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Metis

Y2 WIP Adventures (come and proof-read!)

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Looking for Something to Find, stage 5:

Spoiler

"Demanding little girl, isn't she?" you ask Vettor as he walks over to Ana's bag.

"Maybe, but it's not like her attitude's actually bad. Like, say, Joana. She's just really eager to learn all of these things, and what kind of mentor would I be if I didn't encourage that? It's not like she wouldn't do the same for me if I asked her, anyway. She's done it before."

"So...does that mean that you might grow yourself some fins and flat feet, Vettor?" you playfully ask, since you're pretty sure you know what spell Ana managed to teach Vettor rather than the other way around. Vettor, equally playfully, gives you a vague answer about how he "can neither confirm or deny", but you know what you'll be expecting of him.

It's a good thing you do, too, because what you didn't expect is what happens several minutes later. Out of nowhere Ana comes running out of the water, her face pale and her wand held tightly in her hand. You don't see any wedding rings on her, either. Vettor also notices Ana approach, and draws his own wand as she runs up to the two of you. "I-I found the ring, it fell down into one of the cracks of the Palace. B-but-"

"Ana, please, calm down," Vettor says. Again, there's a clear, visible reaction. Is it because Vettor called Ana by her...name? Where does he get "'Thema" from if-never mind, you'll ask them about that later. Point is, Ana does as Vettor asks, taking a few deep breaths and sitting down in front of him. Vettor, in turn, also sits down. To you this doesn't seem like the first time something like this has happened. "What happened, Ana? Is that monster still in the water, or is there something wrong with the ring?" Vettor calmly asks.

"The latter," Ana slowly answers. "I tried to check it out before picking it up, like you told me to, and...there's something wrong with it. It-it broke my spell before I could finish casting it. I don't know what's wrong but I can't manage to cast a spell on it, every time I try it just keeps breaking it."

Vettor, not unreasonably, looks equal parts confused and disbelieving at this information. He slowly turns to look at you and asks if you have any idea what could be going on here. "The obvious answer...Ana, sorry for asking, but are you sure that you can cast those spells underwater? Have you done so before?"

"Of course I can, and of course I have. It wasn't an issue with me not casting spells correctly, even if I did it wouldn't work. That ring caused the Phemes I traced to tear and dissolve before I could even finish them, no amount of practice could help with that."

...Huh. That is...interesting. "I've no idea what's going on here, but I'm glad you didn't try to pick up that ring," Vettor says. Ana actually nods in agreement. "So what do we do? If this ring...I don't know, breaks magic around it than obviously we can't use magic to 'safely' pick it up, and who knows if we can pick it up safely with our hands. But I don't want to just leave it here either." Ana quickly nods at that last point. You'll admit, it's slightly adorable. "Right. It's our job to get it, I don't think it's safe to just leave behind here, and even if we told Professor Badcrumble about it - and she believed us - I doubt she can swim anyway."

"I've no doubt that Professor Badcrumble knows a spell that could help her with that if push came to shove..." you say, though you start to trail off as you realize a rather large problem with that idea. "Actually, how would she pick up the ring? Could it break whatever spell she used to swim to it?"

Vettor and Ana both shrug, and all three of you realize that it would be best if you guys managed to bring the ring to Professor Badcrumble yourselves. That's literally Ana's job right now, anyway. The question is how you're going to pick up this ring. It might not melt your flesh and bone as soon as you touch it, or it might, you're not sure. Magic certainly won't work, so...what to do?

-Fishing. Catch the ring with a fishing hook.
--"Here's an idea, how about we 'catch' the ring like a fish? If Ana can swim to it she can just drop a line underwater and hook it, right?"

Ana shrugs and says she probably could, but Vettor asks you a rather poignant question regarding that idea. "Do you have a fishing rod on you? Or a line and a hook, at least?"

"Not on me right now, no, but if not me than one of you two should be able to Revise up a temporary...wait..." Vettor slowly nods. This is going to be slightly more tricky than you thought, but you're not giving up that easily. "Well, in that case we can go back to basics. People have been catching fish since before metallurgy was invented, and so shall we! Vettor, grab me a sharp stick. We'll poke that ring into our possession the old-fashioned way if we have to!"

"That...might be difficult, considering where the ring ended up," Ana notes. You will not be brought down by these doubters, though. Your stick plan will save the day!

"Fine, a thin stick with an extra pointy end. I mean an extra end that is pointy, not an end that is extra pointy. You understand, right, Vettor?"

"I understand that there's a reason you went to the Athletics Field this morning, sure," he says cryptically and politely. Not cryptically enough, though. "I'll find your stick, it's not like I can think of a better option anyway."

You and Ana patiently wait for Vettor to return with the stick, and armed with this new tool Ana, with all the confidence of Philippe Marchant during an Arithmetic mid-term, goes back into the water and tries to lodge the ring onto the stick. A few minutes later she returns, stick held triumphantly far away from her. "Vettor, please take this stick off my hands I don't want to hold it anymore," Ana rapidly blurts out as she holds the stick out for Vettor. He takes it, asks her to take a deep breath, and Ana does. You ask her if everything went according to plan. "Eh, it kinda did. Your stick idea was honestly very nice, I managed to poke at the ring from a distance without having to come close to it. You might have noticed that I've got fins right now?" You nod. "Yeah, I thought about what that ring might do to me if I touched it and realized I really didn't want to find out. So thanks for coming up with the stick idea. The more distance I could put between me and that ring, the better."

And so this is how this grand adventure, full of bravery and danger, comes to it's end. Lodged onto a stick with an extra pointy end. You cannot believe this plan not only worked, but worked so well. It's just a shame that it'll limit your ability to retell this story in a way that doesn't make it sound ridiculous, because seriously. Academagia students solving problems with regular, non-magical sticks? How backwards can you get...you suppose you could try and pass it off as a creative solution, though. But you doubt many would fall for that...

In any case, the three of you have retrieved the mysterious ring, and it is not bothering the stick at all, so you've got a means to transport it too. Not a very...elegant, or good-looking transport, but it'll get the job done.

--"Here's an idea, how about we 'catch' the ring like a fish? If Ana can swim to it she can just drop a line underwater and hook it, right?"

Ana shrugs and says she probably could, but Vettor asks you a rather poignant question regarding that idea. "Do you have a fishing rod on you? Or a line and a hook, at least?"

"Not on me right now, no, but if not me than one of you two should be able to Revise up a temporary...wait..." Vettor slowly nods. This is going to be more tricky than you thought, but you're not giving up that easily. "Well, I know this lake at least used to be a place where people fished, so I imagine there's an old hook and line around here somewhere, we just have to find it. Ana can search the water, Vettor and I can search the shore."

"I can look," Ana notes. "But what if we don't find one? I don't remember seeing any lost hooks, I don't know if there is one around here."

"Than we'll think of something else," you say dismissively, eager to get to looking. Ironically it seems that you've swapped places with Ana, who shrugs and heads back into the water.

Fast-forwards what feels like one very fruitless and, ultimately, frustrating hour, and Vettor eventually walks up to you with a wand that looks like it'd be multiple sizes too large for Gorithnak, much less Vettor himself. "I thought of something else," he says as he hands you the, upon closer inspection, stick. Not a magic wand or anything like that, just a stick. "Face it, if there's garbage around here we can't find it. So let's try this stick instead, it's got an extra pointy end so we can definitely hook the ring on it. Well, hopefully Ana can at any rate."

"At this point I'm willing to try anything, having to constantly re-cast my temperature spells is wearing on me and I'm sure that Ana isn't feeling any better. Go get her the stick, I'll prepare a heating zone so Ana can quickly dry off and we can leave shortly after she either fails or hooks herself a golden diamond whopper."

Vettor nods, and not too long after you're done Vettor and Ana walk up to you, Vettor's stick having a new addition to it. Ana, however, is shivering. "Not enough focus to maintain her spells," Vettor says as he pushes Ana into your heating zone. Her slightly battered body definitely appreciates that, even if Ana herself seems more annoyed at the situation than anything. "Let me guess, in diagram and written instructions form?" Vettor asks.

"S-save it for later," Ana slowly says. Vettor nevertheless still takes out a roll of parchment, though, right in time for Ana to add, underneath her breath, "But, yes..."

That could have ended better, but it could have ended worse, too. You've got the ring, you've got a means of transporting it...ridiculous as it looks...but you've got what you needed, and that's what counts.

-Swimming. Check out the ring for yourself.
--"I'd like to check out this ring for myself. Ana, I take it you remember where it is?"

"Of course, but...do you have your swimwear with you?"

You shake your head and say that it doesn't matter, you can jump in with what you've got on underneath your robes and dry yourself off later. It's something that Academagia students learn pretty quickly when they learn to swim, you'd honestly be surprised if Ana hasn't learned it yet.

Gives you a good hint as to what she's going to ask you to teach her next if she hasn't, though.

In any case you take off your robes, prepare your own set of spells, and jump into the water and follow Ana to where she found the ring. Indeed, there is a golden ring with an inset diamond sort of wedged within the cracked stone of the old Drowned Palace. Ana anxiously watches as you carefully poke the ring with your wand a bit and disaster failed to happen. You than try to cast your own detection spell, having a little more trouble with casting underwater than Ana probably has, and indeed, something is causing your spell to tear apart as you cast it. Needless to say that it doesn't do anything. Satisfied you signal for Ana to surface and start to swim up to the surface as well. Ana follows closely behind you. "There's definitely something very strange going on with that ring," you tell Ana after she surfaces as well. "Sorry for doubting you earlier."

"I...a-apologies accepted, but how are we going to get that ring to Professor Badcrumble? It didn't break your wand, so should we risk picking it up, or...?"

You shake your head. "No. You, especially, should not pick that ring up. Remember that you've got spells cast on you right now, who knows what'll happen if that ring break that magic halfway." Ana looks annoyed at first, but after explaining to her why picking up the ring would be a terrible idea her expression changes, and she nods. "The ring definitely isn't hurting the rock, assuming it's been there for a while now, or my wand, though. So I say we grab a stick with an extra pointy end and use that to carry the ring. Not the most elegant of solutions, but it's betting than directly touching it. Ana, go tell Vettor to go find a stick, I'll use it to carry the ring, and keep your distance afterwards. I don't want to know what you'd look like if you cast your spells halfway correctly, and neither do you." Ana nods again, swims off and comes back not long after with a stick with an extra pointy end on it. Of all the wondrous, magical artefact of great and mysterious powers that you've used to solve problems in the past, this stick is...significantly underwhelming.

It gets the job done, though. You swim back down, lodge the ring on the extra pointy end of the stick, and carefully swim back to the surface and back to shore without dropping the ring. Once you're back on land you carefully hand Vettor the stick as you quickly use your wand to dry yourself and what clothes you got soaking wet. "So we're taking this straight to the Academagia, I take it?" Vettor asks, likely rhetorically.

"Of course. Just give me a second to dry off."

--"I'd like to check out this ring for myself. Ana, I take it you remember where it is?"

"Of course, but...do you have your swimwear with you?"

You shake your head and say that it doesn't matter, you can jump in with what you've got on underneath your robes and dry yourself off later. It's something that Academagia students learn pretty quickly when they learn to swim, you'd honestly be surprised if Ana hasn't learned it yet.

Gives you a good hint as to what she's going to ask you to teach her next if she hasn't, though.

In any case you take off your robes, jump into Ten Swans' Lake, and immediately regret every decision you've ever made as you forgot one rather important step - temperature! It's Cheimare, the lake may not be cold enough to freeze over but that doesn't mean it's - pardon the pun - freezing cold! You are so used to swimming laps in the magically heated swimming pool at the Academagia that you completely forgot to prepare a spell to keep your temperature!

Ana, who was obviously prepared and doesn't notice the cold at all, stares bewildered and confused at you suddenly freaking out over the lake's temperature and rushing back to shore in a blind panic, where you proceed to fumble with your wand multiple times before you're finally able to cast a spell that protects you from the cold. Admittedly that'd have been less of a comedy routine if you had taken your soaking wet with freezing cold water clothes off, those were not helping, but not in front of Vettor and Ana. You'll reconsider the importance of modesty after you feel hypothermia set in, not before.

That sure woke you up, though. Not going to need to go for a run on the Athletics Field after this anymore, though an infirmary trip might be called for instead.

"So do you still want to check out that ring, or are you good?" Ana asks, sounding more confused than like she's asking a question.

"I-I think I'm good," you answer. "Going to want to get out of these clothes immediately, just because I can't feel the cold doesn't mean it's still there. I'll go ask Vettor to join you instead while I get changed real quick."

Ana nods. Vettor, who heard your freak out and ran over nods at your suggestion, and while those two head down into the lake you take off these soaking wet clothes and put your robes back on. Stupid second year spells that still get the job done, but take time to do it. If you were a senior you could have dried yourself off in a second, but the best you can do is cast a heating spell on your clothes and hang them over a branch. Better not forget about them, too, come to think of it. You've got your robes on, and wouldn't notice the fact that's all you've got on during this time of year because of your temperature spell. You do not want to know what kind of ridiculous rumors Rikildis could make out of someone finding your clothes out here in the middle of nowhere, that's for sure. Gods, that'd end up as such a convoluted mess, you just know it.

...Actually, looking around this tree your eyes spot a fallen branch - twig, really - with an extra pointy end to it. Eh, an extra end that's pointy, not an end that's extra pointy. Could Ana hook the ring with this thing? This stick isn't magical, most trigs on the ground aren't, so the ring shouldn't dispel it? And even if it melts it, for whatever reason, so what? It's a twig you found on the ground, nothing of great, irreplaceable value was lost. Huh. Sounds like it'd be worth a try, at least. You pick up the twig and walk over to the lake, where Vettor and Ana are discussing strategy above where Ana found the ring. "Hey, guys!" you call out. Vettor and Ana both wave and start to swim over.

"You feeling alright?" Vettor asks. You nod and say that you'll be fine, so long as you don't suffer any wardrobe issues right now. Vettor can't help but smirk, but you're sure he's just amused at your blunders, not planning to pull a prank on you. You'll hold his head underwater until he stops struggling if he does, anyway. "So what's with the stick? Did you need so much heat that you figured you'd cast your spells with a bigger stick, hoping it'd generate more heat?"

You shake your head. "No, Vettor, I figured we might be able to use this to hook the ring," you say as you hand him the stick. He immediately hands it over to Ana. "I don't know if that thing will melt whatever it touches, but if it melts a stick, well, nothing lost, right?"

Ana dives underneath the water to grab the ring as Vettor tells you that Ana and him pretty much came to the same conclusion, so you coming over with that stick was very convenient timing. You're kinda bummed out that that means you won't be able to really claim credit for the ingenious solution, of using a regular stick to solve your problem, but...whatever. Not what you care about that much right now. In any case, you and Vettor decide to wait for Ana to return either with the ring or with disappointment. One or the other.

A few minutes later she returns, stick held triumphantly far away from her. "Vettor, please take this stick off my hands I don't want to hold it anymore," Ana rapidly blurts out as she holds the stick out for Vettor. He takes it, asks her to take a deep breath, and Ana does. You ask her if everything went according to plan. More so than your attempt at taking a swim did, at any rate. "Of course it did better than that," Ana answers. You'll admit that is not the answer you wanted to hear, but it's what you set yourself up for. "Your stick idea was honestly very nice. I managed to poke at the ring from a distance without having to come close to it. You might have noticed that I've got fins, in addition to the temperature managing spells I cast?" You nod. "Yeah, I thought about what that ring might do to me if I touched it and realized I really didn't want to find out. So thanks for coming up with the stick idea. The more distance I could put between me and that ring, the better."

And so this is how this grand adventure, full of stupidity and fears of hypothermia, at least that's what it was for you, comes to it's end. Lodged onto a stick with an extra pointy end. You cannot believe this plan not only worked, but worked so well. At the very least you're not concerned about the fact that the whole stick angle will limit your ability to retell this story in a way that doesn't make it sound ridiculous, because seriously, forgetting that heating spell...you're going to have to make a few edits to this story if you're ever going to want to retell it anyway, so might as well write the stick part out of it while you're at it.

In any case, the three of you have retrieved the mysterious ring, and it is not bothering the stick at all, so you've got a means to transport it too. Not a very...elegant, or good-looking transport, but it'll get the job done.

...You get halfway to the Academagia before you realize you forgot to grab your clothes off the tree branch before leaving. Son-of-a-Fish, this has not been your day...

-Puzzles. Solve this puzzle.
--When you approach this problem as you would a puzzle you quickly realize what the "intended" answer would be from whoever posed it: Some manner of mundane solution, as some sort of attempted lesson at not forgetting to hone your own skills in favor of just using magic to solve everything. The problem here is a lack of ability to tell whether the ring is safe to pick up, and that's not something you want to figure out by means of Ana experimenting with it. So you'll have to figure that out some other way, that can simply be observed.

...Observation. Wow, hard to believe the solution was that easy. "Ana, what did this ring end up lodged between? Wooden supports, stone, dirt, something else?"

"I think any wooden support beams probably would have rotten away long ago. But to answer your question, it's stuck between some kind of stone pillar or foundation thing, I'm not an archaeologist and I have no idea what that part of the drowned palace is supposed to be. Why?"

Vettor likewise stares at you a bit curiously and asks if you've figured out a solution. You nod. "We can say for sure that the ring doesn't harm the stone it's resting on, so we'll use that to carry it. Of course carving out part of the palace to bring that crack, ring included, with us is less than practical, I'll admit. So..." Both Ana and Vettor likewise try to think of something more practical, but none of you brought any stone plates or soup ladles or whatever with you, and you're likewise lacking on the stone chisel supplies. That's not to say there are no rocks around to Revise, but to pick up a ring that seems to break nearby magic...

"I've got it!" you suddenly say. Ana and Vettor both are all ears immediately. "We'll use a stick instead of something made of stone. We won't know for use whether it'll work, but we can at least test it, and finding a stick with an extra end or two that we can use to catch the ring is much more likely than stumbling across a stone soup ladle out in the wild. Does that sound like an idea?"

Ana says she's willing to try and, and Vettor says he's tired of standing around uselessly, so he'll go fetch you a stick with an extra pointy end. Truly, never in all of your years at the Academagia so far did a problem not have such a refined and extravagant solution...as a stick with an extra pointy end. Truly, this is setting a new height and record. In some respect, anyway...

You and Ana patiently wait for Vettor to return with the stick, and armed with this new tool Ana, with all the confidence of Philippe Marchant during an Arithmetic mid-term, goes back into the water and tries to lodge the ring onto the stick. A few minutes later she returns, stick held triumphantly far away from her. "Vettor, please take this stick off my hands I don't want to hold it anymore," Ana rapidly blurts out as she holds the stick out for Vettor. He takes it, asks her to take a deep breath, and Ana does. You ask her if everything went according to plan. "Eh, it kinda did. Your stick idea was honestly very nice, I managed to poke at the ring from a distance without having to come close to it. You might have noticed that I've got fins right now?" You nod. "Yeah, I thought about what that ring might do to me if I touched it and realized I really didn't want to find out. So thanks for coming up with the stick idea. The more distance I could put between me and that ring, the better."

And so this is how this grand adventure, full of bravery and danger, comes to it's end. Lodged onto a stick with an extra pointy end. You cannot believe this plan not only worked, but worked so well. It's just a shame that it'll limit your ability to retell this story in a way that doesn't make it sound ridiculous, because seriously. Academagia students solving problems with regular, non-magical sticks? How backwards can you get...you suppose it makes for an interesting puzzle, though. If one that you doubt would impress overly many...

In any case, the three of you have retrieved the mysterious ring, and it is not bothering the stick at all, so you've got a means to transport it too. Not a very elegant or good-looking transport, but it'll get the job done.

--When you approach this problem as you would a puzzle you quickly realize what the "intended" answer would be from whoever posed it: Some manner of mundane solution, as some sort of attempted lesson at not forgetting to hone your own skills in favor of just using magic to solve everything. The problem here is a lack of ability to tell whether the ring is safe to pick up, and that's not something you want to figure out by means of Ana experimenting with it. So you'll have to figure that out some other way, that can simply be observed.

How, though? How does one tell whether a normal-looking ring might melt the skin off your bones if you pick it up, without magic? How does one observe magic without magic? Well, how does one observe it safely. You've got no idea...

You continue to give this monster of a riddle all the thought you can spare, but no matter what situation you imagine you cannot think of a safe way to tell whether the ring is safe to pick up. You just can't. So you're still stumped when, some amount of time later, Vettor suddenly walks up to you with a stick in hand. Not his wand, mind, a regular-looking stick. "If this ring break magic around it than we obviously can't pick it up directly regardless, since I have to assume it'd break whatever spells we cast on us. Like Ana's fins, or more problematically, her temperature keeping spells. I don't think she fancies swimming around Ten Swans' Lake in Cheimare without that." Okay, makes sense. "I don't think there's any way we can make sure the ring is safe ourselves, not without magic, but I figured we can throw a stick at the problem and see if that works. If it does, great, we win. If not, well, I'm down one stick I just picked up off the ground in Elumia Proper. Don't think that's going to break any banks, personally."

...Oh, of course! The stone the ring is lodged between, the ring obviously doesn't damage that if it's been stuck between it for so long. That is how you observe-curses! If only you'd have figured that out sooner you wouldn't have had Vettor one-up your wit. Or your lack thereof...

Regardless, Vettor goes to give Ana the stick and explain his plan. She dives into the lake again, and comes back a few minutes later with the stick held triumphantly far away from her. "Vettor, please take this stick off my hands I don't want to hold it anymore," Ana rapidly blurts out as she holds the stick out for Vettor. He takes it, asks her to take a deep breath, and Ana does. You ask her if everything went according to plan. She nods. "Your stick idea was honestly very nice. I managed to poke at the ring from a distance without having to come close to it. You might have noticed that I've got fins right now?" Vettor nods. "Yeah, I thought about what that ring might do to me if I touched it and realized I really didn't want to find out. So thanks for coming up with the stick idea. The more distance I could put between me and that ring, the better."

...So this is how this grand adventure comes to it's end, huh? Lodged onto a stick with an extra pointy end, same as your confidence and your pride. You cannot believe Vettor's plan not only worked, but worked so well. And that it took Vettor for you to have the same idea. Like, he's not stupid, it's not like you failed an Arithmetic exam harder than Joana and Philippe, but...still. A stick. A stick, that was your grand answer - a stick!

Whatever. The three of you have retrieved the mysterious ring, and it is not bothering it's trusty mount at all, so you've got a means to transport it too. Job done, that's all that matters in the end.

Another one of those stages where I had a hard time imagining how a failure would stall. "They fail to get the ring and Professor Badcrumble doesn't believe their story, forcing them to get it anyway", sure, but there's a few reasons why this wouldn't work.

Fun Fact: The prototype adventure that (eventually) lead to this whole adventure chain started with the situation described in the Swimming failure text, although in that reality it involved the PC's (stolen) spare robes being left hanging in the Imperial Reserve, not his/her actual clothes being left at Ten Swans' Lake.

Edited by Metis

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Looking for Something to Find, stage 6:

 

An uneventful, tense and thoroughly ridiculous trip back to the Academagia later and the three of you stand before the door to Professor Badcrumble's office. Ana quickly takes point and knocks on it, barely waiting for the professor to tell her to come in before opening the door. This, you can already tell, is going to go beautifully. "Ah, Anathema, Vettor, come-[PC FIRST NAME]? Did you assist these two with their-" Professor Badcrumble starts, but she interrupts herself first when she sees you walk in, and again when she sees Vettor walk in with the stick. Worse, Vettor doesn't know where to put it so he starts to confusedly wave the stick around as he tries to find a place for it. "S-stop waving that thing around, Vettor, please. Why, unless my eyes deceive me, have you three elected to return a noblewoman's wedding ring on a stick? Could you not treat the woman's personal possessions with a bit more respect?"

"There's something wrong with this ring, professor," Ana(thema? Is that where "Ana" and "'Thema" comes from?) says. "We weren't sure whether the ring was safe to pick up, since we don't know what monster attacked the client, so I tried to check it with a spell, but the ring won't let me cast anything near it. It's cursed or something, but we don't know what's wrong with it."

Professor Badcrumble looks somewhere between disbelieving and perplexed at that explanation. More so the former than the latter, even though Vettor nods when Professor Badcrumble turns to face him. "Vettor, hand me that...stick, please," the professor asks. Vettor dutifully hands it over. She takes out her own wand and, with an expression that clearly says she doesn't believe a word of what Ana just said, tries to cast her own detection spell on it. But, as before, when the professor directs her spell towards the ring it suddenly tears, breaks, and eventually, evaporates. Professor Badcrumble nearly drops the stick out of surprise when she sees that. "Wh-what!? How? Why did...?" the professor exclaims, and a second later she turns her attention back to the three of you. Ana looks nervous, though you're not entirely sure why. She did nothing wrong, as far as you've noticed. "What happened? How did the ring end up like this?"

Ana nervously shakes her head. Vettor shrugs and says, "No clue, we found it like that. Maybe whatever monster attacked the noblewoman did it, but I've got no idea what kind of creature could do that. Or why, for that matter." Professor Badcrumble nods and turns to face you. You shrug and say that Vettor pretty much hit the nail on the head - you've got no idea why that ring breaks magic like that. Or how, for that matter.

"Well...it can't be a Negation," the professor answers for you as she stares curiously at the ring. "Negations don't break spells like this, and the noblewoman said her ring wasn't enchanted anyway." Professor Badcrumble fishes a small box out of her desk and carefully drops the ring inside of it, after which she dutifully hands the stick back to Vettor. It takes him a second to realize and take it back. "I'll investigate the cause behind this before returning the ring to the noblewoman. Worst case we'll have to inform her about the situation and ask for her cooperation in tracking down whatever monster attacked her. I don't believe that'll be a problem, though. Anathema, you've done a great job with both finding the ring and noticing what happened to it, whatever happened to it, and so managing to return it without putting yourself at undue risk. So why the long face? You look like I'm about to send you off to detention."

"That's usually the thanks I get whenever Professor Storey talks to me," Anathema mumbles underneath her breath. You're pretty sure Professor Badcrumble still hear it, though.

"Anathema, if you've got problems with your regent - or if he's got problems with you, for that matter - I'd suggest you bring the matter to the Legate. I can assure you that you're not a problem student, and frankly I'd take offence to Professor Storey treating you as such." Anathema first looks surprised at Professor Badcrumble, then weakly nods and she resumes staring at her feet, leaving you wondering what's going on there. Professor Storey is a...difficult professor, for many of his students, but he's not unfair. Strict to a fault and slightly mad from having dealt with Philippe's brothers, but you don't recall him punishing students that don't deserve it...at least from his point of view. Although something's tugging at the back of your mind as that thought crosses it, too. "[PC FIRST NAME], Vettor, is there anything more that either of you two need from me?" Professor Badcrumble asks, snapping you out of your thoughts.

"I'm good," Vettor says. Professor Badcrumble is, visibly, not impressed with Vettor's lack of graceful conduct, but honestly you feel like that's expecting too much of him anyway. It's enough of a miracle that he gets along so well with Ana, you think. As for you...

-There's nothing you need right now.
--You shake your head at the professor's question, and silently leave her office along with Vettor. Anathema stays behind at the professor's request, to discuss what issues she's having with Professor Storey in more detail. What that's all about you've no idea, but you're sure that if you need to know at any point you can ask Vettor about it. It seems like something that Ana would end up sharing with him sooner or later, anyhow.

You don't think it'll ever cease to be uncanny, though. Vettor getting along so well, and with a girl...definitely not what you expected after the impression he left on you last year, that's for sure.

-There's one thing about Professor Storey that comes to mind, actually...
--"Actually, about Professor Storey, this isn't the first time I've heard about him acting really weirdly," you say. Professor Badcrumble doesn't look impressed, though.

"I'm sure most of the students he sends to detention for what they believe are only minor or irrelevant infractions would say such a thing," the professor points out. You're not convinced by that, though.

"True, but I know it isn't that. Sometime during Athonos I dragged Girars de Periarde to see him, because Girars was worrying himself sick over a bunch of stupid rumors and I thought his regent would be able to talk some sense in to him. But the only thing he did was laugh at our faces and threaten to have us both expelled if we ever brought it up again. That goes well beyond us just catching him when he's in a bad mood, if you ask me."

"He seriously did that? Why? What'd you bring up?" Vettor asks with a face that says a few things, but "I believe you" is not one of them. The same can be said for Professor Badcrumble, in fact, who likewise asks you what you mentioned to the regent. Ana, for her part, is silently staring at you with an expression you're not able to read. She's cautious about something, but you're not sure what.

"It was, eh...right, that estate! One of the estates in Frontino got raided by a group of spellcasters during the summer, and there was a rumor...I'm not sure if 'going around' is the right word, but a few older Academagia students were talking about how that the estate was raided by a bunch of animal rights activists trying to put an end to some manner of vague and nefarious animal cruelty that was still taking place there, and Girars overheard. So naturally he was worried about it, I dragged him to his regent, and he threatened to have us both expelled if we ever mentioned that estate to him again."

Vettor's expression doesn't change, and neither does Ana's. Professor Badcrumble, however, looks equal parts perplexed and surprised. "The...wait, are you referring to the De Simones' estate, [PC FIRST NAME]?" You nod, not feeling surprised that Professor Badcrumble knows about it. She, however, looks irate. "I-I want to say that he-wait, that's why Professor Storey has been giving Anathema a hard time? First he leaves Professor Piaxenza and me to deal with his former troublemakers and then he treats Anathema like she's no better than-alright, that's one step further than even my patience is willing to tolerate!" Yikes, what monster did you just wake up!? Without pause Professor Badcrumble continues, saying, "[PC FIRST NAME], thank for you that bit of information, but do inform the Legate of these matters next time. I know he might be difficult to find...all the time, but Professors - let stand regents - have no business treating their students like that."

You just nod and hope that you're quickly able to run away from whatever you just unleashed. Seriously, you've got no idea where all of that came from, but, eh...you suppose you can say "case closed" on that whole plot to get revenge on the regent. So that's good...you guess?

In any case that's all you've got to say to Professor Badcrumble, all you dare to say even if it isn't, so along with Vettor you quickly make your exit and leave. Ana, for better or worse, stays behind at the Professor's request to discuss her Professor Storey situation in more detail. Hopefully that means that Vettor can coax some answers out of Ana later, because you two are both confused as to what you just witnessed, but if not...well, you managed to get that revenge that you wanted. A few months too late, it feels like, but...you did. So hurrah, victory achieved, you suppose?

Until you actually see Professor Storey squirm it won't really feel like a victory, but if Professor Badcrumble ever personally confronts him about this subject, whatever it's about, you'd like to be in a different building if at all possible. Like Alice's Tavern. Yeah, that's a great place to be. In fact let's go there later. Pies to celebrate a victory, that sounds like a great idea!

[PC IS NOT SIGALIS FRIEND]-Tell the professor about Sigalis looking for the ring as well.
--You're not sure if you're really comfortable doing this, all things considered, but either which way you feel like you have to get it off your chest. "There's one thing I'd like to mention, Professor," you say, a bit nervously. Professor Badcrumble nods and politely asks you to speak. "Well, about this job that you passed down to Ana: Sigalis du Sonmeil knew about it. We found her at Ten Swans' Lake looking uselessly for the ring, before Vettor even told Ana about it probably."

Professor Badcrumble looks confused and concerned. Not at all like she knew about Sigalis already and this is all just one great big misunderstanding. "Did she say anything as to why she was looking for this ring, exactly? I was told this request was to be considered a private one, no one except those actually involved with it were supposed to know about it. Of course I assume that Vettor informed you since you were asked to help with it. Vettor, just for the record, you didn't mention this request to Sigalis, did you?"

While Vettor shakes his head and explains that he brought it straight to Ana as soon as he was told about it you take a moment to think. As far as you recall Vettor just blurted out everything right in front of you, and then when he pointed out an issue with the job Ana gave you that look of "you're my solution to this problem" and you kind of volunteered yourself into helping them. Which you did end up doing, admittedly. So, no. Not anywhere close to Vettor doing what he should have. You see no reason to fret over those minor details, though. "As for Sigalis," you start, hoping to change the subject, "I doubt she told us everything she was thinking, you know how she is, but she did tell us her excuse at least: Do you recall the anti-shapeshifting flyers that were being spread around the Admiratio last month?" Professor Badcrumble nods, though frowns at recalling the things. From what you recall she indeed was one of the professors who was pretty outspoken against the flyer, as well as the underhanded actions that Lucas was suspected of. "Sigalis accused the noblewoman, the client, of being the one behind those flyers. As well as something worse that she didn't dare say 'without evidence to back her up', which supposedly that ring is. If anything is."

Professor Badcrumble frowns at this and stares curiously at the box she dropped the ring in. There's no denying there's something unusual about it, so Sigalis' accusation seems to at least have some ground to stand on. "I'll be sure to investigate the lady's connections," Professor Badcrumble notes. There's a cold, steely quality to her voice as she says that that you don't think you've heard from her before, but obviously you're in no mood to question her on that. "Thank you for the information, [PC FIRST NAME]. And I'll see to it that Sigalis won't learn about you 'squealing' and taking revenge for it, rest assured."

That's about as good an outcome as you can hope for and that's the only thing you really dare to say at this point, so you politely thank Professor Badcrumble for her help and leave her office with Vettor. Ana, for better or worse, stays behind to discuss her issues with Professor Storey in more detail. You're curious, but you suspect that Ana will end up telling Vettor about it sooner rather than later, so you'll just ask Vettor about it later, if you remember.

[PC IS SIGALIS' FRIEND]-Carefully consider whether you should say anything more here...
--You actually don't think so. Professor Badcrumble mentioned that she's going to have the ring checked out before returning it, and her reaction to the ring's odd quality (or qualities, you're not sure) seemed genuine. Anything more that you say is just that much more the professor could ask possibly uncomfortable questions about, and you're sure that you if not Sigalis would not want you to be in that position.

So you sake your head at the professor's question, and silently leave her office along with Vettor. Anathema stays behind at the professor's request, to discuss what issues she's having with Professor Storey in more detail. That could have been an opening for you, possibly, but it's just not necessary. You've done your job, Sigalis will be pleased, and if there's anything more for you to say on the subject you'll address that problem if and when that times comes. You're sure that Sigalis will ask you for help, one way or another, if she ends up needing it again.

So question I'd like to ask of the people reading through this (all quarter of you :rolleyes:), is this overarching story starting to come into view, make sense or whatever, or is this a case of three puzzles worth of jigsaw(?) pieces being scattered over the floor and who knows what's what?

Edited by Metis

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Looking for Something to Find, stage 7:

"[PC FIRST NAME], please report to the headmaster's office-yes Orso [s/he] does know where it is, this closet isn't that secre-eh...wait, I-I mean [PC FIRST NAME] please report to the headmaster's office immediately!"

You were concerned at first, hearing someone announce your name like that. But now you can't help but smile and shake your head. The more serious and high up the faculty's ranks they are the more hilarious their inevitable mistakes are, and considering that was just broadcast across the entire Academagia, that was a fairly large blunder. Oh, Professor Briardi is going to hear from her students later. And a few other students. And then they will hear from her in turn, no doubt.

