns, but her confidence doesn't seem shaken at the same time. "In any case what did you mean by that, exactly? Do you plan on taking out a roll of parchment and just drawing dresses?" You nod. Now Aveline just looks confused. "And you think that'll work?"

"I don't have a better idea to suggest and it might work, so I say we at least give it a try."

Aveline looks sceptical, but agrees to your reasoning, so you take out your drawing tools and get to work. First off, much to Aveline's chagrin (and your effort spend convincing her), is to draw a proper sketch of Aveline herself. Not much point in designing a dress if you're not going to be able to see how she'll look in it, right? So, you first draw Aveline, and than get started on trying to design her dress. It's tiring work, since Aveline has maybe half a clue of what she's talking about and she's critical about everything from start to finish, but several long hours later you've got what even she calls the perfect sketch. The dress looks great on her, and she even asks you to redraw her face with an actual smile since it was brining the rest of the picture down. Once you've done that you've made something that even Aveline is proud of. "Wonderful! This is such a great start!" she excitedly exclaims.

"A great start?" you ask, tired from all the drawing and criticism and a few other things. "I see dress painstakingly designed to your every critical wish, Aveline, as you asked for. What more do you need?"

Aveline's face pales when you ask that. You didn't mean for it to sound that bad, you certainly didn't think it did, but Aveline seems shocked by it all the same. "O-oh no, I wasn't talking about-t-the dress is fine, really!" she quickly says. "I-it's just that I've got other things to do to prepare for the ball! Y-you know, like my hair and such. Th-the dress is fine. Really."

You can't help but feel like you hit a nerve there, but which one? You don't recall Aveline getting upset about...what exactly did she get upset about? Wow. You've been drawing for too long if you're that out of it. In any case, you don't feel like this is the right time and place to ask, so...moving on. "Right, just forget about it than. But these other things, do you have all of those covered already?" Aveline quickly blurts out that she does, but you stare silently at her for a few seconds and her tune changes.

"N-no. Not even remotely," she reluctantly admits. "But I don't know-I can't ask you to keep helping me while you're sewing this dress for me."

You contemplate the obvious choice before you...and conclude that, yes, it's best if you do. "I've got enough magic to make sewing relatively simple, and this dress is a pretty straightforward job as far as those go. If you need someone to help you prepare for the rest of the ball, Aveline, I'd be happy to help."

Aveline falls silent at that. Her head falls, her hands are shaking and her cheeks are simultaneously drained of color and blushing at the same time. With one hand clenching into a fist Aveline raises her head and asks, as as composed and confidently as she can, "[PC FIRST NAME], will you...could you please help me with the rest, as well?"

You nod, feeling like you've gotten one step closer to figuring out what's going on with Aveline.

--Aveline looks confused at you when you take out a roll of blank parchment, and she's sceptical that mere drawings will be enough to hammer out the design she wants, but she warms up to the idea as you explain it to her. With some reservations she agrees to give it a try.

Unfortunately "a try" is about as far as you go. The two of you spend long enough pouring over designs, styles, colors and Gods know what else, but by the end of it all you've got to show for it is a giant pile of parchment that Aveline is staring daggers at. Either you're going to have to think of whatever you're missing to make this method work (assuming such a thing is possible, you've got your doubts right about now) or you're going to have to think of another approach to take, because at this rate you'll go bankrupt going through parchment...

Mineta seems like the kind of place that would go through fashions faster than the average person goes through a shirt.

Edited by Metis

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A Point to Prove, stage 4:

Spoiler

You're meeting with Aveline again today. Although this time you're actually meeting her in one of the Venalicium's study cubicles rather than your impromptu workshop. Just as well, really - the latter is a little crowded at the moment. "There's a few things I'll need for...well, you know what," Aveline quietly says while both of you pretend to be reading from the same book. A more common occurrence than one might think, especially during the exam months. Though for the benefit of which audience, as the two of you sit alone in this enclosed room, escapes you. "I'd like to start with my hair. Obviously this," she points to her twin pigtails, "isn't something that'll work for the ball. I was thinking a single pigtail, but than I thought that might interfere with the dress since I obviously didn't 'try it on' with a single pigtail and I don't think single pigtails are really proper high-society fashion anyway, and I'm not really sure about just letting my hair hang loosely, so then I thought I might cut my hair short for the ball but it'd take forever to grow back, and..." Aveline continues in this fashion for a while, but it's roughly at this point that she's lost you.

"So, long story short, you're going to need a new hair style. Let's just start with the easiest part - what options are definitely off the table?"

Aveline takes one of her pigtails and twirls it around, glaring at it as if it did something wrong as she answers, "Well, these twin pigtails are definitely off. Loose hair...I don't know, I'm not really sure. Maybe. Short hair might be nice, but I'm not cutting my hair short just for one night, so unless you've got a way to grow it back that's off as well. Eh...I think that's it, really, as far as things go that are definitely off the table." A way to regrow hair that's been cut recently...you're not an expert on the matter, but you're pretty sure that should be doable with Revision. You ask Aveline how well she knows that magic school. "Not at all. I studied Incantation and Negation last year, as far as magic is concerned. Oh, and Orthography, of course, or at least what little we get taught during the first year. As far as I know you can only 'regrow' hair by magically re-attaching cut hair. And that sounds kinda gross. Regrowing is one thing, but I'm drawing the line at magically glueing it back on." So the only hair style that Aveline can arrange for herself is a bonfire. Brilliant. Her objection with re-attaching cut hair is valid, though surely Revision can manage regrowing it as well? At least when it's only been cut for one night? Hmm...

"Okay, so twin pigtails is right out, cutting your hair short is out unless we find a way to regrow your hair back to it's normal length, probably using Revision. Any styles you're going to want to try?"

Aveline looks curiously at you. "Not really? I mean I can tie it up once or twice or not at all. How much more can I really do with my hair?"

Plenty, you'd assume, but...good question. You're going to need some expert help with this it seems like. But who to ask about it?

-Beguile. Miya might have an...exotic idea or two.
--Your mind immediately takes you to those two stick-things that Miya has in her hair all the time. It doesn't strike you as Aveline's style, especially given that her dress won't really lend itself to something overly fancy, but maybe Miya knows of a more...mundane way to style her hair? Probably. You decide to look for Miya. Aveline initially wants to come along as well, and protests when you tell her that she should stay in the cubicle, but you remind her that the two of you walking around and asking Miya some pointed questions would be...not conductive to her trying to keep this whole thing under wraps. Aveline isn't happy about it, but she reluctantly agrees to stay behind.

Finding Miya turns out to be the easy part, she's simply reading a textbook in the Godina Common Room. Getting her to talk about exotic hair styles without drawing people's attention, though...that's the hard part. You scratch your head trying to think of something, but you can't exactly just stand around stupidly in the Common Room without drawing attention. So instead you boldly walk over and sit down next to Miya, resolving to think of a plan (or die trying) later. Miya looks up from her textbook curiously at first, when she sees you sit down next to her. Then her smile slowly turns into a predatory grin. "Good afternoon, [PC FIRST NAME]," Miya says with only the slightest hint of sarcasm. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

To what indeed. Being honest here is just going to get people to ask questions, so...think..."I wanted to ask you. A few thing, actually."

Miya doesn't seem to notice your grammar breakdown there. Or maybe she did. She shifts in her seat a bit, like a tiger that's about to pounce. "Really? What did you want to know about? Little old me, [PC FIRST NAME]?"

...Maybe this is just wishful thinking, but you could swear that Miya didn't sound like she's about to make a fool of you there. No, she sounded...flirty? There's a better word, but point is this might be the break you needed. "Well, yes, actually. Where you've been, the people you've met, that sort of thing."

Miya seems to take your lie at face value and happily puts down her textbook in favor of spinning her usual stories. Hearing the details you're actually interested in amid tall tales of daring and adventure is difficult, but you manage to catch some good pointers all the same. And for what it's worth, Miya's stories weren't boring. Lengthy, but not boring. Once you're sure you've learned all you can you excuse yourself and make your way back to Aveline.

"Welcome back, [PC FIRST NAME]! Where have you been these past I don't know how many hours!?"

You didn't think it was that long, but...Miya has a way of stealing people's time as well as their more mundane stuff, if rumors are to be believed. "Getting an earful from Miya in an attempt to get her to describe exotic hairstyles without asking her directly for it. It worked, but damn if she isn't wordy."

Aveline frowns, but she lets whatever else she wants to say slide. "It better have. So what did you learn? Something useful, I hope?" You nod and describe what all you learned in as much detail as you can recall. Aveline presses every point she can without hesitation, but you manage to answer all her questions. Sufficiently. "I guess I'll just have to try things and hope something in that mess works. Anyway, thanks, [PC FIRST NAME], I'll do that. Try stuff out, I mean. In any case, you'll hear from me."

--Amada is a little bit too "on the nose" when it comes to asking about hair styles, but Miya should be able to give you a few...exotic pointers. You think. Aveline isn't impressed with your lack of confidence, but lacks a better idea herself, so in absence of something better she shrugs and tell you to go for it.

Finding Miya is easy, she's just reading a textbook in the Godina Common Room. Getting her to put that book down in favor of talking to you, though...eh, well, long story less long, you've learned a fair bit about Miya's upcoming Incantation tests and a few surprising facts about her opinions on studying and coursework...but nothing that would actually be useful for Aveline. At the very least you managed to avoid mentioning anything important.

Going to have to try that again another day, once Miya (and the rest of the Godina Common Room) has forgotten about you asking Miya a few odd questions. Maybe you should ask Amada, instead?

-Society. Amada will be able to help you, surely.
--Aveline looks sceptical when you mention wanting to ask Amada for help. "I agree with your reasoning, of course, but how are you going to convince Amada to do something useful without spilling the beans in the process? I don't usually ask around for tips on how to do my hair, in case that wasn't clear." You suggest that you pretend to be asking for advice yourself, but Aveline shakes her head. "Your hair isn't mine, [PC FIRST NAME], nor is the dress. Well...you know what I mean." You nod, understanding Aveline's point. She breathes a sigh of relief and nods as well. "Thank you. Now, about Amada, if you think you can get her to spill useful information, go for it. But what she says about you doesn't necessarily apply to me."

"How do you suggest I convince Amada to look at your hair without looking at your hair, Aveline? You're going to have to take one or the other."

Aveline frowns and clearly tries to think of a way to poke a few holes in your assessment, but she's left shrugging her shoulders. "I'd really, really rather not give anyone any ideas if we can avoid it...okay, just stick with generic tips for now. If we need more than that after all, we can just cross that bridge if and when we get to it. If we overstep our bounds and the cat escapes out the bag, it's curtains for the entire plan. So, generic tips, discreetly." After a second Aveline, slightly embarrassed, adds, "Please."

You've no objections to that plan. You leave Aveline to read her book while you ask around for Amada's whereabouts and head off to where she currently is. As it turns out she's just in her dorm room, so...that works. You knock on Amada's door and a second later she opens it. "Hi there-eh, [PC FIRST NAME]? Ah, sorry but I'm a bit busy right now, so...can this wait until later?"

You cross your arms and glare at Amada. You do not have the patience for this song and dance right now. "Who are you waiting for, Amada?"

Amada narrows her eyes a bit. "Wh-what? I'm just meeting up with Olivia, is that a problem?"

...Not really. Aveline has you on edge about this stuff because of all the things she says and asks for without actually telling you anything. But taking a step back and thinking about it you realize that, no, you don't really care about who Amada is-wait, Olivia? Olivia Solari? The girl who, last you checked, is still trying to get her hands on Cyrus? Hang on, that might work out perfectly! "Why are you meeting up with Olivia, if I may ask?"

"You may, but seeing as it's none of your business I don't see why I should answer."

Looks like Amada is a bit offended by your earlier behaviour. That's not a problem, though. You politely apologize and discreetly mention that you've heard about the ball. As a test. And indeed, Amada isn't surprised to hear about it. She's surprised to hear that you know about it. She already knows. With that in mind you continue explaining that you were thinking of going there yourself, but you're feeling a bit self-conscious about all the important people you don't know also going there and you're looking for some help with getting you to look your best. Amada asks if you're referring to your hair, but before you can answer her question Olivia walks up. Both you and Amada were so engrossed in your conversation that neither of you noticed or heard Olivia coming. "Hi Amada! And, eh, hi, [PC FIRST NAME]. Are you also here for a consultation?"

"[PC FIRST NAME] is here about the ball," Amada immediately blurts out. You really would prefer that she keeps that fact quiet, but at least you don't think it'll be an issue. Like Aveline told you earlier, Rikildis already knows, so that rumor will inevitably spread, it's just a matter of when. You can't easily explain where you got the information from other than Aveline herself, though. Well, Olivia or Cyrus, but, eh, Olivia herself probably wouldn't believe that lie if you tried to tell it straight to her own face, so...