The sad irony of the situation? You don't actually know what office closet they're talking about right now, but you're the only one who knows that. It'd have made the joke perfect, but alas. Well, time to run around like a headless chicken looking for-actually, wait, closet office? Well, shoot, you actually do know where they're waiting for you. Shame about the joke but it makes life more convenient, so you'll happily take it.

A quick bit of running through the hallways later and you enter the Legate's current office. You don't even bother to knock, mostly because you forgot to. But really they're expecting you so it doesn't matter. The Legate is here, sitting behind a desk and looking like he's having the most epic staring contest with an invisible ghost ever seen in the history of Elumia. Professor Briardi is leaning against said desk, motioning to you to sit down in a prepared chair, which you do. Also here is Vettor Conta, and another chair that's empty.

"Okay, so...are we all here...?" a confused and slightly unnerved Vettor asks Professor Briardi as you sit down. She nods.

"Legate, if you'd begin?"

The legate looks up from his desk, finally ending his staring contest. "I take it that both of you recall that little odd job both you and Vettor's mentoree performed for the Licentiate of Mineta recently?" You and Vettor both nod, with different levels of mixed feelings. Mostly confused, though. "Good. Now, the faculty has investigated the mystery of miss Matilde Laroche's wedding ring, the ring that refuses to let any spells be cast near it. To keep it short, that ring is some manner of Proscribed artefact. It's exact nature even I can only guess at, at this time." That little revelation leaves you at a loss for words, both internally and externally. Vettor, with a deadpan voice, makes a comment about how quickly that escalated. You can tell from his expression that he's no less confused than you are right now, though. And no less concerned, for that matter. "Yes, 'escalate' is a pretty good word for this whole situation, really," the Legate says with the first hint of humor since the start of this conversation. "As far as I've managed to gather the 'monster' which attacked the woman was directed, by his owner, to steal this ring. But he failed to do so, and in the resulting struggle the ring instead sank into Ten Swans' Lake for this nefarious ne'er-do-well to fail to collect later. As even if most people these days knew how to swim in the first place, the ring ended up hidden away in such an awkward position that even a fish would have a hard time finding it. To say nothing of the ring's more unusual properties, which would prove problematic for anyone trying to grab it despite, and largely because, they found themselves at the bottom of a lake without the ability to swim without the aid of magic." Getting a distinct feeling that the Legate is talking about Sigalis there, even Vettor's got an eyebrow raised. You imagine that he's at least a bit shaken by that, in fact, but all he does is calmly nod. You're still at a loss for words. "That, however, is a part of this mystery that's already been...resolved. Where you three come in, the part of this mystery that I need your help with, is dealing with the remaining members of miss Laroche's group. Though the lady herself steadfastly denies that she works with anyone but herself, we faculty have every reason to believe that a group is involved here. And with that, tracking them down before they flee or otherwise go into hiding, we need your help."

You and Vettor share an odd look, uncomfortably aware of who the Legate is missing but not sure how to address that proverbial elephant that should be in the room, but isn't. Vettor, for better or worse, takes it upon himself to point out to the Legate that he makes it sound like he needs Ana's help as well, but she isn't here. "There's a reason why she's not a part of this meeting, yes, and why she'll ideally never even know about this little incident," Professor Briardi says as reassuringly as she can. Vettor slowly nods, but his expression doesn't change.

The Legate casts a sideways glance at Professor Briardi, sighs, and slowly starts to explain. "To explain why we need Anathema's help, specifically, is that as things stand we cannot access this criminal group's lair. We've already divined it's rough location, through the 'usual' means of the Academagia's faculty. Can I assume that, as second years, both of you have at least a general understanding of Kate's field?" Both you and Vettor nod. "Good. So, the situation is that we need someone who is not only a natural swimmer, but someone who is a natural diver as well. Swimming is part of the first year's Athletics class, but there is a rather large difference between someone who can cross a lake without drowning and someone who can swim laps underneath said lake's surface. Even in a city this large the amount of people that not only have a talent for swimming and diving, but also choose to put as much effort into practising and refining that talent in the manner that Anathema has prior to her attending the Academagia, can be counted on one hand. One hand without any fingers, as far as I've found, at that."

A moment later Professor Briardi speaks up. "Are either of you familiar with the Proscribed branch of Negation magic that, in essence, Negates magic itself?"

[Deed: Negated]-"Are you familiar", she asks...
--Vettor shakes his head. You, in contrast, roll your eyes so hard that it makes Professor Briardi recall who she's talking to. Which would be a feat worth remembering if it didn't sound completely stupid, but that's the life of a wizard sometimes.

"Ah, right, my apologies. I forgot that you were...that familiar with it."

"Well, I'm not," Vettor says, "so what's this all about?" You and Professor Briardi silently stare at each other for a moment, and a second later you explain what you know. Not that you're an expert by any means, and not that it isn't a pretty self-explanatory field to be perfectly honest, but you know enough to make Vettor realize the problem with using the vast array of alternative Academagia-style solutions to this problem.

[!Deed: Negated]-Never heard of it.
--You and Vettor both shake your head. Professor Briardi, who's usually pretty ruthless when it comes to her students not knowing her field as well as they should, simply nods. It makes sense she doesn't expect you know much if anything about a Proscribed branch of Negation magic, but you were nevertheless expecting a frown and a painful demonstration. That's how it these kinds of questions usually go with her, at least.

"I'm surprised that neither of you have even heard about it, but considering the subject I suppose I should be happy about that," Professor Briardi notes. There's a brief moment where you shudder in anticipation of what comes next, but that fear thankfully proves to be unfounded. "To explain, than...well, honestly it's pretty self-explanatory - it's a branch of Negation magic that Negates magic itself. That is what is protecting the one entrance into this lair that we know of, and simply put, I don't know how to dispel or bypass such a thing. If we were dealing with regular Negation magic than yes, even Negation itself is subject to the laws of Negation, I could eventually find some way through...well, truthfully of course it's rather more complicated than just that. But the point is that I could eventually find a way to break it. With what it is, though, we've no choice but to just grit our teeth and go through it the hard way. Which presents us with a significant problem..."

[!Deed: Negated]-Theory of Negation. Um...
--"I've heard a bit about it," you admit a bit hesitantly. Professor Briardi doesn't immediately get on your case, though, which is good. "I mean, not that there's much to say about it, it's pretty self-explanatory. How and why did...what was her name enchant her ring with it, though? Does that act like a layer of protection against hostile spells, or something?"

"Truthfully I've no idea. We're still investigating it's potential uses ourselves," the Legate answers. Professor Briardi frowns at him, but he doesn't let that stop him. "Understand that this branch of Negation magic, while Proscribed, isn't like Gates or Mastery which have been banned and unbanned throughout history. This branch of magic has been banned since at least as early as the Exile, since of course people feared that it could disrupt or outright unmake the spells that lifted the islands into the skies, and no one wanted to see them crash down back to the surface the hard way. As a result we actually know very little about it. That it's even possible to use this magic in Enchanting is news to us, as far as we knew it should be theoretically and practically impossible. Like trying to light a fire underwater, really."

Huh. Very weird indeed...

--Your first (and only) thought turns to the law of Negation magic that (in essence) states that all magic can be negated. But whatever Negation magic exists that allows that "law" to exist is neither proscribed nor the undoing of magic itself, so...as much as you hate to admit it you've got no clue. Though you maybe shouldn't be annoyed at not knowing much - anything, really - about a Proscribed branch of magic. Vettor, for his part, just shakes his head.

"I'm surprised that neither of you have even heard about it, but considering the subject I suppose I should be happy about that," Professor Briardi notes. There's a brief moment where you shudder in anticipation of what comes next, you know Professor Briardi's reputation as a sink-or-swim teacher who's not above tossing her students straight into a lake if that's what it takes to get them to learn, but that fear thankfully proves to be unfounded. "To explain, than...well, honestly it's pretty self-explanatory - it's a branch of Negation magic that Negates magic itself. That is what is protecting the one entrance into this lair that we know of, and simply put, I don't know how to dispel or bypass such a thing. If we were dealing with regular Negation magic than yes, even Negation itself is subject to the laws of Negation, I could eventually find some way through...well, truthfully of course it's rather more complicated than that, but point is that I could eventually find a way to break it. With what it is, though, we've no choice but to just grit our teeth and go through it the hard way. Which presents us with a significant problem..."

Personally I imagined this ring as only having residue on it rather than being directly Enchanted, albeit still enough to have it's magic destroying property, but whichever works better really.

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Looking for Something to Find, stage 8:

Suddenly a light flares up in Vettor's head. "No magic...the same thing as whatever that ring was? And the only entrance is protected by that?" Professor Briardi nods. Vettor sighs and slowly lowers his head. "So...that's why you need 'Thema's help? Because even though you two could easily polymorph yourselves into frogs or something...you can't rely on magic to enter that lair at all?"

"More than likely, yes," the Legate notes. "The full situation is, Kate - Professor Badcrumble, that is - already performed divinations to locate this group's lair. We know it's underground, we know it's somewhere below a nondescript part of the Elumian wilderness, and we know there's a long tunnel leading to it located somewhere upstream of Lake Ardica, before the waterfall. We can't systematically turn up the entire countryside like an oversized pancake hoping to stumble across it, especially because we don't know exactly how deep or far out to look. We can't find it through more direct methods since detection spells get wonky when voids of magic get involved. And while the Academagia has a Class worth of students would could turn themselves into all manner of amphibious shapes and sizes...this tunnel, which is currently our only means of finding this lair, is protected by a void of magic. Not regular Negation spells, a literal void of magic. No spells can exist within that space. As far as I know even a Dragon would be at this tunnel's mercy, unable to cast anything. Not that the tunnel is Dragon-sized to begin with, of course, but..."

"It's not a perfect defence," Professor Briardi interjects, "but it's forcing our hand when it comes to how quickly we act. Spells like these, in addition to being Proscribed, are fragile and difficult to maintain. In short, miss Laroche's continued insistence to the contrary aside, there must be a group involved. A group that certainly will not be around anymore if we wait for these spells to naturally decay, fragile as they are they are not that fragile. As such we want to get on top of this case before any trails leading to potential other co-conspirators and illegal activity grows cold. To do that we have to find and search the group's lair as soon as possible, but our only means of access is through the tunnel. And the only student we have who could possibly accomplish that...is Anathema."

"Okay, so what's the problem with getting 'Thema to help?" Vettor asks almost cheerfully, though you can tell the weight of the situation is why there's only a crooked smile on his face. "You're right, the girl's got a talent for swimming and she's only starting practising magic since Juvenalia. And she's actively looking for opportunities to put her skills to good use, so...why can't you two leave this to her?"

There's a moment of awkward silence before Professor Briardi answers Vettor's question. "Because it's too dangerous. These criminals might have trapped their lair or the tunnel leading to it, they might still be there and angry if they find their lair breached by someone...worse, this 'tunnel' we speak of might very well be a series of long since flooded caves. An underwater labyrinth that, in their haste to escape, one of more of these criminals may have gotten themselves lost in. Searching around frantically for the exit, trying desperately to use their wands to save themselves, only to find themselves unable to cast spells...and drown." Both Vettor and yourself have gotten the memo by now, but either to make sure that it sticks or for some other reason, Professor Briardi finishes the ominous thought. "We can't afford to put Anathema in that much danger, mentally or physically. The last thing we want to do is add a pool to the Retolian Playground."

"I think they've gotten the memo, Polisena," the Legate (thankfully) says.

"All things considered I'm sure you'll forgive me for having the impression that students rarely do."

The Legate gets a chuckle out of that, but both you and Vettor are very much in "not able to be amused" territory right now. "In any case, that's the long and short of it. If either of you two can think of a way to access this criminal's lair relatively safely, I'm all ears. Otherwise, what I want from you two is keeping Anathema from doing something...unfortunate. We're quite aware of how quickly news seems to spread among the students, especially when the faculty wants to keep it quiet, so we decided to inform you two ourselves sooner rather than later. Is that understood?" Both you and Vettor nod. "Good. Than if you two don't have anything else, you're dismissed."

Your head is spinning too much to come up with something right now, and Vettor seems to be in the same shape, so you both shake your heads and decide to sit down in a quiet corner of the Garden Gallery to discuss strategies. Not that you think there's too much to discuss. "Think", key word.

"So...I know you're not going to agree with this," Vettor says with a measure of confidence you usually don't hear from him. "I think we should tell 'Thema about this."

"Well, you are right on one point: I don't agree with that. Why tell Ana anything about this? You should know better than I do how overeager she is at proving herself, and I know pretty well that she is. I also know that she seems to listen you you, but are you sure you can stop her from going off on her own?"

Vettor rolls his eyes. "Of course I do. I know 'Thema better than you think-"

"You say as if you don't know her name," you interject.

"Hey, I already told you why I call her 'Thema. And honestly, despite what she says I think she prefers it that way. If I just did everything she told me to she wouldn't get the chance to...convince me, you know? That, and it's actually helpful. She is too eager to prove herself, you're right about that, but nothing brings her to attention more than me calling her 'Ana'. Nothing that I could do, anyway."

"I do kind of remember that, yeah. Still, why tell her? Even you agree that she might do something stupid if she hears about this."

"I do, but that's exactly it - like the Legate said news among the students spreads fast. She's bound to hear about it sooner or later. Better she hears about the details - and the dangers - from someone I know she'll listen to than someone who might only tell her that the Legate's in a real bind and needs an expert diver to bail him out, right?"

This situation leaves you with mixed feelings. On the one side doing something that two professors specifically told you not to do less than ten minutes ago doesn't sit well with you, and the concept of Vettor being this really good and effective mentor figure - and to a girl, at that - really doesn't mesh with the impression he left you with last year. On the flipside, you know he's right. You know he gets along with Ana well and you've seen how they interact. You know that Ana is actively looking for opportunities to prove herself, and that news of this mess will spread through the student body sooner or later. And probably sooner, at that. You know nothing good will come from leaving Ana to her own devices, but...what to do? Support Vettor, try and convince him otherwise, or...

-Empathy. Go with Vettor to tell Ana.
--You know Vettor is right. You really, really hate to admit it, but...you know he's right. "Fine," you say with a tired sigh. "Let's go talk to Ana. Or, actually, do you want to go talk to her yourself? I don't have anything to say to her myself, really, so I'm not sure if me being there is necessary. Or helpful, for that matter."

Vettor gives you an uncomfortable look, but after you poke him - literally poke him, in fact - he relents. "A-alright, fine. Truth be told, I think it would be best if I went to talk to her alone. I don't think she's got a very high opinion of you right now, she takes some time to warm up to people. Right now I'm sure she just feels like you're trying to compete with her, that you showed her up during that whole ring job business."

You frowns heavily at that. "In what way...what are you even talking about, Vettor? That is not how that went at all and you know it isn't."

"I do, and I don't disagree with you, don't get me wrong. But 'Thema...it's a long story. I'll tell you later if you want, right now I want to get up and go find her. I have to get to her and tell her about this before she hears about it from someone else first..."

Indeed, Vettor is fidgeting pretty heavily. You let out another tired sigh and tell him to run off, although you're going to want an answer later. Whether Vettor actually heard that last part as he ran away you're not sure, but you'll remind him if you have to...

--You know Vettor is right, as much as you hate to admit it, so you agree to come along and tell Ana about the situation. Only problem is that neither of you can find her. She's not in any of her usual hangouts, or at least what Vettor insists are her usual hangouts, and even knocking on her dorm room door gets you no response. Vettor is at a loss. "I...guess she must be with Professor Badcrumble, or something? Dealing with the Professor Storey situation, maybe?" You shrug and say you know one professor who can answer that question for you, and zero professors that you want to answer that question for you. Vettor nods in agreement. "I guess we'll have to look for her later, than. Strange, I was sure that she'd be in her room if nowhere else, that's where she usually goes to hide whenever things go south..."

Maybe she is, maybe she isn't, maybe she just doesn't want to be disturbed right now, who knows. So long as she's not going to get any ideas from the rumor mill you two should be fine to search for her later, so that's just a matter of time.

-Pure Luck. Throw a stone in a random direction.
--You bend over and pick up a random rock, asking yourself several times why you thought that this was a good idea. Nevertheless it feels like it'll work, and if there's one thing you've learned, it's that trusting your instincts either gets you results or gets you some precious extra seconds to think of a better rabbit to pull out of your invisible tophat. Hopefully this won't be an example of the latter. "Uh, do you want to do something with that?" Vettor asks, confused as you toss up and catch the rock in your hand a few times. You're thinking, feeling, trying to figure out where you're supposed to throw it...and with a sudden flash of absolutely nothing you send the rock flying in a completely random direction!

Or so you'd think.

There's a pained yelp coming from the bushes where the rock bounces off of seemingly thin air. As added insult to injury the rock lands on the invisible person's foot, causing it to float above the ground rather conspicuously. Vettor is shocked, but you're not even surprised. Even when you can't explain it you just know these sorts of things sometimes. "C-can't you be more careful where you're throwing random stuff!?" a familiar voice belonging to one Grainne Inneith cries out.

"You're literally invisible," Vettor retorts with a deadpan voice. "Well, were invisible."

Despite the Glamour you can see the seething hatred on Grainne's face. Of course when she dispels the Glamour she just wears an expression of wounded dignity. "Fine," Grainne says, kicking away the rock on her shoe. "You caught me, congrats. Well done, fantastic work, all of that stuff. Now if you'd kindly explain to me why you randomly threw a rock at me!?"

"Probably the same reason why you're randomly eavesdropping on us," you retort. "What's the scoop you're after? The business about the tunnel?"

"Eh, [PC FIRST NAME], I don't think we should tell Grainne about tha-"

"Put a lid on it, Vettor, I already know all about it." Grainne angrily insists. Of course she does. "I was just hoping that you two would, um, indirectly tell me something more about it."

"So...you're eavesdropping on us?" Vettor asks.

"We in the business prefer to call in 'information gathering', thank you."

Vettor suddenly frowns. "Is corpse gathering also something you do in your business? If you've been paying attention you know what'll happen if 'Thema hears about this, right?"

"Oh don't be so dramatic," Grainne waves off. "This little scandal is being talked about in Mineta already because of that noble lady that was arrested - or wasn't, as she claims, but I think we both know better than that." Vettor says he doesn't care and repeats his earlier question. Grainne rolls her eyes, impatiently. "Octavius' sake, Vettor, your little mentoree isn't going to go through that tunnel even if the Legate himself gets on his knees. She's had bad experiences with getting lost underwater and nearly drowning before, it's not something she's ever going to repeat."

"W-wait, what!? 'Thema never told me anything about that!"

"Should she? Just because you look out for her doesn't mean she's going to share all her darkest moments with you," Grainne says in an odd, casual way. Vettor seems bothered by it, though he tries to hide it. Tries and fails, though. "Really though, why did you think she's so crazy focussed on Revising herself a set of functional gills that she'd join a college who's ideals she at best has a second-rate interest in?" After a moment of silence Vettor just shakes his head and shrugs. "Figures. In any case I think I've more than compensated you both for the rock you tossed right in my face thank you very much, so unless there's any juicy details you two want to mention, I'll be taking my leave."

Vettor says he's got nothing, and you don't either, so you both let Grainne walk away. As soon as she's (presumably...) out of earshot Vettor turns to you. "I'm going to find 'Thema and ask her about what Grainne said," he quickly states before you can even think of a good way to tell him that might not be a great idea. "I know, [PC FIRST NAME], but I have my doubts that 'Thema really wouldn't try and push herself to do this. Grainne can talk all she wants, I'm sure I know 'Thema better than she does, and after you showed her up with finding that ring I think...I think she might push herself to do this, if it's a favor straight from the Legate. So I'm going." You try to ask in what way you 'showed her up' since that is not how you remember things happening as Vettor gets up and runs off, but he doesn't listen to a word you say. A part of you wonders if you should chase after him, but that probably wouldn't work out better than not going, so instead you get up yourself and head off to the Great Hall. Whatever Vettor ends up doing you'll hear about it sooner or later, either directly or indirectly.

--You bend over and pick up a random rock, asking yourself several times why you thought that this was a good idea. Nevertheless it feels like it'll work, and if there's one thing you've learned, it's that trusting your instincts either gets you results or gets you some precious extra seconds to think of a better rabbit to pull out of your invisible tophat. Hopefully this won't be an example of the latter. "Uh, do you want to do something with that?" Vettor asks, confused as you toss up and catch the rock in your hand a few times. You're thinking, feeling, trying to figure out where you're supposed to throw it...and with a sudden flash of absolutely nothing you send the rock flying in a completely random direction!

...And absolutely nothing happens.

"What are you doing, [PC FIRST NAME]?" Vettor asks. You shrug and say you've got no idea. About what you're doing or about what to do with Ana. "Well, stop playing with rocks and start thinking. If you don't have a better idea, than-"

Suddenly a cascade of noise comes from the bushes where you tossed the rock, enough for Vettor to stop his lecture and turn his head in the direction of the noise. Looks like you were on to something after all. Unfortunately despite you and Vettor both spending a while looking around and trying to follow every trail you can you don't end up finding any trace of whatever you almost nailed with a rock. If you managed to hit...it'd have been so awesome, you just know it...

Something that might not have been obvious so far is the fact that this used to be a standalone adventure waiting in my REJECTS.txt before being pulled out and reworked into this adventure chain. Now I'm getting to the stages that were less than finished to begin with, but still have a defined end-point, and that makes it a little tricky to come up with reasonable exits. To say nothing of the fact that the next three (initially two) stages needed to be reworked as well and yeah, it's a bit of a mess right now...

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Looking for Something to Find, stage 9:

Spoiler

About a half-hour later both Vettor and Ana approach you while you're eating a quick meal in the Great Hall. They look the same as they usually do, but there's a tension hanging around them that you can feel even from a distance. Vettor puts a hand on Ana's shoulder, who looks at Vettor, nods, and turns to you as she takes a step forward. "I'm not going to swim through that tunnel," she says, confidently. "I...I mean, we've already swung by the Legate's office and explained things. I'll be spending the next few days, really however long it takes, swimming up and down the river to look for the entrance to it. The Legate doesn't know exactly where it is yet. But that's all I'm doing. If you two want to go through it, you'll have to find a way to do that yourselves." Ana looks away and quietly adds, "I...can't help you more than that."

"Finding the tunnel is help enough," you say with a smile, as reassuringly as you can. It doesn't visibly cheer up Ana, but you'd like to think it does make her feel better all the same. "Vettor, I don't suppose you've come up with an idea in the meantime?" Vettor shakes his head. You expected that, but for once something really might be so easy. "Than take a seat. I haven't come up with anything yet either, but you can join the brainstorming session. You can join as well, Ana."

"I'd rather start looking for the tunnel."

You shrug as Vettor sits down next to you. "Fair enough. And good luck!" Ana turns around and walks off without another word said. It obvious that she's weighed down by her failure to swim through a potential deathtrap, but hopefully finding the entrance to it will help cheer her up. As for Vettor, you've got your own questions to ask him. "So you didn't give me the chance to ask earlier - what was all that stuff about me 'showing up' Ana about? I don't recall that at all, for the record."

"'Thema's got a bit of a...what'd you call it? Self-esteem issue," Vettor starts. Already you can tell this is going to get worse before it'll get better. "The only real talent she has is swimming, and you can imagine that doesn't earn her a lot of prizes from her peers, or professors, or even her parents." You admit that swimming is a bit of a niche skill these days, but you also point out that Ana seems to have a solid head on her shoulders. Someone who's casting what's technically second-year Revision magic during the first half of their first year can't be brushed off as a talentless student as far as you're concerned, no matter how many tries it takes her. Vettor nods at that. "I've told her the same thing and I meant it, but 'Thema's just had a bit of a difficult life until now. Hard time making friends since none of her peers thought anything of swimming, her hobby, parents who tried to push her into a different direction since they didn't see any value in it either...and of course there's the whole episode where she nearly drowned because she was so desperate to prove herself. Things have gotten a lot better for her since she started attending the Academagia, thankfully. Athletics class gave her a few dozen peers that're all in the same pool as her, so to speak, so she gets her chance to stand out, talk to others, share her hobby, and so on. I don't think she's managed to make any real friends yet, she's still awkward around her Classmates, a bit shy too if you noticed, but she's not an outcast either. She gets along well with the Godina kids, those who don't have their heads stuck in a Rimbal anyway, and her college mates in Morvidus don't bother her either. Animals might not really be her thing, but you can probably imagine that there's few people in Morvidus who have as good an understanding of fish as 'Thema does. And textbook knowledge, as it turns out. Girl has a good head on her shoulders, like you said."

"So me 'showing her up' meant...what, exactly? What did I do to give her that impression?"

Vettor shrugs. "I'm really not sure, to be honest. Just you being there might have been enough to upset her." You can't help but frown at that, which causes Vettor to let out a sigh. "I know, [PC FIRST NAME], I know. I've been there myself, she didn't trust me either at first, but as good a turn as coming to the Academagia has been for 'Thema is doesn't just wash everything before that point away. The reason she's so sensitive to that kind if stuff is because her parents are still trying to push her into a more...'practical' direction, to the point where they dictated part of her coursework. So that pressure to prove herself is still there, and something she's reminded of every time she checks her textbooks. So when someone that's her senior who she doesn't know orders her around, tells her what to do...no matter how reasonable you are, it rubs her the wrong way. That this had to happen in the middle of mid-terms probably didn't help, either. Her parents are keeping a very close eye on her grades and when they slip even just a little bit, rest assured."

"Are you sure she's not going to try and scout out that tunnel, Vettor? Because from the sound of it..." You trail off, unable to even finish the sentence, but Vettor confidently nods. You guess you'll take his word for it, he does know Ana better than you do, but still. All this talk of pressure and Ana proving herself has you feeling a little doubtful...

"She could never push herself to check out that tunnel, [PC FIRST NAME]," Vettor answers for you. "She's more afraid of drowning than any person could push her, no matter who is involved. It doesn't show when she's, you know, just swimming laps in a pool or diving into an open lake with her Revision spells active, but if you so much as put a branch over her head she freaks out. I wish it's something she didn't try so hard to hide from everyone, since she's afraid that if her parents find out that they'll never let her heard the end of it and what she 'should' be doing, but...that's what it is. Thankfully Professor Briardi specifically forbade her from checking out the tunnel in the first place, so I doubt she's going to have a hard time hiding her fear from her parents in this case."

That's...you're having a very hard time being happy with that news, but it's a weight off of someone's shoulders you suppose. "Right...actually, now that I think about it, out of curiosity: Didn't Ana mention something about having trouble with Professor Storey? And Professor Badcrumble would help her with it, or something? Did anything happen on that front?"

Vettor nods. "Yeah, 'Thema told me about that. Professor Storey, Gods knows why, pegged her as a troublemaker and has been keeping a close eye on her for basically no reason. He said it was on advice of her parents, no clue if that's true or not, but either way Professor Badcrumble chewed him out big time during one of the faculty meetings and went so far as to recommended that 'Thema transfer to Godina next year. Of course she's not taking Incantation or Music this year, so there's a question about how to bring her up to speed, and from what 'Thema told me her parents don't want to see her transfer to a college of people 'beneath her intellectual level'. Despite the fact that Professor Massioti would happily take her, even though he freely admits that she's not Rimbal material. At least as far as Incantation and Music are concerned I'd happily teach her myself if I could, but I didn't take either of those classes last year...and I'm sure I'd make for a lousy professor anyhow. So that's still a bit up in the air. I doubt anything more will happen with that mess while this whole hideout situation is going on, anyway. Such situations can't be resolved without some kind of input from the Legate, but he's got bigger fish to...cook? Stew, boil? What do you do with fish, again? I know 'Thema told me once before but I completely forgot."

"Fry". You fry fish when you've got more important things to do. In any case that seems to be about the long and short of it: A lot of information and a lot of mess. It's something that you feel like should be addressed sooner rather than later to be perfectly honest, but at the end of the day the big question is still unanswered - how is anyone going to map out this magic void underwater death maze when the Academagia's best and only swimmer with limited magic skill (and dependency) turns out to have a serious drowning phobia? And, you know, has been forbidden from trying it in any case by Professor Briardi. Time is ticking on getting whatever clues can be found within this hideout before every trail goes cold, but...how does one solve a problem like this? Even a Familiar's Bond is magic, in some respect, so who knows what being in a magic void would do to a Familiar. You'd rather not find out, and you're doubtful about trying to train a regular fish to solve and map mazes for you.

You can't think of an alternative solution. Unless you can find someone who can swim through it the old-fashioned way, or you can find some way to convince Ana (and Professor Briardi...) to do it, you don't think anyone is getting through that tunnel. But there must be way to access this lair. Surely there must be a way, something you can do. Or at least suggest. There must be...but what?

-Swimming. Naught ventured...
--It sounds stupid, suicidal, and impossible. But, perhaps, there's a solution to this after all. "Vettor, I know it's going to sound ridiculous, but...I think that the two of us can go through that tunnel ourselves."

"Alright, I'm game - just try to convince me of that one, [PC FIRST NAME]. I dare you."

Heh, challenge accepted. "You remember what Professor Briardi said about these magical voids, right? That they are fragile, and basically require a group to maintain?" Vettor nods, looking assured of his victory a little too early. "How complicated do you think this tunnel really is, can be, if it absolutely takes a group of people just to keep this magic intact? And how long do you think a person could swim, do whatever it takes to maintain the magical void, however that works, and than swim back through the tunnel all before they run out of air?"

That hit home. Vettor visibly has no answer to the questions you've put before him, and you're not even done yet.

"Of course Professor Briardi would put worst case scenarios in front of us, because she's scared of us going off and getting ourselves killed, but really, how long and complicated of a labyrinth can we really be dealing with here? Especially if this tunnel really is the only way into and out of this lair, do you really think that these criminals would be willing to traverse the underwater death labyrinth every single time they wanted to enter or exit their lair? What could they even do with it, in that case? There's a lot of things you can't take underwater, or through a magical void safely."

"Uh..." is all that Vettor has in response to your questions. You'll accept that as an admission of defeat, especially with how perplexed he looks. "I mean, it only takes a quick spell to recharge wards, right? So-"

"Minutes," you clarify. Vettor looks even more confused. "The kind of wards or Enchantments that we underclassmen students create, sure, they're generally so basic and temporary in nature that a single wave of our wand is considered enough to maintain them. But complex Enchantments can take minutes to maintain properly. I don't know about you, or how you'd go about maintaining an anti-magic void of course, but as far as diving is concerned I can tell you that I don't think most people could hold their breath for that long."

"Um..." is, once again, all that Vettor has to say in response. For real this time (hopefully), you'll accept that, along with Vettor's perplexed look, as an admission of defeat. "I...I guess you're right? Professor Briardi-but does that mean...we can swim through that tunnel? Ourselves?" You shrug and say you two could at least give it a try, though you ask Vettor why he'd want to do so. "For 'Thema, obviously. I think that if it's me going through the tunnel that it'll...you know, hurt her less. That whole thing where she can't bring herself to do it. I want to give it a try, [PC FIRST NAME]. If you're sure that that tunnel can't be the underwater death labyrinth that Professor Briardi says it is, I want to go through it myself."

Well, someone's changed his mind completely. You contemplate whether to go with Vettor or not, but you're not sure. You could, maybe even should go just to Keep an eye on him. But than again he says he'd "obviously" do it for Ana, and seriously does that guy have a crush on her or not? You really don't want to be..."in their way", or whatever that's called. Ana does also have a lowered opinion of you right now, not that you deserve it at all and frankly you'd like to chew her out for that, but than again she's got reasons for that and if Vettor and Ana get a chance to really talk about that you don't want to ruin that opportunity by being there and...Gods, whatever. You'll just think about that later. It's not a decision you have to worry about until Ana finds the tunnel, so you'll just decide then.

--You're no brick when it comes to the water yourself, but...underwater death labyrinth? With no magic to help or bail you out when things go south? That's...quite different from taking a swim in Lake Ardica. Honestly? You're not sure if you're up to that. There's temptation to call yourself a coward, but really, where is the line drawn between cowardice and intelligence in this situation? Because "magical void underwater death labyrinth" sounds very much like it got shot out of cannon into the latter's territory.

Maybe you can find someone else willing to do it, you highly doubt it, but unless you see yourself become a much better swimmer you'll just stick to the lakes and the pool.

[PC INFORMED OF Gressel's Medications]-Could Leene or Nhordum help Ana with her phobia?
--By all rights they should be able to, as far as you're aware. The real question is whether Ana, and probably her parents as well, would be willing to try it. You suppose it can't hurt to ask, so you ask Vettor if Ana ever tried to rid herself of her phobia. He shrugs in response.

"As far as I know she's only ever really focussed on hiding it than trying to cure it, however she'd go about doing that. And to tell you the truth I'm not sure whether to call that a bad thing. You know how driven 'Thema is, as much as her being so afraid of drowning poses a problem for her I'd hate to see her hurt herself because she pushes herself too far. Again. That's how she got that phobia in the first place."

You can sort of understand where Vettor is coming from, but you wouldn't say that you agree with him. Nevertheless you're a bit hesitant to suggest this...but it's for the best that you at least bring it up, you think. "About that, have you ever been to Gressel's Medications, right outside the Admiratio? The people working there have magic that can help people with their fears, so...I'm wondering if we should maybe introduce Ana to them."

Vettor thinks your question over for a second, and then frowns deeply as the gears in his head stop spinning. "You're not just suggesting that so that 'Thema will swim through that tunnel, are you?"

You shake your head in response to that question, and no part of you feels like that's a lie. Either outright or the Queen Hedi kind of 'lie'. "Regardless of whether it would convince her it's not going to convince Professor Briardi that it isn't too dangerous, so I honestly feel like that's a moot point. I just think it'd be better for Ana if she didn't have this phobia looming over her, having to worry about hiding it from her parents and everything. Especially now that it's actively interfering with her ability to do the Legate himself a favor, Professor Briardi forbidding it or not I'm sure that's just eating away at her." Vettor lets out a sigh and nods. He seems to agree with how you think Ana will react to this situation. "So, correct me if I'm wrong, but shouldn't we - and by 'we' I almost certainly mean 'you' - confront her about this before she beats herself up too much? It'll only get worse the more it happens, and if Ana wants to dive for a living, well, I have to assume that it'll happen."

"Yeah, you're right. I'll try to confront her about it the next time I see her," Vettor says, lightly shaking his head. "Actually, maybe I should get Professor Badcrumble involved. She definitely did 'Thema a favor with that whole Professor Storey deal, maybe 'Thema would be willing to listen to her? Ah, don't worry about it, I'll talk to her about it and see where I need to go from there."

Trusting Vettor to look out for a girl like this is a sight that'll never cease to be uncanny after last year, but strange as it is to say, you trust him. Of course even if Ana did agree to try and address her phobia and did her best to try and overcome it you seriously doubt that the issue would get resolved before every trail to this criminal group went cold. So as far as the problem of the tunnel is concerned you've accomplished absolutely nothing so far. But as far as Ana (and Vettor, to a lesser extent) are concerned you feel like putting them on the path of trying to actually confront this issue rather than letting it sit you feel like you've done a good thing. Hopefully.

-Logic. Carefully think this problem though.
--The big question that you keep coming back to is: How does this criminal group enter and exit their own hideout if this magic void underwater death labyrinth is really the only way into and out of this place? That makes no sense, you know for a fact that at least that noblewoman (really ought to memorise her name at some point...) can't swim - if she could she would not have hired the Licentiate to retrieve her ring, she'd have done so herself. So is she a member of this criminal group that has no actual access to their lair? That's...not unreasonable, she could be some kind of outside contact who receives orders to fulfil, but how would these orders get passed onto her? You can't take parchment or paper underwater, so unless these criminal trained a large fish to move around stone tablets...this idea is so ridiculous. But what other option do you have in a hideout that's protected by a magic void? Gates? But even Gates is magic, so could it bypass a space that breaks magic? Eh...well, obviously you're not an expert, but your common sense (for what that's worth in this situation) is telling you "no". The only logical conclusion, based on what information you have, is that there is another entrance into this hideout. There simply must be. It is beyond impractical for this tunnel to be the only entrance, there's just way too many problems with actually using it that makes it a viable hideout if that's the only way in.

You explain as much to Vettor, and he seems to agree with your reasoning. "I'm sure both the Legate and the guards came to the same conclusion...though if they did than why did the Legate still send 'Thema to look for the tunnel?" You explain that it must be to try and narrow down the location of the hideout, since that means less ground to cover looking for the entrance. It could very well be hidden underneath a Glamour of an ordinary-looking rock somewhere out in nowhere, so obviously the less area that Professor Briardi is going to have to bathe in Negation magic the better. Vettor nods at that. "I think after 'Thema finds the tunnel I'll join the search for the real entrance. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I think that if I bring 'Thema along it'll make her feel better. Having still accomplished something useful by finding the tunnel's location and the two of us being able to use that to look for the real entrance and all...I think it'd do well to put her at ease a bit. After, you know, that whole Professor Storey episode."

You'd like to think that it'll help Ana, but you're also not sure. Either way there's nothing you can do now but wait for Ana to find the tunnel and see what, if anything, there is for you to do from there. You think you should go with Vettor and Ana, if only to make sure they've got another person with them in case they actually do manage to find the real entrance, but than there's the whole thing about Ana apparently not having a high opinion of you right now-which you'd very much like to either address or chew her out about, for that matter, but...obviously not the right time to have that discussion with her right now, she's got her own problems to sort through first.

Argh, it's all just theoretical right now anyway. Once Ana finds the metaphorical bridge you'll consider whether or not (and how) to cross over it.

--You think this whole situation over again and again, but even Vettor can't help you grasp whatever it is that you're missing. Surely there's something you can do to spare Ana's feelings, there must be. You know there must be, but you can't grasp it. Your instinct is telling you that there's something off about this case, that there's an angle to exploit, but...just can't grasp it.

Well, sad as it is to say you can't afford to turn yourself into a nervous wreck right in the middle of Cheimare...any more than any given student already is by default during this month, anyhow...so you're going to have to take a step back from this. Give it time to sink in, and you time to carefully think things over again...

Something that's a common issue I run into, especially around this part which had to be completely redone from scratch all of a sudden, is player/PC motivation. The next stage will attempt to address this matter, but let it be known that it is a pain.

Incidentally, spoiler blocks? Still incredibly broken. Fix please.

Edited by Metis

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Looking for Something to Find, stage 10:

Spoiler

You're quietly reading a book in the Venalicium when in the corner of your eye you spot a frantic Vettor almost rushing through the door, but stopping himself just in time for the librarians not to turn into Dragons and eat him. Even so he "walks" over to you more quickly than you've seen some students run. "'Thema's found the entrance, but...we've got a problem," he whispers into your ear, and you unceremoniously close the book your were reading. Replying with an equally low voice, because to do otherwise would invite certain death, you ask what's changed. "It's about that noblewoman, but we can-head to a study cubicle, we can talk there." You nod and, after quickly dropping off the book you were reading, follow Vettor to a study cubicle. He practically collapses in the chair within, and looking him over he seems like he hasn't been getting enough sleep. "Alright. I don't really know how this all works, but the gist of it is that the guards called in some kind of super special fancy...ally investigators, I don't know. Another noble family, to handle that noblewoman's case. And they managed to turn her. As in, she's an informant and 'credible witness' for the guards now. So every criminal she's ever known? They're on the guards' table, if they can get any evidence on them." Oh, damn. That's going to blow that case wide open. You excitedly ask Vettor what all connections that woman has (or had), but he waves it off. "No time to gossip, [PC FIRST NAME], we've got a problem: That hideout of hers, do you remember what Professor Briardi said about it clearly being a group effort and...whatever?" You nod. "Turns out it's not. That woman made and maintained that hideout all by herself. But as far as our understanding of magic is concerned, that's impossible."

"Who's 'our', in this context?" you ask, still feeling excited more than anything else...but there's that creeping feeling of dread crawling up your spine...

"Everyone's," Vettor answers with a shrug. "The Academagia, Pievre's university, Oursouk, Alesfa, name it! As far as I know what that woman did is the magical equivalent of emptying Lake Ardica with a leaky bucket. No one knows how she did it." You frown and point out that surely the woman herself knows how she did it. "Not really. She knows how to cast the spells she used, obviously, and whatever else she used to pull it off, but she doesn't know...well, the nitty-gritty details of it. How they interact and actually work and such. She can give you the answer to an arithmetic question, but she doesn't understand the calculations behind it at all, she only knows the answer. If that makes sense." You suppose it does, but still, if the guards have the woman than can't they just figure out the rest from there? You ask Vettor if he knows about that. He shrugs. "No, but don't bother asking me why, I'm not a philosopher. Please, just listen: Whatever the situation might be with that magic, the important part for us is that the person who sold the woman that magic was arrested by the guards on suspicion of, well, trading in Proscribed magic." That just sounds even more like a solved problem, but you'll let Vettor finish. "The key word here is 'sold', not 'discovered'. He's just the middle-man, the guy who arranged for the deal and oversaw the trade. He's not the guy who discovered or whatevered the spells in question, he got all of that from someone else still. What he did do is still illegal, mind, but the guards don't care about a glorified clerk. They want to turn him too and go after the bigger fish. But without hard evidence of his crimes that's not going to happen. He'd get off with just a light sentence as things stand, no hard evidence, but if he were facing capitol punishment...well, the guards suspect he might be more cooperative, let's just put it that way."

"Alright, that makes sense. But where does the problem for us come in? How do we figure into this?"

Vettor has to take a deep breath before he can mentally sort out, much less tell you, the answer to that question. "The hard evidence that the guards need is in this woman's hideout, if it exists at all. The place we're trying to get into. The problem is that we can't make assumptions about the length of the tunnel based on the magical void anymore, that woman pulled off a literal miracle on that front, and her own means of teleporting herself into her hideout and back - yes, teleporting, turns out she had a registered pre-Ban Gates artefact to allow her to do that - doesn't exist anymore. Someone tried to steal it from her, no doubt to go to the hideout and destroy all the evidence, but instead it was destroyed in the guards' botched attempt to stop the botched theft. And there's no other way into or out of the hideout than the tunnel, at least as far as that woman knows."

"So...but, wait, surely this hideout must connect to a surface entrance somewhere, right? Unless someone started digging this tunnel from the river, but I find it more believable that someone dug up into the river on accident and ended up flooding the place afterwards." Vettor shrugs and says you're probably right, but the woman has no idea whether such a surface entrance still exists, it easily could have collapsed since it was dug out whenever. Worse, the magic void messes with detection spells, both Negation and Astrology, and the woman has no idea what specific cave she set up shop in. So the tunnel is the only way. There's simply no time to overturn the entire Minetan countryside looking for (and, possibly, digging out) the path to one specific underground room, especially in a manner careful enough that no evidence is at risk of getting damaged or destroyed in the process. Unbelievable. There is no reasonable entrance but the underwater tunnel? Which could very well be the underwater death labyrinth that Professor Briardi was afraid of, because neither maintenance or ease of access was a concern here...unbelievable. What a disaster. "Alright, than pardon me for suggesting this, but what about Gates? That's how this woman got into and out of her hideout to begin with, can't anyone replace this artefact that got destroyed? Or just cast a spell, or...something?"

Vettor slowly shakes his head. "Don't bother asking me for the specifics, obviously, but the simple answer is no. Not without some kind of preparation, but setting that up would require someone to access the hideout in the first place." Well...that goes that idea. "Now here's the problem: The Legate is desperate to get into that woman's hideout before the guards run out of time, since they can't just hold their suspect forever. He's due to be tried right around the turn of the new year, so we have to find the hideout before then. Any later and it'll be too late." You point out that if the contact of this "glorified clerk" has any brains than he would have fled for the hills long ago and not come back until this situation is firmly resolved, one way or another, in his favor. Vettor shrugs and says he had the same thought, but he knows for a fact that the Legate is desperate nevertheless, and if he is than there must be some kind of reason for that.

There's a bit of awkward silence before you finally dare to give words to what you, and probably Vettor, fear. "Desperate enough to pressure Ana, if it comes to that?"

Vettor lets out a long, tired sigh. "I don't know. I doubt the Legate would try to pressure her, but I don't know if he can protect her either. And in either case 'Thema is sure to give herself a right pounding if she hears about this and sees not just this opportunity but this whole situation slip through her fingers. We have to do something. Not even Professor Massioti is a good enough natural swimmer to do this, he relies on magic too much. Everyone relies on magic too much. Even if it means risking out own lives...we have to at least try." You caution Vettor not to be reckless, and he assures you that he's not lost his mind, he's just too worried. About Ana, about the Legate's predicament, about everything. You agree that something must be done as well, but...swimming through that tunnel yourself? You assumed that there'd be a surface entrance you could look for, that this nightmare scenario of the underwater death labyrinth was just something Professor Briardi made up to scare you. But if no other entrance exists, and this tunnel could very well be a death labyrinth, than...

...Than you've got a situation on your hands, don't you? Well...now what?

-You are so not doing this.
--You've got nothing but praise for Vettor's courage (if not recklessness), but your own feet are on the ground, not on the bottom of an underwater death labyrinth, thanks.

...You know that Vettor isn't going to stop just because you're not going with him, mind, but what are you supposed to do? Risk yourself as well? There must be some kind of other solution to this problem. The Legate has to be able to come up with something. He just has to...

-Courage. Into the drink you go.
--Are you seriously doing this?

....Yep, you're seriously doing this. Gods, you'd ask Vettor what's wrong with you but you seriously doubt he knows the answer to that himself, all things considered. At least it feels like the right thing to do, even if you can't explain why.

You ask Vettor if he's ready to go. "Uh-huh, ready when you are. Just, [PC FIRST NAME]? Please, don't mention this whole, eh, what did the Legate call it again? Escalation? Don't mention it to 'Thema. I don't want her to worry any more than she needs to." You nod, and let out a sigh. Not the situation you expected or wanted, necessarily, but...it's what it is. You briefly stop by your dorm room to throw on your swimsuit underneath your clothes, and after that both you and Vettor rush over to where Ana found the tunnel.

--How about "into the drink you don't go"? Underwater death labyrinth? No thanks! Like, you feel for Vettor and Ana, you do, but Gods alive do you not feel for them that much! Besides, can the Legate really not think of any other solution other than Vettor throwing himself into the fire? There has got to be some kind of alternative, right...?

-Creativity. Is there any other way?
--"Okay, I know this is going to sound absurd and don't even bother asking me how you'd do it, but maybe the Legate can pull something off. Anything to protect Ana, right?" Vettor nods, ready to hear whatever ridiculous thing you're about to suggest. "What if we find a vampire to go through the tunnel? Vampires are technically dead and don't need to breathe...I think. So they can't drown either, right?"

"First off, full marks for creativity," Vettor says. Somehow you get the feeling that whatever comes next is going to be less pleasant to hear. "Unfortunately, and this is only hearsay so don't quote me on this, but vampires - all undead, really - are animated by some kind of magic. Magic that cannot exist or function within a magical void. If a vampire were to enter that tunnel, as far as I know, they'd die. Or, you know, turn to ashes, whatever vampires do."

Great. Well, good thing you're not yet done. "Alright, plan B: This magic void only exists within the tunnel, so how about we use magic to temporarily re-direct the river away from it and drain out the tunnel? Would that work?"

Vettor shakes his head. Curses, again! "If we were taking about a tunnel that we wanted to go up, sure, that'd work. But we're talking about a tunnel we want to go down, so gravity isn't going to move the water for us. I'm sure the faculty could change the course of the river, but we'd than have to either pump the water out, somehow, or clear it out with buckets. If it was a lake or a well, it'd be a different story, but a twisty tunnel doesn't lend itself to that kind of stuff."

"What about Fey creatures? They're incorporeal, I think, can they safely navigate a magic void?" Vettor shakes his head and says that, as far as he's heard, they can't. Exactly why he's not no idea, but he doesn't really care about it either. "Right, plan B...we commandeer an airship, use magic to pin-point the exact location of the tunnel and dig up to it from the bottom of Elumia. We hit the tunnel, the water drains, and we're in, right?"

Vettor shakes his head yet again. "Too dangerous, we don't know enough about exactly where the tunnel and the lair is to do that safely. Remember that detection magic doesn't work properly, so we can only estimate where the tunnel ends and where the lair begins, and of course if we miss and destroy the evidence, well..."

...You're starting to get a bit frustrated here, despite the fact that you've pleasantly surprised yourself with the amount of ideas you can come up with on the spot. There must be an answer to this puzzle, right? Must be. "Um...we commandeer and army of moles and...no, that's not going to work. Eh...oh! What if we build...I think-yeah, it'd have to be. What if we build an airtight suit with a metal tank, fill it with air, and use that? Kind of like a reverse fish bowl."

"Beyond Professor di Lucca Alazzo's lacking Artifice skills, though to be fair that'd be a very difficult thing to make work without any sort of magic in general, I doubt anyone in Mineta could craft such a thing and have it be practical enough to use, honestly. Remember that the magical void also disrupts Enchantments, not just spells, so it'd have to be made out of just whatever physical materials and tools we've got."

You suddenly snap your fingers. Of course, all along the answer was so obvious. "A mermaid. We find a mermaid to do the swimming. How could that go wrong?"

Vettor, yet again, shakes his head. How. Just how. "Mermaids can't drown, sure, but they also can't tolerate cold very well. So funnily enough a human actually has a better chance of getting through the tunnel alive than a mermaid, in this instance." Unbelievable. Like, come on! You're really running out of ideas here!

...Wait a minute, cold? "Vettor, what was that about mermaids not tolerating cold? Why..." Vettor answers your question a second after you start to trail off, because you suddenly realize the answer - and problem - yourself: It's Cheimare! It's very much winter right now, and you're talking about swimming through a submerged tunnel wherein no magic can exist. Which, naturally, includes temperature keeping spells. The water in that tunnel is going to be close to freezing if there's any sort of flow, but even if there isn't it's sure not going to be as toasty as the Academagia's magically heated pool. That's why everyone keeps insisting that only Ana could possibly swim through the tunnel, now you get it! She's the only one who's even remotely used to swimming around in cold water, because she always been that driven and determined to swim anyway and only started studying magic recently. And because the faculty pushes students to learn magic so much every older student will have gotten used to only swimming around in comfortably warm water right now, Cheimare or not.

"Now do you understand why swimming through this tunnel is going to be such a challenge?" Vettor asks. And finally someone has a reason to nod.

"Okay...so, wait, is there a way we can solve that problem? The mermaid thing should work if we can, right?" you ask as you mentally go over everything you could possibly think of. But the long and short answer is, no, you can't think of anything that'll work. Neither can Vettor, sadly. You can set up a heating spell outside the tunnel, of course, but nothing is going to spare you from the cold inside the tunnel, which is the real problem here.

Well...that's kind of it, really. You're fresh out of ideas. And not for a lack of trying, let that be known. What an absolutely perfect storm of bad timing this situation turned out to be. If only it happened in Kaliri instead of Cheimare, or any one of a large number of things and this whole situations wouldn't remotely be any sort of issue. But the stars have aligned, and so it is...could you possibly make a metal suit that-no, metal generally conducts heat pretty well. Would be pretty unwieldy to swim in, too, especially through a tunnel. Darn it all, you...you are completely out of ideas. As much as you hate to admit it, there's only one option. Brave the depths yourself, along with Vettor, or...Ana is done for...

--None that you can think of. No surface entrance, not even Gates can bypass the magical void...yikes. Didn't Professor Briardi say something about it "not being a perfect defence"? Whatever happened to those blissful days?

...Sad to say you don't have an answer to that question either. Gods, what to do...

So this is the stage where my entire plan for the adventure basically went up in flames, leading to this stage and the next one being cut into two, a serious refit of the previous stage, and obviously the new exits and stuff for this stage. The reason? I...eh...I don't remember. This is why I used to leave notes everywhere, it's because I don't remember this stuff otherwise. Oh well, so long as the adventure works. Which, eh, yeah. I can only hope it does.

Also, that little revelation at the end of the Creativity success text? Fun Fact: I myself did not realize that until midway through the next stage. Which, for that reason, is also due for a refit. So yeah. Yay for actually being able to think things through, right?

Edited by Metis

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And since I'm basically done with the adventure, have the rest of it. Looking for Something to Find, stage 11:

Spoiler

To your surprise, when the two of you arrive Ana is actually sitting there on the edge of the river, seemingly waiting for the two of you. "Eh, hi, Ana," you say a bit awkwardly, and she glares at you in response. Though it's not a venomous glare. It's one of disappointment, and from the looks of it, not directed at you.

"You're really going to go through with this?" Ana asks. You nod and slowly turn to look at Vettor. He, too, nods, and asks Ana if she really wants to wait here. When Ana nods at his question he asks her why. "I don't know," she quietly says, staring at the river's surface with a distant look in her eyes. "Maybe to torture myself? Maybe to remind myself that even as a diver, of all things, I'm going to face competition at the Academagia? Competition that isn't as much of a coward as I am?" For a second Ana looks like she's about to break down in tears, but through sheer effort she manages to maintain her focus and composure. Honestly you think that you'd prefer the tears. With a strained voice Ana says she doesn't know anymore, but that's as far as she's able to push herself.

Ana is in a pretty sorry state, but you've got bigger fish to fry right now, and the glare that Vettor is giving you can only be him trying to tell you to get this search over with. You're more than happy to oblige. You and Vettor both toss your robes over a nearby branch and prepare a heating zone outside the tunnel. Gods know you're going to need it. "Wait, what's that for?" Ana asks, her surprise briefly taking her out of her sorry state. "The tunnel voids magic, doesn't it? What are you two casting spells for?"

"Temperature," Vettor answers he he tests the heated water. You personally find it a bit too hot for your liking, but you're not going to complain about that now. Because you know full well that you won't be complaining about it later, that's for sure. "How warm do you think that water is this time of year, 'Thema? We're going to need a place to heat ourselves up or we'll freeze to death."

Ana looks like she hadn't even realized that issue before. It, eh, does not make her feel any better about this whole situation, sadly. Hopefully it will get better if you and Vettor can figure out this tunnel. "If". You're not going to mince words, heating zone or not this is going to hurt.

Shortly after Vettor you jump into the water and take your first good look at the oft-mentioned, and probably more often cursed, tunnel. A pitch-black, completely submerged tunnel where no magic is going to save you. No light, no markers, no magic...nothing but your lungs and your wits are going to save you in there. So how are you and Vettor going to solve this problem? Well, actually, rather obviously that'll be with your wits and lungs, there's not really another option. Either you or Vettor will enter the tunnel to explore it, you won't both go in at the same time since you'd get in each other's way, the other will try to mentally map the place as the first one goes.

What approach should you go with here?

-Endurance. Hold your breath, and your heat. Or else...
--Vettor is the better diver, but you believe that you're better able to endure the cold, which will be important during the later stages of trying to scout out this tunnel. As such you suggest that Vettor begin the exploration, and you'll take over for him once he tires himself out. Vettor nods and starts exploring the early sections of the tunnel. He quickly confirms that it is indeed an underwater labyrinth, with twist and turns that he's only able to make out based on feeling around him, so despite Vettor starting with the diving you're being kept well busy trying to mentally map out the tunnel as he goes.

Eventually Vettor says he's had enough, so you take over from him while he crawls back onto shore and dries himself off. Your turn.

The tunnel does not fail to live up to Vettor's descriptions. The warm-feeling water in the heating zone all too quickly gives way to freezing cold, and it's only through sheer willpower and endurance that you're able to swim through it. Thankfully it doesn't bother you too much, so you're able to trace Vettor's earlier steps and go just a little bit further than he did every time you dive back in. It's a slow, methodical, cold as ice and frankly painful process as you dive into the tunnel just a little bit further than last time, each time, keeping one hand on the wall and freaking out for a second every time the tunnel breaks into the turn because you've no longer got a handle on where you are in this pitch-black darkness, only to thank every God out there that you manage to get finally swim back to the entrance before you either drown or freeze to death. Vettor, meanwhile, is working with Ana to write out what you discover on a proper map, and with each new line that Ana draws you feel renewed hope that you'll eventually reach the exit. With every new dead end you discover you're willing to go through the labyrinth a bit faster than before, too. It's risky, you could miss a turn and end up lost, but you've got a good handle on where the various dead ends are and there are air pockets scattered about, so you've got time if you do get lost. It's just a matter of making it back before you catch your death of cold, but that's not as much of a problem as you thought it would be. Not that your body isn't taking a beating with this constant juggling of freezing cold and outright hot temperatures, but you're able to push through it.

Eventually, however, one last turn suddenly gives way to a massive air pocket. You've got nothing to light up this area and you're still in pitch-black darkness, so you've got no idea where you are, but with some careful feeling around and effort you're able to climb out of the water and onto dry land. This must be it. This must be it! You've done it! You've mapped out the tunnel! Now it's just a question of swimming back, one more time, and marking down the last turn. This is it. The labyrinth has been solved! Finally!

Once you make it back you practically jump out of the river. "I've found the path!" you yell as loudly as your poor, abused lungs can manage. Meaning you let out a shrill shriek that doesn't sound healthy at all, but you don't even care right now. You did it!

"Get back up on land and warm yourself up, [PC FIRST NAME], you sound like you're about to die," Vettor says. You tell him to calm down and do as he asks, but as soon as you leave the river the weight of what you just did suddenly hits you. To say you're sore, and cold, all over is an understatement. Thankfully Vettor and Ana both team up to warm you back up. It's very much appreciated, since you don't think you could even hold your wand steady right now. "So where is it, what's the path?" Vettor asks, and with a shaking hand you point at the final turn.

"Right t-there," you say, stuttering from the cold you feel and pointing at the map with a shaking hand. "T-that turn right there, from t-there it's dry. Y-you can stand on it, t-there's no more water. A-Ana, Vettor, more heat p-please?"

Ana and Vettor nod, and say that as soon as you're warmed up and dried off it's time to bring the map to the Legate. "We can't plunder the hideout ourselves, if only because whatever documents are undoubtedly in there we can't take through the tunnel without destroying them. We'll hand the map to the Legate, that way..." That way Ana won't be pressured into going through the tunnel herself, now that you've proven that you can do it as well (and frankly you're sure that Vettor could as well if he memorizes the path), but Vettor can't bring himself to finish the sentence. Ana, however, seems to realize what he wants to say, since she glares at you with a look that's more cold than the water was.

You'd contemplate whether you should ignore that look of hers since it's actually directed at herself or whatever, but seriously, you are not in any sort of mood for this kind of stuff right now. That girl can just go jump into a lake as far as you're concerned, but of course you're smart enough to bite your tongue. At least until after you three informed the Legate about everything...

--You offer to do the initial diving work. Vettor nods, and wishes you good luck. You, eh, feel like you'll want it, even if you don't need it.

The tunnel does not fail to live up to it's reputation, either. The warm-feeling water in the heating zone all too quickly gives way to freezing cold, and it's only through sheer willpower and endurance that you're able to swim through it. The cold greedily eats away at your body's warmth as you try your best to scout out the tunnel, but you're not able to make much progress. It's pitch-black, you have to keep a hand on the wall to have any idea where you are and where you're going, and the cold keeps bothering you non-stop. It's distracting...

...Wait, what? You just confirmed that the tunnel isn't just a tunnel, there's branching paths as your hand feels a bend in the stone, but you're staring at a small air pocket and solid rock when you thought you swam back to the entrance. Oh no. Oh no. You can't get lost in here! You-you're going to have to dive again and find whatever turn you missed and fast, because you're on a timer with this damned cold even if you keep finding these kind of air pockets! What did you miss!? The entrance has to be close by, you've got to find it!

One frantic, albeit quick, search later and you suddenly swim into an arm. That's got to be Vettor, and that means you've found the right path! You readily take his hand as he helps drag you back to the surface, and not a moment too soon. You were about to run out of air.

Vettor and Ana both help drag your sorry self back to shore, where they quickly set up a heating zone to warm up your cold body. It, eh, takes a few minutes for you to compose yourself after that. Not just warm up, just composing yourself. Damn is that not an experience you ever want to repeat...

Ultimately, Vettor isn't able to scout out the cursed labyrinth of watery doom either. The cold gets to him before he manages, and with Ana looking after you in the meantime he wasn't able to map out the place well enough, or even remember the layout well enough to describe it to either Ana or you afterwards.

In short this is not a one-person job. Vettor can't manage this alone, he needs support. You just hope there's enough time for you to recover from your little episode and try again. Time just keeps on ticking...

-Cartography. Guide Vettor and map out the tunnel as he goes.
--You offer to do the initial diving work, since Vettor is the better diver and as such it's better for you to tire yourself out first exploring the area that's still relatively close to the surface. Vettor nods, and wishes you good luck. You, eh, feel like you'll want it, even if you don't need it.

The tunnel does not fail to live up to it's reputation, either. The warm-feeling water in the heating zone all too quickly gives way to freezing cold, and it's only through sheer willpower and endurance that you're able to swim through it. Thankfully even in freezing water it takes some time for you to go from normal body temperatures to suffering hypothermia, so you're able to make small measures of progress by frequently returning to the heating zone and warming back up again. It's a slow, methodical, cold as ice and frankly painful process as you dive into the tunnel just a little bit further than last time, each time, keeping one hand on the wall and freaking out for a second every time the tunnel breaks into the turn because you've no longer got a handle on where you are in this pitch-black darkness, only to thank every God out there that you manage to get back to the entrance before you either drown or freeze to death. You're not able to accomplish much, but you do manage to confirm one thing: This tunnel, at least the early portions, is sadly not just a tunnel. There's twists and turns that you don't even dare take because if you lose your sense of direction down there...yeah. You don't know if the cold or the lack of air would get to you first, and frankly you don't want to know. On the bright side there do seem to be small air pockets scattered about here and there, but you're not betting money on how breathable that air is. Not to mention that air isn't the only issue here - the cold is just as bad, if not worse.

All told you're not really able to get a lot done as the diver. After what feels like barely any progress you're completely out of breath, nerves all but shot, and feeling like you just swam circles underneath Lake Ardica multiple times. Ana, still trying to hold back her emotions, tries to calmly inform you that you'll go through air and energy much faster if you're afraid of being underwater. She has to pause to stifle a few sobs, but obviously you don't call her out on it. If anything you feel for her now more than you ever did, because yikes. You don't even want to imagine what it'd be like trying to swim through that tunnel when you're actively afraid of getting lost underwater and drowning...

"Guess it's my turn," Vettor says as you climb out of the river and sit down on sweet, open-air ground again. You're still worried, though - if that labyrinth of tunnels goes even just "much further" than what you've managed to figure out than swimming through it is straight impossible, unless Vettor knows no fear or cold. You doubt anyone could not just hold their breath but their nerves for that long. "We'll start by confirming what you've found out so far, to make sure we're on the same page and that we can chart a map that others can follow. Even if we reach the hideout I doubt we can or should plunder everything out of it right here and now. So we're going to want to draw a map for future reference. Chances are that at the very least there's going to be documents in there that the guards will want, and we'd need some kind of seal-able container to get those out safely. Best to just leave them there for the Legate to collect, I think." You nod and take out your wand to start drying yourself off. And, you know, heating yourself up. Too bad that you're shaking so much you can barely hold your wand right now.

Ana thankfully takes pity on you and uses her own wand to heat you up, which is very welcome relief indeed, while Vettor dutifully braves the cold, the darkness, and everything else in an attempt to find this cursed path. Again, it's very slow and methodical work, but Vettor manages it a lot better than you feel like you ever could. With every turn that Vettor uncovers and Ana helpfully draws out for you on some parchment you all feel like you're getting one step closer each time. Slowly, but surely. Until, finally, after one more tense moment of waiting for Vettor to return, he returns and nearly leaps out of the river as soon as he surfaces. "I found the path!" Vettor yells as loudly as his (no doubt strained) lungs can manage. Ana looks surprised at him, but you're too nervous to not focus right now.

"Get back on land and heat yourself up, Vettor, before you catch your death of cold." He wastes no time following that suggestion, while Ana prepares the best she can in terms of heat. It honestly isn't enough. "Where's the path? What's the final turn?"

Vettor sits down and, shivering, takes a look at the map that you and Ana have been drawing. "R-right there," he says, pointing at one final turn. "T-that tunnel raises above the water level there, from that p-point it's no longer f-flooded. Ana, a b-bit more heat please?" Ana nods and does what she can to turn up the heat, but as skilled with Revision as she is she's but a novice with Incantation. You take out your own wand and complete the spell for her, since you've warmed back up since your last run through the tunnel, which Vettor appreciates.

Now it's just a matter of waiting for Vettor to heat back up and informing the Legate. You've proven that Vettor can traverse the tunnel and you've got a map to prove it. Ana won't be asked or pressured to try and push herself to go through it herself. Part of you feels like it's a meagre reward for what you and especially Vettor had to endure, but he doesn't seem to mind. And honestly? Neither do you.

--You offer to do the initial diving work, since Vettor is the better diver and as such it's better for you to tire yourself out first exploring the area that's still relatively close to the surface. Vettor nods, and wishes you good luck. You, eh, feel like you'll want it, even if you don't need it.

The tunnel does not fail to live up to it's reputation, either. The warm-feeling water in the heating zone all too quickly gives way to freezing cold, and it's only through sheer willpower and endurance that you're able to swim through it. The cold greedily eats away at your body's warmth as you try your best to scout out the tunnel, but you're not able to make much progress. It's pitch-black, you have to keep a hand on the wall to have any idea where you are and where you're going, and the cold keeps bothering you non-stop. It's distracting...

...Wait, what? You just confirmed that the tunnel isn't just a tunnel, there's branching paths as your hand feels a bend in the stone, but you're staring at a small air pocket and solid rock when you thought you swam back to the entrance. Oh no. Oh no. You can't get lost in here! You-you're going to have to dive again and find whatever turn you missed and fast, because you're on a timer with this damned cold even if you keep finding these kind of air pockets! What did you miss!? The entrance has to be close by, you've got to find it!

One frantic, albeit quick, search later and you suddenly swim into an arm. That's got to be Vettor, and that means you've found the right path! You readily take his hand as he helps drag you back to the surface, and not a moment too soon. You were about to run out of air.

Vettor and Ana both help drag your sorry self back to shore, where they quickly set up a heating zone to warm up your cold body. It, eh, takes a few minutes for you to compose yourself after that. Not just warm up, just composing yourself. Damn is that not an experience you ever want to repeat...

Ultimately, Vettor isn't able to scout out the cursed labyrinth of watery doom either. The cold gets to him before he manages, and with Ana looking after you in the meantime he wasn't able to map out the place well enough, or even remember the layout well enough to describe it to either Ana or you afterwards.

In short this is not a one-person job. Vettor can't manage this alone, he needs support. You just hope there's enough time for you to recover from your little episode and try again. Time just keeps on ticking...

I'm aware that Y2 has the incredible mechanic of letting the PC actually die, but for this stage that presents two problems. First, there's no way in hell that I could type that out in a way that's actually meaningful rather than just an abrupt "thing go south, you die" followed by the player reloading, which would make a page-long description of the PC's final moments kinda...redundant? Not a fan, needless to say. Two, allowing death on a stage where, mechanically speaking, you shouldn't be able to get any help from the myriad of spells you have to inflate your stats and ensure success is kinda mean. Topical, poignant, fitting, and all of that jazz...but kind of mean.

Incidentally, this stage should also deal unavoidable Vitality damage, more and with additional stress gain if you fail a roll. It's very much implied by the next stage that it does, but for the record.

Looking for Something to Find, stage 12:

Spoiler

All heated up and with the map of the tunnel in hand the three of you head off towards the Academagia and, expecting a thorough berating by Professor Briardi if not the Legate, head straight to said Legate's office. The good news is that the Legate is in. The better news, maybe, is that Professor Briardi isn't. "Ah, Anathema. You've found the tunnel, I assume?" Ana, suddenly realizing that she disobeyed the Legate's orders by not telling him about that as soon as she found it, tenses up, tears up a bit, and hides behind Vettor. Not to blame him, but to try and hide her shame. The Legate is not sure how to respond to that, but Vettor confidently tells Ana not to worry and sits down before the Legate. He gives you a look of "you're in this too", and frankly you don't deny it. You sit down next to Vettor, ready to take whatever detention you'll be given at this point. Seeing this the Legate frowns. "Am I to understand that you two, specifically, did something you shouldn't have, and dragged Anathema into it?" the Legate asks, frowning deeply.

You think it's only appropriate that Vettor be the one to take point, and he seems to agree. "Yes, Profes-Legate. We, eh...we took it upon ourselves to map out the tunnel, before 'Thema told you that she'd found it. I'm the one who told her not to tell you immediately." The Legate quirks an eyebrow at that. Vettor silently takes out the map and places it on the Legate's desk. After the Legate looks it over his other eyebrow joins in on the skyline fun.

"I...why? You two 'took it upon yourselves' to risk your lives in this underwater, magically voided labyrinth without even informing me about it? Why?"

Vettor gives you what you can only interpret as an apologetic look, but you're not sure why he's being apologetic towards you. If anyone he owes Ana an apology, you knew what you were getting yourself into. "I heard about the situation with the noblewoman getting turned, and all that followed. I was afraid that if news got out about the tunnel having been found that you'd be forced to pressure 'Thema into swimming through it, since we all thought that no one else could. And that if she found out, than even if you'd be able to protect her from that...she wouldn't ever forgive herself. For being unable to help you."

There's a long, awkward silence as the Legate fails to find words for what he wants to say. So, somewhat ironically, the awkward silence is eventually broken by Ana. "Vettor? What's this about...what are you talking about?" Vettor awkwardly explains what he told you before about the situation with the noblewoman being turned and the guards being very desperate to get their hands on whatever is in her hideout, since the woman's own way of teleporting into and back out of it was destroyed in a bungled attempt to steal it from her. Ana slowly nods, but she clearly needs another minute to process it. During which time the Legate thinks of something else to say.