"Really, [PC FIRST NAME]?" Olivia asks with a worrying look on her face. Narrowed eyes, tense look...you can tell you're in for it now. "Well I'm sorry, but I asked Amada first and I'm not going to wait for news to spread so that someone else can get any funny ideas."

...Or Olivia is just obsessing about Cyrus. You, eh, you can live with that.

"I'm going to be so busy when word gets out," Amada laments. You manage to resist the urge to roll your eyes and crack one of several jokes at her expense - not to deny that she'll be putting in work for Olivia, but she's not the one who's sewing a dress for Aveline in her spare time. And than some! "In any case I did prepare to help Olivia today, so would you mind making an appointment, [PC FIRST NAME]? I get the feeling that sooner or later people will need to..."

You actually would. The faster you can get the done the faster you can get Aveline's current predicament out of your hair...eh, so to speak. "Actually, what I really need help with is figuring out how to style my hair, so if you two don't mind could I please observe?" Amada shrugs at your request, but Olivia points out that the styles she's got in mind wouldn't work for you anyway. You ask Olivia what styles she has in mind, and the ones she describes sound like they'd be more work for Amada to do than it is for you to sew a dress for Aveline. That's...kinda impressive. And terrifying at the same time. It also doesn't help you, though. So time to try something desperate. "Isn't that pretty much just your usual style, though? Well, your usual style but more so? Maybe if you try something different instead, it'll grab Cyrus' attention?"

Olivia looks like she's preparing herself to dismiss your idea out of hand for one second, but another second later she stares at you with a quizzical look on her face. "You...actually make a good point there, [PC FIRST NAME]. What kind of styles did you have in mind?"

Good question. Better question: How to phrase this? Well, naught ventured, as they say. "Something more...I don't really know how to put this, but something more mundane? Simple? Your hair is usually so well done, just from a glance it's clear that a lot of time and effort went into it. Maybe a more simple style, something that doesn't look like hours must have gone into it will catch people's attention? It'd be a dramatic shift, but I'm sure you could pull it off. And if not you could easily just do your hair another way. You're not cutting it short or doing anything elaborate with it, so it should be easy to undo."

Olivia contemplates...and her inquisitive gaze falls upon Amada. The latter shrugs and says, "Honestly, I think [PC FIRST NAME] does make a good point. You'll need to wash your hair before we can get started with what you'd planned anyway, and it'd be really easy to do your hair a few basic ways in the mean time. Even if you don't think it'll catch Cyrus' attention, you could at least check if you like it."

"I suppose," Olivia admits. "But elaborate styles are in this season. This isn't just to catch Cyrus' attention you know, I'm not that single-minded. I want to look my fashionable best at the ball, too." Wait, it is? Gaudy, or however you wish to phrase it, is actually in this season? Aveline was right about that!? No way!

"Don't you know that it's the one who manages to buck the trends that looks the best?" Amada asks. "Why else would fashion senses constantly be shifting over time? Try being the one who makes fashion! I'm sure you can pull it off, Olivia." The smile on Olivia's face slowly turns into an untrustworthy smirk as you can see her imagine herself doing exactly that. She agrees, "seeing the ease and ability to aid [PC FIRST NAME] in the bargain", to give it a try. Thankfully, because that means you can spend time observing the master at work. Though you could have done without the pretence.

Needless to say that you learn plenty of good things to pass along to Aveline, and after far longer than you expected you finally make your way back to Aveline. She's less than happy to see you after, for her, too much time has passed, but when you start talking about hair styles she listens intently. She also asks you how you got that information, and she nearly falls out of her chair from laughing when you describe that she's a fashion oracle. Since, yes, gaudy really is in this season. In any case, once Aveline composes herself she says that she's heard enough to be able to manage something with her hair, so barring unexpected complications you can consider this matter resolved.

--Aveline doesn't disagree with your assessment that Amada could tell the two of you everything you ever needed to know about hair styles and than some, but she also points out that she can't ask Amada about it directly, for obvious reasons, and you're not in possession of Aveline's head of hair.

After some back-and-forth with Aveline about what she can really do and expect insofar as asking for advice versus keeping her secrets is concerned, you decide to head off to look for Amada. Of course with Aveline's repeated insistences that you "keep this completely secret!" still ringing in your ear you're hesitant to ask other people where Amada actually is, and as it turns out, every location you think to check is devoid of the Academagia's most striking bundle of hair.

You eventually give up. Either you're going to need to do a better job of convincing Aveline to go along with this plan to a more reasonable extend, or you're going to need to think of another plan. There's few people in the Academagia as adept at hair styles as Amada, though, so your options are limited...

-Court Hairstyles. You're no slouch with hair styling yourself.
--"There's plenty of other things you can do with your hair," you start. "Well, I say that, but if you want your hair style to fit the dress you're going to have to keep it simple, visually. Wearing a simple dress and having your hair done like an elaborate bird's nest isn't going to look good, of course."

"I can't imagine how anything described as an 'elaborate bird's nest' could look good no matter what clothes it's paired with," Aveline points out. And you have to admit, that is a fair point. "So you think you know enough to do my hair yourself? Are you really up to that task?"

"I'm not a barber," you clarify. "But I don't have to be, this is simple enough. Come on, let's go to the Dimmae and we'll see about what we can do with your hair." Knowing that Aveline is just going to make this more difficult than necessary if you give her the chance you don't wait for her to give you an answer either which way before grabbing her hand. She tries to blurt out a flustered objection, but you tell her to trust you and drag her to the Dimmae. There you commandeer one of the changing rooms, and get Aveline seated in front of a mirror. She looks nervously at you grabbing a few supplies from a nearby drawer, though she's not complaining. Okay, she does complain about how the tools aren't being kept properly cleaned and demands you pick up the slack before using anything on her, but she doesn't complain about being here. Any more. It's progress, honest!

"So...what are you going to do? I-I mean, what do you think would look best on me?" First you undo Aveline's twin pigtails and see what you've got to work with here. Thick, long brown hair that goes past her shoulders, pretty well taken care of, looking healthy...although you notice, not cut evenly. That usually looks fine with pigtails, since there's a less abrupt shift from thick hair to nothing, but less so with other styles. You turn Aveline around slightly, so that she can get a better look at it through the mirror, and point out that her hair isn't evenly cut. Aveline pretty much just shrugs at that. "Right. Honestly I just can't be bothered to carefully make sure it's evenly cut all the time. It's just a lot of effort for something most people won't notice, and with pigtails you don't really notice it anyway." Fair enough, but unless Aveline wants to go the ball with a pigtail she'll need to cut it evenly. She, reluctantly, agrees with that assessment. "I hope I won't regret asking this, [PC FIRST NAME], but could you cut it evenly for me? You should have a much easier time seeing that it's evenly cut than me, being able to just see my hair against my back and all."

Easily. You grab a pair of scissors, quickly clean it after seeing Aveline glare at you and pointedly ask if you're perhaps forgetting an important step, and carefully trim the uneven tips off Aveline's hair. She stays perfectly still while you're working, like an inexplicable tense statue, though it only takes a minute. "Alright, that looks much better already," you say as you put down the scissors. Aveline grabs her hair and inspects it, afterwards taking out a pocket mirror and examining how it looks against her back.

"Well done, [PC FIRST NAME]. Now, how do you want to go about styling it? For the ball, I mean?"

Good question. You run through a number of options with Aveline, and after spending a frankly inordinate amount of time doing her hair around six different ways, she...still isn't convinced of any particular style. "I think this is something I'm just going to have to decide later, once I've gotten the chance to try on the dress," Aveline eventually says, sounding no less tired than you do right now. "Still, thank you for the effort, [PC FIRST NAME]. I wouldn't have known where to even begin without your help, but now I've got a number of options to choose from. And, eh, someone to do my hair, if that proves necessary. It shouldn't, though. Now that you've shown me how it's done I'm sure I can figure it out, and you'll probably be kept busy with the dress anyway. Oh, and thanks for the quick trim, as well." The list keeps growing, it feels like. Ah, but Aveline remembers to say thanks. It doesn't sound like much, but at least to you that's what's most important right now.

--You figured that Aveline would be excited to hear that you'll be able to style her hair yourself, since that makes things much easier insofar as keeping Aveline's activities on the down low, but after a lengthy discussion you've yet to convince Aveline that you actually can style her hair. Or anyone's hair, for that matter. For a subject that Aveline knows next to nothing about she is remarkably adept at tearing your every idea and argument in favor of it to shreds, until you (and Aveline) are left with...basically nothing. You point out that fact to Aveline, but she insists that she won't let anyone touch her hair if they don't perfectly know their stuff.

You seem to recall having a conversation like this before with Aveline...and she seems to have forgotten. Great. Than again you suppose that pointing out her own flaws was never Aveline's strong point, but still. This just...stings. Either way, it's back to the drawing board...

-Research. Is regrowing Aveline's hair an option?
--You quickly dive into a few books (thankfully you're already in the Venalicium) while Aveline takes out a pocket mirror and tries to imagine how she'd look with shorter hair. The short answer you find is that yes, it's possible. The long answer is that according to some books, which specifically discuss hair and hairstyles, it's not good to cut and magically regrow hair - apparently the regrown hair won't be as hale and healthy as naturally grown hair. A Revision textbook informs you that this isn't the case necessarily, though it can be a possible result of a novice not casting magic well enough. It doesn't really clarify what it considers a "novice" in this context, though.

You bring both sides of the story to Aveline and explain them as best you can. Unsurprisingly, given that Aveline hasn't studied Revision at all, she isn't keen on trying to cast Revision spells on herself. You offer to cast the spells for her, but Aveline shoots down that idea as well. She first says something about her not wanting to go through the bother of murdering you and having to bury your body if you messed up casting those spells, and then (more seriously) explains that she's worried things might go wrong - you are just a student, after all - and she hasn't really warmed up to the idea of cutting her hair short anyway. She thinks it'd be too dramatic a shift for her, to suddenly have her hair cut short like that.

So unfortunately that idea is off the table for good, it seems. Fortunately reading the books on hair and hairstyles you brought gives you some inspiration. Namely that if Aveline doesn't want her hair to contrast with her dress she ought to style it in a way that's visually simple. Whether it stands out or not is a separate matter, just so long as it doesn't look elaborate.

--You quickly run through a number of books (you are in the Venalicium, after all), but all of merit that you find in the various Revision books you look through is conflicting information. Well, that and confirmation that if it's possible it's not something that someone without Revision experience should attempt.

Recall that Revision is one of the schools that Aveline never learned, and...you can see the result here. At least it doesn't take any time to put back all the books, so you've got plenty of time to try a more mundane solution to this problem.

You may have noticed that a big portion of this adventure is, basically, filler. Being handed a shopping list and taking care of items one at a time, it's a pretty standard (Y1) adventure format. I did what I could to make it not repetitive and predictable. Not making promises RE: Results, of course.

Also, really hoping Aveline keeps her twin pigtails in Y2, because otherwise this stage is going to need...a lot of editing...

Edited by Metis

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A Point to Prove, stage 5:

Spoiler

Another day you're meeting up with Aveline. She asks a number of pointed questions about your progress with the dress, but that's going along just fine, so eventually you get Aveline started on the next problem. "So, being a ball, obviously there's going to be a dance. It's great that the dress won't get in the way of that-and sorry for not mentioning it earlier, by the way. But...I mean it's a pretty obvious thing, so I thought..." You wave it off and ask Aveline to continue. She seems nervous, conflicted perhaps, but she continues as confidently as she can regardless. "Right, so. I've arranged for dance classes already, and those are proceeding...reasonably. I don't have two left feet, but I'll need a fair bit of practice. I got that covered already, though. The problem is that I'm likely going to need proper, dedicated dancing shoes to not make a fool of myself, or at the very least shoes that were made for ease of wear and comfort. Meaning, not proper lady's wear. I can't expect my dress to conceal my footwear for the entire night, so...you see the problem here." Shoes that look like formal wear, but act like dancing shoes. Simple enough in theory, but that's not a problem you can solve by visiting a cobbler. When you tell Aveline as much she readily agrees. "I think we're going to need magic here. Honest, proper magic. I don't need the enchantment to last very long, just one night really, but I'd very much like to get in some practice with them beforehand. And of course the shoes have to match the dress as well, and..." Aveline suddenly runs out of steam, and after catching her breath asks, "S-sorry for being so demanding, but do you know of anyone who could Enchant formal shoes into proper dance shoes? Enchant is one of those classes I didn't attend last year. One of many, it feels like."

"What about actually getting the formal shoes made?" you ask.

"I've already got a handle on that," Aveline answers. To your surprise. "I found a cobbler who has a proper workshop in the Admiratio for custom jobs, but also maintains a catalogue to sell standard sized shoes to distant customers. I'm sure I can convince him to craft a set for me and have them delivered straight to my dorm room. Probably will cost extra, but I've got that covered too, and I'm sure that the two of us - the cobbler and me, I mean - can work out a design. I know exactly how the dress is going to look like and the cobbler has at least some experience with formal wear. He better, considering he literally crafts the things for a living. Anyway, I just need help with the enchanting part. That I wasn't able to figure out."