"Vettor, did it never occur to you that I might have alternative solutions to this problem prepared? You-"

"Had no such thing," Vettor suddenly interjects. It takes the Legate by surprise as much as it does you. "Practically everyone attending the Academagia relies on magic too much to be able to scout out the tunnel like we did, and for the same reason whatever possible help Professor Badcrumble has a handle on couldn't do it either. You can't dig out the tunnel magically because of the magical void, and you can't dig it out normally because it'd take too long and risk a cave-in besides, damaging or destroying the evidence you want from the hideout. Many people tried to think of solutions, but nothing could work without either magic or before the contact's trial date came up. You were all out of options, and if push came to shove from the guards...they were going to push 'Thema. I didn't want that, I couldn't allow that, so I went in myself instead."

"As did I," you add, for what it's worth. Vettor nods appreciatively, though.

The Legate lets out a long sigh. "Vettor, where did you get all of this from? You're not wrong, I'll begrudgingly you grant you that, but that just makes me even more curious as to how you got information that, last I checked, was brought to my office in confidence. Where did you learn all of this?"

Vettor shrugs. "I wish I knew, honestly. I just started to have a series of recurring dreams, nightmares really, one day. And from that I managed to piece it all together. I don't have any proof of most of what I said, but since what I did check turned out right I figured the rest was as well. And you did just confirm as much, so..." Dreams, huh? The Legate seems to have the same idea, since he asks Vettor if he believes that those dreams were natural. Vettor shakes his head and says no part about them felt "natural" to him, but regardless of what they are and where they came from he's glad that he got them.

"Vettor?" Ana suddenly asks. Vettor nods and turns to face her, as best be can right now. "These dreams, or nightmares...what were they about, exactly? What convinced you to...to do this?"

"At first they were just...visions, I guess, of the noblewoman being turned, her Gates artefact getting stolen and destroyed, that stuff. Things that already happened. I didn't know what to make of it, didn't know what to do with it, so even though I knew the visions weren't natural I tried to just dismiss them. But than I started having nightmares of the guards pressuring the Legate, pressuring you, and in the face of all of that you pushing yourself to check out the tunnel. Only to..." Vettor shakes his head, unable to finish the thought. Ana likewise shivers at the thought. "At that point I got worried that I might have gone from seeing the past to seeing the future, so I decided to check and confirm whether or not all that stuff about the noblewoman was true. And when I realized that it was, I...had to stop it. I had to do something to prevent that nightmare from coming true." So this is why Vettor was so insistent on doing something? Huh. He really should have said something about that to someone earlier, you think, but...obviously it's a little late to give him that advice.

"I...I don't get it. You pushed yourself to go through all of that...because you were afraid? Like...I-I mean, b-because...for me?" Ana asks while on the verge of tears. Vettor nods.

"I don't want to be left stuck in the cold above water any more than I do below it, 'Thema. I don't want to lose any of my friends because I couldn't help them when they needed it. And you trying to go through that tunnel...I couldn't let that happen. I couldn't lose you, not like that."

Ana does not know what to say to that. Or how to respond to it, for that matter. She runs out the door shortly before she breaks down into tears, and a second later Vettor gets up, asks you to handle the rest and goes off after her. It leaves both you and the Legate stunned in your chairs. "I was not aware that Vettor had...I don't want to say 'matured', not in light of what he did, but that he changed this much since last year," the Legate points out. You shake your head and say he's been this way since last year, he just never had a real chance to since he didn't have anyone he could relate to this well. Not as a mentor-figure, anyway. The Legate shrugs and shakes his head. "In any case, you two-three, whichever, have done more than enough. Rest assured, with this map I'll get someone else through this tunnel even if I have to drag Professor Massioti through it myself. You're done risking your life for this." That's good to hear, honestly. Though you feel kind of bad for Professor Massioti. Really, you wouldn't wish swimming through that tunnel on anyone. "Beyond that, not to leave you 'out in the cold', as Vettor put it, but understand that this whole affair is supposed to be confidential. We don't want news to spread far and wide and people to start skipping town because of it, so I'm afraid you shouldn't expect any official recognition. Not for a very long while, anyway."

"I can't speak for Vettor, but the only recognition I want right now is a warm bed and Professor Briardi not lecturing me for half an hour about personal safety. As much as I might deserve it. I know we both kept harping on the fact that we risked out lives and all, but it's not like we jumped into a lake of fire without any plans or preparations. We were very careful mapping out that place, taking turns and only pushing forwards very slowly and everything. If we found that it was beyond out limit I'm sure even Vettor would have called it quits rather than continue searching." The Legate nods, admitting that the reality of how much danger you put yourself in isn't as straightforward as some might think, but the very fact that you put yourself into such danger in the first place is telling of your willingness to put yourself into even greater danger later. Once you'd gotten used to or lost sight of the fact that you were in danger to begin with. You nod at that, but continue to insist that you don't feel like you only managed to avoid throwing your life away because of sheer chance.

"If Vettor hadn't, and couldn't, grab me by the ears with his comments that I had no alternatives and some very powerful people desperately wanting what is in that hideout I might have scolded you more, or simply waited for Polisena to do so. But as things stand I feel like it'd be hypocritical of me to do that when, at the end of the day, I'm sure that given enough time I'd have either asked Vettor to do exactly what he did, or worse, as he feared. Eventually I'm sure I would have asked Vettor to map the tunnel out himself, despite the fact that he's not as good a...cold water swimmer as Anathema is, and if he couldn't do it...I don't want to think about what I would have done in that situation. Ultimately, you sped up the inevitable on a case where time is of the essence, and so prevented me from being put in a very uncomfortable position. So as much as I'd like to scold you for what you've done, in truth I can do little but thank you two. But if that is all, I've got a very busy day ahead of me. Though I do want to ask: Are you feeling alright? Having swam through an underground tunnel in Cheimare without any magic to help you, and all."

"We set up a heating zone outside the tunnel, so it's not like we spend all our time swimming in the cold. That aside I'm fine. Still a bit chilly, honestly, but I'm sure that'll pass. I don't intend to do anything strenuous for the rest of today anyway. I think I've done enough."

"Swing by the infirmary if you need to," the Legate reminds you. Not that he needed to. "Beyond that, yes, you've certainly done enough. I can't promise that Polisena won't lecture you, or Vettor for that matter, should she mysteriously find the time to do so. But I'll see to it that you're not given any official reprimands for your behaviour. If only because putting the actual reasons for them on record would be...counter-productive, I feel like."

[PC VITALITY <1]-That is all you can ask for.
--You nod, say goodbye to the Legate, and as if nothing happened continue on with the rest of your day. That chill you feel stays with you the entire time, though, and by the time you're eating dinner it's to the point where you feel cold sitting in the Great Hall. Sure, it's Cheimare, but still. You really don't want to admit that you might be coming down with something and head to the infirmary, you know which professor is going to make time for an "extended visit" if you do, so you resolve to just head back to your dorm room and sleep it off. A bit foolish and headstrong, perhaps, but...well, you kind of have to be to swim through a pitch-black flooded tunnel in Cheimare with no magic to help you in the first place, don't you? It's one way to get your mind off of mid-terms, at least. Though in hindsight you think you'd have preferred just running laps. Boring, but so much simpler. And warmer.

Yeah, you basically can't deny that you're coming down with something at this point. Even laying in bed under your covers your body is shaking from the cold, and your window isn't even open. Well, great. Good thing you still have a spare (or, in this case, extra) blanket you can throw on, since repeatedly casting heating spells would just be a pain in the rear. You do appreciate the irony of it, however - can cast spells to help you, won't cast spells to help you because it's less convenient than just throwing on another blanket. The wonders of magic and more practical mundane solutions will never cease to amaze you.

"Hello, [PC FIRST NAME]? Are you asleep already?" a voice suddenly calls out a bit out of nowhere, and soon after your ears pick up the noise of someone knocking on your door. You must have fallen asleep and not heard the knocking earlier. You'd also like to go back to sleep, but that voice...familiar, female, giving you a sense of perpetual irritation and annoyance...Sigalis? Is that Sigalis' voice?

"N-no, I'm awake, sorry. One second," you say as you try to drag yourself out of bed. You quickly realize that that was a mistake, as not only does the outside of your bed feel unbearably cold but your body feels really heavy and slow. You could get up, but when you know you'll spend half your time shivering you'd really rather not. "Oh...forget about it. Door's open," you say as you quickly crawl underneath the covers again. Even the edges of them feel cold, ridiculous.

As you thought Sigalis slowly opens the door and cautiously peeks inside from the hallway, though she steps in and closes the door behind her when she sees you laying in bed. "Are you sick?" she asks, pretty bluntly.

"How do I look?" you ask, rolling your eyes as best you can.

"Well, frankly like you took a bath in tomato sauce and tried to turn yourself into a bed sandwich, only to forget the cheese and the Glamours. It's nothing serious, right? I heard about you going for a swim upstream of Lake Ardica this late in the year...why, too."

You'd be surprised and ask yourself how Sigalis knows about that, but you don't really care right now. Your brain feels like it's missing a few sails, and you know full well that Sigalis has her hands caught up in this mess anyway. "I'll be fine, just a fever I have to wait out," you insist. Sigalis nods, thankfully she doesn't feel any need to question you on that point. "Why are you here, though? Did the Legate cut you off of your information sources, so you're here to ask me some questions?"

You see Sigalis consider whether to try and lie to your face, but thankfully she decides against it. Saves you the effort of having to call her out on it, anyway. "You could say that, as much as I wish it wasn't the case. I just got out of detention, actually," Sigalis says with an annoyed look on her face. Which is to say, no different than how she normally looks. "Not that the faculty could really stick anything to me, they just wanted to give me a warning. Honestly, that seems to be a rather frequent issue as of late..." If you had any clue as to what Sigalis was talking about you might have an opinion on that matter. As is you're just confused. And in no condition to care that much. "I want to know what was found in that woman's hideout. I asked Vettor about it already, but he kept insisting that the Legate didn't ask him to swim through the tunnel again. So I thought he must have asked you to do it, since you already know the path and all, but..."

"I'd have a hard enough time walking to the Common Room, much less swimming through a pitch-black tunnel in freezing cold water, in this state," you fill in. Sigalis nods. "The Legate said he was going to find someone else to go through the tunnel, even if it meant having to drag Professor Massioti through it himself. Vettor doesn't know about that because he ran out the Legate's office before he got to that point. Ana broke down in tears over...everything, so she ran out, and...well, if you talked to Vettor already you probably already know. About what's going on between those two, I mean."

"I'm...not sure if I really do? But I can make an educated guess if I have to," Sigalis slowly says. "In any case, thanks. That's...not what I wanted to hear, exactly, but it's what I needed to hear. Eh...I really should get out of your hair and let you get some rest, but there's one more thing I needed to ask you about: Did he say anything...how do I put this...did he ever say anything about stuff he shouldn't know about, like he knew more than you'd expect him to?"

"Yes, Sigalis, he mentioned his visions," you answer. Getting slightly tired of Sigalis trying to maintain her laughable pretence of secrecy right about now. She nods in response to your question, though there's a deep frown on her face. And maybe it's the fever making you see things, but you're pretty sure that's not a regular Sigalis being able to breathe frown, that's a worried frown. Either way Sigalis, tense expression on her face, mumbles something you can't make out underneath her breath and takes one step towards your door. She then suddenly stops, turning around to look at your sorry self laying in bed. You're not sure what to make of her expression, you don't think it's one that you've ever seen on her before.

"What would you have done, if you were in Vettor's shoes?" You actually don't understand the question at first - you dove into the tunnel yourself, clearly, so obviously you would do the same thing he did. As you did. But after a moment it hits you that Sigalis isn't talking about the tunnel, she's asking what you'd do if you received mysterious visions like he did.

"I don't know," you answer. "I guess it depends on how afraid I'd be of those visions coming true. I know the only visions I'll have tonight are nightmares of me drowning in that cursed tunnel anyway, so...I don't know."

Sigalis takes a second to think over your answer, and with a smile (for Sigalis anyway) she nods and says, "I guess you're right. Thanks, and sweet dreams, [PC FIRST NAME]," with an odd tone you don't think you ever heard on Sigalis before. After that she steps out of your room, quietly closing the door behind her.

...She is totally scheming something, isn't she? She is absolutely going Gods-knows-where right now to pull off some kind of stunt. She so obviously is. Well, not like you're in any condition to do anything about it. The only thing you should (and want) do right now is try to rest. Hopefully you'll be able to get it...

[PC VITALITY >0]-That is all you can ask for.
--You nod, say goodbye to the Legate, and as if nothing happened continue on with the rest of your day. That chill you feel remains with you for a while, but it eventually fades away, and not too long after you forget about it. Even so you're nevertheless reminded of today's activities when, during dinner, you notice Vettor eating alone. Curious about how things ended up between him and Ana you decide to sit down next to him and ask about it. Thankfully you were mistaken about Vettor sitting by himself, as he looks downright cheerful. "Don't worry about 'Thema, she's fine. Shaken by everything that's happened, sure, but she'll get back on her feet in no time," Vettor insists. You're not really convinced that it's all that simple, though.

"What about her phobia? And her security issues? And the fact that you I don't even know what to call what you did-ed her? Eh...never mind, you know what I mean. Probably. Aren't you worried about all of that? I have to assume that she is, so..."

Vettor shakes his head. "About that...well, after I caught up with 'Thema after she ran out of the Legate's office she basically broke down and told me how she really feels. About herself, about her parents holding her back, Professor Storey, the Academagia, everything. I'm not going to say it was pretty, the confession or what she had to say about herself, but she finally got it off her shoulders and heard herself say it out loud. That was pretty much the eye-opening moment for her, hearing herself talk like that. From there I took her to Professor Badcrumble, since she helped 'Thema out before with Professor Storey and all, and 'Thema herself told Professor Badcrumble about everything that's bothering her. Everything she knows she needs to change, everything she wants to change, and everything that she's going to need some kind of help and guidance to change. Professor Badcrumble of course was all too happy to help her, and 'Thema has finally had enough of being afraid and everything, so I'm sure she'll be fine. It might take a while, but she'll get herself back on her feet eventually."

Is there a universe in which you do not ask Vettor about what Ana said about her feelings towards him? Does such a possibility exist? Do the laws that form all of creation and bend chaos to it's will allow the for possibility that you don't? One must assume that among the infinite possibilities that all of life's choices allows for that such a possibility, such a reality, could exist...but even if it does than this sure isn't that reality. So gossiping it is! "So...what about you?" you ask with a coy smile.

"Me? I don't think I caught a cold from swimming through the tunnel, s'about it."

This is Vettor you're talking to, but you still don't think that it's possible for him not to know what you're getting at. Still, better to just ask him outright. "I mean what did Ana say about you, silly. You're going to have a very short lifespan if you're willing to risk yourself like you did for just anyone, so...what's going on? What'd she say about you?"

Vettor...shrugs. Such a magnificent gesture really gives your questions a sense of dignity. Not. "You mean during her 'confession'? Not much, honestly. Just that she felt like trash sitting on the bank of a river while I dove into the cold abyss so she wouldn't be pressured to try, both of us knowing full well that she'd fail if she did, and how even then she never let herself be afraid of losing me to the watery depths when she knew she was. Actually, about that last point, she did say that she wants to be more open, with herself as much as with me. You know, let her emotions run free so that fear can actually take hold of her if that's how she feels. Apparently she's hoping to use that fear of losing me to help motivate her to overcome her own fear of the depths, like I did." What? She seriously said that, and...what? "Yeah, tell me about it, I thought it sounded pretty ridiculous too. Couldn't really tell her that it wouldn't work, though, you know? Since it was the same for me, ultimately, being more afraid of losing her than losing myself. She really turned the tables on me, but that's why she's got a good head on her shoulders."

Not what you were confused about, but the information is noted. "Vettor, please tell me that you're not completely missing what...how people are going to interpret that, at least. Please tell me you are not that dense."

"I couldn't swim if I was," Vettor jokingly answers. You'll admit it's fitting, at least. "I don't have a crush on 'Thema, [PC FIRST NAME], and if she's got one on me than she didn't say anything about it. She's a great girl, I'm glad that we're friends and we get along well...rocky moments aside, but what else are friends for? Either way, I don't have a crush on her. I just don't. If she develops a crush on me one day - or hell, me on her for that matter - I'll figure out whatever I need to figure out then. Cross that bridge if and when I get to it, I don't see any point in worrying about it if I never do. Leave the games and pitfalls of romance to the seniors, if I've got a friend who needs support that wants to race me to the other end of Lake Ardica than the only two things I should need to know is a starting time and location. Doesn't need to be any more complicated than that." Innocent, and kind of adorable. Though you're pretty sure Vettor would not appreciate being called such. "So who's your sweetheart anyhow?"

"Who'sawaitawhat?" is your response to that question. It, eh...it was a valiant effort.

"Who's your sweetheart? I'm not the only one who braved that tunnel, [PC FIRST NAME], you did too. If you want to insist that I either couldn't or wouldn't have unless I was crushing on 'Thema, than, well...who's your sweetheart?"

...You liked this conversation better before Vettor turned the tables on you, perhaps Ana is rubbing off on him. That said you suppose it is a fair question to ask. "Uh..." is all you manage to say in terms of answer, though.

"I won't pry if you don't want to share," Vettor says dismissively, but you don't trust the crooked smile on his face. "But...maybe you should be asking yourself a few questions, if you can't answer the ones you ask others."

Someone has been spending too much time with Ana, you think. Or maybe not enough? Eh, either way you'll consider whether to give this some thought. Later. It's getting late, you're tired, you're put in a full day of work. As much as you dread whatever nightmares you're going to have tonight you're feeling like it's time to go to bed...

Vettor is another one of those NPC students that really doesn't have much to say during his Y1 adventure, and who knows what happened to that crush on Amada said adventure was about. All told I think this adventure portrays him...not horribly incorrectly, at least, but only one way to find out I suppose.

Looking for Something to Find, stage 13:

Spoiler

Cold. Dark. No sense of direction, no sense of your surroundings, just cold water and pitch-black tunnels flooded with water. This is how you remember that cursed tunnel, this is how you remember how it was to swim through it. Trying desperately to keep a hand on a wall at all times, freaking out whenever there was a turn and you briefly lost what little hint of direction you had, cold water biting at every part of your body all at once while you had to stay focussed on where you are, which turns to take, and how far you think you're able to go before you run out of air trying to get back.

But this place just isn't right. There's no walls, no entrance or exit, no path, just an endless labyrinth of tunnels that are too big for you to keep track of and too much distance to cover. Cold water freezing you to your core, running out of air, slowly panicking because you can't think of any way out of this one...is this really it? Is this where your dream, your life, your story...ends?

Just as you feel like you're about to drown, however, your arms are suddenly grabbed from behind you by...hands. Human hands, to be sure, but you're not sure who they belong to. You can't see, can't reach out. Your arms won't move, you're out of air. Instead you've pulled up, further and further, until you end up surfacing...somewhere strange. The presence that dragged you up is gone, the hands have let go and there's no signs of who picked you up. It is night, to be fair, and a very dark night at that. To the point where there's not a star visible in the sky, but...where are you? You're swimming in either some kind of lake or river, you're not able to tell. Large, wild-looking trees surround you on all sides, covering what little is visible of the night sky. Where it should be, at least. As you noted before, not a star visible in the sky. No visible moon or clouds, either.

You start to look around for a shore to climb up on as your attention is grabbed by the sound of something splashing in the water, and a bit further away you see an impossible to make out shape moving in the distance. Is that your saviour? You'd very much like to thank them if so, whoever they are, but even though you try to swim up to them you can't seem to get any closer to them. There's a current that's pushing you back, and you're not strong enough to fight against it. So, again, your eyes look around for a place to get up on shore, but either this river (or lake) is so gigantic that you can't see it from here or you can't see it from here because of the darkness. You genuinely can't tell, in fact you really wish you had your wand on you. What'd you'd do for a Lantern of Many Hues right now. Or Aganathi's Lamp. Just...something. Anything to see what's going on.

Of course the moment you think that is the moment that the world suddenly changes, and brightens. Bad news is that it slowly fills itself with a dark, red hue. The trees, sky, even the water, everything is covered in a blanket of red. You look up and can now see the moon past a bunch of parting clouds, and it's got the same red hue. This, eh, this doesn't feel like an improvement. You're very much aware that a world slowly turning red beneath what looks like a blood moon is a bad thing, so how about no? How about you find some place else to be and leave. You'd love to thank your savior for saving you, you really would, but you're not like Vettor. You are more afraid of whatever is happening here than you are of being polite to whoever just admittedly saved your life. You'll send them a letter and a big bundle of flowers later, as an apology, if you have to - right now you'd like to get out of here now thank you very much.

Frantically you choose a direction and start swimming for dear life, and your battered, bruised and tired body manages to pull you to the foot of a large bridge. It...frankly looks very familiar, isn't this the Duelling Bridge? It totally is, those big stone face statues and the waterfall off in the distance, there's no way you wouldn't recognize this place. How's you end up in the Imperial Reserve, though? Did your savior carry you up the river?

Questions flying around in your head you grit your teeth and do your best to pick yourself up, trying to get up to the top of the bridge to try and get a better look around. Maybe you can see whoever saved you. Hopefully. Hell, you can shout, maybe they'd hear you? It's worth a try. So you drag yourself up to the bridge, noticing that with every step you take the world seems to get a little brighter, both visibly and in terms of color. The dark red brightens, gives way to orange, than yellow, and finally the light that you're so used to. Indeed, when you look up at the sky you can see that the moon doesn't have it's dark red hue anymore too. Instead it's a nice, familiar distant white. On the downside looking over the river you're not able to see whoever saved you, neither in the water or on the shore. The upside is that the blanket of red wasn't the world turning evil as you feared. It was something else entirely.

-The rising sun...
--You wake up from your nightmare in the middle of the night, covered in cold sweat and feeling more alive than you have since mid-terms started. Well, first things first, quickly grab your wand and deal with this cold sweat problem, because you are not getting out of bed to deal with it. You've had more than enough of things being too cold and not dry enough for probably multiple lifetimes, so if there's a reasonable opportunity to actually use your wand to make it go away you'll take it.

Once you've dried your sheets and nightwear, and heated yourself back up to a comfortable temperature, you fall back down on your pillow and think. You remember every part of that dream, in fact you feel like you remember it better now than you did while dreaming since you're able to make out patterns that you weren't even aware of before. Those hands that grabbed you, for instance, your right arm was taken by someone's left hand, not right hand. And you were grabbed from behind, so...and the way the world looked so vile and evil, and that moon, and...and so many other things you can't even focus on right now. What a dream...or, rather, a vision? That doesn't sound right. Experiencing that vision, in any case. First Vettor, and now you...Sigalis must be behind it. It's not unheard of for spellcasters to experience random visions, even when they're not actively studying Astrology, you know that. But for it to first happen to Vettor, and now to you? No, that's surely not a coincidence. You refuse to believe that's a coincidence. Sigalis must have weaselled some sort of information out of Professor Piaxenza to pull this trick, he's well known for studying dreams, and Sigalis is a Hedi student. This must be her doing.

...Although as you feel your body relax and prepare itself to doze off again, a thought crosses your still active and awake mind. Did Sigalis study Astrology at any point? You don't believe she did. But without Astrology how is she sending you these visions? Glamour doesn't have any range to it, in that regard, for Sigalis to give you these visions with Glamour she'd have to be standing right next to you. You really can't imagine her repeatedly breaking into the Morvidus dorm to give Vettor a bunch to think about every other night, and now you...it'd be really easy to set a trap and catch her in the act if that's the case, too. Did someone else do it for her? Rikildis? Grainne, maybe? You don't think either of those study Astrology either. Does Sigalis have a friend in Avila? Who? She actively despises College Avila last you checked.

Replaying the vision in your head, feeling like you're just looking at all the things you didn't notice before, you suddenly end up on another line of thought. This vision, this level of clarity and ease of remembering, it feels...well, too perfect, for lack of a better term. You don't think a second year could accomplish this, with Astrology or Glamour. You're definitely dealing with an older student, and probably someone heavily invested into studying Astrology at that. Definitely College Avila, you think, but...Sigalis hates College Avila? And isn't heavily invested into Astrology? So what's going on here?

You suppose there's only one way to find out. Keep your eyes open for openings, oddities, opportunities...adventures that weren't there before. For what you saw in this vision, what it all seemed to lead up to. The dawn of a new day...

Unlike the previous four adventures...yes, it has been that many, hasn't it? Well, unlike them the next, final part of this adventure chain is only available on one specific day, hence the...less than subtle hint to keep your eyes open for it. It'd help if I could reasonable work in the actual date, Hionosi 18th, but frankly this whole "vision" thing is...difficult to work with. One must be vague, but not too vague, one must provide information, but not too much, one is contractually obligated to foreshadow things the player isn't meant to be told but cannot do so in a manner that a player is expected to notice the first time through or whatever...bah. Subtlety is for people that don't type with a sledgehammer.

Why yes, I do have a keyboard made out of titanium, how'd you know?

Edited by Metis

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Dawn of a New Day, stage 0:

Spoiler

It's a nice winter day, the 18th of Hionosi. Snow is falling outside and slowly but surely covering the world in a thicker white blanket than it already is and you, Academagia student that you are, have taken it upon yourself to make the most of it. Today, on this day, you will do naught but appreciate the gift of winter as best you can. Play around in the snow in the most fun and exciting ways you've ever imagined, build a snowman grandiose enough that it would make King Vernin himself proud, slide down all manners of slopes on whatever suitable piece of discarded flooring you can find, and yes, you may even grab a few snowballs and throw...nay, use your wand to throw them at people from a direction they'd never expect! And probably get hit by a few of those yourself, if what you've heard of Philippe's latest bit of magic training is any indication, but that's all just part of the fun. That's right, even that. For today...

...You're stuck in Professor Badcrumble's office while she's holding one of her etiquette lessons. This time focussing on the incredible importance that you hold a teacup just so, as well as the plate it's on, and seriously someone get you out of this hellish prison you didn't even do anything! Philippe used that magic snowball trick of his to bean the regent in the back of her head, making it seem like you were the one who tossed it! Sure, you had a snowball in hand when Professor Badcrumble turned around because you were about to do the same to Philippe, but come on! You don't deserve to be in here! You don't care to be in here! You don't even like the tea that Professor Badcrumble brought, yet she won't tell you how to say that politely! The one thing you could actually learn from this...well, at least you're not alone. There's actually a surprisingly large number of students here, at least for one of Professor Badcrumble's etiquette lessons. Most of them look like they belong here, though. There's only a few people here as detention. Only a few, but at least you're not alone.

"Now that I've covered how to do it right let me show a few common examples of how it's done wrong, and why it's so important that you do this right. Those of you here for detention, pay attention to this part, because I'll be happy to remind you if you forget." Because that's what your bored-out-of-it's-mind mind needs right now - the threat of more boredom. Wait, "bored-out-of-it's-mind mind"? Can your mind be so bored that it's bored out of itself? Eh, Gods, you don't feel like asking philosophical questions right now. You're sure you'd just hurt someone's feelings (if not your own) if you tried. "First, the most common mistake is to take the teacup with your left hand, or for those who are left-handed, your right hand. It might not seem like an important distinction since you don't need your dominant hand to pick up a teacup, but let me demonstrate that-"

You're about to wonder whether this means that someone who's ambidextrous couldn't possibly mess up picking up a teacup, a highly valuable and understated benefit of that trait to be sure, when the regent's monotone droning is cut off by an announcement coming from...somewhere. That's the one annoying thing about these Glamour announcements, your head never knows where to look whenever your ears pick up the sound since it's coming basically from thin air. "Professor Badcrumble, it's time. Please report to the ward immediately," an energetic, perhaps slightly panicked voice says. You don't recognize it, but you'd guess it's a faculty member of some description.

It takes the regent a second, but once she processes this information she rapidly puts her teacup down, dismisses everyone, and runs out of her own office without seeing everyone out first or even locking up. To be fair this is Professor Badcrumble you're talking about, trying to steal something out of her office would definitely not go unnoticed, but yikes. It's not often you see her bolt like that.

Most of the students who actually wanted (well, "wanted" in most cases) to be here don't wait for further invitation, they collectively shrug at the horse that they've been gifted, get up, and leave. A few others start gossiping with each other about what just came up, though they quickly realize that they could do so elsewhere than the regent's empty office, and so they, too, get up and leave.

As for you, you're curious about what just came up. The regent's older students don't know about it based on what you're overhearing and you don't know what this is about either, so...maybe you should make like a sneaky spy and investigate? "Ward" could mean a lot of things, so there's no telling what you might find out. And there's always ways you can use information like that beyond your own personal satisfaction, it could buy you a get-out-of-school-newspaper-free card with Rikildis if it proves interesting enough. Not that she doesn't still have her head all poked up into Catherine's business last you checked with the whole Matthias story, but...

-No, you've got a snowball with Philippe's name on it.
--It'd be interesting to know what got Professor Badcrumble's attention, you won't deny that. But why bother risking the ire of a professor who's already got a...temporarily diminished opinion of you just to look a gifted horse in the mouth? When you could instead take sweet, cold revenge on the person who got you into this mess in the first place? Doesn't the latter idea sound like a much better use of your time? Like a lesson that Philippe needs to learn from...oh who could you frame for this...Rui da Casga? Sure, he'd probably enjoy pulling a fast one over Philippe. A lesson he can learn from Rui da Casga. Doesn't that sound like a much better idea?

Of course it does. Time to head out and start work on serving Philippe that wonderful dish best served cold...with ice on top! He'll love it...
---ADVENTURE PATH A

-Shadow Professor Badcrumble.
--You're just too curious. Why did Professor Badcrumble get delivered a magical message to drop everything she was doing immediately? Where is she even going? What "ward"? There's too many questions flying around in your head for you to ignore, and even thought it might not matter to you at all you want to know.
---ADVENTURE PATH B

These branching paths are just two different ways to get to the same stage 3+, mind. It's not a matter of doing the obviously questionable thing leading to the actual adventure and the saner option being a red herring.

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Just stage 1b today because I spend all of yesterday trying to get the adventure to it's actual, you know, end. Up to stage 10 and still not there. Regardless, Dawn of a New Day, stage 1b:

Spoiler

You do your best trying to follow Professor Badcrumble without her noticing, but that gets pretty difficult to do rather quickly. Whatever path she's taking is taking her through hallways you've never been in before and into areas of the Academagia that you never even knew it had. This place is completely new to you, and it's hard to follow someone through unknown territory quietly. Worse, you're sure that'd it be downright impossible to justify your presence here. Where are you, even? What is this place for? The hallways are clean, they look like they're being maintained, but there's no evidence of people going through it frequently. No bits of trash fallen behind statues, no tables that got shifted from when someone bumbled into them showing the markings of exactly where on the floor they've been for so long, the few doors you pass don't have anything like bits of old notes that might be posted on them once, like classroom doors sometimes have messages on them about classes being moved or cancelled...where are you?

At least you're not alone, though truthfully that's only a small comfort. Sigalis du Sonmeil, another poor victim of Professor Badcrumble's improvised detention session, is secretly...well, "secretly" following you behind your back. You imagine that she wanted to go after the professor herself, but noticed that you decided to shadow her first, so either she figured that it'd be safer to shadow you or...you don't know what that girl is thinking. Hell, you don't know for sure whether it's even Sigalis, it could easily be someone else disguised under a Glamour. Come to think of it you maybe should have disguised yourself as well, but if you get caught you get caught. Whether you look like yourself or like [RANDOM SAME GENDER NPC STUDENT] doesn't really matter in that case - you'll be the one who gets grabbed by the arm, regardless.

Just as you think there can't possibly be many more turns that the regent needs to take to get to her destination you hear the sound of someone screaming out in equal parts surprise and pain behind you. And it sounds like Sigalis. You turn around just in time to see Sigalis fall to the ground before a larger figure behind her, but before you get the chance to try and identify the attacker you sense trouble behind you and turn around. Just in time to notice and duck away from two more guys that only narrowly fail to grab you! They're two older students, wearing Hedi robes, although you don't recognize them...eh, they kinda look familiar, actually, something's nagging you in the back of your head but you don't have time to contemplate that.

"One more step and you're kissing the floor as well!" an angry voice calls out from behind you. You turn around again, drawing your wand in the process, and point it at the person who surprised Sigalis. Again, an older student wearing Hedi robes and you just know that he looks familiar, but you can't put your finger on it with you feeling so panicked and ready to go right now. Sigalis, for her part, is in a sorry heep on the floor, wand some distance from her and drops of blood scattered around while some more slowly drips out from her mouth. You're pretty sure it's not as bad as it looks, but...it at least looks pretty bad!

Not that your situation looks any better right now. You've got a wand pointed at this guy and he doesn't have his drawn, but you quickly take a peek behind you and see that his two friends(?) do have their wands drawn and trained on you. Eh...honestly, you're not sure if this is a fight you can win. If it was one spellcaster with a wand pointed at your back that'd be one thing, but two? You'd need to take both out within the time it'd take the guy who took down Sigalis to draw his wand and send you packing. Or run up to you and deck you straight in the face, which if Sigalis is any indication might be more effective than anything this guy can do with his wand anyway. These guys are older students too, so you can't assume that you've got a magic edge on them either.

So, in summary, Sigalis is down, two guys behind you are ready to open fire, and the guy in front of you is quite capable of using his fists to great effect even if he doesn't or can't rely on his wand to do anything. Oh dear...this is not a good situation you're in...

-Surrender. This is not a fight you can win, realistically.
--They say discretion is the better part of valor, and in this case surrendering is the better part of not getting your face punched in, magically or otherwise. You toss your wand at the guy who punched down Sigalis and yell, "I surrender!"

The guy glares at you for a few seconds, and than motions to his friends to...take you prisoner? Is that what you'd call this? Well, regardless, the two behind you weave some magic to hold your arms and hands in place and walk up to you. The big guy, meanwhile, picks up Sigalis, as well as both her and your wands, and walks up to you. He gives back your wand, but obviously that's not going to do you a whole lot of anything right now. "Seeing your friend's condition I guess I'll just ask you," the big guys says in as intimidating a manner as that sounds, especially with Sigalis on his back...but all of a sudden his expression softens (as much as it can) as he looks you over curiously. "...Hang on a second, wait...aren't you [PC FIRST NAME]?" The big guy asks. You get the feeling it's not what he himself thought he was going to ask, but hell, you'll take it.

"Y-yeah, though I don't remember..." you start to say, but looking at this guy you actually do slowly recognize him. He's one of the guys who approached you after the anti-shapeshifting flyer incident, said you were doing a "good job" or something, when you were talking with Rikildis in the Great Hall. Huh. You know, you feel like that context might explain a few things of what just happened here, but it'd be very impolite to point out. So you leave it at saying, "Actually, aren't you the guy who told me I was doing a good job, after that anti-shapeshifting flyer incident? In the Great Hall?"

The big guy nods. Thank the stars, you're not going to die! Probably. "Yeah. You don't remember my name, though?"

Um...oh Gods better think fast! "I don't think you introduced yourself," you answer. At least you assume that's the answer, because you remember him being very awkward and shy and don't remember his name. Either you guessed right or this guy doesn't know any better, because he nods. And thank every God, New and Old, out there for that.

"Right. Well..." The boy looks at Sigalis, who doesn't seem to be comfortable on the boy's back either despite or because of the whole "relocated her jaw" thing, and actually looks a bit remorseful. Not enough to apologize or anything, but he looks remorseful. "Bruno, Hugo, make sure [PC FIRST NAME] doesn't make a run for it, I'll carry this girl. Professor Badcrumble needs to hear about this."