Convenient. So, someone to weave a bit of magic...

-Enchant. You can probably manage the magic part yourself, actually.
--You ask Aveline how long she'll need to get used to the shoes.

"Eh...I'd like at least a week of practice in, preferably two. That's not just a matter of how much practice I'll need, it's how much practice I can get in without making people suspicious. I already had to spin one story about Esteban's, despite the fact that Incantation is one of the classes I actually attended last year. I don't know of any other places I could lie about." Two weeks? You've studied Enchant, two weeks is a length of time you think you can manage. When you tell Aveline as much she quickly gets excited. "That's fantastic! Than all we'll need is to contact a cobbler to craft the actual shoes, and I already got that covered! Actually, let me go get an old pair of shoes of mine so you can practice. That way we can be sure you can actually pass muster." While Aveline goes to do that you lightly shake your head. That was the most friendly, happiest insult you're sure you've ever gotten from Aveline. It's weird, in a fun way.

Soon enough Aveline returns with a worn pair of shoes in her hands. "Here they are. I take it that these being an old pair of shoes rather than newly crafted ones won't matter for the purposes of practising?" You shake your head and get to work. It's not as straightforward as you might make it sound, several trips to the Venalicium are involved and Aveline is of course ruthlessly critical of every step along the way. That said you can't help but notice something...off about her criticism. The tone in her voice isn't the same as it normally is. Usually Aveline's comments cut like a blade, and they do at first, but over time that blade seems to dull. Until Aveline is commenting on things like a normal person. The change slowly but surely turns into an elephant that you're desperately trying not to pay attention to.

Despite the distractions you manage to place a serviceable enchantment on Aveline's old shoes. She quickly puts them on and tries a few dance moves, and while you've got no point of reference to draw from you'd guess she's doing better than normal. Mostly based on the way she's twirling around like she doesn't have a care in the world. Seriously, since when can Aveline dance like this? "These work great!" Aveline says as she finishes what you imagine was part of her routine. "I couldn't notice I wasn't wearing my regular dance shoes at all! How long will the enchantment last, do you think?" That enchantment? You answer that it should last a few weeks, though you make sure to caution Aveline that the enchantment will lose it's strength over time. And not to underestimate the difference that the different shape of formal shoes compared to these ones will make. At least, you try to. You're not sure if Aveline heard you, because she happily continues dancing during the entirety of your (attempted) explanation. I-it'll be fine. Aveline's formal shoes will take time to be crafted and delivered, so you've got time to squeeze in some extra homework, worst case.

You'd really appreciate it if your plate didn't get fuller with every meeting, though. You've still got a dress to finish, too!

--You ask Aveline how long she'll need to get used to the shoes, and she gives you a minimum of one to two weeks. That's...actually a problem. You can manage an enchantment that still exists in two weeks, you don't think you could manage an enchantment that maintains it's original strength for two weeks. There's a rather significance difference between the two, magically speaking. You tell Aveline as much, worried that she's about to lay into you with comments about how you're apparently slacking or whatever, but instead she just nods. "Is maintaining the Enchantment an option? Like, I don't know how long that'll take, but if we can meet up, say, an hour before the ball, could you fix things up? I'll need time to prepare for the ball anyway, so..."

There's something hanging on Aveline's lips that she's not sharing. Again. Well, you don't feel like this is the time to pry. "In theory, sure, but in practice creating an enchantment that's designed to be repaired easily is another layer of difficulty I don't think I could manage. It'd make the thing a whole lot more complex."

Aveline looks at you somewhere between disappointed and...eh, more disappointed. There's a distinction between the two, but you're not sure what it is. "Well...in that case, I guess we'll need to find someone else?" Aveline lets out a sigh. "This would be a lot simpler if you could manage this yourself, [PC FIRST NAME]."

It'd be even easier if Aveline got the inspiration to open a book herself and did something while you are working on sewing her dress...though, in fairness, she did already arrange for dance classes and tracked down a cobbler. Yeah, okay, you can't claim she's doing nothing and you can't honestly say that "just open a library book" is going to teach her enough of Enchant to pull this off within a reasonable amount of time anyway. Fine, fine...finding someone else, though. Sure would be nice if Aveline could do that as well. But it seems like that'll be on you.

Mind you, Aveline is certainly going to be keeping an eye open herself, but...best you keep your eyes open, as well. Two pairs see more than one, after all.

-Economy. Look for someone in Mineta to take care of the magic aspect.
--Shopping around Mineta for someone to work some magic for you is trivial, Mineta is the city of magic after all. Unfortunately every last one of them asks for a price that's way beyond Aveline's budget, or at least how much she's willing to spend, so after a disappointing trip through the Admiratio the two of you stop for drinks at a restaurant. Naturally, Aveline insists on taking the most remote, quiet, out of the way table she can find. "We're going to need to think of another plan," she quips as you enjoy a quick meal. "I thought that with there being so much competition around here that we'd be able to find something reasonably priced, but it seems like people weren't kidding when they told me Enchant's primary auxiliary skill is having money to burn." You ask Aveline who told her that, and she hesitates for a moment before answering. "People around Mineta. I asked around a bit while looking for a cobbler, and that's what people told me. I didn't think it'd be this bad, though. And two weeks with no frills or flair is such a simple job, too. Relatively."

Aveline isn't wrong. A basic enchantment that maintains it's strength for two weeks is trivial, relatively speaking. Less so for students, but professionals should be able to manage that in their sleep. Actually, that gives you an idea. "We could go to Mineta's guilds and see if one of them is willing to pass this commission on as a test to one of it's junior members. They should be able to manage just fine, skill wise, and that should cost a great deal less than hiring a professional." Aveline asks why the two of you didn't do that in the first place, if that idea can really work. "In part because you'd prefer work done by a professional if you can afford it, in part because it's easier to walk into a store and buy something than it is to walk into a guild house and put up a commission as a test. Mainly because we can't actually do the latter ourselves. We're going to have to convince one of the Guild's senior members to do that for us, and than hope that whatever junior member gets assigned to or takes the task can pass muster. There's no accountability afforded to us if we go that route, you know, since we legally didn't pay or commission the guild for services rendered. We paid administration fees to request a favor be put up as a commission, and the guild doesn't take responsibility for that."

"That sounds like legal mumbo-jumbo covering up poor customer service if you ask me," Aveline notes.

"Well, legally there no accountability. In practice things don't always go that way, be it of the Guild's own accord or even on our end, if you've got enough money or influence there's ways. My point, long story short, is that we'd be taking a risk. And I don't know how many pairs of custom-made formal shoes you've got to throw at this problem. But I imagine no more than one."

"Right now I've got zero," Aveline says like she's correcting you. You consider pointing out that's still no more than one, as you said, but you think better of it. "Still, I can't think of another option, prices are just too high and I've never studied Enchant myself, so..."

You nod and bring Aveline to one of Mineta's more reputable Artifice guilds, hoping that your Academagia robes are enough to convince people to pay attention to the two of you. There's no guarantee of that, but considering the importance of the Academagia in terms of future business and recruiting new members, hopefully it'll work. Basically as soon as the two of you step in a respectable-looking individual approaches the two of you and asks how he may help you. A good sign, you think. "We're here to...eh, [PC FIRST NAME], you should probably do the talking. I don't know these terms too well." You nod and tell the man you're hoping to post a junior commission for an Enchanted pair of shoes, able to maintain their effect for two weeks. The man politely asks if you've prepared the JCC, VoA paperwork and the administration fees, which causes Aveline to look at you confused and nervous.

"It's fine, Aveline. A Junior Commission Contract, or JCC for short, is a formal contract that specifies what you're commissioning the guild to create - that'd be your formal shoes Enchanted to substitute for dedicated dancing shoes for a length of two weeks before the enchantment starts to fade. Junior commissions can be really lengthy, complex and open to interpretation, hence the signing of a contract to write down exact terms. Your commission is simple, though, so we can fill that out in a few minutes. I'm sure the guild has a blank contract that we can fill in." The man politely nods, and in the background you can see a receptionist take one out of a drawer already. "A VoA, or Vote of Approval, or vote of confidence if you want to use a recently obsoleted term, is basically us - or, you, since you're the one posting the commission - signing a document that legally officiates your approval of the results of the commission you posted. If you're wondering why that's relevant..." You pause for a second and look at Aveline, her expression unchanged from a moment ago. "...And I can see that you are, the deal with those is that Mineta's guilds keep track of commission that are posted by people deemed important as a means to compete, trying to recruit new members or impress potential business or whatnot. A VoA let's the guild legally throw your opinion around, at least insofar that they fulfilled the contractual requirements of a commission you posted." Aveline slowly nods and asks whether her opinion is really worth that much. A second later she amends "in the grand scheme of things". "I couldn't tell you about the 'grand scheme of things', but as an Academagia student you'll always be considered important insofar that you're an Academagia student. Now if Catherine Chard were to post a commission, that'd be a whole other story. But as these guilds like to put it, 'any Academagia student has the weight of their robes on them'. And that includes you."

"You're rather well informed," you man notes. You nod, and say you've studied economics a bit, and you've learned a thing or two in the process.

"So..." Aveline asks, "It's just me giving the guild legal permission to say that they did what I told them to do? Assuming they do, of course?" You and the man nod. "This isn't going to result in me getting forcefully drafted as an apprentice or thrown out a competitor's building twenty years after I've forgotten that this city still exists or whatever?" The man thankfully seems amused while you assure Aveline that no, such things don't happen, and even if they do one commission certainly isn't going to make it happen. That's not to say that there haven't been guilds that tried to deceive students that way, but the last time someone tried the entire Praetexta Court ended up involved, and basically both sides never want to see that bit of history repeated again. Suffice to say, it got messy. That seems to convince Aveline. "Alright, I...I'll trust you, [PC FIRST NAME]."

"Well than, I see the receptionist already prepared all the paper for us. Shall we?" Aveline nods and walks over to the reception desk. You also walk over and help her fill in all the paperwork, which consists of a lot more details than even you were expecting, so it actually ends up being a lot more work than you were expecting. Aveline manages to get through it without complaining too much, though.

...Or, rather, her complaining stops being as noticeable as time goes by. It's not something she's doing out of consideration for anyone, it's just that as time passes the sharp blade that her tongue usually is seems to dull. It gets to the point where you can't help but feel a bit weirded out every time you notice Aveline just regularly commenting on things. It ends up staring you in the face like an elephant in the end, but thankfully you manage to ignore it. And guide Aveline through all of the paperwork despite the distraction.

"Alright, all done!" Aveline happily says as the receptionist takes the final roll of parchment. "So...that's it, right, [PC FIRST NAME]? Now it's just a matter of me getting the formal shoes made and waiting?" Basically, yes. Aveline seems a bit nervous that things won't work out, but you do your best to alleviate her fears.

--You manage to find a number of locations where Aveline could purchase custom enchantments, Mineta is the city of magic after all, but there's one complication: Every last location you find is asking for a king's ransom in return, and Aveline isn't willing to spend so much on something she'll only be using for, at most, a few weeks.

You can't fault her financial sense, not wanting to spend a fortune on something so temporary, but it does mean the two of you have hit a bit of a snag with regards to getting Aveline's formal shoes enchanted. Either you'll have to do it yourself or you'll need to find someone else who you can convince (or trick...) into doing it on the cheap, because simply shopping around clearly isn't working.

For those missing the option of getting a Vernin student involved, it was planned, but I couldn't think of a way to get a Vernin student to enchant a pair of items that Aveline doesn't yet have. Without making it obvious that they're, you know, for Aveline.

Edited by Metis

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A Point to Prove, stage 6:

Spoiler

Another day you're meeting with Aveline, this time in your impromptu dress workshop. Aveline of course insists on trying in on and giving you the most extensive list of faults you've ever seen placed on the shoulders of two layers of cloth. But hey, having Aveline try it on and see how she's wearing it is actually useful. Her criticism didn't even sound so much like an insult this time, more like someone trying to help a friend. Ruthlessly and with a large side order of tough love, admittedly, but still. She's improving!

"The next thing we'll need to secure is an invitation," Aveline says as she tries posing in her dress. It looks good on her, but of course it'll look better once it's actually finished. "I had plans on sneaking into the ball, since, you know, secret and all. But ever since Rikildis spilled the beans about it the faculty have decided to make it invitation-only." Yeah, you've heard about that. Rikildis, either because she got tired of trying to contain her knowledge or for some other reason, decided to write about it in the school newspaper, and word has spread like wildfire. A few students were apparently planning to go there to play pranks on others, maybe even prank the ball itself, so the faculty responded by making it invitation-only and making sure the event will be locked down. Long story short, sneaking in is going to be a sketchy idea at best. And while you're not speaking from experience here, you're pretty sure it's a fair assumption to make that trying to sneak in full formal wear would be...harder than average, let's say. So an invitation will be required. "I...asked around. Already, about who's handling the invitations. Turns out Professor Badcrumble is handling them," Aveline says, a bit strangely. Bitterly? No, not bitterly, you know how Aveline sounds when she's feeling bitter. You look at Aveline, silently asking her to answer your questions, but she either doesn't notice or doesn't respond to it. And given it's Aveline you're talking about, that means it's probably the latter...