...That's not the end result of surrendering that you were hoping for, but frankly it's as good an outcome as you could feasibly ask for. This boy clearly has an important reason for keeping these largely abandoned hallways clear...Gods know why...but in any case you seem to have stepped on his toes in some way, so him taking you quietly is about the most you could ask for. It's certainly more than Sigalis got, that's for sure...

-War. What are your options here, realistically?
--Truth be told, you don't think there are any. You can't take on three older students at once, not out in the open like this. Individually? Perhaps. With an ambush? Possibly. With a team on your side? Probably. But right now it's three against one, out in the open, with wands drawn and trained on all targets already. You don't even know where you are right now, so you can't try to pull some trick with a convenient chandelier right above the two behind you or something like that. And with nothing to turn the tide in your favor...this is impossible.

Your only option here is diplomacy. Or surrendering and hoping these three are willing to accept that, because you do not stand a chance against three opponents at once. Not without some kind of help that you're not going to get or find out in this middle of the Academagia's nowhere, even a professor would have a rough time trying to divide her attention among that many targets...

--Hedi students generally aren't know for their battle prowess. Glamour can be useful of course, but indirectly more so than directly. You think you possibly stand a chance if these three are bluffing about their ability to actually use their wands against you - the big guy's fists are very effective, clearly, but beyond that you've got no confirmation that these guys are actually able to stop you from casting your way out of this.

On the flipside you don't think you dare to attack them just based on that assumption. Because if you're wrong...diplomacy might be the better option here. It's possible that these three can't stop you, it just might be possible. But if you're wrong about that than you'll be corrected by the magical version of whatever the big guy did to Sigalis. And you, simply put, don't dare to take that risk...

-Composure. Maybe this matter can be talked out. Try to remember who this guy is!
--"Well!?" the guy asks, shouting like you couldn't hear him, but you don't let it get to you. You know you've seen his face before, you just need to remember...

...Wait...yes. Yes, that's right! You do remember him! "Aren't you the guy who told me I did a good job? After that anti-shapeshifter flyer incident, in the Great Hall?" you ask pretty out of nowhere. It takes a second for the boy to compose himself enough to consider your question. And you're pretty sure that if his two friends weren't still pointing wands at your back he might not have been this open to conversation. But after taking a moment to think he actually recognises you and nods.

"Wait a second...yeah, you definitely look familiar. [PC FIST NAME], right?" You nod, really hoping that this is going to end peacefully. Well, for you. Sigalis is going to have to take a trip to the infirmary either which way. "Don't you remember my name?"

"You never mentioned your name," you clarify, at least as far as you remember. Either you're right or this guy doesn't remember better himself, because he nods.

"Right. Well..." The boy looks at Sigalis, who's letting out painful moans trying to pick herself up (and failing - this boy did a number on her), and actually looks a bit remorseful. Not enough to apologize or anything, but he looks remorseful. "Bruno, Hugo, grab [PC FIRST NAME] and make sure [s/he] doesn't make a run for it. I'll pick up this girl. Professor Badcrumble needs to hear about this."

...That's not the end result of trying to solve this situation diplomatically that you were hoping for, but frankly it's as good an outcome as you could feasibly ask for. This boy clearly has an important reason for keeping these largely abandoned hallways clear...Gods only know why...but in any case you seem to have stepped on his toes in some way, so him taking you quietly is about the most you could ask for. It's certainly more than Sigalis got, that's for sure. Still, you'd have very much liked it if they could look the other way...although, to be fair, it's not like Sigalis would ever let you get away with it. At the very least she'd never let you forget it.

--"Well!?" the guy asks, shouting like you couldn't hear him, but you try to not let it get to you. You know you've seen his face before, you just need to remember...

...And you don't. Not in time, at least. The big guy takes one menacing step towards you, and in a fit of panic you turn tail and run behind the two guys behind you, briefly forgetting that they're the big guy's friends. They both look at you with a confused face as if to ask "really?" but you don't care right now, just so long as they can stop their friend from re-arranging your face. You like you jaw where it is, thanks.

The big guy looks confused at you for a few seconds, shrugs, and then motions to his friends to...take you prisoner? Is that what you'd call this? Well, regardless, the two shrug at their friend and weave some magic to hold your arms and hands in place. The big guy, meanwhile, picks up Sigalis, as well as her wand, and walks up to you and his friends. He gives you a curious once-over, but in terms of making you less terrified that's obviously that's not going to do a whole lot of anything right now. "Seeing your friend's condition I guess I'll just ask you," the big guys says in as intimidating a manner as that sounds, especially with Sigalis on his back...but all of a sudden his expression softens (as much as it can) as he looks you over curiously. "...Hang on a second, wait...aren't you [PC FIRST NAME]?" The big guy asks. You get the feeling it's not what he himself thought he was going to ask, and honestly you're a little annoyed that he recognized you before you recognized him, but hell, you'll take it.

"Y-yeah, though I don't remember..." you start to say, but looking at this guy up close (and without feeling like you're about to die) you finally do slowly recognize him. He's one of the guys who approached you after the anti-shapeshifting flyer incident, said you were doing a "good job" or something, when you were talking with Rikildis in the Great Hall. Huh. You know, you feel like that context might explain a few of the things that just happened here, but it'd be very impolite to point out. So you leave it at saying, "Actually, aren't you the guy who told me I was doing a good job, after that anti-shapeshifting flyer incident? In the Great Hall?"

The big guy nods. Thank the stars, you're not going to die! Probably. "Yeah. You don't remember my name, though?"

Um...oh Gods better think fast! "I don't think you introduced yourself," you answer. At least you assume that's the answer, because you remember him being very awkward and shy and don't remember his name. Either you guessed right or this guy doesn't know any better, because he nods. And thank every God, New and Old, out there for that.

"Right. Well..." The boy looks at Sigalis, who doesn't seem to be comfortable on the boy's back either despite or because of the whole "relocated her jaw" thing, and actually looks a bit remorseful. Not enough to apologize or anything, but he looks remorseful. "Bruno, Hugo, make sure [PC FIRST NAME] doesn't make a run for it, I'll carry this girl. Professor Badcrumble needs to hear about this."

...That's not the end result that you were hoping for, but frankly it's as good an outcome as you could feasibly ask for. This boy clearly has an important reason for keeping these largely abandoned hallways clear...Gods know why...but in any case you seem to have stepped on his toes in some way, so him taking you quietly is about the most you could ask for. It's certainly more than Sigalis got, that's for sure...

I'd call this a bit of a filler stage, at least as far as the exits are concerned, but trust me, the next stage is long enough as is so I don't want to merge them. If only because it's more clean to have 1a (which is definitely it's own stage) lead to 2a leading to 3 and have 1b lead to 2b leading to 3.

Basically this whole adventure is one great, big, giant mess. A fun one, but a mess, all the same.

Edited by Metis

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Just stage 2b today because I spend all of yesterday trying to get the adventure to it's actual, you know, end. Up to stage 12 and still not there. Very close, but still. Regardless, Dawn of a New Day, stage 2b:

Spoiler

It's a tense, though short walk to where Professor Badcrumble is...to where she is. You've no idea what she's doing, wherever this is. The boy doesn't need to knock, Professor Badcrumble slides through the doors as soon as he approaches, and is (naturally) not happy when she sees the state that Sigalis is in. "Leon Chevalier, what in Octavius' name do you think you're doing assaulting students like that!? A younger girl, even! I...I can't even bring myself to care about why these two were wandering around here. Despite how few justifications they could possibly have for it." Obviously you don't say it, but if that's what the regent wants to go with you're not complaining. Especially because it's not your jaw that got relocated. "Do you have anything to say for yourself, Leon?"

"Would you deign to remember and believe it if I did, mademoiselle?" Leon asks in response, sarcasm dripping from every word so much you think you could sweep it off the floor. Professor Badcrumble doesn't even look angry anymore, just disappointed.

"Leon, head over to Professor Piaxenza immediately and inform him of this breach of conduct. And-"

"No."

Professor Badcrumble stops and blankly stares at Leon. Even you look surprised at-hell, even Sigalis looks surprised at that. At least as best she can. "I'm not leaving until...until this place doesn't need to be looked over anymore. You're in no position to tell me whether or not it does, professor. Not with these two trying to shadow you and sneaking around without your notice."

Yeah, you're completely floored. That's the most defiant you've ever seen a student be to a member of the faculty, by a comfortable margin. You've heard of students doing worse, Philippe's two brothers to name easy examples, but this is the worst you've seen in person. Professor Badcrumble takes out her wand and casts a Negation on Leon, an understandable reaction in your opinion, but Leon just rolls his eyes and slowly shakes his head. The Negation doesn't seem to do anything, either, at least as far as you can tell. Professor Badcrumble, for her part, looks perplexed at Leon and lets out a sigh. "Fine. I'll discuss this with your regent personally, so expect to hear from him."

"If such a threat meant anything than I wouldn't be standing here," Leon retorts, and somewhat worryingly he turns his attention to you. "[PC FIRST NAME], can you drag this girl to the infirmary?" he asks, motioning to Sigalis carried on his back. She tries to respond with something, but it just results in a bloody sputter that you can't make heads or tails of and that seems to hurt her. Needless to say that she quickly learns her lesson and keeps quiet. You nervously eye Professor Badcrumble, who nods, and you in turn look at Leon and nod. He wordlessly hands over Sigalis. "I take it you've learned enough magic to either retrace your steps or otherwise find your way back out of here. If not ask Hugo or Bruno to lead you out. And don't sneak around here ever again, [PC FIRST NAME]. Or this girl, for that matter. I spared you because you did me a solid a few months back with that flyer situation. Don't expect me to to spare you again."

"Who gave you the right to say stuff like that?" Professor Badcrumble asks, glaring at Leon with narrowed eyes. Despite that you have to say that Leon is definitely the more intimidating between the two! That warning hit a lot closer to home than a professor threatening to assign detention ever could.

"The same people that can't do anything but stand around as I say stuff like that," Leon retorts, and without waiting for a response from Professor Badcrumble he turns around and walks off. His two friends cast a single disapproving (disappointed?) glance at the regent, and then they, too, turn around and walk off. Professor Badcrumble lets out a large sigh and shakes her head. You stare curiously, wanting to ask...a number of things, really, but you've got Sigalis in your hands who probably wants to be taken to the Infirmary sooner rather than later, and this seems to be a bad time and place for conversation anyway. "[PC FIRST NAME], I'll think about what detention to assign you and Sigalis for sneaking around a restricted area like this later," she says, but after Leon's threat it sounds like there's no sting left in it. Under her breath, but still audible, the regent adds, "If I can find the time to even consider it, that is. I'm going to be a little bit busy these next few days..." Yeah, hopefully that'll be long enough for the professor to forget about you sneaking around here. If not it won't be for a lack of trying, that's for sure. In any case you nod and start to bring Sigalis to the infirmary.

The nurses there, who are not happy to see the condition that Sigalis is in, take a lot of convincing before they believe that you really are just an innocent bystander who brought her here and that someone's already informed a professor about what happened. They, not unreasonably, take even more convincing to not call in a professor anyway, since you'd rather not have to explain exactly where Sigalis got roughed up. Especially because you only barely could explain it if you had to. What was that area? Why were Leon and his friends patrolling it? How could they say the things they said to a professor with a straight face? Why didn't the professor have them dragged away? So many questions, and you're no closer to any answers...

"W-who did this to you!?" a voice suddenly calls out over the muted hustle and bustle of the infirmary. The nurses quickly tell the owner to be quiet, and you turn around and take a look. Who just walked into the infirmary is none other than Rikildis von Kiep, and looking her over she seems to be in perfect condition. Minus the fact that she's freaking out over Sigalis, who's lying in one of the infirmary beds with a pack of ice wrapped against her jaw. It's not broken or anything, but it'll take a while for the swelling to come down. She also hears Rikildis call out and looks at her with the most pitiable fire you've ever seen burning in her eyes. If you had to guess you'd say that she probably doesn't approve of how Professor Badcrumble handled that situation and would like some sweet revenge...

"Your friend made the mistake of sneaking around where she definitely wasn't supposed to be, and had the misfortune of being discovered by someone who took offence rather than a professor," the nurse explains once she's finally calmed down Rikildis...well, calmed her down enough. "I don't entirely agree with how she was evicted either, but there are ways to avoid the ire of such individuals. Such as not nosily trespassing in places you've no right to be." Rikildis glares at the nurse with more fire in her eyes than Sigalis, but she's not intimidated in the slightest. Nor, to be fair, would you be. "Please, I'm sure that whoever did the roughhousing isn't even the fifth most intimidating student I've had to deal with over the years, and you two - or three, if you prefer - obviously can't even compare to that standard. Just stay clear of places you've no right or reason to be in in the future." Honestly you're not even the slightest bit insulted by that. Leon was more intimidating than most students you've met, but even discounting that it's easy to forget that (among other students) this nurse has probably had to deal with Philippe's two brothers. And even Leon can't compare to them, at least based on what you've heard. Rikildis, sick of the nurse's attitude (that she can't honestly refute), turns to Sigalis and repeats her earlier question. Though the nurse interjects before Sigalis can get a word out. "I'm afraid your friend had the misfortune of injuring her tongue during her fight, so she shouldn't speak until the swelling goes down. Just ask the innocent bystander instead, [s/he] seems to know everything that an innocent bystander should...and shouldn't." Okay, now you're frowning at the nurse. She is not intimidated, as expected. Rikildis, for her part, walks up to you and stares at you with a very uncomfortable glare. "Either take this outside or keep it brief, you two," the nurse suddenly says. "Your friend really needs to calm down and rest right now, especially the former, and I'm afraid to say that neither of you seem to have that effect on her. So, keep it brief."

You're not sure if Rikildis actually heard the nurse, though despite that she does nod and takes a step back. Sigalis sits up and looks, clearly interesting in the conversation. Which does nothing to ease your already shaken nerves. "Who did this to-actually, wait, let's start at the beginning: Where were you trespassing earlier? Why? What happened?" Rikildis rapidly asks, giving you little time to think. Not enough time to consider whether she's trying to trap you into admitting something bad or whether she's honestly concerned about Sigalis - the latter is a part of Rikildis' newspaper group, albeit far more quiet about that fact, so it's not unreasonable that Rikildis would be upset that someone beat Sigalis up. Within the split-second that Rikildis (and her venomous glare) gives you to think you decide to admit that you're...actually not sure where you were trespassing. Rikildis obviously doesn't look very convinced of your statement, so you turn to Sigalis and ask if she knows where you were earlier. Sigalis looks at Rikildis, stares her right in her eyes for a few seconds...and shakes her head. Rikildis' expression quickly changes. "Interesting..." she notes to herself, and she takes out a roll of parchment and quill to write down notes. Sigalis actually motions to Rikildis to give them both to her, though, and Rikildis complies. Ah, yes, that's right - Sigalis can't talk right now, but she can still write. Rikildis seems to figure that out a second after you, as Sigalis starts to write something down.

She writes down "announcement", than points at you with the quill. Rikildis asks you if you know what Sigalis is trying to say, and you nod. "I take it you want me to explain the announcement that drew Professor Badcrumble away?" you ask Sigalis for confirmation. She nods. Rikildis, needless to say, is all ears as you relay that you and Sigalis were attending one of Professor Badcrumble's improvised detention sessions - for entirely unjustified reasons, of course - when out of nowhere an announcement came up and told Professor Badcrumble to head off. You blank a bit on exactly what it said, though. "I definitely recall it telling the regent that 'it's time', but I don't exactly remember the next part - I think she was called to the...warden? Sigalis, am I remembering that right?" Rikildis notes that the warden would be the leader of the Academagia's groundskeepers, but that turns out to be a moot point as Sigalis shakes her head and writes down the correct answer: "report to the ward immediately".

"Okay, so not the groudskeepers' warden," Rikildis curiously notes. "What 'ward' was she called to, though? The medical ward? Like, the infirmary?" Both Sigalis and you shake your heads. Rikildis shakes her head in equal parts annoyance and confusion. "Well, you two followed Professor Badcrumble after leaving her detention session, right? So surely you two must know where she was going?" Sigalis sadly shakes her head and writes down "never been there before". Rikildis turns her attention towards you and you admit that you've never been to that wing of the Academagia before either. You also explain how you couldn't make sense of what few context clues you managed to pick up from your surroundings. Sigalis nods at your explanation. "Can either of you draw me a map of where the professor went? What route she took?" Sigalis nods and starts to draw a rough map, although her focus is interrupted when Rikildis asks you one more question. "I guess that leaves only one question, at least that I want answered right here and now: Do you know who caught you? Who did this to Sigalis? A description, a name, anything?"

Sigalis, fire flaring up in her eyes again, silently glares at you. It'd be unnerving, but you understand what she's trying to convey - she wants you to answer Rikildis' question for her, which you're fine with doing. You nod at Rikildis and explain that there were three older Hedi students that ended up catching the two of you, though the one personally responsible for knocking Sigalis down to the floor is one she should be familiar with already - Leon Chevalier. Rikildis raises both her eyebrows, but quickly replaces her surprise with a vengeful frown as she says, "Well, if you're sure it's him than I'd like to get revenge. As do you, I'm sure. I'm going to need someone to fill in for Sigalis, but-"

Rikildis abruptly stops when Sigalis taps her on her shoulder, looks at her, and shakes her head. Rikildis initially interprets it as Sigalis not approving of you filling in for her, but when Rikildis asks if that's what it is Sigalis shakes her head again. Being in no mood to play guessing games Rikildis shrugs and simply asks Sigalis to write down what she wants to say. She nods and writes "I don't want revenge on Leon". Both you and Rikildis stare dumbfounded at that statement, probably questioning whether Sigalis hit her head as well. She might have, she was already on the ground by the time you turned around. Of course having fully expected that response she continues to write her thoughts down. "He's not my enemy".

"The guy punched you so hard you fell to the flood bleeding, and he's not your enemy?" Rikildis asks, completely stupefied. "Than pray tell who is! The guy did the same to Professor Storey at one point, I heard. Who could possibly be worse than he is, Olivier Marchant? Though he's no longer attending the Academagia, so are you talking about Philippe's other brother? Dexter?"

Sigalis shakes her head at Rikildis' guesses and writes down her answer: "Leon's enemy". With that you feel the atmosphere darken. You know full well that Sigalis got involved with some sneaky spy stuff, her actions last month during the whole Proscribed wedding ring and underwater death labyrinth episode confirmed as much, but for her to get punched to the ground by Leon and be going after his enemy...how much more did Sigalis bite off than she could chew? Because it sounds like the answer is "a lot".

"So...you want me to go after Leon's enemy?" Rikildis asks. Sigalis nods. "Who is Leon's enemy? And what in Octavius' name did he do?" Sigalis stares at Rikildis with a distant look in her still burning mad eyes, shakes her head, and writes down "can't speak names".

On it's own that'd be ominous enough, but Sigalis does write down the answer to Rikildis' second question, and it's something that shocks Rikildis and you both. "Slavery". Did Leon tick of a Dragon or what the hell is going on here!?

"I...Sigalis, I don't know what's going on here. But if that's the revenge you want, fine. I'll look into Leon's affairs and get to the bottom of it, mark my word. Do you have any problems with [PC FIRST NAME] tagging along?" For better or worse Sigalis shakes her head as vigorously as she can and writes down "[s/he] knows best". It earns you a curious stare from Rikildis, but...you're kind of beyond really feeling it, to be honest.

In any case...this sure is a situation you find yourself in. It makes you want to consider how to respond to it, but...

-You can't let Leon's behaviour go unanswered, if only for your own peace of mind.
--How a guy like that manages to avoid getting expelled is a question that you feel like you need answered if you're going to get any sleep tonight. Professor Piaxenza...you recall him being pretty soft on Iustus that one time, but of course he genuinely isn't the violent type who usually gets in trouble, in fact as far as you know that was the first time Iustus got into that kind of trouble. And he was cleared of it later, anyway. Leon, on the other hand...what reasons could he possibly have?

"Let head to the editorial room and talk this over, compare notes and the like. We'll need to inform Grainne about it as well," Rikildis suggests. You've got no objections with that plan.

-"Were you responsible for Vettor's visions? And mine, for that matter?"
--Rikildis looks at you curiously, but Sigalis gets an oddly...joyful? Look on her? Some kind of expression that's within a range of emotions that you rarely to never see on Sigalis, so you're not sure how to interpret it. Regardless, she nods. "How? You don't study Astrology last I checked, and Glamour would have required you to break into Vettor's room every time. Mine, too. Not to mention those visions were unreasonably clear. So how'd you do it? Who helped you?" Sigalis' expression changes to something between "painful" and "remorseful" as she points to the "can't speak names" line she wrote earlier. Basically, a co-conspirator she doesn't want to rat out. Or can't, worst case. "Aren't we on the same side, though, if we're going after Leon's enemy? I mean his enemy is your enemy, isn't it? And thus your co-conspirator's enemy?" Sigalis nods, but she looks...conflicted, and slowly writes down "it's complicated". That puts a frown on your face, because if you end up making an unexpected enemy because it's "complicated", as Sigalis puts it, that could put you in a very awkward position. Especially when you can't see this person coming. You ask Sigalis what assurance she has that that isn't going to happen, and after some deliberation she writes down "she's my friend".

That's...honestly quite a statement, coming from Sigalis. Especially considering you're likely talking about an Avila student here, and Sigalis usually doesn't get along with anyone in Avila. "And that feeling is mutual?" you ask. Sigalis nods and, a bit curiously, taps a finger against the bed she's in. Out of the shadows a rabbit jumps up unto the bed, and sits down next to Sigalis. You're not sure who's Familiar this is, but it sure isn't Sigalis' toad, Durlindan. "She can't visit in person", Sigalis writes, but apparently she can send her Familiar to visit. The rabbit him(her?)self even nods at this.

"Better hide before a nurse spots you," Rikildis suddenly says. The rabbit nods again and jumps back into the shadows, actually becoming transparent as it does so. Clever Glamour, you definitely didn't notice the invisible rabbit before. But is that spell the rabbit's owner or something that Sigalis taught her? Compared to the vision you had this transparency spell seems...improvable, to put it politely. "Is that all you wanted to ask, [PC FIRST NAME]? Sorry, but I think we're outstaying out welcome here."

You nod, tell Sigalis to get better soon and suggest to Rikildis that the two of you head to whatever she calls her newspaper not-club room to discuss things in further detail. She, of course, has no objections to this plan.

You want answers. Whatever is going on, whatever fights Sigalis picked, whoever this "enemy" is, regardless of all of that...you want answers. There's too much that you keep thinking about, and it's time to put an end to that.

Yes, that's ~3200 words worth of stage, or ~19000 symbols if you prefer that unit of measurement. If you're curious why I still haven't gotten to finishing 1a, it's because the final stage currently consists of over 33% more words. And that's just the main text, mind, I'm still not done with the exits yet. These kind of "extended mystery" adventure chains have perks to them, but boy does it make for lengthy summaries at the end. Among other things.

As for this stage, well, not sure if I got the balance right (one of the hardest things to do I swear), but pretty sure I at least got my intended points across. Maybe more than I should have, even, but considering the final summary is long as is I think I was right to assume that adventure 5 of a chain of 5 was the time to maybe stop dancing around the fire and actually provide some actual answer. Even if all they're good for is begging yet more questions.

Edited by Metis

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Dawn of a New Day, the much-awaited (or at least much-delayed :rolleyes:) stage 1a:

Spoiler

Once you're outside again you take in a deep breath of fresh, frigid air and promptly regret your decision. Despite it being later in the day it feels like the temperature has only dropped further. It's still snowing, too, albeit less than before. Ah, no matter. There's plenty of ammo laying on the ground as is, you just need to make it into a proper weapon and proceed with the plan.

That does require you to know where Philippe is, though, and if you want to get Rui involved he'll need to be nearby as well. Okay, this may be more complicated than you thought it would be, but no matter. Professor Badcrumble is busy with...whatever, out of your hair, so you've got time.

After a bit of looking around the Grounds you end up finding Philippe, along with a small group of other students, hanging around Lake Ardica, sliding around on the ice now that the surface of the lake is solidly frozen over. Or kept frozen magically, you're not entirely sure. There's some students around casting spells on the lake, but you can't tell what they're doing from a distance. Either way Philippe is here, literally skating on ice, just begging to get hit in the back of the head by a snowball...and looking around you see Rui da Casga hanging around as well! Oh, what good fortune. Too perfect. Surely this is fate, right? Divine retribution for Philippe's earlier prank, with you acting as the arm of the Gods? It's just...wonderful. Time to get to work.

Grabbing a handful of snow and smashing it into a snowball is obviously a trivial task. Mimicking the spell that Philippe used to cause a thrown snowball to swerve in a particular direction is significantly less trivial, but let's be honest here, if Philippe Marchant can manage it than surely you can as well. The boy isn't know for being booksmart, and that's putting it politely. You decide to practice your spell (and your throwing arm) a few times on a nearby tree, fine tune the spell so that the snowball swerves right where you want it to, try to calculate the best place from which to bean Philippe in the back of the head taking into account making it come from Rui's general direction...frankly it's an inordinate amount of effort for just "hit Philippe in the back of the head with a snowball seemingly thrown from Rui's direction", but at the same time that honestly really sums up the reality of studying magic pretty well. The more specific you get, the more difficult it gets. In any case it's not something that's beyond your skills and patience to set up. Just a bit of practice, and...yes. Perfect. He'll never know what hit him...eh, wait, no, he'll never know who hit him. What hit him he'll figure out soon enough...

You patiently wait for Philippe to get back to his starting position on the ice, it seems like he's competing against a few other students to see who can cross a section of the frozen lake the fastest, and let your magical snowball fly! It goes through the air like a regular snowball could never hope to, completes it's arc through the air and starts to curve backwards as it starts to descend, right on target for hitting Philippe in the back of the head, right where Rui would have tossed it if he did. If he did. You get ready to start running if you need to. Sad to say that using Philippe's own trick against him isn't really too likely to go unnoticed, even Philippe isn't that dense, but it's worth it.

Suddenly your plans starts to fall apart as Philippe starts to skate early! That damned cheater, starting before the signal is given! How dare he get out of the way of your tactically thrown magical snowball! As if to add to the confusion a large flock of birds in the distance chooses now, of all times, to take flight and start migrating or whatever it is they're doing. The noise of dozens of wings suddenly starting to flap at once is enough of a spectacle to cause the skaters, including Philippe, to stop and turn around. It's a pretty sight, but more importantly Philippe has stopped to turn around! You still have a chance!

...Except the fool is on ice, so he can't simply stop his momentum! But just when you lose hope and imagine your snowball landing right at Philippe's feet you notice that it's going right for him! Either you worked your magic better than Philippe did or you misinterpreted what the spell did, since the snowball is literally aiming for Philippe's head, not just curving backwards. What fortune, you can still hit him!

And you do. Ultimately, while Philippe is distracted by the flock of birds taking flight behind him he gets hit right in the face by a surprise snowball. Unfortunately with him sliding around on ice the surprise force of the impact causes him to lose his balance and fall down hard, sliding some distance before he comes to a halt. That...looked painful. You really hope he didn't injure himself there. Joana would never let you hear the end of it.

Looking at the other students run (well, slide) over to Philippe and helping to pick him up, as others look around for who tossed the snowball and a few glances are thrown Rui's way, while in the background the flock of birds fly towards the Academagia, air filled with the chaotic cacophony that is their chirping, you wonder what you should do in this situation...

-Awareness. Look around and see if anyone saw you throw that snowball.
--You discreetly look around and immediately notice your worst nightmare made manifest: Rikildis von Kiep. Worse, still, she's looking pointedly between you, Philippe, and than sceptically in Rui's direction. Curse it all, she knows. You just wanted some revenge, was that so bad? Okay so it ended badly, but...oh, whatever. You're just going to walk up to Rikildis and get this over with before you manage to dig yourself a deeper grave. At least Rikildis will happily put in that effort for you and save you the trouble of doing it yourself, but let it be known that after already sitting through detention once today you're not in the best of moods right now.

"Nice throw," Rikildis says with a thin smirk as you approach her. Nice of her to just directly tell you that she knows, you suppose.

"And nice observing me, I guess. What do you want, Rikildis? Just spit it out already." Rikildis fakes caring about your lack of manners, and you inform her that you got send to detention once today already - all thanks to Philippe pulling the same trick on you, for that matter. Admittedly he didn't hurt anyone in the process, but you didn't mean to, either. It's not your fault a flock of birds decided to ruin your perfect plan!

"I don't think blaming nature is going to get you much of anywhere, [PC FIRST NAME]. Philippe was skating on ice, you should expect injuries if you disturb his sense of balance and cause him to fall," Rikildis points out. If you could trust her, even a little bit, that'd be...something to hear. As is you're just plain annoyed, and don't really care about it. "But, that all said, I can sympathise. Especially because Philippe may or may not have pulled his trick on me earlier today as well-which, incidentally, is why I know that Joana is currently...'busy'. So, how's this for an offer: You help me 'congratulate Philippe with his excellent academic progress', and I'll pointedly ignore the part where you put him at serious risk of getting injured, and got him injured, albeit not seriously, birds or no?"

Rikildis is talking about tricking Philippe into tactlessly admitting that he's the one behind all the false flag snowball throws, which you would certainly approve of. Honestly, that is a downright generous offer coming from Rikildis. You know that Joana is not going to be happy regardless, much less Philippe himself, but as far as Rikildis is concerned? Downright generous. She's definitely another student that Philippe pulled a fast one over with his snowball trick. She wouldn't be this driven to stick it to him at the...what's the opposite of "expense" in this context, "cheap"? "Mercy"? No..."cost"? Cost, right, that's the one: At the cost of being able to stick it to you. Seeing that you see little reason not to help her - you've got a common enemy, the one time you can trust Rikildis to not backstab you is when a matter is personal for her, she's definitely not a dead weight in terms of working together, especially on what's basically one of her projects, so...why not? Even if she is lying to you, "beware courtesy" and all, what is it that people say about enemies and the distance at which you should keep them, again? Maybe it's just your patience being a bit stretched thin right now, but this seems like a really obvious choice.

You nod and agree to help Rikildis get her revenge on Philippe. She, naturally, looks pleased at your answer. "The older students dragged him to the infirmary, so let's go. You know the way."

Infirmary, huh? You really hope Philippe didn't hurt himself too badly. Bad people will never let you hear the end of it...

--You look around and don't see anyone paying attention to you, so you should be clear to just, you know, walk off and go away. If anyone asks you'll just say you didn't notice the snowball because of all the birds, that seems like a reasonable excuse.

"Nice throw," a voice behind you suddenly says, causing you to practically jump out of your shoes and - simultaneously - turn around in such a manner that you actually lose your own balance and fall flat on your backside. Thankfully the ground is covered in snow, but still, ouch. "Don't go walking away on me just yet, [PC FIRST NAME]. We've got some big things left to do."

The one talking, which you are not pleased to see is Rikildis von Kiep, holds out a hand for you to take. You don't take it right away, though. "What are you talking about, Rikildis? And did you have to surprise me like that?"

"You'd rather I put both my hands on your shoulders to get your attention? And don't play dumb, [PC FIRST NAME], I know the score. Philippe deserves some recognition for his academic progress, don't you think? How about we go and make sure of that?"

Huh. You thought Rikildis' hand was a joke in poor tastes (as far as you're concerned), but that actually sounds like a rather clever little idea. She's talking about tricking Philippe into tactlessly admitting that he's the one behind all the false flag snowball throws, which...well, you definitely wouldn't object to, that's for sure. "Did Philippe get you too, with that trick?" you ask, just to confirm that this really is one of those personal revenge things for Rikildis. She nods, and motions to you to take her hand. You...actually end up taking it. You've got a common enemy, the one time you can trust Rikildis to not backstab you is when a matter is personal for her, she's definitely not a dead weight in terms of working together (especially on what's basically one of her projects), you'd rather be on her side than not if and when the time comes for you to explain who tossed that snowball that got Philippe since logically he wouldn't have hit himself with it, so...why not? Even if Rikildis is lying to you, "beware courtesy" and all, what is it that people say about enemies and the distance at which you should keep them, again? It might be more dangerous, but frankly you'd rather have Rikildis standing next to you than an angry Joana in front of you.

Rikildis helps pull you back up, not that you really needed the help of course, and says, "The older students dragged Philippe away already, undoubtedly to the infirmary, so let's go. I'm sure you know the way..."

Yeah, yeah, you do. You've half a mind to tell Rikildis you don't make a habit of falling to the ground even without someone hitting you with magic snowballs, but that's something that's a comment that's probably best left unsaid.

-Ethics. Go over and help Philippe.
--As much as you hate to do this, and as much as you feel like Philippe got what he deserved after all the times he pulled the same trick on someone else, you nevertheless should still walk over and help him. You get two steps towards Philippe before a surprise voice behind you suddenly says, "Nice throw." This is going to be a long day, isn't it? You turn around and see Rikildis von Kiep, staring at you with a thin smile on her face and a knowing look in her eyes. Fantastic, just the person you didn't want to see right now. Though to be fair she is only like number three on that list. Joana, on the other hand...

"Y-yeah, sure. That wasn't the end result I had in mind when I threw it, though. So what do you want, Rikildis? Because if you want to learn how to do it yourself you'd be better off asking Philippe to teach you. It was his trick in the first place, you know."

"Oh, I'm well aware of that, trust me," Rikildis says. That's...a good thing, you think? You hope it is at least. "I'm also aware that ice and throwing snowballs at people tends to end poorly, as it just did, but as it so happens I find myself in need of an...assistant, let's say, to help me 'congratulate Philippe with his excellent academic progress'. So...how about you give me a hand with that in return for me pointedly 'forgetting' the part where you put him at serious risk of getting injured, and even got him injured? Albeit not seriously, but...if you want to try you luck convincing Joana of that..."

Huh. That's...something like four parts good to one part bad? Rikildis is talking about tricking Philippe into tactlessly admitting that he's the one behind all the false flag snowball throws, which you would certainly approve of. Being her 'assistant' might be risky, but based on her earlier statement and tone she's definitely another student that Philippe pulled a fast one over with his snowball trick. Seeing that you actually don't see any reason not to help her - you've got a common enemy, the one time you can trust Rikildis to not backstab you is when a matter is personal for her, she's definitely not a dead weight in terms of working together (especially on what's basically one of her projects), so...why not? Even if she is lying to you, "beware courtesy" and all, what is it that people say about enemies and the distance at which you should keep them, again? Maybe you're misjudging the situation horribly in a desperate attempt to deny how doomed you actually are, but this genuinely seems like a good deal to you.

You nod and agree to help Rikildis get her revenge on Philippe. She, naturally, looks pleased at your answer. "Looks like the older students dragged him away already, undoubtedly to the infirmary, so let's go. You know the way, I'm sure."

Infirmary, huh? You really hope that Philippe didn't hurt himself too badly there. Not that you'd feel that bad about it...probably...but certain people will never let you hear the end of it...