"Is asking for an invitation right out? You said that attending the ball wasn't really encouraged for underclassmen, but you don't have as bad a reputation as, say, Rui da Casga, do you?"

Aveline looks insulted at that. "O-of course I don't!" she snaps. "I-I could secure an invitation just by asking. Probably. But I want me being there to be a surprise, right? It won't be much of a surprise if people know I'll be attending." You point out that you could just ask Professor Badcrumble to keep it secret, but Aveline shoots that idea down. Mercilessly. She doesn't give you any real reason for shooting it down, but every other argument she can think of she fires at you without hesitating. Definitely something going on between her and Professor Badcrumble. Your mind is spinning with theories, but you can't draw any conclusions yet. "I need an invitation, and I need an invitation quietly," Aveline insists. "I...just have no idea how to manage that. Do you have any ideas?" You suggest the possibility of forging one, but Aveline shoots that idea down as well. "Professor Badcrumble will be writing down the names of everyone she gives an invitation to, and even if we create a perfect fake we can't fake our names on that list. Unless you think you could break into the office of the Avila Regent without getting caught, of course." Yeah, that ain't happening. You point out that if the problem isn't just getting invitations, but also getting on that list, than it seems like the only possible way to get one successfully would be to ask Professor Badcrumble for one. Nicely. Aveline doesn't like the idea, but she can't think of any alternatives, so reluctantly she asks you to try and weasel an invitation from Professor Badcrumble on her behalf. How are you going to try and sell that story, though? What possible reason could you have for getting an invitation for someone else?

[MALE PC]-Heraldry. What possible reason...
--Thinking back to Rikildis' article about this ball, about everything Aveline has told you about it, and general rumors you've overheard...there's one way you could feasibly convince Professor Badcrumble to give you an invitation for Aveline. Claim to want to attend the ball yourself, than ask for an invitation for her at the same time. She'd be your "+1", or whatever the formal upper-class term for a date (or whatever) is. You suggest your plan to Aveline, not sure how she'll respond to it.

She blushes. Not unexpected. "D-do you want to just give Rikildis more material to work with!? A-asking me out on a date like that-don't you know school conduct rules!? Professor Badcrumble will never go with that!"

"Aveline, please, calm down. I know this plan can work," you calmly point out. Aveline looks sceptical, to say the least, but she's willing to give you the chance to explain yourself. "Didn't you read Rikildis' article all the way through? According to her this event is supposed to be someone's Debutante Ball."

"Debu-what?" Aveline intelligently observes. "What's that got to do with you...I-I mean, Professor Badcrumble..."

It's kind of sad, seeing Aveline so flustered. Maybe it's just your imagination, but she seems more vulnerable than you think you've ever seen her. "Aveline, listen: There's a rumor going around that Lady Amaran is here to visit distant relatives of hers. One of which will come of age this year, so he's going to be introduced into high society. The event where that happens is called a Debutante Ball. And it seems that, under the guise of gracefully visiting the Academagia and filling in for a few professors, Lady Amaran will be using the Academagia as a venue." Aveline slowly nods, taking the information in. "And a Debutante Ball is somewhere that even we could take a date do. Or, you know, whatever the formal term is. It's the entire point of it, in a way: We're going to be this kid's seniors, effectively, his examples. We're expected to show him how kids our age behave. How they should behave. And, say we were both nobility who were betrothed to one another? We'd be expected to attend the ball together." Aveline slowly nods. There's something on her lips she's not saying, but you don't press her on it right now. "In any case I'll talk to Professor Badcrumble and see about getting you an invitation, regardless. If my plan fails, well, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. Fine with you?"

Aveline slowly nods, still blushing. You leave her to get changed back into her student robes while you head on over to Professor Badcrumble's office to ask for an invitation, thinking about what you're going to say the entire way there. You figure that the safest option is to not mention Aveline at all, you don't know what's going on between her and Professor Badcrumble right now, but could you convince the regent to give you a blank invitation? There's pranksters who'd be very happy to "redistribute" that away from you, after all. And even if she does, how's that going to work with the regent's list of expected attendees?

Doubts still flying around your head you knock on Professor Badcrumble's door. "Come on in," the regent says. You do so. She is sitting behind her desk, looking over homework projects. A rather mundane task for her to be doing considering all the buzz going on about Lady Amaran and the ball, but you suppose that homework stops for no one. "[PC FIRST NAME]? To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" Putting on your most polite face you make a small bow and ask, plainly, for two invitations to Lady Amaran's planned ball. The regent initially reaches for something in her desk without hesitation, though after a second she quirks an eyebrow. "Wait, two invitations, you said? For you and who else?"

You want to mention Aveline's name here. You really do. It'd make this so much simpler. But...it's safest not to. "The Classmate I wish to invite as well. Sorry for not mentioning names, but..." Yeah, good question right there: But what? What possible justification does Aveline have? And one that you could explain to professor Badcrumble, right now, at that!

"Ah, I see," Professor Badcrumble says as she takes out two invitations from one desk and a roll of parchment from another. "Here you go. I trust you're familiar with formal conduct and dress code, but I'll remind you nevertheless that the Academagia will be hosting this ball for an honored guest, so be sure to present the school as best you can."

...What. Wait a second, you didn't even say anythi-just...what!?

"Anything else, [PC FIRST NAME]?"

Thankfully the professor's question snaps you back to reality, so you manage to politely shake your head and excuse yourself rather than make a fool of yourself. Your head is spinning all the way back to your impromptu workshop, though. That was way too easy! Like, gifted horses and all that, you're not complaining, but what are you supposed to make of that!? What are you supposed to tell Aveline, for that matter? You don't really feel like lying about it, so...you suppose you'll just tell her the truth? Maybe it'll shake some answers from her.

Back at your impromptu workshop you find Aveline pacing nervously back and forth, though she stops dead in her tracks as soon as her eyes land on you. "D-did it work!?" she asks, nervously. You hand her the two invitations you were given. Aveline takes them, but she doesn't look happy to get them. Well, she does, a little. But mostly she seems shaken. Literally. "W-where...how did..." Aveline shakes her head, trying to compose herself. "W-what did you tell her? The professor, I mean."

Another good question, really. What did you tell her? "Nothing, really. I asked for two invitations, said the other was for the Classmate I wanted to invite, and...well, here I am."

Aveline stares at you with a look in her eyes you don't think you've ever seen on her, and that she doesn't let you look at for long. She lowers her head, mutters a quick, but heartfelt thanks and suddenly runs off. Perhaps also an excuse, but Aveline isn't able to get the words through her throat well enough for you to make them out.

You can't help but shake the impression that there's something you're missing here, beyond everything and the kitchen sink that Aveline isn't telling you. But...you can't think of it. You'll ask Aveline about it later, you suppose. Truthfully you're getting a bit tired of all this secrecy anyway...

--...You've got nothing. You cannot, for the life of you, think of any possible way to get an invitation from Professor Badcrumble, for Aveline, without Professor Badcrumble knowing that the invitation is for Aveline. If only the faculty wasn't on high alert you could possibly try and pull something but what in Octavius' name are you supposed to pull against an Astrology professor who's expecting trouble?

Aveline doesn't know either. You glance over at the dress worriedly. If neither of you can figure it out than a lot of work you've spend on this is going to go down the drain and you're not accepting that without a fight. There must be a way...but how?

[FEMALE PC]-Heraldry. What possible reason...
--Thinking back to Rikildis' article about this ball, there's one way you could possibly convince Professor Badcrumble to give you an invitation for Aveline. If you claim to want to attend the ball yourself, than ask for an invitation for Aveline at the same time. She'd be your "+1", or whatever the formal term is for someone your age you invite to a high society gathering with you. You suggest your plan to Aveline, not sure how she'll respond to it.

She quirks an eyebrow in the weirdest way you've seen her quirk an eyebrow. Not unexpected. "E-excuse me? Wait, w-what am I missing here? What's this ball about, again?"

You know, this is really not giving you a great deal of confidence that the effort you put into sewing Aveline's dress (and everything else...) is going to pay off. And that doesn't make you happy. "Didn't you read Rikildis' article all the way through? According to her this event is supposed to be someone's Debutante Ball."

"Debu-what?" Aveline intelligently observes.

"Aveline, there's a rumor going around that Lady Amaran is here to visit distant relatives of hers. One of which will come of age this year, so he's going to be introduced into high society. The event where that happens is called a Debutante Ball. And it seems that, under the guise of gracefully visiting the Academagia to fill in for a few professors, Lady Amaran will be using the Academagia as a venue." Aveline slowly nods, taking the information in. "Whatever the case may be, if this is someone's Debutante Ball, guests our age wouldn't be expected to attend alone, necessarily - that's kind of the point of it. You're old enough to hang out with your peers, so...hang out with your peers. We'll be acting as that kid's seniors, his examples. Professor Badcrumble certainly knows, and respects that." Aveline slowly nods. There's something on her lips she's not saying, but you don't press her on it right now. "In any case I'll talk to Professor Badcrumble and see about getting you an invitation regardless. If that plan fails we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. Fine with you?"

Aveline slowly nods, looking confused and concerned, but whatever is on her mind, she doesn't share. Fine with you. You leave her to get changed back into her student robes while you head on over to Professor Badcrumble's office to ask for an invitation, thinking about what you're going to say the entire way there. You figure that the safest option is to not mention Aveline at all, you don't know what's going on between her and Professor Badcrumble right now, but could you convince the regent to give you a blank invitation? There's pranksters who'd be very happy to "redistribute" that away from you, after all. And even if she does, how's that going to work with the regent's list of expected attendees?

Doubts still flying around your head you knock on Professor Badcrumble's door. "Come on in," the regent says. You do so. The regent is sitting behind her desk, looking over homework projects. A rather mundane task for her to be doing considering all the buzz going on about Lady Amaran and the ball, but you suppose that homework stops for no one. "[PC FIRST NAME]? To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" Putting on your most polite face you make a small bow and ask, plainly, for two invitations to Lady Amaran's planned ball. The regent initially reaches for something in her desk without hesitation, though after a second she quirks an eyebrow. "Wait, two invitations, you said? For you and who else?"

You want to mention Aveline's name here. You really do. It'd make this so much simpler. But...it's safest not to. "The Classmate I wish to invite as well. Sorry for not mentioning names, but..." Yeah, good question right there. But what? What possible justification does Aveline have? And one that you could explain to professor Badcrumble right now at that!

"Ah, I see," Professor Badcrumble says as she takes out two invitations from one desk and a roll of parchment from another. "Here you go. I trust you're familiar with formal conduct and dress code, but I'll remind you nevertheless that the Academagia will be hosting this ball for an honored guest, so be sure to present the school as best you can."

...What. Wait a second, you didn't even say anythi-just...what!?

"Anything else, [PC FIRST NAME]?"

Thankfully the professor's question snaps you back to reality, so you manage to politely shake your head and excuse yourself rather than make a fool of yourself. Your head is spinning all the way back to your impromptu workshop, though. That was way too easy! Like, gifted horses and all that, you're not complaining, but what are you supposed to make of that!? What are you supposed to tell Aveline, for that matter? You don't really feel like lying about it, so...you suppose you'll just tell her the truth? Maybe it'll shake some answers from her.

Back at your impromptu workshop you find Aveline pacing nervously back and forth, though she stops dead in her tracks as soon as her eyes land on you. "D-did it work!?" she asks, nervously. You hand her the two invitations you were given. Aveline takes them, but she doesn't look happy to get them. Well, she does a little. But mostly she seems shaken. Literally. "W-where...how did..." Aveline shakes her head, trying to compose herself. "W-what did you tell her? The professor, I mean."

Another good question, really. What did you tell her? "Nothing, really. I asked for two invitations, said the other was for the Classmate I wanted to invite, and...well, here I am."

Aveline stares at you with a look in her eyes you don't think you've ever seen on her, and that she doesn't let you look at for long. She lowers her head, mutters a quick, but heartfelt thanks and suddenly runs off. Perhaps also an excuse, but Aveline isn't able to get the words through her throat well enough for you to make them out.

You can't help but shake the impression that there's something you're missing here, beyond everything and the kitchen sink that Aveline isn't telling you. You also can't shake the feeling that the kitchen sink is the more important part of that equation. You'll ask Aveline about it later, you suppose. Truthfully you're getting a bit tired of all this secrecy anyway...

--...You've got nothing. You cannot, for the life of you, think of any possible way to get an invitation from Professor Badcrumble, for Aveline, without Professor Badcrumble knowing that the invitation is for Aveline. If only the faculty wasn't on high alert you could possibly try and pull something but what in Octavius' name are you supposed to pull against an Astrology professor who's expecting trouble?