--You should go over and help Philippe, that would be the polite thing to do, but what caused you to want to hit him in the face with a magic snowball, again? Something about him pulling the same trick - his trick - on you first, which landed you in a very boring detention session about properly holding teacups and what have you? So...why should you go over there and help him, again? You're sure there's a reason, some sort of politeness thing you can't recall right now, but...well, maybe if that detention session you shouldn't have been in in the first place was actually useful you'd be able to remember it. As is, though...nope. Can't recall it for the life of you.

You shrug and take two steps away from this situation before a voice behinds you calls out, saying, "Nice throw." Of course, someone just had to see all of that, huh? You let out an annoyed sigh and turn around, being slightly surprised when you see Rikildis von Kiep staring contemplatively at you. She's got an untrustworthy grin on her face, but that's not really saying much with her. "What, you're just going to leave him?" Rikildis asks. If it were anyone else you'd assume that question was meant as one of those really obvious "test of character" things, but...it's Rikildis. Not that she'd agree, obviously, but she's practically a villain in her own right.

"I thought about helping him, but when I remembered that his snowball trick undeservedly landed me in detention earlier I suddenly couldn't remember why I should bother," you admit as freely as you've ever admitted anything. And, of course, Rikildis understandingly nods. You knew she'd get where you're coming from.

"Hmm-hmm, I know the feeling. Rest assured you're not the only one. And rest assured also that some people, not naming any names, don't think that Philippe taking a spill like that is quite enough. So...how about we go congratulate him? You know, make sure he gets the proper recognition that an academically advancing student like him deserves."

Ooh, Rikildis is talking about tricking Philippe into tactlessly admitting that he's the one behind all the false flag snowball throws, very clever! You definitely approve of that idea, it's a fitting way for Philippe to actually get what he deserves. As for you helping Rikildis with it, frankly...why not? Kicking Philippe while he's down like that sounds a bit, you know, rude, but you're not going to try and talk Rikildis out of it, and so if she's going to do it anyway why not help her? You benefit, she benefits, Philippe doesn't lose anything he wasn't going to anyway, so as far as you can tell, net gain. You'll definitely appreciate having Rikildis next to you and on your side if and when Joana inevitable hears about this and starts asking pointed questions, anyway. And while one could argue that you deserve to or should face her or whatever, to that you say: "you first". Anyone who manages to stick to their ideals without getting stuffed into a trashcan can tell you how you should respond to this situation, the rest can take a shower and reconsider their life choices as far as you're concerned. "Alright, let's. I assume people took him to the infirmary?"

Rikildis nods, both in response to your answer and you agreeing to help her. "Indeed, so let's go. You know the way by now, no doubt."

-Glamour. Time to look a little less conspicuous.
--While everyone else is distracted you take out your wand and quickly cast a spell on yourself, just so you're not attracting any unwanted attention while you slink off unnoticed and go about your merry way. Not a very nice thing to do, of course, but if Philippe didn't want to get hit by his own snowball he shouldn't have thrown it. Or however that term of phrase goes.

"Nice throw," a voice behind you suddenly says, and of course you immediately turn around to face whoever it belongs to. And, quickly confirming your worst fears, that turns out to be none other than Rikildis von Kiep. Well...okay, like third worst fear. Joana would have been much worse. "Is this how you usually respond to people falling flat on their wrists because you tossed a snowball in their face? Poor form, [PC FIRST NAME]."

"It's not my fault a flock of winged rats decided that now, of all times, was the exact moment to remember they should have migrated away a few months ago or whatever," you retort. "Besides which, could you honestly tell me with a straight face that you wouldn't have done the same?"

Rikildis, with a contemplative look, fakes giving your question genuine thought. "Well, for one you shouldn't blame nature for causing a risky situation to actually result in an injury, since you really should have known better than to expect Philippe to not slip on the ice when you bean him in the face with a snowball. Secondly I would have approached Philippe if I were in your shoes, but...really only to further drive the point home that it totally wasn't me that did it, and probably insult him a few times in the process. So point taken, I suppose."

"...What did Philippe do to you to make you that vindictive? In my case he framed me for smacking Professor Badcrumble and got me send to detention, but what's your story?" Rikildis, with an untrustworthy smirk, gives you a vague answer about how she experienced basically the same story, only in her case it caused her to be very keenly aware of the fact that Joana is currently "occupied". You're not sure what to make of that answer.

"In any case, to get to the point: I'm not done taking revenge on Philippe yet. Your snowball was a nice throw and all, but that's not good enough for me," Rikildis explains. This is either going to end very well for you, or very poorly. One of those two. "I'm planning on making sure that Philippe's 'excellent academic progress' is given the proper recognition that he deserves, and I'd like some help in making that happen. So, how about it? I'm willing to...'misplace' some details about who caused Philippe to take a spill here if everything goes alright. And rest assured, I want every part of that to go right..."

Hmm...that actually sounds like it went very well for you. Rikildis is talking about tricking Philippe into tactlessly admitting that he's the one behind all the false flag snowball throws, which you would certainly not disapprove of. Her offer of letting you off the hook in return for aiding her with her plot is frankly generous, and as for whether you can trust her offer (insofar as you can trust any of Rikildis' offers) she wouldn't be this driven to stick it to Philippe unless she was telling the truth about him pulling one over her. You're willing to believe that this offer is genuine. So all things considered, you have very little reason not to help her - you've got a common enemy, the one time you can trust Rikildis to not backstab you is when a matter is personal for her, she's definitely not a dead weight in terms of working together (especially on what's basically one of her projects) and you'd definitely rather deal with Rikildis than Joana, so...why not? Even if she's lying to you, "beware courtesy" and all, what is it that people say about enemies and the distance at which you should keep them, again? All in all this seems like a really obvious choice.

You nod and agree to help Rikildis get her revenge on Philippe. She, naturally, looks pleased at your answer. "Looks like the older students dragged him away already, undoubtedly to the infirmary, so let's go. You know the way, I'm sure."

The infirmary, huh? Hopefully Philippe didn't hurt himself too badly there. Not that you'd feel that bad about it all things considered, but certain people will never let you hear the end of it and that'd just be very unfortunate...

--While everyone else is looking at Philippe you draw your wand and cast a spell to make yourself less conspicuous. When said spell turns parts of your skin white - as in, blending in with the snow you're standing on - you know that you've majorly messed something up. Not camouflaged, darn it, inconspicuous! You're a second year, why are you still having trouble getting these spells to work correctly!?

"Are you trying to turn yourself into a snowman, [PC FIRST NAME]?" a voice behind you suddenly asks you midway through trying to cast another spell. Thankfully you don't end up turning the sky purple with it, that'd just be embarrassing at this point.

"Hey, whatever works, right?" you answer is a desperate, probably futile attempt to salvage some shred of dignity before turning around and checking who is actually talking to you. Turns out that's Rikildis von Kiep, so only like the third worst person it could have been. Fantastic.

"I suppose, but you still might want to dispel that Glamour. People are going to think you got lost in the snow for a week and are on the brink of dying. Wouldn't be the first time you came back from a trip outside suffering from hypothermia this year, anyway. Well, this academic year I guess."

"Yeah, please don't remind me," you say as you finally manage to fiddle around with your wand enough to dispel your miscast Glamour. "So, what do you want? Sorry for skipping the pleasantries, but I see you've got one of your patented grins on your face and we both know that birds are just the worst practical jokers, so...what's the score? Am I going to want to find a pile of snow to bury myself in anyway, or what?"

"That depends, I guess," Rikildis answers. Either that means you've got a chance or you're totally doomed. Which were the only two options to begin with anyway. "I'm looking to...make sure that Philippe, wonderful and studious wizard that he is, gets the proper recognition that he deserves for his...recent academic achievements. And I was wondering if you'd help me with that...in exchange for me forgetting about your, eh, experiment at becoming one with the snow...or whatever."

Hah. Jokes aside, that's actually an interesting offer. Rikildis is offering to let you help her trick Philippe into tactlessly admitting that he's the one behind all the false flag snowball throws, which you would not mind at all, in return for her not selling you out to Joana's no doubt angry fists as soon as she hears this, which you would mind very much, actually. So that's a good offer. Of course there's the question of whether you can trust Rikildis, that's hard to do even when she's not in one of her grinning moods, but you're guessing that Philippe pulled the same trick on her, and now she's after some good old revenge. You don't see why she'd be here if not to keep an eye on Philippe to begin with. You definitely don't think she was here to watch a flock of birds suddenly remember that it's time to migrate a season too late.

All that said...you nod, and agree to help Rikildis get her revenge on Philippe. She doesn't look like what you just said is factually wrong, either, for the record. "Wonderful, as I expected. So, let's head off to the infirmary. The older students dragged Philippe there, I'm sure you know the way."

The infirmary, huh? Hopefully Philippe didn't hurt himself too badly. Rikildis being on your side or not, you just don't want that angry a Joana stomping around...

Still curious if, by this point, the average player will have figured out the mystery already. Of course it's entirely possible to avoid this stage altogether, but...

Edited by Metis

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Dawn of a New Day, stage 2a:

Spoiler

Feeling at least a little nervous you enter the infirmary along with Rikildis. It's a bit busy with activity, but you're not in the mood to let it bother you. You look around and locate Philippe quickly enough, he's lying on one of the beds with a pack of ice wrapped around his wrist. Well, time to get to work. You turn around to ask Rikildis if she wants to start herself or if you should start with something specific...only to notice that she's no longer next to you. Huh. You look around again, confused, and see Rikildis freaking out next to someone else's bed. Uh...o-okay? Something that distracts a revenge-fuelled Rikildis, interesting. This is definitely worth investigating.

"W-who did this to you!?" Rikildis asks her mysterious patient as one of the nurses marches over and tells her to quiet down. You silently walk up and look over her shoulder to see who she's freaking out over. Lying on the bed with a pack of ice tied against her lower cheek is Sigalis du Sonmeil. Good thing it's winter and packs of ice are easy to get, the nurses seem to be going through them quickly these days. Sigalis looks like she got roughed up: Her cheek is swollen, she's got a bruise underneath her eye, there's even dried bloodstains on her robes. Someone doesn't believe in the idea of "never hit a girl", apparently. Sigalis, for her part, glances over at you with as confused a look as she can manage in her current state, but afterwards she resumes staring at Rikildis with fire in her eyes. It's just a guess, but you imagine she'd like some revenge.

"Your friend made the mistake of sneaking around where she definitely wasn't supposed to be, and had the misfortune of being discovered by someone who took offence rather than a professor," the nurse explains once she's finally calmed down Rikildis...well, calmed her down enough. "I don't agree with how she was evicted either, but there are ways to avoid the ire of such individuals. Such as not nosily trespassing in places you've no right to be." Rikildis glares at the nurse with more fire in her eyes than Sigalis, but she's not intimidated in the slightest. "Please, I'm sure that whoever did the roughhousing isn't even the fifth most intimidating student I've had to deal with over the years, and you two - or three, if you prefer - obviously can't even compare to that standard. Just stay clear of places you've no right or reason to be in the future, and I'm sure you'll be fine." Honestly you're not insulted by that. It's easy to forget, but among other students this nurse has probably had to deal with Philippe's two brothers. And yeah, neither Rikildis or Sigalis can even attempt to compare them them. Rikildis, sick of the nurse's attitude (that she can't honestly refute), turns to Sigalis and repeats her earlier question. Though the nurse interjects before Sigalis can get a word out. "I'm afraid your friend had the misfortune of injuring her tongue during her fight, so she shouldn't speak until the swelling goes down. Can't, really. She's tried to explain what happened, but I'm afraid that no one here could make any sense of it." Rikildis takes out a quill and a roll of parchment and asks the nurse if Sigalis injured her hands as well. "Not that I've noticed, though keep this brief. Your friend really needs to calm down and rest right now, especially the former, and I'm afraid to say that you two appearing here doesn't seem to have that effect on her. So, keep it brief."

You're not sure if Rikildis actually heard the nurse, though despite that she does nod and hands Sigalis the parchment and quill. Sigalis sits up and takes it, staring at Rikildis with an expression that you don't think you've ever seen on her before, and as such, aren't sure how to interpret. There's the burning desire for revenge, of course, but also something else mixed in. "Who did this to-actually, wait, let's start at the beginning: Where were you trespassing earlier? Why? What happened?" Sigalis stares at the parchment and quill, and than casts a quick glance over to you. Suddenly her expression changes to that of surprise, and she points to you. Rikildis, eyebrow raises, slowly turns to look at you. "[PC FIRST NAME]? Do you know about this...?" Rikildis asks, slowly, like a serpent that's about to bite. Rapidly scratching your head you think and try to remember what Sigalis is talking...eh, pointing about. Ah...man, Rikildis breathing down your neck with that venomous glare of hers is not helping...wait, that's right! Sigalis was one of the students attending Professor Badcrumble's little teacup detention session, she was the only one you recognized of everyone else there! Come to think of it you don't know where she went after Professor Badcrumble suddenly left. You're pretty sure you left to go prank Philippe before Sigalis left her chair? Was she waiting on everyone else to leave so that no one would see her sneaking off after the professor? Either way you nod at Rikildis and explain, a bit too quickly, that Sigalis was attending the same extra detention session with Professor Badcrumble that you were, but the professor suddenly left in a hurry and you assume that Sigalis secretly went after her. Rikildis turns towards Sigalis and asks if that's correct. Sigalis nods.

"Interesting..." Rikildis notes, actually making a motion of writing something down on the parchment that she gave Sigalis earlier. Sigalis, smiling as best she can in her current condition, looks amused at that and actually writes down what Rikildis is imagining she's writing down. It's easy to forget since Sigalis isn't as...invested in it as Rikildis and her usual partner in crime, Grainne, but Sigalis is also a member of Rikildis' little news group. Albeit one that people tend to forget, since the other two make such a spectacle of themselves so frequently. Sigalis is a lot more quiet about it, usually. Though not quiet enough, apparently. "So what did that announcement-actually," Rikildis begins to ask Sigalis before she remembers you were there as well and she turns her attention to you. "[PC FIRST NAME], what did that announcement say? Exactly what did it say?" As far as you remember it told Professor Badcrumble that 'it's time', and to head to...the warden? You ask Sigalis if that's correct, and she shakes her head. On her parchment she writes down the correct answer - Professor Badcrumble was told to "report to the ward immediately". Not that you're sure what that refers to.

"The warden would be the leader of the Academagia's groundkeepers," Rikildis curiously notes. "What 'ward' was she called to, though? The medical ward? Like, the infirmary?" Sigalis shakes her head, and yeah, she'd probably know if that's what "the ward" referred to. Considering where she's been and all. Rikildis shakes her head in confusion, again attempts to write something down on the parchment she's no longer holding, only to notice and grin when she sees Sigalis writing it down for her. "I don't suppose you know what ward she was called to? Actually, could you guess based on where the professor was going?" Sigalis shakes her head and writes down "never been there before". Which is odd, but not impossible to imagine. Walking from one classroom to another is like half an Athletics class sometimes, and the Academagia covers a lot more ground than just it's (actually active used) classrooms. "Can you draw a map of how far you got, what direction the professor was going?" Sigalis nods and starts to draw a rough map, although she gets interrupted when Rikildis asks her one more question. "I'll do what I can to figure this out, though, one more question: Do you know who caught you? A description, a name, anything?"

Sigalis nods and writes down a name on Rikildis' parchment - Leon Chevalier. Rikildis raises her both her eyebrows in surprise when she reads it, and after composing herself she slowly turns to you. "So, [PC FIRST NAME], you remember that whole little incident with Philippe Marchant and you nearly breaking his wrist with a snowball, right?" You nervously nod, all too aware of the fact that Philippe is right there and you really don't want him to overhear. Sigalis turns to look at you with a quirked eyebrow when she hears that, probably imagining how you managed to accomplish that with a snowball, but of course she doesn't comment on it. "I'd like to get revenge on him, as do you I'm sure, but this takes priority. That said I think I'm going to need someone to fill in for Sigalis, so-"

Rikildis abruptly stops when Sigalis taps her on her shoulder, looks at her, and shakes her head. Rikildis initially interprets it as Sigalis not approving of you filling in for her, but when Rikildis asks if that's what it is Sigalis shakes her head again. Being in no mood to play guessing games Rikildis shrugs and simply asks Sigalis to write down what she wants to say. She nods and writes "I don't want revenge on Leon". Both you and Rikildis stare dumbfounded at that statement, probably questioning whether Sigalis hit her head as well. Of course having fully expected that response she continues to write her thoughts down. "He's not my enemy".

"The guy punched you so hard you fell to the flood bleeding, and he's not your enemy?" Rikildis asks, completely stupefied. "Than pray tell who is! The guy did the same to Professor Storey at one point, I heard. Who could possibly be worse than he is, Olivier Marchant? Though he's no longer attending the Academagia, so are you talking about Philippe's other brother? Dexter?"

Sigalis shakes her head at Rikildis' guesses and writes down her answer: "Leon's enemy". With that you feel the atmosphere darken. You know full well that Sigalis got involved with some sneaky spy stuff, her actions last month during the whole Proscribed wedding ring and underwater death labyrinth debacle confirmed as much, but for her to get punched to the ground by Leon and be going after his enemy...how much more did Sigalis bite off than she could chew? Because it sounds like the answer is "a lot".

"So...you want me to go after Leon's enemy?" Rikildis asks. Sigalis nods. "Who is Leon's enemy? And what in Octavius' name did he do?" Sigalis stares at Rikildis with a distant look in her still burning mad eyes, shakes her head, and writes down "can't speak names".

On it's own that'd be ominous enough, but Sigalis does write down the answer to Rikildis' second question, and it's something that shocks Rikildis and you both. "Slavery". Did Leon tick of a Dragon or what the hell is going on here!?

"I...Sigalis, I don't know what's going on here. But if that's the revenge you want, fine. I'll look into Leon's affairs and get to the bottom of it, mark my word. Do you think [PC FIRST NAME] will be of any help?" For better or worse Sigalis nods as vigorously as she can and writes down "[s/he] knows best". It earns you a curious stare from Rikildis, but...you're kind of beyond really feeling it, to be honest.

In any case...this sure is a situation you find yourself in. It makes you want to consider how to respond to it, but...

-You know full well Rikildis won't give you a choice in the matter, so...let's go.
--"Let head to the editorial room and talk this over, compare notes and the like. We'll need to inform Grainne about it as well," Rikildis says. You nod, knowing full well that trying to weasel out of that wouldn't be worth the effort. You just hope this whole thing isn't going to go all kinds of south...

-"Were you responsible for Vettor's visions? And mine, for that matter?"
--Rikildis looks at you curiously, but Sigalis gets an oddly...joyful? Look on her? Some kind of expression that's within a range of emotions that you rarely to never see on Sigalis, so you're not sure how to interpret it. Regardless, she nods. "How? You don't study Astrology last I checked, and Glamour would have required you to break into Vettor's room every time. Mine, too. Not to mention those visions were unreasonably clear. So how'd you do it? Who helped you?" Sigalis' expression changes to something between "painful" and "remorseful" as she points to the "can't speak names" line she wrote earlier. Basically, a co-conspirator she doesn't want to rat out. Or can't, worst case. "Aren't we on the same side, though, if we're going after Leon's enemy? I mean his enemy is your enemy, isn't it? And thus your co-conspirator's enemy?" Sigalis nods, but she looks...conflicted, and slowly writes down "it's complicated". That puts a frown on your face, because of you end up making an unexpected enemy because it's "complicated", as Sigalis puts it, that could put you in a very awkward position. Especially when you can't see this person coming. You ask Sigalis what assurance she has that that isn't going to happen, and after some deliberation she writes down "she's my friend".

That's...honestly quite a statement, coming from Sigalis. Especially considering you're likely talking about an Avila student here, and Sigalis usually doesn't get along with anyone in Avila. "And that feeling is mutual?" you ask. Sigalis nods and, a bit curiously, taps a finger against the bed she's in. Out of the shadows a rabbit jumps up unto the bed, and sits down next to Sigalis. You're not sure who's Familiar this is, but it sure isn't Sigalis' toad, Durlindan. "She can't visit in person", Sigalis writes, but apparently she can send her Familiar to visit. The rabbit him(her?)self even nods at this.

"Better hide before a nurse spots you," Rikildis suddenly says. The rabbit nods again and jumps back into the shadows, actually becoming transparent as it does so. Clever Glamour, you definitely didn't notice the invisible rabbit before. But is that spell the rabbit's owner or something that Sigalis taught her? Compared to the vision you had this transparency spell seems...improvable, to put it politely. "Is that all you wanted to ask, [PC FIRST NAME]? Sorry, but I think we're outstaying out welcome here."

You nod, tell Sigalis to get better soon and suggest to Rikildis that the two of you head to whatever she calls her newspaper not-club room to discuss things in further detail. She, of course, has no objections to this plan.

You want answers. Whatever is going on, whatever fights Sigalis picked, whoever this "enemy" is, regardless of all of that...you want answers. There's too much that you keep thinking about, and it's time to put an end to that.

Not too much different from stage 2b, but that was to be expected I think. Point is that either stage will lead to stage 3, so from here on it's a straight shot to the end.

In theory. In practice, who knows...

Edited by Metis

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Dawn of a New Day, stage 3:

Spoiler

You silently follow an equally silent Rikildis to her editorial room. Home of her school newspaper, the Logodedalo’s Roar, this is the place where people's reputations, self-confidence, public image and just general faith in humanity goes to die. Rikildis would obviously describe her workspace a little differently, but most who are featured in her paper tend to disagree with her. And sometimes, only sometimes, that's a good thing.

"Grainne! You've got to hear what story I've got a handle on!" Rikildis announces as soon as she walks in. Grainne, who was busy unpacking bundles of paper, gladly puts her work down and runs up to Rikildis.

"This is about Professor Badcrumble, right?" she asks. Rikildis looks confused, as do you, while Grainne looks the two of you over with a playful grin. "I heard about the situation from Lambert already, he came in here again with his usual insisting and pitiful teasing. Apparently Professor Badcrumble got called out of her own detention session and ran off to Gods-knows-where, and no one has been able to find her since, but...so what? Professors have stuff to do, I don't know if this is worth reporting on. Though since [PC FIRST NAME] came along I guess there is more to it?"

"That's...one way to put it," you answer a bit uncomfortably.

Grainne actually smiles in response, though that smile vanishes quickly as Rikildis informs her about what happened to Sigalis and what the three of you discussed in the infirmary. Grainne doesn't know more about that situation than you and Rikildis already do, unfortunately, but Rikildis does bring Grainne up to speed. "I'll go and do some legwork and see what all I can dig up about Leon," Rikildis says after she's done explaining. "Grainne, [PC FIRST NAME], I want you two to focus on the area where Professor Badcrumble disappeared into, and try to figure out what place it is and what kind of 'ward' it is. Whatever we can learn from Professor Badcrumble's situation will definitely help us figure out Leon, especially because I doubt we can get answers from him directly."

"Couldn't I try to do that?" you suggest. "Leon might actually be willing to just talk to me about stuff, remember how he and his two friends approached us after you published that shapeshifter article a month or two back? So shouldn't I at least try and see if he's open to conversation?"

"If you dare to approach the guy who punched Sigalis into the infirmary, and find the time to do so considering he should be glued to a seat in detention, be my guest. I think it's better if I ask other students about it first. Having some basic information and context when asking him questions can't hurt, and neither can giving him time to cool off from whatever that whole situation with Sigalis was."

You can see the wisdom in that argument, and frankly aren't that much in a hurry to go say hi and chat with a guy who seems to have some kind of violent streak at the very least, so you nod. Figuring out what that part of the Academagia is, though, that "ward"...how to go about that?

-Language. Look up every possible definition of the word "ward", and use context clues from there.
--You know of a few possible definitions, one which seems like the obvious winner considering what Sigalis all said, but for safety's sake you decide to head off to the Linguistic section of the Venalicium and double-check. Grainne actually comes along, as visiting the Venalicium was her idea as well, so the two of you work together to compile a list.

Dictionary after dictionary later, and the two of you end up with a downright unreasonable amount of possible usages for the word "ward". Among others, a "ward" can refer to: Politically or administratively divided parts of a city; dedicated sections of a larger infirmary (or similar location) that deals with specific forms of treatment; separated sections of a larger prison complex; the open space within or between the walls of a castle or other fortified location; an individual under the custody or protection of another, though as a legal term "ward" has some more specific case usages as well, including being a less used term for when you're taken into retaining custody by legal authorities; fencing stances, postures or ranges of movement associated with defence; the part of a lock that prevents the wrong key from working on it and, following, that allows the correct key to be the only specific form of key that works; the act of guarding or watch over an area, not usually but possibly referred to as "watch and ward"; a group of individuals acting as a guard or garrison; the act of repelling, defending, or otherwise directly preventing something from doing harm - to ward off; the act of placing someone within the part of a location that could be referred to as a ward, such as a prison - to place in a ward; the general act of protecting something - to ward.

Long story less long, there's a few definitions to choose from. "Why couldn't Professor Badcrumble have been called to 'the place where we keep the Dragon' or whatever? That would have made this so much easier!" Grainne complains. And while the idea of a Dragon being anywhere on or near campus is something that causes you to shudder you nevertheless agree with the sentiment.

"We can easily rule out the idea of...actually no we can't, the Academagia itself is big enough to count as a 'city' in this regard. One could easily justify dividing it into separate 'wards' for administrative purposes. The various College areas, public versus non-public areas, indoors versus outdoors, and so on. I'm not sure if it's actually done that way, but it's certainly possible," you say. Grainne is not impressed. She doesn't look happy, either. "I mean, we can at least rule out the possibility that the ward refers to a section of a prison, right? The Academagia doesn't keep prisoners, does it? Unless it refers to some sort of super special detention area, which...I mean it'd actually kind of make sense since Leon was there, I guess...?"

"I...I just don't know," Grainne reluctantly admits. "What if it's a high security 'ward' of the Academagia's storage system? Like, that area is where they keep dangerous items that need to be stored safely away from prying eyes? I don't know if that's how the Academagia handles stuff, in terms of administration, but...I mean who would we even ask about that? The Legate?"

"This is getting us nowhere fast," you quip. Grainne readily agrees. "Is there any way we can just look at a map and see what this area of the Academagia is supposed to be? What it's listed as, who maintains it, what budgets it's a part of, that sort of stuff?"

"There is the Room of Records, which should have that information filed away in it somewhere," Grainne quietly admits. "But that place got raided last year by Aranaz students trying to one-up College Durand, part of the Mallen-Star rivalry. And guess which regent made sure that place is going to be more locked down than either of us can handle..." Professor Briardi. Well, there goes that plan. "Maybe we could...no...no, that also wouldn't-I don't suppose you've got any ideas, [PC FIRST NAME]?" You shake your head and suggest that the two of you head back to the editorial room and wait for Rikildis. Hopefully she'll figure out or find something that can point the two of you in the right direction, otherwise...well, you don't think the two of you are going to get very far blindly guessing at a dozen-odd possible definitions. Especially because, without knowing the inner workings of how the Academagia is administrated, a lot of those definitions could reasonably apply or not at all. Grainne nods her head at that suggestion. "Let's make a copy of all of these definitions and take it with us. Hopefully Rikildis will be able to make sense of it, otherwise...well, I guess we'll have to cross that bridge when we get to it."

You have no objections to that plan, so it's time to wait for Rikildis...

--Frankly you don't see the need to go check books in a library, "ward" in the context of Leon's enemy being guilty of slavery obviously refers to the definition of keeping these slaves safe, but Rikildis nevertheless insists that you and Grainne go compile a list of other possible definition anyway. Seems like wasted effort to you, but sure, you're more than happy to stick you nose in a book to prove these two wrong.

That's the idea, anyway. The reality is that Grainne puts you to research the linguistic origin of the word "ward", which is a journey through the Linguistic sections that ends the same place where it began - and with the same amount of useful information to boot - and while you're doing that Grainne works to compile a list of all the possible definitions of the word. She gets to about a dozen before the two of you have spend so much time in here that neither of you have any energy (or motivation) to keep going.

Some of those definitions look like they could possibly fit, even. Just to rub some salt in the wounds.

Either way you've spend this time accomplishing basically nothing. Other than confirming your arrogance (and ignorance) with regards to language. So...yay! Time well spend, clearly.

-Bureaucracy. Look up what that part of the Academagia receives in terms of supplies and the like.
--One of your Classmates (allegedly) once said that "only a complete fool would dive into the task that the Legate desperately tries to avoid, and for good reason", but there's good stuff to be had for those that can follow a paper trail. So therefore, today that fool will be you.

Hopefully you won't end up regretting your decision.

You explain your idea to Rikildis and Grainne, the latter of which will be heading off to the Venalicium's Linguistic section to look up every possible definition of the word 'ward', and with a nod of approval that you don't think you needed and another nod of pity that you also don't need, but appreciate, the three of you split up and head off in different directions.

You're going to one of the Academagia's archives of bureaucratic records. Technically not something that's open to students, but since nothing of importance or interest in stored there there's practically nothing stopping you from just walking in and taking a look. Now record rooms containing recent records, or records with confidential information recorded on them, that'd be a different story. But an archive containing details of how many crates of pesticide were bought and assigned to the Academagia's groundskeepers a decade ago? Not so much. You figure this is the best place to look for information because while the area itself is restricted to students, it's information isn't-well, technically it's restricted to students, but not to the point where it's considered worth protecting. Unlike the actual location, in example: Sigalis. There's many other student restricted locations where that's the case, places like the kitchen or the place where brewing ingredients are stored and the like. If this unknown section of the Academagia is the same, you'll know what's there. If it isn't that'll tell you something about either how old the place isn't, or how much the faculty cares about it's secrecy. Either is a good outcome, you think.

Once you finally reach the place you're honestly insulted by how pathetic the security is. No magical trap or alarm, no signs or other warnings, no. Just a locked door. Not even a magically locked door, just a mundane, basic, run-of-the-mill locked door. Needless to say that it doesn't stop you.

Inside the musty, dust-covered room you quickly cover your mouth with your robe's sleeve and start to look around. You know, roughly, where to find the right records and you definitely know to check the dates listed on the records so that you're not looking too far back. Regardless, and despite you double-checking multiple times, though...the records are not here. Nothing related to that section of the Academagia, whatever it is. As far as you're able to find here that place doesn't even exist.

That's...not what you were hoping for, but it at least tells you something. The place is obviously seeing active use, if there's a regent being called out of a detention session to head there immediately. Yet there's no records of it existing here, so either the place was only put into use this year or it's something that's not kept on "public" record. Of those two, considering it's not open to students and how Sigalis was - as the nurses put it - evicted from it you'd say the latter theory is more likely. Unfortunately that means that you're not going to find any more information here. Whatever the place is it's not something students are suppose to access, directly or indirectly, so you're out of luck trying to get more information on it any way that isn't the hard way. And you'd rather wait for Grainne and Rikildis to hopefully find something else to do before you commit to that kind of plan.

So that's it. You leave the archive as effortlessly as you broke in and decide to swing by the Venalicium, since it's on the way back to the editorial room anyway, and see if Grainne is still in the Linguistic section. And indeed she is, staring annoyedly at a dictionary in front of her. Not to mention the small stack of them that are sitting next to her. "Oh, hey there, [PC FIRST NAME]. I don't suppose you've had any more success than I did?" Grainne, staring with tired eyes at a long list in front of her, asks.

"Sort of, I can tell the place is either very new or very secretive, but...that doesn't really help you narrow that list down, does it?"

Grainne slowly shakes her head. "Let's just clean up here and report back to Rikildis. Hopefully she'll have found something that'll allows us to make sense of all this."

--You head off to the Venalicium along with Grainne, who goes over to the Linguistic section, and spend a while searching through every (student accessible) archive without finding the right one before you finally think to check the front desk and see where it actually is, since at this point you're convinced it must be kept in the Restricted section for whatever reason. That turns out to be incorrect, and instead what you're looking for isn't kept in the Venalicium at all. Also, it's not accessible to students, just for the record. So, all in all, you've just wasted your time.

To add insult to injury Grainne comes back out of the Linguistic section with a list of possible definitions a dozen entries long, and according to her she's still not done with it herself, just too tired to keep putting in the effort. So...yeah. This might be a little bit more difficult than you thought it'd be.

-Research. Look through the Venalicium for what that section of the Academagia used to be.
--If you remember correctly there is an archive detailing the floor plans and everything similar of the Academagia as it currently is, but that is off-limits to students and has received some improved security measures since last year due to a little incident involving a student breaking in. However, the Venalicium should have it's own archive of old floorplans, guides and the like that were used for tours back in the day. Of course that's not going to list things like secret passages, but surely you must be able to find some clue as to what that rough area of the Academagia used to be. You turn towards Rikildis and ask if you can borrow the map that Sigalis drew, as a reference point. "Sure, here you go," Rikildis says as she tosses you the roughly drawn map. It's crude and greatly lacking in detail, but it'll do. Grainne, meanwhile, notes that she'll look up every possible definition that the word 'ward' has in the Linguistic section. That should give the three of you some idea of what that section is being used for, currently. With everyone given their task the three of you split up, Rikildis right away and Grainne as soon as the two of you reach the Venalicium, and you head off towards the archives (the general one, not the forbidden one, obviously) and start to look through everything vaguely map-like that you can find.

It takes an unreasonable amount of digging to find a floorplan that fits the drawing that Sigalis made, but you eventually find it hidden in the background of a Rimbal flyer or advertisement, of all things. You're genuinely not sure which to call it, but either way it proclaims the grand opening of, basically, the Academagia's newly build indoor Athletics Field. About a hundred-odd years ago. The flyer is not a recent one, needless to say. Even so you're left wondering what the exact purpose was that this place was supposed to serve. The outdoor Athletics Field seems to be spacious enough for all it needs to do, and things like temperature and weather aren't an issue to any students but first years and maybe a few second years. And of course solving those issues is exactly how the faculty tends to push it's students to actually study and get better at casting magic. You're pretty sure the outdoor Athletics Field was around a century ago, as well? Than again, maybe not? If memory serves you the current fields used to be flower gardens before Professor Massioti took over - the gardens used to belong to his predecessor, but Massioti didn't much care about them and had them all ripped out to make space for Rimbal fields and assorted athletic practice areas. Depending on who was Godina's regent a hundred years ago...yeah, you've got no clue. Politics sure have a way to make these things needlessly complicated. Not to mention weird.

Unfortunately, as far as your search into what purpose that section of the Academagia currently serves, this seems to be a dead end. You've confirmed that that particular section of the Academagia is very old, relatively speaking, and it has undoubtedly gone through a number of refits, renovations and other changes since it was build and put into use. The good news is that is was only slightly renovated at most, the map that Sigalis drew seems to still be perfectly accurate when compared to the floorplan that the place had a hundred-odd years ago. To the point where you're able to trace her line all the way to a specific classroom. According to the information in front of you that room started out as an extra large classroom with a large indoor pool, Enchantments to maintain the entire room's temperature no matter the weather and season outside, complete with an attached hallway leading to separate changing rooms and showers. Initially it undoubtedly saw use as an Athletics classroom for holding swimming lessons even during the middle of winter, but who knows if any of that stuff is still there and functional. And what purpose it serves now. You've got no idea. It clearly isn't used for classes anymore, since it's now off-limits to students. Based on the Rimbal Flyer you're guessing that the area should have (or at least have had) a solid amount of plumbing to account for a large demand for running water (there is, or at least were, an unreasonable amount of showers installed in that general area) and Enchantments that insulated the rooms from outside temperatures. So what else could you do with spacious, temperature stable rooms with a lot of available running water? Brewing? Cooking? You've got no idea. Nothing that makes sense to you, at least.