Aveline doesn't know either. You glance over at the dress worriedly. If neither of you can figure it out than a lot of work you've spend on this is going to go down the drain and you're not accepting that without a fight. There must be a way...but how?

-Plot. Is there an alternative option you're missing?
--Steal the invitations from another student? No, they'll notice their invitation is gone, blab, and Aveline's name still won't be on the list.

Could you bribe or coerce someone into doing the breaking in for you? No, too much risk of them blabbing when they're inevitably caught. This is the Academagia's chief of Astrological authority you're talking about here.

Could you convince Rui, or some other troublemaker, to cause a distraction, enough that you could get access to Professor Badcrumble's list and add Aveline's name yourself? And snag an invitation while you're at it? Probably. It's a risky plan, but you think it could work. You'd need to forge the regent's handwriting, of course, but that's within the realm of doable as well...ah, but would she fail to notice that she never wrote down Aveline's name herself? Probably not. Maybe if you did it last second, like right before the list is being handed over to whoever is overlooking the attendees, but that's way too narrow a window of opportunity. You've got no confirmation that Professor Badcrumble won't be doing that herself, either. It's not out of the realm of possibility - the faculty is really on edge about this ball situation, last you checked.

In that case, what about going through the Legate? Someone with greater authority than Professor Badcrumble could definitely get you a valid invitation...but how are you going to convince the Legate that Aveline needs to go through him, through you, to get an invitation? The man is notorious for being difficult to approach normally, and making him do extra work is going to be a tough sell regardless as well. No, this idea sounds like more effort than it's worth if nothing else.

Could you (or some other willing student) pass yourself off as Aveline and ask for an invitation that way? Aveline's name would get added to the list that way. Hmm...no, you think the professors are too weary of pranksters trying to get access for that to work. That'll probably get noticed and thoroughly misinterpreted. Not just that, but something is going on between Aveline and Badcrumble, and you have no idea if that will cause sparks to fly or not.

Is there any way you could convince Aveline to get an invitation herself? Or trick her into doing so? Eh...not really, you don't think. If she was willing she'd just do it, and if she isn't than what are you going to do? Make her sleepwalk? Something is going on between Aveline and Professor Badcrumble anyway, so odds are high that the regent will notice Aveline acting odd even if you somehow manage to trick her. Not to mention, that'd be a poor thing to do to a friend.

...You're fresh out of ideas. You hate to admit it, but it seems like your best (really, only) bet is to try and convince the professor to either give you an invitation for someone unnamed...which is not going to happen...or otherwise ask for two invitations. One for yourself, and one for your unnamed "+1". Or mention Aveline by name, of course, but you've no idea how the professor will react to that. Assuming she will, but you're sure that she will.

So...you and your unnamed "+1". Well, as people say, a slight chance of victory is better than being dead and buried. Of course there's precious few people who that advice worked for but maybe this will be your lucky day? Hopefully?

--...None that you can think of, really. And you're having a hell of a time trying to think of how to make the one option you've been presented with work, for that matter. There must be an angle, but...how?

I'd say something along the lines of "Gee, I hope that all of this stuff actually works", but if I made a habit of that I'd quickly turn into a broken record.

The adventure separates into male/female versions here because one set of dialogue isn't going to work for both starting next stage (starting this stage, really), so different options here to cleanly separate the two. This is also the point where Aveline might kill me regret getting her time in the spotlight. And if not this stage than, eh, yeah. The next(/last) three are going to be a doozy.

Edited by Metis

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A Point to Prove, stage 7 (male):

Spoiler

Aveline's dress is finally done! The finishing touches have been made, everything has been checked and double-checked, it's perfect! It's done! Even Aveline won't be able to complain about this! Excited to show Aveline your work you start to look around for her. But she's not in the Aranaz Dorms, not in the Venalicium or the Great Hall, not in the Garden Gallery...not in your impromptu workshop either, just in case she somehow figured out you finished the dress before you got the chance to actually tell her about it. Does she have dance classes today? She doesn't as far as you recall. You ask around, but no one seems to know where she is either. Where is she?

You're getting worried. You recall all to well how Aveline ran off last time. You're sure you made no mistakes, and you trust Aveline to have pointed it out if you did. Yet...there's still that nagging feeling. What did you miss? Time hasn't made that feeling go away, if anything it just took root more and more. Is that why Aveline is hiding? Did you mess something up? Or is something going on with Professor Badcrumble? Gods, your kingdom for a few answers!

Getting slightly desperate that neither you or anyone else seems to know where Aveline is hiding you decide to go and make a deal with the Academagia's closest equivalent of a devil. Rikildis. You run over to her editorial room and are actually relieved to see her working here. Rikildis, for her part, looks at you most curiously when she sees you run in, looking like you do. "[PC FIRST NAME]? What are you doing here? I haven't even investigated-I mean, never mind that. Did you need something?"

You don't know if Rikildis is trying to bluff information out of you there, and frankly, you couldn't care less right now. "Do you know where Aveline is? I've been looking all over for her but she's nowhere to be found. No one seems to know where she is, either."

Rikildis frowns. Not a "oh, I can work with that" frown, a proper "that's actually worrying" frown. One you don't see on Rikildis too often. "What? That's...[PC FIRST NAME], why are you asking me about that? You're supposed to be her prince charming, for goodness' sake!"

You so do not have the patience for this right now. "Rikildis, please, just answer my damn question - where is she? Do you know?"

The look on Rikildis' face is one you can't make out. It's a mixture of a few things, really, though none of it flattering. Shaking her head Rikildis answers, "[PC FIRST NAME], only in the vain hope that you manage to get your act together am I willing to tell you this: Aveline is in the The Henna Ilyon Music Room, playing the harpsichord." A second before you can start running off Rikildis grabs your attention and adds "[PC FIRST NAME], either play your cards right or pray to the Gods that you don't mess this up, because I will never let you forget about it if you do."

"You'd never let anyone forget about anything no matter what anyway," you retort as you start running. Rikildis has something to say in response, but you thoroughly don't care.

True to Rikildis' word you see find Aveline playing the harpsichord, quietly singing along as she plays what sounds like the chorus of a song. You can't make out all the words, but you do catch the distinct sound of Aveline singing something along the lines of "heart attack", so...that's not encouraging. You hesitate in the doorframe for a moment, not sure if you ought to approach her or not. But you quickly conclude that you're going to get nothing done standing around like this, so with some hesitation you walk up to Aveline. She doesn't stop playing at the sound of approaching footsteps, though she does stop when she sees it's you. "[PC FIRST NAME]? H-how long have you been listening?"

"I just got here," you lie. Aveline doesn't call you on it. "I wanted to tell you that I've finished the dress. Do you want to try it on, make sure everything is up to snuff?"

Aveline looks away, ironically giving you a better look at her starting to blush. "I-I don't...I don't know if..." You know where that's going and like hell you're going to have put in so much work only for Aveline to get cold feet at the last second. You take a seat close to her and plainly ask Aveline whether she's getting cold feet. "Y-you mean about going to the ball? No," she answers as confidently as ever.

"What's the problem, than? Hell, what's going on with you in general? You've been acting odd since you first told me about this ball, and honestly it's starting to get on my nerves."

Aveline shakes her head. "I told you before, I'm not saying another word on that subject." You frown, but Aveline doesn't change her tune. "Why I've been hiding out here doesn't have anything to do with that, anyway." Wait, what? You ask Aveline why she's been hiding, than. "W-why? Don't you...[PC FIRST NAME], don't you realize what the last thing I'll need to do is?" No, you don't, and you tell Aveline as much. She's got some "flattering" observations to make about your social awareness in response, but again her criticism sounds...off. Her heart isn't in it. For better or worse.

"Aveline, please, I don't have the patience for this. Just give me a straight answer for once. I've done everything I can to help you so far, whatever this last thing is, just tell me about it. I promise I'll do my best to help you with that, too."

Aveline looked like you pulled out a knife and was preparing yourself to stab her at first. Worse, she looked like she wouldn't try to stop you. But once you actually finish your sentence her expression changes completely. She blushes again, staring at you with wide eyes. After a tense pause she slowly asks, "[PC FIRST NAME]...can you promise you'll keep this secret? All of it?" You remind Aveline that that's what you've been doing the entire time, and ask her again what's bothering her. It takes a few seconds, but soon enough Aveline weakly nods. "[PC FIRST NAME]...I need a date. To come with me to the ball." You quirk an eyebrow at that. "I know it's not required to attend or anything, but I need...someone to come with me anyway, alright? To prove my point. It's...important." As much as you hate to admit it you know you're not getting more information than that, but you ask anyway. Try to ask. As expected Aveline shakes her head at your questions. "Please, let me finish, [PC FIRST NAME]. About this date...you know that I'm not the most popular student around, right? That everyone just thinks of me as the snobbish know-it-all who's only real point of merit is cleaning up everybody else's mess. And even that only because it's supposedly an obsession of mine, not for any reason I should be praised for." You wouldn't go that far personally, but for the sake of conversation you nod. "So me getting a date would be difficult enough as is. But there's an additional complication. One that...I can't fix." You ask Aveline if she's worried about getting whoever's name on the attendees list in place of you, since that's the only issue you can think of that Aveline is talking about here and you didn't think that would be an insurmountable obstacle...but Aveline just slowly shakes her head in response to your question.

"I just told you no one else would go to the ball with me anyway, [PC FIRST NAME]. So your name being on that list doesn't matter one bit." Aveline bitterly explains. "I know. I asked others, and even Cyrus turned me down." You ask Aveline if she seriously invited Cyrus to the ball, but Aveline clarifies that she didn't ask him (or anyone for that matter) directly, she just...tested them. To see if any would go for it. Unfortunately, she got rejected. Still talking with a bitter tone Aveline adds, "You're the only one I could possibly ask to go to the ball with me, [PC FIRST NAME]. You're the only one who might possibly want to go to the ball with me. But as much as I want to ask you...I just can't. You've done so much for me already, I've put so much pressure on you for nothing more than a sneer and criticism in return, without answering any of your questions, testing your patience to the breaking point the entire time...I can't ask you to come with me. I can't. I don't think my heart could take it." Is that was Aveline was singing about earlier? It's a rather chilling thought, honestly. And as if to drive a final nail if your coffin Aveline adds, "And if I don't? Than everything you've done for me so far will go to waste. All that work, all the patience, all the feelings of the one boy who cares enough to go through all the effort for me? Gone. Cast aside all because of me. [PC FIRST NAME], I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. But I'm just stuck. I don't know of any way out of this."

Talk about an awkward position, yeah. You said you didn't want to see the effort you put into the dress go to waste, and you don't, but...well, could you even convince someone to go with Aveline to the ball? Could you fudge over enough details with Professor Badcrumble to make that happen? Could you convince Aveline to go along with it? Could you make that miracle happen? You ask Aveline about it, but she, unsurprisingly, shakes her head. "I couldn't take you doing so much more for me, [PC FIRST NAME]. Please, don't even think about it. I'm sorry for being so selfish, but even if you succeeded, somehow, it would just...it would just break my heart. I mean it. I can't see any way out of this..."

To you it sounds like no matter how you look at it, the path forward is clear. You are going to have to invite Aveline over to the ball, and mean it to the point where Aveline won't see it as you taking pity on her. Because, evidently, after "everything" that's happened so far she wouldn't be caught dead taking pity (or, gods forbid, asking for it) from you. It's that, or watch as everything you've put so much effort into goes to waste. And that is not an outcome that you, or Aveline for that matter, can accept.

So...inviting Aveline. How...

-Music. Invite Aveline to the ball. And mean it.
--You know that straight-up asking her isn't going to work. Honestly, what you know about asking people out in general is useless here. Aveline's confidence has been shaken, and though she'd never admit it her pride is wounded. But with her being here, hiding from it all...you're got an idea. Gods help you, as Rikildis put it, but you've got an idea.

"Aveline, if I may ask, what song were you playing earlier?" She shakes her head tries to play it off as unimportant, but you insist, mentioning that she sounded wonderful when you were walking up to her earlier. Aveline can't help but break out a slight smile at that.

"Really? Eh, well, Music was a class I did actually attend last year. Although I had to do some studying on the side to learn how to play a harpsichord. Professor Chastellain wasn't up to snuff when it came to teaching, unfortunately. Or, eh, 'play'. I say that but I'm hardly a musician." You nod and offer to play the harpsichord for her, so she can focus on singing. Aveline hesitates, but gives in when you insist that you want to hear her sing. The sheet music you need is already on the harpsichord, and of course you can read it, so you've got nothing else to do but play.

Despite you needing to focus on playing the harpsichord, you're able to mostly catch the song that Aveline was signing earlier. From what you can tell it's about a spoiled tomboy who's on top of her own world, but one guy caught her attention, and her feelings for him are shaking her to her core. Not to the point where she cracks and falters, but to the point where she's left feeling conflicted about the whole ting. You can kinda see where the song could reference Aveline, but you can also see where it clearly doesn't, so...not sure what to make of it, all told. Speaking of Aveline, she doesn't limit herself to singing. Once she gets comfortable with you playing the harpsichord she gets up and starts dancing, just of her own accord. She's been practising, that much shows. When you tell her as much, she blushes.

"Y-yes, of course I've been practising. Didn't-I'm sure I told you about that already. Can't make a fool of myself during the ball, after all."

Aveline, smiling like that, looking so determined to prove whatever vague, nebulous point she wants to make...now seems like the right time. "I can see you won't, Aveline. So, do you want to go to the ball with me?"

Aveline flinches a little when you ask that, and it takes her an uncomfortably long time to think of an answer. But, eventually, she smiles. "D-do I? Of course I do, silly! One second, I'll grab your invitation. Ah, and I've got to check out the dress after that! You have no idea how excited I am to see it, though you better believe I won't mince words if I find anything wrong it it, [PC FIRST NAME]."

"Wouldn't expect or want you to, either," you say with a slight hint of dread. Hopefully that wasn't a stupid thing to say, in hindsight. Regardless, that seems like the last problem dealt with. Now there's nothing left to do but wait for the big night...

"Hey, [PC FIRST NAME]," Aveline asks as she hands you your invitation. "You do have proper formal wear and everything of your own, right? And don't think I'm going to be made a fool by dancing with someone who's got two left feet after all the effort I put into practising it myself! Can you dance already or do you need me to help arrange for lessons?"

...Minor details aside, there's nothing left to do but wait for the big night...

--There must be something that can be said about Aveline being here, in the Henna Ilyon Music Room, at a time like this. So you figure that playing the harpsichord for Aveline and letting her sing her heart out should be a good way to get her to open up a bit.

You will defend that theory to the death, especially because Aveline (after some convincing) agrees to it. Your actual playing of the harpsichord and reading of her sheet music though? Eh...so, the good news is that Aveline does seem to improve, a little bit, insofar that she seems to be able to forget about all her worried about the ball for a precious moment and act like herself again. It's not a long term solution, but at least you made her forget her worried for a moment.

The bad news is that the way she goes about it (that is to her, Aveline's usual way of being Aveline) makes you think like you'll never feel comfortable sitting in front of a harpsichord ever again...

-Befriend. Talk things through with Aveline. Though, be careful.
--"Aveline, are you really sure you don't see any way out of this?" Aveline stares at you with a distant, hopeless look in her eyes. She doesn't say anything, but her expression really says it all. Aveline is always so observant usually and she said she hasn't given up on going to the ball, so...maybe there really isn't a way out of this? Were you wrong? "Than...how, with who do you intend to go to the ball? You haven't given up on that, have you?"

"N-no, but...I-I don't know." is Aveline's answer. And yours too. Not because you believe Aveline and are giving up as well, but because what you can't see in Aveline's eyes you can hear in her voice. The hint of determination, despite all the hesitation. She's figured it out too. She knows what she needs you to do without being able to ask for it. And she's afraid-terrified, even, that you won't figure it out and try. There's more on the line for her than just the effort you both spend on preparing for the ball...but you don't know what.

You contemplate how to best proceed from here, but in the end you make a decision based on the fact that your patience with Aveline's secrecy is starting to wear dangerously thin. "Aveline, what happened to you? Why are you lying to me? Why, after all we've been through, do you still have no faith in me?" That question hits Aveline so hard she visibly shakes, and despite her best attempts to fight it it seems that her eyes are starting to tear up a bit. Maybe you're going a bit far, but...your patience is just at it's end. Not so much with Aveline keeping secret from you, mind. More that she continues to try and keep it secret despite how much it's tearing her apart. Aveline quickly breaks down into a waterfall of apologies, but you cut her off. "I'm not asking for apologies, Aveline, I'm asking what happened to you. Why can't you see, literally can't seem to see, that I'm trying to be as good a friend as I can, even now? You're not so selfish or self-centred that you can't recognize who your friends are, Aveline, I know you're not. So why can't you see it? What happened, that you can't believe in me, or for that matter, yourself anymore?"

That little outburst brings Aveline beyond her breaking point. She tries to fight it, tries to hold on to her facade, but she can't maintain control of it. Twitches she can't stop, sobs she can't stifle, and eventually tears she can't hold back. You extend a hand, and when Aveline takes it you pull her into your arms. She doesn't resist, in fact she wraps her own arms around you and cries out on your shoulder. It takes a while for her to get everything out of her system, but when her emotions have finally run their course she pulls back and sits up straight again. Strangely, she looks better now than she did when you first walked into this room however many minutes ago, despite the tear-soaked mess her face has become. "[PC FIRST NAME]?" she asks, looking at you with the all the confidence and composure that her current appearance allows for. "I...heh, t-thanks for the shoulder, but could you please lend me an ear as well? There's a few things I really need to get off my chest." You nod, of course, happy beyond words to see Aveline believe in you again. "Th-this whole mess? It's all because of something Professor Badcrumble told me." Unable to hold back your curiosity you don't give Aveline pause, you ask what it was that the regent told her. You can tell it's hard for Aveline to give words to, but when doubt starts to wash over her she looks at you, and nods to herself confidently. "'You'll never find love'. That's what she said to me."

"...Why? Why would she say something like that to you?"

Aveline tries, but she can't help but look away at this point. Her gaze falls on the harpsichord she was playing a moment ago. "I caught her slacking off on keeping her office clean. I just went in there to ask a few questions about Astrology, for a homework project, but as soon as I walked in and saw the mess I couldn't help myself. Papers strewn everywhere, shelves covered in dust, every mistake and shortcoming I noticed I pointed out to her. Didn't think twice about it, either, it just felt natural to me. She had a few things to tell me in turn, though. That she was busy, all the stuff about Lady Amaran and the ball they were planning - she accidentally blabbed to me about that, that's how I knew. And, at the end of it, she said what hurt me the most. That if I just kept finding and pointing out faults in everything and everyone...that I'd never find love."

That seems like poor conduct on Professor Badcrumble's part, but you're more interested in different context right now. "You've never struck me as the kind of person who'd be concerned about that, Aveline. At least, I wouldn't have guessed that you'd take it so hard."

"Neither did I," Aveline remarks. "But I couldn't get those words out of my head. 'You'll never find love'. I couldn't stop hearing them. I couldn't stop repeating them, couldn't stop thinking about them, couldn't stop being reminded of them every time someone glared at me after acting like a know-it-all near them. For a moment I thought I'd never stop hearing them!" You place a hand on Aveline's shoulder. She looks at you, slowly nods in understanding, and takes a deep breath to compose herself before continuing. "Those words kept haunting me. Every disapproving glance, every shaking head, every comment behind my back. 'You'll never find love'. Time and time again, I heard it." You gently rub Aveline's shoulder. She glances at you with a smile on her face, though her gaze is still focussed on the harpsichord. "I tried to escape from them. Escape those words, escape what the regent told me. But I couldn't pretend that people actually cared about me. I tried, but it didn't work. I know my reputation, what people think of me. I know what all I've done last year, this year, and what people think of it. I know what I think about it, too, but...as times passed it got harder and harder to believe in it. I tried to deny it, but I knew that so long as people continued to see me as nothing but an excessively critical know-it-all...that I really would remain alone."

"So to prove Professor Badcrumble wrong...you decided that you'd attend the ball? Show her you weren't like that?"

Aveline shakes her head, and the smile on her face twists. "Oh, if only my plan was that noble," she says with a shrill voice. "I had a point to prove, [PC FIRST NAME]. Nothing less, nothing more. I needed someone, anyone, to do me a favor. Something. Anything. I didn't care what, why, how, to who, nothing. I didn't care about anything. I only cared about proving the regent wrong, about pushing those damned words out of my head. I needed someone to care. To do something for me just because I asked them to. The ball was just a convenient excuse, I had no interest in going there at first. I just had a point to prove."

You frown at that. "So...you asking me to sew you a dress, just...proof? Something that you thought I'd never do for anyone unless I cared?"

"Something like that," Aveline slowly admits. She tries to hide it, but this is all really painful for her to admit. "As soon as you agreed to sew a dress for me I should have known, but...I guess I got selfish. You showed me the only bit of compassion I could've asked for, and I just wasn't satisfied. I could still hear it. Could still hear the regent's voice in my mind telling me that I was just tricking you, that I didn't deserve anything you did for me. So I pushed you even further, made my grand plan to attend the ball and show the regent personally how wrong she was. I thought that'd get rid of the voice, finally. B-but than..."

"Then the situation with the invitations happened, and you realized that because of the way I handled getting them, the only realistic option was for you to attend the ball with me. That, or throw away all the time and effort I spend on you," you fill in for Aveline. Or at least, you try to, but Aveline shakes her head.

"I told you before, [PC FIRST NAME], your name being on Professor Badcrumble's list doesn't mean anything. No one else would go with me anyway." Aveline barks out. "It was fate's cruellest joke! Would I ask you to come with me, and crack under the weight of all the lies I told you? Or would I not, and throw away everything I lied for? I couldn't make that choice. I thought, for a moment, that Professor Badcrumble won. That the fates caught me in their trap, tied me to a string and hung me up to dry. That's when the voice in my head turned into a cackling laugh, mocking me for every single thing I got and never deserved. It got to the point where I couldn't do anything but hide out here and play the harpsichord. Everything else I tried to do I couldn't, because I'd get too distracted." That sounds decisively unhealthy. Aveline doesn't disagree with your assessment, either. "The only possible option I saw was for you to invite me to the ball yourself. But every time I tried to even imagine you doing that I heard the voice again. Every time I thought of you, every time I looked at any of the things you helped prepare with me, I heard it again. I felt completely stuck, completely alone. All I could do was sit here and play the harpsichord, wait for you to eventually find me, and...I don't even know what. I was so afraid that you'd finally get fed up with me, that you'd scream and me and leave me here...so, so afraid you wouldn't even care to come and talk to me..."

There's a few things you can say about friends and your need for enemies, but...you don't. "You stretched my patience to the breaking point, Aveline. But I'm not so short-sighted as to not notice it when something is eating away at you so badly, and if it was me who was hurting I'm sure you'd have noticed it as well. Professor Badcrumble might not appreciate it, the rest of the student body might not agree with it, but it takes a good friend to trust that you'll have all of your shortcomings pointed out to you. And that while keeping in mind how you're feeling, because a friend knows how you do. I'd rather get corrected by someone who knows me than by a stranger, Aveline. That's why I'm glad that you're my friend." Aveline nods with a smile on her face, but rather than just thanking you she gives you another quick hug. And a more conventional word of thanks, but that gets rather lost by the rest of it. "Is that all you needed to get off your chest?"

Aveline shakes her head, and despite the difficulty looks you straight in the eyes. "[PC FIRST NAME], I don't know if I've got any right to ask, and honestly I don't care: Will you please go to the ball with me? Even if someone else asked me, I wouldn't care. There's no one else I want to spend that evening with."

Quietly thanking the gods that Aveline is back on her feet again you nod, and happily take your invitation that Aveline was holding on to. For her part, Aveline grins like a schoolgirl and stands up, telling you that she wants to see how good a job you did with the dress. And how she won't hold back if she sees anything wrong with it. That's typical Aveline, though. She could afford to be a bit less...ruthless, at times, but overall you wouldn't have it any other way. You're just glad that finally, after all that time and effort, you'll get the see Aveline going to the ball like she (and you, honestly) wanted.

"Incidentally," Aveline suddenly asks, "I shouldn't need to remind you, but you do have formal wear, a more appropriate hair style and suitable shoes you can dance on yourself, right? I spend a lot of effort practising and I'm not going to look like a fool just because my partner has two left feet! Can you dance, or do you need some help arranging for lessons?"

...You're not sure when the ball will be, exactly, but you do know that this is going to be a very long couple of days...

--You ask Aveline whether she really can't think of any way out of this. You know how observant she usually is, both in the conventional sense and socially, so surely if there is a way out of this situation (read: You inviting her to the ball yourself) she noticed it. She must have noticed it. You trust Aveline, but...all you see in her expression is the face of someone who doesn't know what to do anymore. It's enough to make you doubt yourself. Are you missing something? Is there a part of this whole ordeal, something about what Aveline is going through, that means you can't invite her yourself? Is there something that causes that plan to...not work?

...You're not sure. That's not something you can figure out right here, right now. And you know that if you don't, if you make a mistake, Aveline might get crushed by it. Best case scenario she's going to give you an earful, but frankly you'd welcome a conventional earful from Aveline right about now. You really want to see her be herself again.

You're going to need to take a moment to think about this one. Very carefully...