You decide to take what information you've gathered and swing by the Linguistic section, in the hopes that Grainne is still there and has found something by now that could shed some light on this mystery. The good news is that she is still in the library, the bad news is that she stares blankly at your findings. "I've got a very long list of possible definitions, but none that relate to large amounts of space or running water," she says as she looks, despairingly, at the dictionary in front of her. And the small stack of them next to her. "Let's clean up here and report back to Rikildis, hopefully she'll have found something that allows us to make sense of all this."

--You head off to the Venalicium along with Grainne, who goes over to the Linguistic section, and spend a while searching through basically every vaguely relevant archive you can find without finding anything that looks like an old floorplan. Your search goes back as far as the Academagia's initial founding, it feels like, yet you're still not able to find any hint as to that particular section of it. Others, like as detailed an account of the Venalicium's own construction as anyone could ever put together, sure, or things like designs for the massive pillars that dot the Great Hall. But the section of the Academagia that Professor Badcrumble was at? No. Nothing.

Part of you feels like you've just wasted a bunch of time, and to be fair you basically did, but another part of you can't help but notice that anything Icanicix and Kazus related coincidentally seems to be missing from this pile of stuff you're going through as well. Maybe that's why you're not finding it? That seems unlikely, though, you're able to find information about Calomantia's Gym just fine, and legend has it that that used to be part of Kazus' old campus before it was renovated. So are those legends false after all? Surely Professor Badcrumble wasn't called to an old part of Icanicix or Kazus campus that's still, technically, part of those old Colleges, right?

You don't know, all you can be sure of is that this isn't enough information to consider your share in this work done. You'll have to dive back into the Venalicium later, or maybe think of a different angle to approach this from instead.

It's from this point forward that stages are going to become absolute nightmares to give different options to, since I need to maintain information parity across all of them, so expect some copy/paste action, unfortunately.

Edited by Metis

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Dawn of a New Day, stage 4:

Spoiler

Back in the editorial room you and Grainne spend some time preparing, prematurely you think, for the publication of the next school newspaper. All you need is, you know, something substantial that's worth publishing. Because what you've got so far isn't.

Eventually Rikildis walks in, looking none too pleased, though she perks up upon seeing the two of you are already here and waiting. "Done already? Fantastic, so what is that place and what kind of ward is it?" You and Grainne share an uncomfortable look, and Rikildis crosses her arms, annoyed. "Oh come on-don't give me that look! What's so hard about looking up a word!? How many definitions could it possibly have?" Grainne hands Rikildis a copy of all of them, and what little enthusiasm the latter had quickly drains from her. "Oh...I-I see. This many, huh?" Grainne nods and mentions that neither of you could say for sure which one is correct, so you were hoping that Rikildis figured out something. "Ah, well," Rikildis says as she starts to carefully read through the list. It takes an uncomfortably long time. "I'm afraid I really don't know either. Like, personally I'd cross out at least half of these entries, I doubt this situation has anything to do with a fencing stance for instance, but that still leaves like a half-dozen to guess from." Grainne and you both nod at that, and Grainne asks Rikildis what she found out. You'd say that makes Rikildis looks disappointed, but she looked disappointed to begin with. "Basically nothing. Leon and his two friends got transferred from College Morvidus to Hedi early this year, though of course we already knew that. I just can't get a straight story on why. Some say it's because Leon punched Professor Storey unconscious, others say that's just a rumor and it's really because his parents insisted on it because they didn't approve of Professor Storey as a regent, I don't know. If you can think about it I can find someone willing to believe that's the reason, pretty much. People were talking about it a lot back during Athonos, I should know because I was one of them, but by now the rumors that people came up with have spread far and wide and I can't tell what's what anymore. I...don't suppose either of you two know of an especially convincing explanation?"

Grainne naturally shakes her head, but you get to thinking. Three Morvidus students causing trouble early in the year? Somewhere in the back of your head that rings a bell...

"Eh, [PC FIRST NAME]? Do you know something?" Rikildis asks, but you don't answer her question. You're trying to remember where you heard this before. Three Morvidus students...Morvidus? Girars. Animals, animal rights...activists! Thee animal rights activists! Yes, that's right!

"Three 'crazy animal rights activists' raided the Minetan estate of the De Simone family in Frontino sometime last summer," you explain, catching Rikildis a bit off guard. "Girars dragged me along investigating that incident because he heard a rumor that the...I don't know the proper term, the mistress of that estate was still continuing to harm animals or whatever, but that was all a bunch of hogwash and it ultimately was just a giant wild goose chase that ended up absolutely nowhere. Lots of pain and misery to end up with nothing, but we did convince Girars that no animals were being harmed so happy ending as far as he was concerned..." Both Grainne and Rikildis briefly stare at you with something that you don't think you've ever seen on either of them before. Genuine pity. Well, okay, Grainne is suppressing a laughing fit and Rikildis looks more excited than anything, but to a point you are given their pity.

You hope. And choose to believe.

"And...do you know for sure that it was Leon and his two friends, that did that?" Rikildis asks, looking both curious and...something else. You're not quite sure what, but something else. Not pity, though. That's already sailed off into the wild blue yonder, probably never to be seen again. Regardless, you shake your head and explain that Girars wasn't interested in exactly who raided the estate, only in the idea that it might still be torturing animals or whatever, so you didn't investigate who was behind it at all. Rikildis looks disappointed at that. "Well, that's just unfortunate. That estate raid is one of the things people point to as to why Leon and his two friends were transferred, but no one can offer any confirmation that it was them beyond 'they're a Clique of three former Morvidus troublemakers'. I'm not going to draw conclusions based on just that. Especially because, as far as I know, that kind of behaviour would get them expelled outright, not just transferred to another college. At least from what I've heard that estate raid was...eh, well, something else."

Yes, from what you remember that estate raid was indeed a messy enough affair that it would lead to outright expulsion, if not worse. But Leon wasn't expelled, so...hmm. The fastest way to confirm if this estate raid story is something you should investigate further, insofar as that it's related to Leon and his "enemy", is to find someone who can confirm whether it not it really was Leon's Clique who pulled that raid off. Surely there must be a way to do that, whoever was at that feast that night could undoubtedly still identify Leon, something like that you don't just forget. But who can you get into contact with and ask questions from that far back? Or how else would you prove it was Leon and his friends?

-Heraldry. Ask Rebecca De Simone about it.
--"I don't know how approachable or willing to talk she would be on this subject, but if anyone knows about whether Leon and his friends are the ones responsible for that raid it would have to be Rebecca De Simone. She'd definitely know if the three students who raided her family's estate still attend the Academagia, albeit in a different College, given that she attends the Academagia herself. I doubt their paths cross very often, if at all, but just seeing each other in the Great Hall should be enough to bring those memories back, anyway."

"Sure, I can agree with that," Rikildis says. Of course a split second later she adds, "I don't know how we'd drag that information out of her, though. Eh, I mean politely convince her to inform us."

You can't help but shake your head right now. "Well, with those kind of manners I think it'd be best if I asked her about it. I wouldn't say we've met each other before, but I did do her, or...someone close to her a favor fairly recently, so I should be able to get my foot in the door."

"You've really been busy this year, it sounds like," Grainne notes. You don't disagree with her. Rikildis, for her part, doesn't have anything better to suggest, and with a shrug wishes you good luck. You head off to the Avila campus and start to look around for Rebecca, but your search comes up empty. So eventually you simply ask around about where she is. You get a few pointed looks from people who are either curious or don't believe you could possibly have any business with her, but you persevere and ultimately end up being directed to her dorm room. Apparently it's where she spends most of her time recently, focussing on her studies after a disappointing series of mid-term results. It doesn't take much effort to find her after that - just knock on her door, and a few seconds later she opens it. She looks you over with a slightly annoyed and tired expression, though she maintains a composed face otherwise. "Who are you?" she curtly asks. Seems like she doesn't recognize you, though to be fair it's not like you ever introduced yourself to her.

"[PC FULL NAME], of...well, you can see which college's robes I'm wearing. You might recall me as the student who convinced Matthias Neumann to accept the invitation to attend the court of the Chards, a few months back?"

Rebecca quirks an eyebrow, like she doesn't recognize the name. But slowly a measure of recognition washes over her face as she thinks, and eventually remembers. "O-oh, you're the one who-I had heard something about someone trying to interfere with that...invitation business. And it being resolved by an Academagia student, that's right. I'm afraid I've been too preoccupied with my own affairs to pay close attention to those matters, but still, thank you for resolving that. Though, what is it that you need of me?"

You're not sure how sore a subject this is for Rebecca, you imagine it is more so than not, but either way there's no avoiding this conversation. At least if you want to make progress. "Sorry if this isn't a topic you wish to talk about, but I'm investigating the, eh, incident that happened at your family's estate last summer." Rebecca frowns, but she doesn't look upset. That's a good sign. "Specifically I need to know who the perpetrators were, the three students that performed the raid. I've...got a handle on a trio of suspects, but I can't connect the incident to them. Rumors and circumstances, sure, but no actual proof."

"A trio of suspects?" Rebecca curiously asks. "You mean Leon and his two pawns?"

...Well, that's one way to answer a question. Still, better confirm. "Eh, yes, exactly. Leon and his two friends, his Clique, whatever they are. So it was the three of them that raided your family's estate during the summer?"

Rebecca stares at you a bit confused. "Was that ever in question? Yes, Leon and his two paws are the ones who raided my family's estate. I was there when it happened, and though they wore masks in a pathetic attempt to hide their identities they did nothing to prevent my family from proving their guilt through the Astrology magic we're known for. Their forced transfer to Hedi certainly confirms that they got themselves into all kinds of trouble, as one would expect of Academagia student who chose to abuse the magic they were taught so thoroughly."

"The issue is that, as far as I've gathered, the estate raid was something that would have gotten Leon and his Clique expelled outright. And I've no explanation as to how they managed to avoid that," you point out. It takes Rebecca by surprise a bit, but only a bit. "Sorry, I didn't meant to make it sound as though I doubt you word, but it's a mystery that I simply can't find an answer to. If you say it was Leon and his friends who did it I'm more than willing to believe you, but how did they they manage to avoid being expelled?"

Rebecca shrugs and says she doesn't know either. Honestly you're getting the impression that you're starting to get into "sore subject" territory, so...you might want to bail. You thank her for her time and take your leave, wondering about where to go from here. Leon was responsible for the estate raid, so there is merit in investigating that matter further. You'll need to inform Rikildis about this, and re-open that damned case...

--"I don't dare to guess how approachable and willing to talk she'd be on this subject, but if anyone knows about Leon and his friends raiding the estate it'd have to be Rebecca De Simone. She'd definitely know if the three students who raided her home still attend the Academagia, albeit in a different College, since she attends it herself. I doubt they really see each other very often, if at all, but just passing by one another in the Great Hall should be enough to bring back some painful memories anyway."

"Sure, I can agree with that," Rikildis says. Of course a split second later she adds, "I don't know how we'd drag that information out of her, though. Eh, I mean politely convince her to inform us."

You can't help but shake your head right now. This is going to be a spectacular disaster, you just know it. "Well, I guess it's me or nothing. Any objections to that?" Both Grainne and Rikildis shake their head, more than willing to let you throw yourself into the fire without any help or support. To the extend that these two could even lend any in the first place. That's just...encouraging, is what that is.

Regardless, you get up and start looking around for Rebecca. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending, that is also where your search ends, because no matter where you look you're not able to find her. You swing by the Great Hall and the Avila Common Room multiple times, check every nook and cranny of the Garden Gallery, check the Venalicium, you even go so far as to try and scour the Academagia Ground and the Athletics Fields in sheer desperation.

But Rebecca is nowhere to be found.

Maybe she was called to either her or the Chard's estate for some business or another? Or maybe you just missed her. Several times over. Maybe she's somewhere you didn't think to check, but where didn't you? The infirmary, maybe? You don't know, and by this point you've got no desire left to continue looking. Wherever Rebecca is she wins this round of hide-and-didn't-even-knew-you-were-looking-for-me, so...going to have to try again later.

-Espionage. Steal a copy of Leon's academic record.
--"I've got an idea, but...it's a dangerous one. I'll be back later if I don't get caught and thrown into detention."

Grainne and Rikildis both nod and give you a thumbs-up. Nice, but you'd have appreciated some actual, you know, help. Eh, they'll probably think of something else to do in the meantime themselves anyway, and you don't need either a guard or a distraction here. Just some luck.

You head off to the faculty offices and, from a distance, patiently wait for your chance. Soon enough you get it. Quickly break into the office, pretend you've got every right to be here in case someone does spot you, and head for where the records are kept. Leon's record is easily found among all his Classmates - it's the one that has a third page entirely written in red. You waste no time taking out a roll of parchment and making a quickly copy for yourself, after which you put the original back. No need to read it here, you've got an editorial room where no one will question your being there to do that. You leave the faculty offices behind without anyone so much as calling out after you. Successful, albeit rather boring. Of course the successful ones always are.

On the way back you look over your ill-gained record, and basically find confirmation that Leon's Clique is responsible for the estate raid. His record doesn't directly state that that's what he did, but it does list him as having committed reckless endangerment, unlawful spellcasting outside the Academagia's academic year, arson, trespassing, breaking and entering, theft, assault, criminal conspiracy, attempt at masking person's identity, magically proven guilty of criminal offences, obstruction of justice..."failure to uphold the Pilgrim's Code of Worthy Conduct"? Okay, wow. You thought that assault and magically proven guilt of criminal offences was a record killer, come to think of it Astrology is the bread and butter of the De Simones so that figures, but man. Failure to uphold the Pilgrim's Code of Worthy Conduct. There goes Leon's academic future, everyone. Gone with the wind, never to be seen again.

Either Professor Badcrumble or Professor Storey, or someone else, had too much fun adding every possible entry to this list that they could justify just out of spite. You've got no better explanation as to why this list is this extensive and lengthy. At the same time this confirms that this estate raid, which has to be what this list refers to, is something that's worth investigating. There is no way in hell that Leon would even have been called before the Praetexta Court with a record like this, Gods know he wouldn't be able to talk his way out of it even if he did, yet he's still attending the Academagia. Something must be going on behind the scenes here.

Time to report back, because this is undoubtedly the confirmation that Rikildis was looking for.

--"I've got an idea, but...it's a dangerous one. I'll be back later if I don't get caught and thrown into detention."

Grainne and Rikildis both nod and give you a thumbs-up. Nice, but you'd have appreciated some actual, you know, help. Eh, they'll probably think of something else to do in the meantime themselves anyway, and you don't need either a guard or a distraction here. Just some luck.

You head off to the faculty offices and, from a distance, patiently wait for your chance. And wait. And wait some more...

All in all you spend about an hour conspicuously loitering outside the faculty offices, waiting for an opportunity that just will not arrive, at which point you just decide to bail. There's no way that you haven't been noticed by now, so this run is just a bust. On the bright side you didn't get caught and thrown into detention, so at least you won't be wasting any time in there. You'd call that a complete and utter failure, but as the airship captains say, any landing you can walk away from is a good landing. Just not a great one if you can't use the ship again afterwards.

This extended mystery stuff is harder to make work than I'd like to admit. But hopefully it still does. And if not that than hopefully I didn't miss anything too problematic and obvious...

Edited by Metis

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Dawn of a New Day, stage 5:

Spoiler

Back at the editorial office once again you find Grainne and Rikildis drawing plans and theories, but with what little information they've got they're not getting anywhere. Hopefully you can help with that. "I've confirmed that Leon and his friends were the ones who performed that raid on the De Simone estate," you start. Rikildis and Grainne both go from accomplishing nothing to being all ears. "Long story short is that the mistress of the De Simones estate - known for her Astrology magic, I should add - managed to magically confirm it was them. Their efforts to disguise themselves were also quite poor, especially because they didn't either bother or have any ability to cover the magical side of hiding themselves. So performing a raid on an estate full of people known for their mastery of Astrology? Not the wisest of decisions."

Rikildis nods appreciatively at the information. "Good work, [PC FIRST NAME]. That means we're going to have to dig up everything we can about that estate raid, because we know for a fact that it's related to Leon. Maybe not to Leon's 'enemy' as such, but I doubt it's completely unrelated to it either. [PC FIRST NAME], can you give us a summary of everything you remember about that stuff? What all you investigated with Girars and found out?" You nod and slowly start to sift through your own memories and recall just whatever you can, leaving it to Grainne and Rikildis themselves to sort the useful from the useless information.

As far as you can recall Girars overheard a made-up "rumor" from a group of upperclassmen Morvidus students who, for whatever reason, were talking about the estate raid and how they assumed or suspected, whichever, that the people there were still hurting animals. The assumption was that Leon and his two friends were 'crazy animal rights activists' and the alleged abuse is why they targeted the estate in the first place, but supposedly they failed to put a final end to whatever they tried to stop. Naturally that possibility upset Girars, especially because the older students refused to tell him anything about their half-baked theories, so you teamed up with him to actually investigate the matter. The two of you quickly confirmed that no one at the estate had any clue where the rumors about animal abuse came from, confirming that those were bogus, and to further drive that point home Catherine pointed out that the De Simones are long-time beneficiaries of the Quarantine House. Of course Girars didn't give up easily, so he insisted on checking whether that was true anyway, which it was, then insisted on checking the De Simone's private cargo ship to confirm the earlier point, which you did through checking the ship's relevant manifest record at the Dock's administration building. Of course that still didn't convince the stubborn boy, so you two - actually Girars, specifically - tracked down someone who was there the night of the raid to confirm that there really wasn't anything an animal rights activist would bother to attack the estate for in the first place, because according to the cargo manifest there wasn't. After that...it takes you a second to remember, but Girars learned that the event held at the estate that night was a feast, and apparently whoever hosted it was planning to serve some kind of "mysterious secret meal" that none of the guests were told about beforehand. Except that after looking into the matter, including getting the actual recipe from the cook that he was going to use, it turned out that there wasn't anything you could figure out about it. The recipe was just...weird. It was far too vague, just plain weird. Malthezar suggested that it was a recipe prepared with a varying amount of guests in mind, hence the large ranges on the main ingredient and the rest only being noted down in ratios rather than weights, and that was finally the straw that broke Girars' stubborn back.

Grainne and Rikildis both take a few minutes to discuss your story and pour over their own notes, meanwhile you relax with a nice, warm cup of chocolate milk. Well deserved, and oh so delightful during the colder seasons. It also gives you time to think, wonder about what it all means for Leon to have attacked that estate. Unfortunately you don't know the answer to that question yet. "Alright," Rikildis eventually goes as she turns to you. "This recipe, do you still have a copy of it?" You nod and quickly swing by your room to grab it. Thankfully you did save a copy of it, though it takes a minute to find it among all of your other stuff. Nevertheless you eventually hand it to Rikildis. She looks it over with a curious eye. "Uh...yeah, this is a weird recipe. What kind of egg is this recipe talking about? Did you find that out?" You shrug and say that neither Malthezar or the Venalicium had any idea, but the former suggested that the recipe called for just regular chicken eggs to be prepared in an unusual way. Both you and Girars accepted that explanation, since it makes more sense than whatever the alternative would be, and that kind of stuff is literally that particular cook's speciality anyway. Making exotic dishes out of mundane ingredients. "But Leon must have targeted that estate for a reason," Rikildis insists. And truth be told you don't disagree with her. "So what explanation did you two find for that? Or Malthezar, I guess?"

"None. Malthezar thought it was a 'misunderstanding', which honestly sounded as reasonable as any explanation at the time, but...frankly I don't know what kind of understanding there could have been to begin with." Rikildis and Grainne actually nod at that.

"We don't know how Leon learned about the De Simones' feast, how he learned about the mysterious meal that not even the guests were told much if anything about, why he decided that that merited attacking the estate like he did based on whatever information - or ignorance - he got...anything, really." The former points out. You and Grainne both nod. "And as much as I hate to say it, I don't know of any way to figure that out other than asking the man himself. I don't know how this all relates to Leon's 'enemy' or Sigalis accusing said enemy of slavery, but unless Leon got into even bigger trouble that even we have heard nothing about so far than this estate raid must be it. And since we're fresh out of leads otherwise...Leon will have to be it."

"What about Professor Badcrumble's ward, can't we get anything from that angle?" Grainne asks. Rikildis shakes her head.

"Context and conclusions, maybe, but not the road Leon took to get there. That we can only get from the estate, and that, more than likely, we can only get from the man himself. [PC FIRST NAME], I hate to volunteer you for this, but you're the only one of us that might be able to approach him directly. Grainne and I have our reputations, and what little goodwill we gained among the hybrid students lately is still...tainted by the articles I published last year. You, however, have that anti-flyer article still going for you. So I afraid it's gotta be you." Getting to be the one to talk with the demonstrably violent and mentally unstable madman who already punched one person into the infirmary. Yay. "Grainne and me will be in the background, shadowing you and keeping tabs on the conversation, ready to jump in if need be," Rikildis adds. For what that's worth. "But...remember what the guy did to Sigalis, and that we neither outnumber them or outskill them in the magical department, more than likely. So...good luck!"

...Not very much, as it turns out. Great. Well, as much as you'd like to deny everything Rikildis just said she's right, you are actually one of very few students who could possibly convince Leon to talk, if anyone can. So...how to approach this problem?

-Rhetoric. Show no fear.
--Leon might have a chip on his shoulder, but you don't think he'd attack someone just for asking questions...admittedly these aren't your every day question which you'll be asking him, but still. Don't give him a reason to believe he's got the upper hand and he won't act like he does. Sigalis he surprised, you will not be. For what that'll end up being worth.

To start off with, finding Leon or his friends is difficult. No one in College Hedi knows where they tend to hang out, the older Morvidus students who used to know tell you that they're no longer hanging out in the same places that they used to, and just generally speaking no one has any clue where they're spending their time these days. Fantastic. Eventually, after much insistent questioning of everyone you're able to approach, you finally manage to track them down in Hearts Hallow, of all places. The great tree that stands as a central point between the eight Avila dorm towers. Why Morvidus turned Hedi students are hanging out here is definitely another question to add to the pile, albeit one you might not have the time to get to today. You've got a long enough list of things to ask as is. In any case, you found Leon. You also found Leon's friends, however. So if this goes south than Grainne and Rikildis' being mysteriously around somewhere be damned, you can't take on three people at once no matter how confident you are. It'll go south.

"Hey there! Leon?" you call up the tree. A second later Leon pops his head out. There's a frown on his face, but as far as you can tell he mostly looks confused. "Sorry, but you could come down? There's a few things I need to ask you about, all three of you really, and this would be a really ridiculous way to have a conversation!"

Leon quirks an eyebrow, slowly turns towards his friends, who shrug, and with a shrug of his own Leon, followed by his friends, jumps down. Leon, unsurprisingly, takes the lead while his two friends stare curiously at you from behind him, arms crossed and one leg lazily leaning against the tree. "I thought I recognized you, hello again [PC FIRST NAME]. Alright, what do you want to ask me about?"

Okay, this is going better than you expected already. Hopefully it stays that way, because these are not polite questions you have for him. "I'm sorry if you don't want to discuss this, but first off...I need to ask you a few thing about the raid you three performed on the De Simone estate last summer."

You expected Leon and his friends to flinch a bit, given the accusation that's just outright in there, but they look confused. And annoyed, but they looked that way to begin with. "You know about that?" Leon asks. You nod, as calmly as you can. Leon pretty much just shrugs and asks, "How much do you know about that, exactly?" You slowly explain that you know the three of them, masked, raided a feast hosted by the mistress of that estate to steal a mysterious egg that the hostess intended to serve as a special delicacy. Leon, eyes wide, tilts his head and asks what you mean by a "mysterious" egg. His friends likewise raise an eyebrow at that statement. You take a deep breath, make sure your remember all the details, and slowly explain that as far as your investigations into the hostess' recorded cargo ship's manifest, the recipe that the cook intended to use, as well as what Malthezar managed to tell you in terms of what exotic (for Mineta) animals can be found in Alesfa, you've got no idea what the hostess was actually planning on serving. You've tried to make an educated guess based on the cook's recipe, every Zoology book you could find in the Venalicium, and Malthezar, who you introduce as an ambassador-in-training student from Alesfa (a description you doubt he'd object to), but despite all of that you still can't confirm what kind of egg the hostess intended to serve.

Leon, at your explanation, drops his jaw and stares at you with a blank, perplexed look on his face. His friends manage to maintain a bit more of their composure, but only a bit. Leon slowly turns to look towards his friends, who don't respond beyond a confused shrug, and Leon tries to compose himself. It doesn't entirely work, there's still a distant, far-off look in his eyes, but at least he manages to pick up his jaw. "Ah...good job investigating all of that, I guess? I, eh...frankly even I wasn't aware of that much," Leon says, clearly not sure how he wants to respond to this situation. Nor, for that matter, are you. Another thing you wanted to ask Leon about was how he learned about it all in the first place, but apparently he's far more in the dark about that than you thought. "So...what did you want to ask me about, exactly? You seem to have a better idea of that night than I do, at this point."

"Yeah right, thanks for the compliment but I'm afraid I don't know more than you three at this point. The first major question I wanted to ask: Just what was it that you three attacked that estate for? The egg, or something else? And how did you figure out that the estate's mistress had it and was planning on serving it, if it was the egg? There was nothing suspicious listed on her private ship's cargo manifest, the customs officers I talked to claimed they never noticed anything odd or out of place, Catherine seemed firmly convinced that the De Simones would never lower themselves to animal abuse, and as far as I know even the guests there that night weren't told about the egg beforehand, it was meant to be a surprise. And I guess they got one, of a sort."

Again, Leon and his friends look at you more confused than anything. Though rather quickly Leon's expression shifts. Ultimately, looking downright pained, he asks, "Is that what you think that raid was about? Animal rights activism?" You shake your head and say that you have your doubts. It seemed like a reasonable enough theory back in Athonos, but...you've started to doubt what you believed way back when, and want a straight answer. Leon lets out a sigh and says, "I'm not an animal lover, former Morvidus student or not. But as for the estate raid, I can't tell you anything more about that. Nor Hugo and Bruno, for that matter."

Not as simple as you had hoped, huh? Well, that hardly comes as a surprise, even if it's annoying. Leon might not know it, probably wouldn't believe it, but technically speaking you two are on the same side right now. So him not making your life more difficult than it needs to be would be appreciated. No reason to rock the boat too much at this point, though. Leon is still Leon, or however Sigalis would put it. "Fine, if you don't want to talk about it I won't ask again. That said, I do have more questions." Leon quirks an eyebrow and shrugs, asking what else your one person private investigation enterprise managed to dig up. You don't see the humor in it, but you'll take the compliment. "Next..." you start, trailing off as you start wondering about what to actually ask about next, there's so much ground to cover. Professor Badcrumble's ward? The anti-shapeshifting flyer-no, that's not going to be too helpful right now, definitely ask about the ward. You try to ask Leon about the area of the Academagia he was apparently patrolling around in on the 18th, where he..."evicted" Sigalis, as the nurses called it, and where Professor Badcrumble went to after a mysterious announcement called her to go to "the ward" immediately, because "it's time", causing her to run straight out of one of her detention sessions. But, again, Leon drops his jaw before you even get to asking your actual questions and honestly it's kind of distracting.

"How in the-you know about all of that, too!? How!?" You nod and quickly explain that you were attending that detention session in the professor's office, for entirely unjustified reasons at that, when that announcement came from nowhere. Professor Badcrumble didn't mention anything about it and probably didn't intend to get followed to wherever she was going, but...students and their curiosity. It takes Leon a minute to compose himself this time, after which it takes him another one to even find what words he wants to say. "O-okay, so...that announcement thing was just a freak accident. A-alright, I get that. Those thing happen, even to the 'best' of us." This guy really doesn't have a high opinion of Professor Badcrumble, you've noticed. "So...Gods, what did you even want to ask about, again?" You explain that you didn't get to your questions yet, and ask what kind of "ward" that place is and why Professor Badcrumble was called there. And why he was there patrolling it, for that matter, when the place is apparently supposed to be off-limits to students. Leon tries to tell you that he can't answer those questions either, but he's having trouble even forming a coherent sentence right now. Thankfully one of his friends fills in for him and confirms that, yes, none of them can answer any of those questions either.

You consider asking whether that's the only answer they're going to give you, but...something feels off here. Still, you've got more questions to ask and no reason to start running for the hills, so onwards you go. "Than, next, the anti-shapeshifting flyer incident from a few months ago. Leon, you personally sought me out to thank me for turning that situation around, right?" Leon slowly nods, and confirms that he does remember doing that. He'd rather not, as it was a pretty awkward thing for him to do, but he remembers it all the same. Again, strange that he seems perfectly willing to admit to that but seems so cagey about everything else. It's not that there's no logic to it, but it comes across as if something's off. "Well, not to look a gifted-or I suppose complimented horse in the mouth, but why was that flyer situation so important to you? And...come to think of it, you didn't recognize Rikildis at all, did you? Despite the fact that she was publishing anti-hybrid articles last year that basically amounted to the same thing as the anti-shapeshifting flyers this year. So I guess a better question is: Why do those things matter so much to you now, if they didn't a year ago?"

Leon, once again, is stunned speechless, as are his friends. And, unsurprisingly, their answer isn't any different either. "We...I-I can't say a word about that. I just can't..." Leon says, looking like he's one step away from snapping and cackling like a maniac. It's...not a comforting sight. "Things change, what can I say? Hah, holy something, though, you sure have a hell of a head on your shoulders!" Yeah, Leon...eh, he's a little too impressed, it seems like. You think it's time for you to bail. "Ah, anything else? I'd love to hear about anything else you've managed to dig up, trust me..." Yep, time to bail! You rapidly shake your head, apologize for taking up so much of him time and promise that you'll be back if you've got more questions for him. Leon doesn't sound like he's fine with that so much as he asks for it, in fact he literally hollers at you not to forget. It's a little unnerving.

At least you managed to get out of that one alive. Hopefully it was enough for Rikildis to...do whatever Rikildis wants to do, your brain is so frazzled you don't even know anymore. In any case, time to head back to the editorial room and regroup.

--Leon might have a chip on his shoulder, but you don't think he'd attack someone just for asking questions. Probably, anyway. These aren't your every day question you'll be asking him, admittedly, but still, he's going to fly into a rage and try to murder you right then and there, right? Of course not...

Or so you keep telling yourself, anyway. Regardless, the first step to questioning Leon is going to be finding him, or any of his friends. This...turns out to be an insurmountable problem in and of itself, which is equal parts amazing and embarrassing. You even try asking around, eventually, but no one has any idea as to where Leon is or where he tends to hang out. Your gut instinct says "detention", and that's probably right, but...that means that you're going to have a hard time catching him to ask questions. And he's going to be in a bad mood, whenever you do.

...Yeah, no, forget about it. You're not doing that. That's just a suicidal plan no matter how you slice it, and you'd prefer to live. You can find Leon some other time, when he's not going to be in a sour mood. It'd just be much better for both of you, that way.

Though, yes, mostly you...

-Society. Try and have a polite conversation with him.
--There's really no need to get hostile in this situation. Sure, Leon probably doesn't know it and he might not believe it, but if what Sigalis told you is the truth (and you have every reason to believe that it is) you're on the same side. The enemy of his enemy, literally. So not giving him an impression to the contrary would go a long way towards getting him to maybe, hopefully answer some of your questions.

First off, finding Leon or his friends is difficult. Few people in College Hedi know where they tend to hang out, and the older Morvidus students who used to know them tell you that they're no longer hanging out in the places they used to, so no one is really sure where they're spending their time these days. Ultimately, after much polite questioning of whatever students you're able to approach, you do manage to track them down in Hearts Hallow, of all places. The great tree that stands as a central point between the eight Avila dorm towers. Why Morvidus turned Hedi students are hanging out here is definitely another question to add to the pile, albeit one you might not have time to get to today. Among, frankly, too many others. In any case, the good news is that you found Leon. The bad news is that you also found Leon's friends. So if this goes south than Grainne and Rikildis' being mysteriously around somewhere be damned, it goes south.

"Hey there! Leon?" you call up the tree. A second later Leon pops his head out. There's a frown on his face, but as far as you can tell he mostly looks confused. "Sorry, but you could come down? There's a few things I need to ask you about, all three of you really, and...this would just be a really awkward way to have a conversation, yelling up a tree like this!"

Leon quirks an eyebrow, slowly turns towards his friends, who shrug, and with a shrug of his own Leon, followed by his friends, jumps down. Leon, unsurprisingly, takes the lead while his two friends stare curiously at you from behind him, arms crossed and one leg lazily leaning against the tree. "I thought I recognized you, hello again [PC FIRST NAME]. Alright, what do you want to ask me about?"

Okay, this seems to be going very well so far. Leon recognized you and is willing to chat. Hopefully it stays that way, because you might not survive it if he decides otherwise. "I, eh..." you start, letting out a sigh before you can get two words out. You imagine that this doesn't make Leon feel any better, but damn if it doesn't ease your own nerves. "I-I'm sorry if you don't want to discuss this, but...first off, I need to ask you a few thing about the raid you three performed on the De Simone estate, last summer."

You expected Leon and his friends to flinch a bit, given the accusation that's just outright in there, but they look confused. And annoyed, but they looked that way to begin with. "You know about that?" Leon asks. You nod, nervously. Leon doesn't pounce on it, though. Instead he says, "Huh. Odd," like you just pointed at an oddly shaped cloud. "How much do you know about that, exactly?" You slowly explain that you know the three of them, masked, raided a feast hosted by the mistress of that estate, because they were aiming to "protect", as an animal rights activist would call it, a mysterious egg acquired by the hostess, which was meant to be served as a special delicacy. Leon, eyes wide, tilts his head and asks what you mean by a "mysterious" egg. His friends likewise raise an eyebrow at that statement. You take a deep breath, make sure your remember all the details, and slowly explain that as far as your investigations into the hostess' recorded cargo ship's manifest, the recipe that the cook intended to use, as well as what Malthezar managed to tell you in terms of what exotic (for Mineta) animals can be found in Alesfa, you've got no idea what the hostess was actually planning on serving. You've tried to make an educated guess based on the cook's recipe, every Zoology book you could find in the Venalicium, and Malthezar, who you introduce as an ambassador-in-training student from Alesfa (a description you doubt he'd object to), but despite all of that you still can't confirm what kind of egg the hostess intended to serve.

Leon, at your explanation, drops his jaw and stares at you with a blank, perplexed look on his face. His friends manage to maintain a bit more of their composure, but only a bit. Leon slowly turns to look towards his friends, who don't respond beyond a confused shrug, and Leon tries to compose himself. It doesn't entirely work, there's still a distant, far-off look in his eyes, but at least he manages to pick up his jaw. "Ah...good job investigating all of that, I guess? I, eh...frankly even I wasn't aware of that much," Leon says, clearly not sure how he wants to respond in this situation. Nor, for that matter, are you. Another thing you wanted to ask Leon about was how he learned about all of this, leading to him pulling off the estate raid, but apparently he's far more in the dark about that than you thought. "So...what did you want to ask me about, exactly? You seem to have a better idea of that night than I do, at this point."