And the female version of stage 7:

Spoiler

Aveline's dress is finally done! The finishing touches have been made, everything has been checked and double-checked, it's perfect! It's done! Even Aveline won't be able to complain about this! Excited to show Aveline your work you start to look around for her. But she's not in the Aranaz Dorms, not in the Venalicium or the Great Hall, not in the Garden Gallery...not in your impromptu workshop either, just in case she somehow figured out you finished the dress before you got the chance to actually tell her about it. Does she have dance classes today? She doesn't as far as you recall. You ask around, but no one seems to know where she is either. Where is she?

You're getting worried. You recall all to well how Aveline ran off last time. You're sure you made no mistakes, and you trust Aveline to have pointed it out if you did. Yet...there's still that nagging feeling. What did you miss? Time hasn't made that feeling go away, if anything it just took root more and more. Is that why Aveline is hiding? Did you mess something up? Or is something going on with Professor Badcrumble? Gods, your kingdom for a few answers!

Getting slightly desperate that neither you or anyone else seems to know where Aveline is hiding you decide to go and make a deal with the Academagia's closest equivalent of a devil. Rikildis. You run over to her editorial room and are actually relieved to see her working here. Rikildis, for her part, looks at you most curiously when she sees you run in, looking like you do. "[PC FIRST NAME]? What are you doing here? I haven't even investigated-I mean, never mind that. Did you need something?"

You don't know if Rikildis is trying to bluff information out of you there, and frankly, you couldn't care less right now. "Do you know where Aveline is? I've been looking all over for her but she's nowhere to be found. No one seems to know where she is, either."

Rikildis frowns. Not a "oh, I can work with that" frown, more along the lines of a "gods, why am I surrounded by idiots" frown. One you don't appreciate seeing on Rikildis, but you don't say anything. "[PC FIRST NAME], why are you asking me about that? You're supposed to be her closest friend, for goodness' sake!"

You so do not have the patience for this right now. "Rikildis, please, just answer my damn question - where is she? Do you know?"

The look on Rikildis' face is one you can't make out. It's a mixture of a few things, really, though none of it flattering. Shaking her head Rikildis answers, "[PC FIRST NAME], only in the vain hope that you manage to get your act together am I willing to tell you this: Aveline is in the The Henna Ilyon Music Room, playing the harpsichord." A second before you can start running off Rikildis grabs your attention and adds "[PC FIRST NAME], either play your cards right or pray to the Gods that you don't mess this up, because I will never let you forget about it if you do."

"You'd never let anyone forget about anything no matter what anyway," you retort as you start running. Rikildis has something to say in response, but you thoroughly don't care.

True to Rikildis' word you see find Aveline playing the harpsichord, quietly singing along as she plays what sounds like the chorus of a song. You can't make out all the words, but you do catch the distinct sound of Aveline singing something along the lines of "face my fears", so...that's encouraging? You hesitate in the doorframe for a moment, not sure if you ought to approach her or not. But you quickly conclude that you're going to get nothing done standing around like this, so with some hesitation you walk up to Aveline. She doesn't stop playing at the sound of approaching footsteps, though she does stop when she sees it's you. "[PC FIRST NAME]? H-how long have you been listening?"

"I just got here," you lie. Aveline doesn't call you on it. "I wanted to tell you that I've finished the dress. Do you want to try it on, make sure everything is up to snuff?"

Aveline stares at you for a second with a thoroughly lost expression before turning away. "I-I don't...I don't know if..." You know where that's going and like hell you're going to have put in so much work only for Aveline to get cold feet at the last second. You take a seat close to her and plainly ask Aveline whether she's getting cold feet. "Y-you mean about going to the ball? No," she answers as confidently as ever.

"What's the problem, than? Hell, what's going on with you in general? You've been acting odd since you first told me about this ball, and honestly it's starting to get on my nerves."

Aveline shakes her head. "I told you before, I'm not saying another word on that subject." You frown, but Aveline doesn't change her tune. "Why I've been hiding out here doesn't have anything to do with that, anyway." Wait, what? You ask Aveline why she's been hiding, than. "Why? [PC FIRST NAME], don't you realize what the last thing I'll need to do is?" No, you don't, and you tell Aveline as much. She's got some "flattering" observations to make about your social awareness in response, but again her criticism sounds...off. Her heart isn't in it. For better or worse.

"Aveline, please, I don't have the patience for this. Just give me a straight answer for once. I've done everything I can to help you so far, whatever this last thing is, just tell me about it. I promise I'll do my best to help you with that, too."

Aveline looks at you with an expression that you're having a hard time reading, and an even harder time wanting to read. This isn't the face of someone who's tired, or even the face of someone who's hiding things. This is the face of someone who's given up. "[PC FIRST NAME]...can you promise you'll keep this secret? All of it?" You remind Aveline that that's what you've been doing the entire time, and ask her again what's bothering her. It takes her a few seconds, but soon enough Aveline weakly nods. "[PC FIRST NAME]...I need someone. To come with me to the ball." You quirk an eyebrow at that. "I know it's not required to attend or anything, but...I need someone to come with me anyway, alright? To prove my point. It's...important." As much as you hate to admit it you know you're not getting more information than that, but you ask anyway. Try to ask. As expected Aveline shakes her head at your questions. "Please, let me finish, [PC FIRST NAME]. About someone coming with me...you know that I'm not the most popular student around, right? Everyone just thinks of me as the snobbish know-it-all who's only real point of merit is cleaning up everybody else's mess. And even that only because it's supposedly an obsession of mine, not for any reason I should be praised for." You wouldn't go that far, personally, but if only for the sake of conversation you nod. "So convincing someone to come with me would be difficult enough as is. But there's an additional complication. One that...I can't fix." You ask Aveline if she's worried about getting whoever's name on the attendees list in place of you, since that's the only issue you can think of that Aveline is talking about here and you didn't think that would be an insurmountable obstacle...but Aveline just slowly shakes her head in response to your question.

"Replacing your name doesn't matter. And do you know why? Because no one else would go to the ball with me anyway." Aveline says bitterly. "I know, [PC FIRST NAME]. I'm not guessing here, I know. Because I checked. And everyone I asked, even Cyrus...no one would even think of going with me." You ask Aveline if she seriously invited Cyrus to the ball, but Aveline clarifies that she didn't ask him (or anyone, for that matter) directly, she just...tested the waters. To see if anyone would go for it. Unfortunately, she got rejected. Repeatedly. Still talking with a bitter tone Aveline adds, "You're the only one I have any reason to ask to go to the ball with me, [PC FIRST NAME], because you're the only one who might possibly want to go to the ball with me. But as much as I want to ask you...I just can't. You've done so much for me already, I've put so much pressure on you for nothing more than a sneer and criticism in return, without answering any of your questions, testing your patience to your limit the entire time...I can't ask you to come with me. I can't. I don't think my heart could take it." You know Aveline has something against begging people for help, so her mentioning that her heart couldn't take it in such a factual way...it's a bit chilling thing, honestly. And as if to drive a final nail if your coffin Aveline adds, "And if I don't? Than everything you've done for me so far will go to waste. All that work, all the patience, all the feelings of the one person who cares enough to go through all the effort for me? Gone. Cast aside all because of me. [PC FIRST NAME], I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. But I'm just stuck. I don't know of any way out of this."

Talk about an awkward position, yeah. You said you didn't want to see the effort you put into the dress go to waste, and you don't, but...well, could you even convince someone else to go with Aveline to the ball? Could you fudge over enough details with Professor Badcrumble to make that happen? Could you convince Aveline to go along with it? Could you make that miracle happen? You ask Aveline about it, but she, unsurprisingly, shakes her head. "Even if you did, I couldn't take you doing so much more for me, [PC FIRST NAME]. Please, don't even think about it. I'm sorry for being so selfish, but even if you succeeded, somehow, it would just...break my heart. I mean it. I can't see any way out of this..."

To you it sounds like no matter how you look at it, the path forward is clear. You are going to have to invite Aveline over to the ball, and mean it to the point where Aveline won't see it as you taking pity on her. Because, evidently, after "everything" that's happened so far she wouldn't be caught dead taking pity (or, gods forbid, asking for it) from you. It's that, or watch as everything you've put so much effort into goes to waste. And that is not an outcome that you, or Aveline for that matter, can accept.

So...inviting Aveline. How...

-Music. Invite Aveline to the ball. And mean it.
--"Don't you want to face what's haunting you, Aveline?"

You said that in reference to Aveline's singing earlier, but she turns white as a sheet. Thankfully some color returns to her face after you explain to her that you were just referencing what you overheard of her singing. "S-sorry, [PC FIRST NAME], but...that question hit a bit too close to home." Evidently. You ask, one more time, for Aveline to please give you some context...and she clams up. Again. Gods alive, this girl. What is it going to take to finally pry her heart open?

...Right after asking yourself that your eyes land on the music score placed on the harpsichord. You know, Aveline did attend Music last year, and she's here, of all places, when she's seemingly at her worst, so...this might actually work. "Alright. If you're not going to do that, will you at least let me play the harpsichord for you?"

Aveline needs to think about that one. "Sorry, but I don't see how those two points connect. What do you want to do?"

"Play the harpsichord for you. So you can focus on signing your heart out." Aveline looks sceptical, but you notice her cast a hopeful glance at the sheet music as well. For one brief second you can see Aveline's feelings...but when she turns to face you she's already composed herself, preparing to lie or otherwise deflect. And that turns out to be your breaking point. "Aveline, please, just...stop! You-I can give you a long list of reasons why I can see right through you right now and I'm fed up with how much you're keeping everything bottled up inside! Do you want to actually face your fears or don't you!?" Your outburst catches Aveline by surprise, and as quickly as she put her mask back on you've ripped it off of her. Behind it is nothing flattering, unfortunately. Nothing but fear and hurt feelings. "I'll play the harpsichord for you, Aveline. I can read sheet music, this isn't beyond my skill level, I'll be fine. So please, let just one damn piece of you go already! I'm sick and tired of seeing you keep dragging yourself down like this!"

You're half expecting Aveline to get mad and start an argument with you...but no. Instead she lowers her head, slowly nods, and stands up. You're not quite sure why she needs space to sing, but...whatever she wants, sure. With trembling lips she says, "Ready when you are, [PC FIRST NAME]." You shift to the front of the harpsichord and take a closer look at the sheet music. Well within your capabilities. Good. You start playing, Aveline slowly starts singing, and after some time the two of you find a good rhythm. Aveline, as you asked, starts singing her heart out. She even starts dancing, you imagine repeating what moves she's learned during her dance classes, but you're not bothered by it either which way. You're just happy that Aveline is finally letting at least some of her pent-up feelings go.

It takes a while for Aveline to finish signing her heart out...or maybe she just stops because she's got a sore throat. Either way she eventually stops, you slowly stop, and Aveline sits down where you were sitting before. Odd that your positions have reversed, but you don't think there's any deep significance to that. "[PC FIRST NAME]?" Aveline asks with what sounds like a sore throat. "I-eh, I know I probably should let my voice rest, but could you please...I-I want to get this off my chest..."

You know you really should let Aveline let her voice rest first, but your patience has been stretched to it's breaking point. You, too, can't hold it in anymore. "What is going on with you, Aveline? Just...why? All that's happened, all you asked for and did, everything. Why?" Aveline hesitates, but you thankfully notice that she's just not sure where to begin. Fair enough, that was a rather broad question. "Please, start from the beginning, Aveline. What happened? What caused all of this?"

"P-professor Badcrumble started all of this," Aveline answers. Finally. "Well, sort of. I went to her office to ask a few Astrology questions, just some stuff I needed for an essay. Nothing special. But I noticed her office was a mess. Stuff everywhere, dust, it was terrible. I called her out on it, and she did the same to me in turn. But what she said to me...it hurt. It hurt a lot." Sounds like Aveline is hurting her throat talking right now, but...no, you're not so curious as to force a friend to hurt herself. You stop Aveline for a second and take out your wand, using your magic as best you can to ease Aveline's sore throat. She appreciates it, and within a few minutes she sounds much better. "Thanks, [PC FIRST NAME], I really needed that. Anyway, what the regent said, it stuck with me. No matter what I did or tried, everywhere I went, I kept hearing her words echo in my head. No matter what I tried. It just got worse and worse, until it drove me crazy. Me asking you to sew a dress for me, attending the ball, everything goes back to that. I wanted those words out of my head." You ask Aveline what words the regent said to her. It takes some coaching to get Aveline to admit it, but thankfully, she does. "'You'll never find love'. That's what she said to me."

"W-what? Why would Professor Badcrumble say something like that to you?"

"Because I was giving her a thorough lecture on all of her apparent shortcomings, not knowing that it was because she had her plate full with planning stuff for Lady Amaran's ball - that's how I learned about it, by the way - and she had a few observations to make of me in turn. Namely that if I kept just seeing and pointing out the faults and shortcomings of everyone I met, I'll never find love. I don't think she meant to hurt me so badly...but she did." You genuinely don't know if you would have guessed that Aveline could have been hurt so badly by those words. You tell Aveline as much, and she readily agrees. "I certainly didn't say anything about it at the time either, I didn't think about it. But those words kept coming back to haunt me. Every time I gave someone else the same treatment, every time I heard someone badmouth me behind my back, every time I was blown off because I'd just 'complain about everything', every time no one was around when I needed help with something or whenever I was alone...I heard it again. Those words. The regent's voice. Time and time again. Over time it got louder, too. Every rejection, every shortcoming, every time it got a little louder. I felt like I couldn't hear my own thoughts anymore by the time I came to you for help."

That sounds...positively awful, but that also begs a rather important question. "So where does me sewing you a dress come into play? I mean, if you needed some support there's...less indirect ways to ask for it?"

Aveline actually weakly smiles at those questions. "I...this is going to sound stupid, but I just didn't want to admit that what the regent told me got to me so much. I didn't want to admit that the idea of not being loved could bother me so much. Not even to myself."

"Well, it did. So, are you willing to admit that those words got to you? And that you do have at least one friend you can count on?" Aveline, with the most earnest smile you've ever seen on her, nods. Now seems like as good a time as any. "Shall we show it Professor Badcrumble at the ball, as well? That you do have a friend who'll stand by you?"

Aveline, still grinning, nods again. "You don't have to mince words, [PC FIRST NAME], I know how much I've put you through the wringer. And, yes. There's no one else I'd want to go to the ball with. No one else who's earned it as much, no one else I'd want to spend that time with."

Finally. Aveline looks much better now that she's gotten it all off her chest, and you're happy that all the work you've put into getting Aveline ready for the ball isn't going to go to waste. Now, only one question remains.

When does that ball actually happen, exactly? And more importantly, how much time do you have left to get ready for it...?

--There must be something that can be said about Aveline being here, in the Henna Ilyon Music Room, at a time like this. So you figure that playing the harpsichord for Aveline and letting her sing her heart out should be a good way to get her to open up a bit.

You will defend that theory to the death, especially because Aveline (after some convincing) agrees to it. Your actual playing of the harpsichord and reading of her sheet music though? Eh...so, the good news is that Aveline does seem to improve, a little bit, insofar that she seems to be able to forget about all her worried about the ball for a precious moment and act like herself again. It's not a long term solution, but at least you made her forget her worried for a moment.

The bad news is that the way she goes about it (that is to her, Aveline's usual way of being Aveline) makes you think like you'll never feel comfortable sitting in front of a harpsichord ever again...

-Befriend. You know Aveline knows better than this, so talk it out with her.
--"Aveline, can you really not see any way out of this?" She nods, and for a moment you're afraid you made a mistake. Like you overestimated either Aveline or yourself, like there's something you're missing here that makes your brilliant solution not so brilliant, or a solution. But that can't be. You refuse to believe it. "So...does that mean you're giving up? On going to the ball?"

"N-no, but...I-I don't know how..." is Aveline's answer. And yours. What you can't see in her face you can hear in her voice - she does know. She hasn't given up on going to the ball because she knows there's a way out of this. So...why is she doing this!?

You want to think about how to best proceed from here, but your patience with Aveline's secrecy is rapidly running out. "Aveline, just...what happened to you!? I know you're not this unobservant, Aveline, I can hear it in your voice! Why, after all we've been through, do you feel like you have to lie to me?" That question hits Aveline so hard she visibly shakes, and despite her best attempts to fight it it seems that her eyes are starting to tear up a bit. Maybe you're going a bit far, but...your patience is at it's end. Aveline quickly breaks down into a waterfall of apologies, and that turns out to be your breaking point. "I don't care for your apologies, Aveline, I want to know what happened to you! What gods-forsaken point do you feel like you need to prove that you're lying to me because you need my pity!? I know you're not so selfish or self-centred, Aveline, and I know you're not so blind that you can't appreciate your friends despite what you've been doing lately. I know you're not a bad person, Aveline, I know you're not. So why are you doing this? What are you so afraid of that you can't even tell your friend the truth!?"

That little outburst brings Aveline beyond her breaking point. She tries to fight it, tries to hold on to her facade, but she can't. Twitches she can't stop, sobs she can't stifle, and eventually tears she can't hold back. You extend a hand, and when Aveline takes it you pull her into your arms. You can't tell if Aveline wants to resist because you don't give her the chance to, but the fact that she wraps her own arms around you afterwards tells you you did the right thing. Aveline slowly cries her heart out on your shoulder, while you try and gently coax her to not hold back. You're more than done with people keeping their feelings from you. It takes a while for Aveline to get everything out of her system, but when her emotions have finally run their course she pulls back and sits up straight again. In a way she looks better now than she did when you first walked into this room however many minutes ago, despite the tear-soaked mess her face has become. "[PC FIRST NAME]?" she asks, looking at you with the all the confidence and composure that her current appearance allows for. "A-about what...t-there's a few things I really need to get off my chest." Happy beyond words to see Aveline be honest with you again you nod. "This whole mess...it's all because of something Professor Badcrumble told me." Unable to hold back your curiosity you don't give Aveline pause, you ask what it was that the regent told her. You can tell it's hard for Aveline to give words to, but when doubt starts to wash over her she looks at you, and nods to herself confidently. "'You'll never find love'. That's what she said to me."

"...Why? Why would she say something like that to you?"

Aveline tries, but she can't help but look away at this point. Her gaze falls on the harpsichord she was playing a moment ago. "I caught her slacking off on keeping her office clean. I just went in there to ask a few questions about Astrology, for a homework project, but as soon as I walked in and saw the mess I couldn't help myself. Papers strewn everywhere, shelves covered in dust, every mistake and shortcoming I noticed I pointed out to her. Didn't think twice about it, either, it just felt natural to me. She had a few things to tell me in turn, though. That she was busy, all the stuff about Lady Amaran and the ball they were planning - she accidentally blabbed to me about that, that's how I knew. And, at the end of it, she said what hurt me the most. That if I just kept finding and pointing out faults in everything and everyone...that I'd never find love."

That seems like poor conduct on Professor Badcrumble's part, but you're more interested in different context right now. "You've never struck me as the kind of person who'd be concerned about that, Aveline. At least, I wouldn't have guessed that you'd take it so hard."

"Neither did I," Aveline remarks. "But I couldn't get those words out of my head. 'You'll never find love'. I couldn't stop hearing them. I couldn't stop repeating them, couldn't stop thinking about them, couldn't stop being reminded of them every time someone glared at me after acting like a know-it-all near them. For a moment I thought I'd never stop hearing them!" You place a hand on Aveline's shoulder. She looks at you, slowly nods in understanding, and takes a deep breath to compose herself before continuing. "Those words kept haunting me. Every disapproving glance, every shaking head, every comment behind my back. 'You'll never find love'. Time and time again, I heard it." You gently rub Aveline's shoulder. She glances at you with a smile on her face, though her gaze is still focussed on the harpsichord. "I tried to escape from them. Escape those words, escape what the regent told me. But I couldn't pretend that people actually cared about me. I tried, but it didn't work. I know my reputation, what people think of me. I know what all I've done last year, this year, and what people think of it. I know what I think about it, too, but...as times passed it got harder and harder to believe in it. I tried to deny it, but I knew that so long as people continued to see me as nothing but an excessively critical know-it-all...that I really would remain alone."

"So to prove Professor Badcrumble wrong...you decided that you'd attend the ball? Show her you weren't like that?"

Aveline shakes her head, and the smile on her face twists. "Oh, if only my plan was that noble," she says with a shrill voice. "I had a point to prove, [PC FIRST NAME]. Nothing less, nothing more. I needed someone, anyone, to do me a favor. Something. Anything. I didn't care what, why, how, to who, nothing. I didn't care about anything. I only cared about proving the regent wrong, about pushing those damned words out of my head. I needed someone to care. To do something for me just because I asked them to. The ball was just a convenient excuse, I had no interest in going there at first. I just had a point to prove."

You frown at that. "So...you asking me to sew you a dress, just...proof? Something that you thought I'd never do for anyone unless I cared?"

"Something like that," Aveline slowly admits. She tries to hide it, but this is all really painful for her to admit. "As soon as you agreed to sew a dress for me I should have known, but...I guess I got selfish. You showed me the only bit of compassion I could've asked for, and I just wasn't satisfied. I could still hear it. Could still hear the regent's voice in my mind telling me that I was just tricking you, that I didn't deserve anything you did for me. So I pushed you even further, made my grand plan to attend the ball and show the regent personally how wrong she was. I thought that'd get rid of the voice, finally. B-but than..."

"Than you started to actually trick me. Or at least, you lied to me," you fill in for Aveline. She nods, sadly. "Why? I meant what I said, Aveline. I know you're not that selfish. So why? Why did you lie to me?"

"Because I got stuck. I wanted to take someone else to the ball, to give you a well-deserved break after all the work I put you through. But when I asked around to see who'd go to the ball with me...they all rejected me." Again, not something you thought would have hit Aveline so hard. Of course, you were wrong about that once before already. "When I realized that I'd have no one else but you to call on, again, I just lost it. It was fate's cruellest joke. Would I ask you to come with me, and crack under the weight of all the lies I told you? Or would I not, and throw away everything I lied for? I couldn't make that choice. I thought, for a moment, that Professor Badcrumble won. That the fates caught me in their trap, tied me to a string and hung me up to dry. That's when the voice in my head turned into a cackling laugh, mocking me for every single thing I got and never deserved. It got to the point where I couldn't do anything but hide out here and play the harpsichord. Everything else I tried to do I couldn't, because I'd get too distracted." That sounds decisively unhealthy. Aveline doesn't disagree with your assessment, either. "The only possible option I saw was for you to invite me yourself. But every time I tried to even imagine you doing so I heard the voice again. Every time I thought of you, every time I looked at any of the things you helped prepare with me, I heard it again. I felt completely stuck, completely alone. All I could do was sit here and play the harpsichord, wait for you to eventually find me, and...I don't even know what. I was so afraid that you'd finally get fed up with me, that you'd scream and me and leave me here, but...you didn't. Y-you have no idea how afraid I was that you'd leave me behind here, [PC FIRST NAME]..."

Given the tear-soaked mess that is your robes right now you think feel like you can make an educated guess...though of course you don't say that. "You stretched my patience to the breaking point, Aveline. But I'm not so short-sighted as to not notice when something is eating away at you so badly, and if it was me who was hurting I'm sure you'd have noticed it as well. Professor Badcrumble might not appreciate it, the rest of the student body might not agree with it, but it takes a good friend to trust that you'll have all of your shortcomings pointed out to you. And that while keeping in mind how you're feeling, because a friend knows how you do. I'd rather get corrected by someone who knows me than by a stranger, Aveline. That's why I'm glad that you're my friend." Aveline nods with a smile on her face, but rather than just thanking you she gives you another quick hug. And a more conventional word of thanks, but that gets rather lost by the rest of it. "Is that all you needed to get off your chest?"

Aveline shakes her head, and despite the difficulty looks you straight in the eyes. "[PC FIRST NAME], I don't know if I've got any right to ask, and honestly I don't care: Will you please go to the ball with me? Even if someone else asked right now, I wouldn't care. There's no one else I want to spend that evening with."

Quietly thanking the gods that Aveline is back on her feet again you nod, and happily take your invitation that Aveline was holding on to. For her part, Aveline grins like a schoolgirl and stands up, telling you that she wants to see how good a job you did with the dress. And how she won't hold back if she sees anything wrong with it. That's typical Aveline, though. She could afford to be a bit less...ruthless, at times, but overall you wouldn't have it any other way. You're just glad that finally, after all that time and effort, you'll get the see Aveline going to the ball like she (and you, if you're being perfectly honest) wanted.

"Incidentally," Aveline suddenly asks, "I shouldn't need to remind you, but you do have formal wear, an appropriate hair style and suitable shoes you can dance on and all of that yourself, right? I spend a lot of effort practising and I'm not going to look like a fool just because my partner has two left feet! Can you dance, or do you need some help arranging for lessons?"

...You're not sure when the ball will be, exactly, but you do know that this is going to be a very long couple of days...

--You ask Aveline whether she really can't think of any way out of this. You know how observant she usually is, both in the conventional sense and socially, so surely if there is a way out of this situation (read: You inviting her to the ball yourself) she noticed it. She must have noticed it. You trust Aveline, but...all you see in her expression is the face of someone who doesn't know what to do anymore. It's enough to make you doubt yourself. Are you missing something? Is there a part of this whole ordeal, something about what Aveline is going through, that means you can't invite her yourself? Is there something that causes that plan to...not work?

...You're not sure. That's not something you can figure out right here, right now. And you know that if you don't, if you make a mistake, Aveline might get crushed by it. Best case scenario she's going to give you an earful, but frankly you'd welcome a conventional earful from Aveline right about now. You really want to see her be herself again.

You're going to need to take a moment to think about this one. Very carefully...

So this is the point where my usual a lack of planning along with retroactive editing resulted in some...interesting looking stages. And interesting stages in general, for probably more than one possible interpretation of that word. But hey, there were worse alternatives. Maybe.

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