"Eh, thanks for the compliment, but I'm afraid I don't know more than you three at this point. The first major question I wanted to ask: Just what was it that you three attacked that estate for? And how did you figure out that the estate's mistress had it, and was planning on serving it? There was nothing suspicious listed on her private ship's cargo manifest, the customs officers I talked to claimed they never noticed anything odd or out of place, Catherine seemed firmly convinced that the De Simones would never lower themselves to animal abuse, and as far as I know even the guests there that night weren't told about the egg. It was meant to be a surprise...though I guess they did get one, of a sort."

Again, Leon and his friends look at you more confused than anything. Though rather quickly Leon's expression shifts. Ultimately, looking downright pained, he asks, "Is that what you think that raid was about? Animal rights activism?" You shrug and say that you plain have no idea. It seemed like a reasonable enough theory, at least at some point, but...you've got no idea. Leon lets out a sigh and says, "I'm not an animal lover, former Morvidus student or not. But as for the estate raid, I can't tell you anything more about that. Nor Hugo and Bruno, for that matter."

Not as simple as you had hoped, huh? Well, that hardly comes as a surprise, even if it's a bit annoying. No reason to rock the boat too much at this point, though. "A-alright, if you don't want to talk about that I won't ask again. That said, like I said I've got more questions." Leon quirks an eyebrow and shrugs, asking what else your one person private investigation enterprise managed to dig up. You don't see the humor in it, though. "Next..." you start, trailing off as you're suddenly not sure what to actually ask about next. Professor Badcrumble's ward? The anti-shapeshifting flyer, perhaps that's a better topic to discuss? You're not sure...

"Next what, [PC FIRST NAME]?" Leon asks, tapping a finger against his crossed arms impatiently. Your mind is working overtime trying to answer your own question right now, and in absence of a good answer you decide to just go with what you would like to ask more. Which is the matter that you'd prefer to get answered more. You ask Leon about the area of the Academagia he was apparently patrolling around in on the 18th, where he..."evicted" Sigalis, as the nurses called it, and where Professor Badcrumble went to after a mysterious announcement called her to go to "the ward" immediately, because "it's time", causing her to run straight out of one of her detention sessions. You want to ask Leon what kind of "ward" that place is, and why Professor Badcrumble was called there, but again he drops his jaw before you even get to asking your questions and honestly it's kind of distracting. "How in the-you know about all of that, too!? How!?" You quickly (and nervously) explain that you were attending that detention session in the professor's office when an announcement came from nowhere. She didn't mention anything about it and probably didn't intend to get followed to wherever she was going, but...well, students and their curiosity. It takes Leon a minute to compose himself this time, after which it takes him another one to even find what words he wants to say. "O-okay, so...that announcement thing was just a freak accident. A-alright, I get that. Those thing happen, even to the 'best' of us." This guy really doesn't have a high opinion of Professor Badcrumble, you've noticed. "So...Gods, what did you even want to ask about, again?" You explain that you didn't get to your questions yet, and ask what kind of "ward" that place is and why Professor Badcrumble was called there. And why he was there patrolling it, for that matter, when the place is apparently supposed to be off-limits to students. Leon tries to tell you that he can't answer those questions either, but he's having trouble even forming a coherent sentence right now. Thankfully one of his friends fills in for him and confirms that, yes, none of them can answer any of those questions either.

You consider asking whether that's the only answer they're going to give you, but you don't want to come off as rude. It's deserved, nor does it need to be rude, but you question whether you could make it not sound like you're just getting annoyed at this point. You can't help but let out a sigh, though. "Than, last point, the anti-shapeshifting flyer incident from a few months ago. Leon, you personally sought me out to thank me for turning that situation around, right?" Leon slowly nods, and confirms that he does remember doing that. He'd rather not, as it was a pretty awkward thing for him to do, but he remembers it all the same. Strange that for being so cagey he seems perfectly willing to admit to that, though. "Well, not to look a gifted-or I suppose complimented horse in the mouth, but why was that flyer situation so important to you? And...come to think of it, you didn't seem to recognize Rikildis at all, despite the fact that she was publishing anti-hybrid student articles last year that basically amounted to the same thing as the anti-shapeshifting flyers this year. So I guess a better question is: Why do those things matter so much to you now, if they didn't a year ago?"

Leon, once again, is stunned speechless, as are his friends. And, unsurprisingly, their answer isn't any different either. "We...I-I can't say a word about that. I just can't..." Leon says, looking like he's one step away from snapping and cackling like a maniac. It's...not a comforting sight. "Things change, what can I say? Hah, holy something, though, you sure have a hell of a head on your shoulders!" Y-yeah, Leon...eh, he's a little too impressed, it seems like. You think it's time for you to bail. "Ah, anything else? I'd love to hear about anything else you've managed to dig up, trust me..." Oh Gods abort mission! You rapidly shake your head, apologize for taking up so much of him time and promise that you'll be back if you've got more questions for him. Leon doesn't sound like he's fine with that so much as he asks for it, in fact he literally hollers at you not to forget. It's a little unnerving.

At least you managed to get out of that one alive. Hopefully it was enough for Rikildis to...do whatever Rikildis wants to do, your brain is so frazzled you don't even know anymore. In any case, time to head back to the editorial room and regroup.

--Nervous as you are, there's no reason to believe that Leon would be openly hostile towards you. Sure, you're planning on asking him a few, eh, personal...and incriminating...questions, but that's just something that everyone goes through eventually, right? And Besides, aren't you two on the same side? Admittedly you doubt that Leon knows that, he certainly didn't know Sigalis was, and you also doubt that he'd believe it if you told him, but...still....

Yeah, so you're not confident that this is a good idea at all. Regardless, it must be done, and the first step to questioning Leon is going to be finding him. Or any of his friends, though preferably not all at once. This...turns out to be an insurmountable problem in and of itself, actually. You look around, try asking around, but neither you or anyone else seems to have have any idea as to where Leon is or where he tends to hang out. Your gut instinct says "detention", and that's probably right, but...that means that you're going to have a hard time catching him to ask questions. And he's probably going to be in a real bad mood, whenever you do.

So...never mind! Execu-eh expedition cancelled! Your jaw will live to talk another day!

...Until you go out looking for Leon again, anyway. You really do need to talk to him, and sooner rather than later, but...

There'll be a third option for at least a bit starting next stage. Don't expect it to last all the way through, though.

Edited by Metis

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Dawn of a New Day, stage 6:

Spoiler

You walk into the editorial room, plop down into the nearest chair, and wait for Rikildis and Grainne to join you. They do roughly three seconds later. "Rikildis, what happened to poor [PC FIRST NAME] out there?" Grainne asks, almost sounding genuinely concerned.

"Leon...is going to be a tough nut to crack," Rikildis ominously notes as she walks in and plops down on the nearest seat she can find herself. She seems more busy with scheming than with having her nerves completely shot, though. "Grainne, get something to drink for [PC FIRST NAME], something to soothe [his/her] nerves. After that we need to discuss plans and strategies. I think we're going to have to take a different track here."

Grainne nods and leaves while you ask Rikildis what she's talking about. "I'll explain later, just take a breather for now. Five minutes, I need to go borrow a book from the Venalicium real quick." You nod, enjoy a steaming hot cup of hot chocolate milk that Grainne brings you, and true to her word five minutes later Rikildis returns with a library book in hand. You're not able to read the title from where you're sitting, but thankfully when Grainne asks about it Rikildis answers your unspoken question at the same time. "Yes, Grainne, 'An Introductory Text to Gaese'. Sit down, we've got something to discuss." Grainne complies, and Rikildis actually takes the time to drag a table in front of you two, to stand in for a professor's desk. She, like a professor, sits down on top of it. It...kinda looks good? You've no idea whether Rikildis would be a good professor, though. "[PC FIRST NAME], do you happen to recall when Chimaera Olibiera, Donaldo Asp and Virenna Lasque destroyed my printing press, burned my notes, and than cast a Glamour on me last year? To make sure I wouldn't tell anyone about their plot to steal Calligraphy test answers from Professor von Rupprecht." You're in no mood to even think about what (for you) incidental thing happened a year ago, so you just shake your head. "Well, the short version is that they...well the important thing is that they cast a Glamour on me to try and prevent me from talking to anyone about it. That lead to me blundering around like an absolute idiot until someone managed to bypass that Glamour. The way that Leon and his friends, especially Leon, reacted to how you were just shredding the very concept of him keeping secrets right in front of him...I don't think it was natural. I've seen a lot of students who were ashamed of their secrets being laid bare, so many that were angry or afraid, that tried to tell themselves it didn't matter while crying behind everyone's backs...everything. Leon reacted in a way that I haven't seen very often - never, really - and based on my experience with being put under that Glamour that I obviously wanted to escape from..." Rikildis props the textbook up on her lap and "shows it to the class", so to speak, for emphasis. "I think that Leon and his friends are under a Gaes, under a Glamour like that. I cannot think of another explanation as to why Leon would be so...excited that you were just tearing into him. That didn't feel like part one of a slaughter you were pulling out there. That felt like a mercy killing that fell short."

...You can't, with a straight face, even entertain the thought that Rikildis isn't be an honest-to-goodness expert at reading people's reactions to having their entirely lives just put on the table right in the open, right in front of them. But placed under a Gaes? You're doubtful of that. Very doubtful, in fact. "Rikildis, didn't you mention that you questioned Leon about why he was transferred at the start of the year? How it 'was the stuff legendarily bad rumors were made of', or something like that? When Leon approached us in the Great Hall about the flyer incident, do you remember?"

"Oh, I definitely do," Rikildis answers with a kind of serious, dour expression you don't often see on her. "Thing is, Leon's response only made me suspect they're under a Gaes. What convinced me is actually what you just mentioned." Rikildis leans on her book as she continues, saying, "Gaese can be far, far more complex and...subtle than what those third years managed to put on me. I did corner Leon and his friends and tried to ask them about their transfer back in Athonos. But thinking back, or trying to at least? I can't really remember it at all. I known I described whatever they told me as 'the stuff legendarily bad rumors are made of', I do remember thinking that-and for what it's worth I still feel that way. But I don't remember exactly what they told me at all. And before you accuse me of just not remembering, I can perfectly recall every idiotic rumor about Matthias that I came across during my search into his history. So it's not me. It's Leon."

"So someone put them under a Gaes that allows them to talk, but whoever hears it...can't remember it afterwards? Is such a thing even possible?" Grainne asks, saving you the trouble of asking the same question.

Rikildis nods and opens her book on a specific page without even looking at the chapter list. Seems she knows this book by heart already...which should maybe make you worried? Eh, something to consider later. "It's far, far beyond what a third year could manage, but yes, such a Gaes is indeed possible. It's even possible to extend that effect to whatever Leon and his friends write down on the subject, even the Glamour I was put under managed to forbid me from just writing down what I wanted to say." You ask whether it's possible for Leon to use a printing press to "press" what he wants to say instead of writing it, or whether any other such loopholes like that could work. Rikildis smirks, approving of your suggestion, but sadly she shakes her head. "Since we're clearly dealing with someone who's very skilled at Glamour, probably Professor Piaxenza himself all things considered, no loophole that we can think of are going to have any chance of working. If nothing else I imagine that Leon and his friends probably tried a bunch of stuff themselves already, and if anything did work Professor Piaxenza no doubt already corrected that flaw." That's...a problem. In fact that sounds like an insurmountable problem. How are you three supposed to break through a Gaes put in place by a regent? How much Negation do you even need to know to do that? Or could you use some other school? "Oh and for the record, [PC FIRST NAME], your realization and Leon didn't give a damn last year about that anti-hybrid students stuff was spot-on. Plenty of student that cared enough approached me about that, but Leon didn't. I don't remember that he did at least, if nothing else he definitely wasn't among those who accused me of having a hand in this year's flyer situation. I know I'd have noticed him if he was." Rikildis suddenly adds. It's nice confirmation, you suppose, but you're still busy looking (and despairing) at the seemingly insurmountable problem in front of you. Well, no reason to keep to yourself, you suppose.

"So where do we go from here? If those three really are under a Gaes like that, than...well, I mean what can we do about it? Can we Negate it?"

"I seriously doubt it," Rikildis says as she puts her book down next to her. "The one that was placed on my by those third years, sure. That was basically a house of cards held together with bits of glue and a prayer, you look at it funny and it falls apart. Actually well made, and especially complex Gaese are much harder to break, though. Worse, they can even be layered. It's entirely possible that we might find a way to Negate one layer, only to have Leon be forced to lie to us by the second, and of course he couldn't tell us about that. Hell, he might not even notice it depending on how the Gaes is set up. Of course that stuff goes far beyond what even a senior is capable of, but we're not dealing with seniors here. Seniors don't handle the aftermath of students pulling a commando raid on a Frontino estate, professors do. Very high up there professors. So we have to assume that we're dealing with something incredibly complex here."

"So...where do we go from here?" Grainne ask, mostly repeating your previous question. Only mostly, though. You still had some vague sense of hope a minute ago. Grainne doesn't. "If this Gaes is really that complex and we couldn't possibly Negate it to save our lives, how will we get information out of Leon?"

Rikildis lets out a sigh. She's not giving up, but she knows it's a steep hill to climb. "I'll do some more research into Gaese, and see if there's something I can find to help us break it. Grainne, I want you to shadow Leon and his friends for a bit, see if you can figure out some kind of opportunity or opening. [PC FIRST NAME]...I don't know. I'd say talk to Leon again and try to get anything out of him, something he'd actually talk about that we could draw some kind of conclusions from, but..."

"Easier said that done," you note. Rikildis nods. "I still think we should try to find a way to loophole our way through that Gaes, I just don't see any other option. Does it count if we overhear them talking about stuff, for instance? Or if their writings are compromised, could we look at it though a mirror and be fine?"

"Anything you can think of is something that Leon and his friends undoubtedly already tried, and Professor Piaxenza fixed if it worked. And I doubt any of it worked in the first place, anyway." Rikildis repeats. You're not sure if she'd take it as a compliment or not, but for a second she looked like a professor, correcting you while sitting on a desk-table, like that. "As for Negating it, no way. Breaking a Glamour - layers of them, most likely - like that is so far beyond our skill level it's ridiculous. We might as well try to empty Lake Ardica with a leaky bucket."

Breaking a regent's work like that is indeed beyond your means by any sane measure, but...perhaps there is a way? Some insane measure that just takes someone creative (or crazy) enough to imagine it? The only real alternative you can think of is trying to play a guessing game with a Leon, and based on your earlier conversation with him he's already at the point where he's given up on even trying, so...well, speaking of "insane measures" you suppose, but surely there's a better idea you can come up with than that. Something, just...anything! What's the alternative? What's the plan?

-Theory of Negation. Carefully think over if this Gaes really is, to you, unbreakable.
--Trying to break down that Gaes with just the biggest, baddest Negation you can manage to cast without sending yourself flying in the other direction is so far beyond your skills it isn't funny. Professor Briardi, maybe, but you'd never manage something like that. That's if you try to break it with just a generic Negation, though. If you tried to break it with a specific Negation, designed and specifically tuned to that particular spell...well, you'd definitely be able to do a lot more than if you were just throwing any random spell around. Even so it'd probably still be completely impossible to break the Gaes outright, but you might be able to crack it. Disrupt it for a bit, just enough to get some sort of information out of Leon. The question is if you can put together a spell like that. Beyond it being just generally difficult and more advanced than what second years are actually taught in Negation classes, you'd need to know exactly what spells Professor Piaxenza cast, and how, to create the Gaes in the first place. Down to the exact Phemes. Obviously you don't know that, and it'd take forever and a year to figure that out from scratch. Although...so long as you understand the technique, it's not hard to do. At least not in a way that doesn't allow for talent or skill to be substituted with unreasonable amounts of stubborn patience. Hmm...

"Did you think of something, [PC FIRST NAME]?" Rikildis asks, looking at you frowning deeply. You think it's doable, theoretically doable at least, but...man is it going to be a pain to pull off, if you can pull it off. What other alternative is there, though? Rikildis and Grainne don't even study Negation, and per Rikildis' own admission you're not going to sneakily bypass the Gaes any other way. So...this has to be it.

"Huh? Sorry, trying to think about whether it's possible for me to crack that Gaes enough to get a single answer out of Leon..."

Rikildis lets out a sigh. "Give it up, [PC FIRST NAME]. I don't care how good with Negation, you are you're not breaking a Gaes created by Professor Piaxenza. It's just not going to happen."

"I'm not talking about breaking the Gaes, I know that's not going to happen, I'm talking about cracking it. Disrupting it just enough to get an answer out of Leon, anything at all. Honestly I think it's more worth pursuing than trying to play a guessing game with Leon and his Gaes, especially since Leon apparently has already given up on anyone ever being able to believe him. It'd be just as hard if not harder to pull him out of that mindset, frankly, and I can't think of any better ideas."

"Well...I suppose you should stick to your strengths, and if anyone can pull such a thing off it would be you," Rikildis admits. You're not sure whether to take it as a compliment, though. "Alright, for lack of a better option you look into that and keep us posted if you make any significant progress. We'll get to the bottom of this, one way or another."

An ominous promise, that, but a fitting one. You're going to need to do some research, though. If you're going to pull this off you're going to need to have read every possible book on the subject you can...

--You give it plenty of thought, but unfortunately the best answer your mind can come up with is "maybe". If you give up on breaking the Gaes outright and instead settle for just temporarily disrupting it, just enough to get some manner of answers out of Leon, that'll make this much more viable. In addition, if you commit to putting in however much work it'll take to tackle this problem with a focussed, dedicated Negation rather than just the biggest, baddest spell you can cast without sending yourself flying in the other direction, again, solid progress on making this approach more viable. As for Leon, you don't think he'll be an issue. Either the Negation works or it doesn't, you don't think he'd object to giving you the minute it'll take to test that theory. The issue is the latter part - devising such a dedicated spell like that is not only well beyond the means of even a talented second year, as far as you know, but even if you understand the techniques it'd take an unreasonable amount of time. You'd need to understand the Gaes that Leon has cast on him down to the last, exact Pheme. And that is just not happening. Not without Leon's full cooperation, not without more time and effort than Rikildis, if not you, are willing to commit to solving this problem.

What other alternative is there, though? If you can't break the Gaes, even a little, than...is there any way at all that you could bypass it, somehow?

[PC !MASTER'S MARK]-Theory of Mastery. Consider if it's possible to use Mastery to bypass this Gaes.
--You definitely can't force Leon to not have the Gaes take effect, if you're going to bypass it it's going to have to be on your end. Basically Master yourself into remembering whatever Leon says. Is such a thing even possible, though? Wouldn't that just force you to recall memories that are already broken and corrupted by the Gaes? You don't think you could un-break those memories with Mastery either, so...what a conundrum. Mastery seems like the best, possibly only real solution here, but...eh, you say that, but better not tell Grainne or Rikildis anything about it. You don't think that'll be too difficult, though. Their focus is elsewhere right now, obviously.

"Hmm? Did you think of something, [PC FIRST NAME]?" Rikildis asks literally two seconds later. A very favorable omen, that, to be sure.

"Not even remotely. So...I guess I'll do some research into Gaese of my own, maybe find some opening or opportunity that you missed. I mean it's that or trying to come up with the perfect loophole, but-"

"I just said that isn't going to work, [PC FIRST NAME]," Rikildis says, slightly annoyed. You shrug and say that you've got no other ideas, so research it is. Rikildis doesn't seem impressed, but she does nod. "I guess so. I doubt you'll find anything, though, I actually know this subject pretty well. Still, go for it. I'm by no means an expert, and two heads are better than one."

Blanket permission to do whatever you want without any supervision, just as you like it. You should maybe be more concerned by Rikildis' apparent interest in Gaese, but...you don't think it'll be a problem. Worse case you'll Mastery your way out of whatever problem that ends creating, if anything.

--Good question. Unfortunately, not one you know a positive answer to. It could work if you could Master the Gaes, but obviously you can't do that. Mastering Leon is going to be useless, he doesn't have control over it, Mastering yourself isn't going to accomplish anything as far as you know...

Curse it all! If only Mastery wasn't Proscribed and information about it wasn't so hard to find you're sure that you could have studied it enough to think of an answer! But as things stand...well, it's not like you want to cast the wrong spell whenever Grainne and Rikildis are right next to you anyway, right? Darn. Interesting mental exercise, but not an actual solution...

[PC MASTER'S MARK]-Mental Bridging. Consider if it's possible to etch what Leon says into your memories.
--If the issue is that whatever Leon (or his friends) say on the subject doesn't settle in your memories, because of the Gaes, is it possible to bypass the Gaes by forcing it to settle? You...might be able to pull that off, honestly. It sounds like something that could be done at least, you're just not sure if you can pull it off. But given enough time and effort, you suppose...

"Hmm? Did you think of something, [PC FIRST NAME]?" Rikildis asks as you're weighing your options, and whether it's worth the risk. Honestly, though, you think it is. The biggest danger is in linking with another's mind, and you doubt that Leon is someone an absolute novice like you should be trying to link with. But if you're only affecting yourself than you should be fine in both cases.

"Huh? Oh, eh, maybe. I'm not sure, but I think I might be able to bypass Leon's Gaes after all."

"I just said that the Gaes is beyond our means to-" Rikildis says, annoyedly, though she stops after you hold up your wrist. Rikildis, being Rikildis, obviously has some idea as to what that gesture means. She falls dead silent, as does Grainne next to you, unable to think of anything to say. Both silently stare dumbfounded at your wrist, knowing full well that's on it beneath that Glamour.

"I know, Professor von Kiep. I know that if Professor Piaxenza put that Gaes in place than I couldn't tear it down to save my life, and I know it won't be easy to bypass, if it even can be bypassed. But I might be able to use what I've learned to break the Gaes on my end. By forcing whatever Leon says into my mind I might be able to avoid the Gaes trying to make me forget."

Rikildis and Grainne remain dumbfounded for a while, despite your "Professor von Kiep" remark earlier. Though to be fair you have no idea of Rikildis would actually take offence to it. She might even enjoy being called that, all things considered. In either case after what feels like a long time finally, slowly, Rikildis finds her words again and asks, "[PC FIRST NAME]...do you really think that could work? Obviously I don't know exactly what you're studying, I tried to find out but could never get a straight answer, so...can you do this? Can you really bypass Leon's Gaes with it?"

"The theory works out, as far as I understand things. The question is if I'm good enough to pull it of, and whether the Gaes was set up to prevent someone from trying this. I don't suppose you know if a Gaes can be designed to close this sort of loophole? Because if so that'd be useful to know."

Rikildis, unsurprisingly, shrugs. "I've got no idea. No textbook that I'm going to find in the Venalicium is going to tell me whether it's possible, and even if it is I wouldn't dare to guess whether Professor Piaxenza was that thorough with his casting. I...I hate to admit it-love it at the same time, of course, but nevertheless I hate to admit it...but I guess you were right. Maybe we - well, you, at least - can break the Gaes after all. Go for it! It'd be a great help if it works, so I'd say it's worth a shot."

Easy for Rikildis to say, she's not putting her mental sanity on the line here. That said you also think it's worth trying. Figuring out whether it's possible, at least. You'd like to do some more research first, maybe perform an experiment or two with a "lesser" Gaes, get a feel for how it works. But of course that'll take time and effort to do. Of course so will shadowing Leon or researching Gaese more closely, so that honestly works out.

--You figure that it's possible, but reasonable? No, not as far as you know. From what you can tell Leon is mentally unstable at best, and as much as that might not be his fault it nevertheless means that you put you at serious risk if you ever try to link your mind with his. You're sure it's possible to bypass the Gaes this way, but it's just not something that you can do. Not safely, not until you've got a lot more experience under your belt with this magic.

...What other option is there, though? Negation is going to be no less easy to pull off, and what other means of bypassing Leon's Gaes even is there...

-Coordination. Speaking of emptying Lake Ardica with a leaky bucket, actually...
--This is, without question, the most idiotic idea you have ever had since attending the Academagia. If it works, though...if it works. "Speaking of Lake Ardica, I think I know our ticket to breaking that Gaes."

Grainne looks confused, Rikildis frowns deeply. "I just said that it's beyond our means to break it, [PC FIRST NAME]! And...what does Lake Ardica have to do with it?"

"You remember the case of the dropped wedding ring that turned out to be an artefact infused with Proscribed Negation magic, right? From last month?"

"Of course I..." is all Rikildis manages to say before she falls silent. Grainne would too, if she had anything to say earlier.

"Exactly. We coordinate with Leon to track down where that ring is being kept - it must be stored at the Academagia somewhere all things considered - and temporarily take possession of it it, to give it to Leon long enough for the ring's magical void to disrupt, break or even destroy the Gaes. We get whatever information we want out of him, and after that we just return the ring and go about our merry way. It projects a literal void of magic. No spell, no matter how complex or well cast, can stand up to something that causes magic itself to disintegrate within it's presence, and if we don't get caught we'll leave no evidence behind either. Astrology spells can't be cast on the ring any more than any other spell, it disrupts those as well. So...we win."

Both Grainne and Rikildis are dumbfounded at this suggestion. Though you can't tell whether they are in a good way or a bad way. "[PC FIRST NAME]..." Rikildis starts, tries to start, but she trails off before she gets any further.

"There is no way that ring is going to be kept anywhere that we can access," Grainne notes, probably fills in for Rikildis. "Unless the faculty here has the collective intelligence of a brick there's just no way. Isn't that whole situation under some kind of super secret super important special investigation? They'd never let students get anywhere near that ring!"

"Oh, I wouldn't be too sure of that," you say. Both Grainne and Rikildis look at you sceptically, though you're feeling confident. "Recall that the ring isn't actually important to that investigation. It's looking into the hows and whys, and all that ring will tell them is the end result. Also, the biggest part about that investigation's secrecy is just that - secrecy. Most people don't know about the ring in the first place, it was kept quiet. I do because I was directly involved with it and I imagine you heard about it from Sigalis, but beyond that very few students know about the ring, specifically. The tunnel, sure, but not the ring. And I don't know if Leon is so desperate that he'd try to freeze off his Gaes with the weather and temperatures we've been having lately anyway." Grainne and Rikildis share a worried, uncomfortable look, but you remain confident. "Just let me investigate the possibility, at least. If it's beyond our means, oh well. Scratch that plan, we'll move on. If it isn't than I say we give it a shot. We stand to gain too much from allowing Leon to just spill the beans to us, all of them. It's worth it, even if it is a risk."

"I'll...not mind you looking into the possibility, [PC FIRST NAME]," Rikildis hesitantly admits. "But if you want my help, well...you've got a lot of convincing to do. Not saying it's impossible, but...it's going to take some effort. For me to be party to a plot like this." Grainne nods at what Rikildis says, feeling the same way.

Good enough, though. You can manage to convince them if the plan is viable, you're sure of that. The real problem is figuring out whether the plan is, indeed, viable. That'll take time, doing that groundwork, but so will shadowing Leon and looking more into Gaese, so, you know, whatever. You've got your task, time to get to it.

--It's the perfect idea, using the magical void left behind by Laroche to break the Gaes on Leon. Nothing that Professor Piaxenza even could have done, which he had absolutely no reason to even do way back when he cast this Gaes on Leon in the first place, is going to protect that Gaes from the magic void. Even if there's a way to protect spells from magical voids normally, and there probably is, that particular void doesn't care. Based on what you've been told it's so far beyond everything that everyone thought possible that it basically is to existing spells what magic is to a hammer and chisel - on such a completely different level it's not funny. You're sure that between Leon, Hugo and Bruno at least one of them attended Athletics at some point, so at least one of them should know how to swim, too.

The problem is that the tunnel is simply not accessible. The river entrance is currently under very careful and constant watch by the Minetan Guard, including more than enough magical support despite the fact that the guards seem to be in constant short supply of that. You could theoretically use the labyrinth if you entered it from the hideout, you don't think that side is protected that well since the guards already looted everything out of it that wasn't nailed to the stone cave floor, and given the fact that they did suggests that they ultimately did manage to either find (or more likely create) a surface entrance that, in theory, you could find and access. So, in theory, that's an option. But unless you actually find a distant surface entrance to that hideout this time - to enter the labyrinth from the hideout, just take a minute to let that level of absurdity sink in - you're not getting to it. Not that you suspect that Leon is desperate enough to take repeated dives into freezing cold water to slowly degrade his Gaes, anyway. The weather has taken a turn for the cold ever since you and Vettor swam through the tunnel, and the hideout side is going to be no warmer than the side that can at least catch a vague glimpse of the sun either. In theory you could wait until the summer rolls around, maybe the guards will decide to leave the place alone by that point, but you suspect that the magical void itself will have degraded into nothingness by that point anyway. Or have been broken to pieces by the Academagia faculty, if it really needs that little maintenance.

To be perfectly honest you'd sooner put your head on a chopping block and drop this cursed brain of yours off the edge of the island than look for a surface entrance to that hideout anyway. You risked your damn life swimming through that underwater death labyrinth, you are not going to look for a surface entrance now, of all times. Not now, not any time in the future, not ever. So regardless you're either going to need to think of another plan or think of another magical void to abuse, because that tunnel is not going to be your solution up until, maybe even including the point where your life depends on it.

This is intended to be a Y1 Bat Bond adventure situation where you've got only one actual stage, but what actual option is available depends on what plan of action you've chosen in this stage. It's a possible stumbling block, for reasons you'll see in the next stage, but since worst case you've got magic to bail you out in this situation I don't think it'll be too big of a problem.

Edited by Metis

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Dawn of a New Day, stage 7:

Spoiler

Today you end up taking a side trip to Rikildis' editorial room to check in with her and Grainne. Not that you're finished with your plan yet, but the groundwork has been done and you want to check in with them and see if anything has happened or changed in the meantime. Anything that might cause you to change your plans at all. Whether Grainne discovered something significant about Leon or his friends, and Rikildis about the Gaes they're under.

Grainne and Rikildis are both in the editorial room already, discussing strategies over Rikildis' borrowed instructional book on Gaese. Without saying a word you sit down by them, and they nod at you as you do. "How's the plan going along?" Rikildis quickly asks.

"It's going, but still more I need to figure out to make it work. Did either of you discover anything new in the meantime, anything that'd help or hinder my idea at all?"

Rikildis and Grainne share an uncomfortable look. This can only end poorly. "Well, I've shadowed Leon and his friends," Grainne starts, "and I discovered two things of note. One, despite the fact that Leon punched Sigalis into the infirmary he's apparently afraid of getting expelled." You raise an eyebrow at that, and Grainne shrugs in response. "Yeah, that took me by surprise too. I guess whatever special treatment they're getting has it's limits, and Leon is aware that continuing to try the faculty's patience might get that revoked. Of course he's still an out of control half breed with a violent streak, so take a guess as to how well that works out for him." You're going to go with a complete left field guess here and go with "not well". That said, you ask Grainne if she's managed to confirm whether Leon's a hybrid student, and if so, what type he is. Grainne shakes her head. "No, I didn't manage to confirm anything on that front I'm afraid, all I got are more questions. You were right that Leon didn't care about Rikildis' articles last year, and that this year he cared enough to approach you about it...but I've got no idea why."

"Well, either he discovered that he's a hybrid student since last year - which does happen for the record, a heritage like that isn't necessarily obvious - or a close enough friend of his did. Thing is I don't think it's either one of his Clique mates, since in that case why did Leon approach me instead of either of them? Leon's pretty much the leader of that group, sure, but I can't imagine that either of his friends wouldn't ask, and be allowed, to take the initiative if a matter was personal like that. I definitely don't think that any of them are cripplingly shy, or something."

"They're definitely not," Grainne confirms. You thought as much. "As for Leon's circle of friends, as far as I can figure out you've already met it. The entirety of it. Leon's been a bit of an outcast since his first year here, his Clique aside, and whatever happened has only made all three of them even more isolated. Hard to confide when you've got a Gaes cast on you, right?" Yeah, that would be difficult. No wonder those three are so uncontrollable. "Anyway, onto the second point I discovered: Leon and his friends have been making very frequent and, most importantly, consistent trips to Professor Piaxenza's office. Now of course the obvious explanation for that is 'detention', since you'd expect them to spend a while there after what happened to Sigalis, right?" You nod, that does make a great deal of sense. "Well, here's the odd thing I noticed: Based on what I could tell from their expressions to how they interact with each other, before and after their scheduled visits to the regent's office, they're looking forward to it. I wouldn't say they 'enjoy' them, but they definitely seem less...frustrated, less on edge afterwards than before. And that doesn't sound like they're sitting in detention, does it?"

Huh. No, no that does not. Very intriguing indeed. Rikildis, likewise, has an expression on her face that's a perfect blend of confused and intrigued. "Do you have any idea what they're doing in Professor Piaxenza's office?" Rikildis asks. Sadly Grainne shakes her head.

"I tried to take a peek by knocking on the professor's door and asking some questions about Glamour dream magic - and I genuinely did have some questions to ask, for the record, that wasn't just an excuse - but the professor walked out of his office and closed the door behind him to answer them. Whatever is going on between those four happens behind closed doors. And that makes me really curious..."

"Well, we know what Grainne will be doing," Rikildis notes. Grainne, of course, nods. "I guess that means it's my turn. So, as is so very often the case, I have good news...and I have bad news." You and Grainne both let out a pained groan. Of course. "The good news is that I've thought of a possible way to bypass the Gaes. I know, I haven't forgotten what I said, hear me out: We know that the Gaes can easily apply to whatever Leon, or either of his friends, write just as much as anything they say. So, currently, even if we get them to write down stuff and we try to look at it through a mirror or whatever, the Gaes will get us. But if any of them wrote something down before that Gaes was put in place, than we'd be able to read it just fine, right? We can't bypass the Gaes at all, while it's there, but if we get our hands on something that was written down before the Gaes was cast than it wouldn't be a problem, right?" One would assume so, yes. But you imagine that's where the bad news comes in. And indeed, a second later Rikildis confirms, "The bad news is that I did some more research, and it turns out that it is actually possible to have such a Gaes apply retroactively. It requires a great deal of Astrology to do, but...we already know who Leon's least favorite professor is. And who said professor's least favorite student is. So even if we did get our hands on Leon's old diary or whatever...we'd still be no further along than where we started. Most likely. I've no idea if any of them have ever kept anything like a diary in the first place, anyway."

Gods, what a pain. You'll admit that it was a good idea, but unfortunately it was also useless ultimately. "So I guess on the Gaes front it's either [PC FIRST NAME]'s plan or bust?" Grainne asks. Rikildis, reluctant as she is to admit it, nods.

Well, if that part of the plan is now riding on you than you should do your best not to disappoint. Speaking of which, the next step of your plan would be...

-Befriend. Convincing Lambert to help you.
--For you to be able to do anything to the Gaes with Negation you're going to need to know exactly what that Gaes is made up of. Trying to figure that out yourself, and without including Leon in it so that he doesn't get annoyed with you too early, would take forever and a year. Lambert Cobo, however, has been going nuts over the mystery that is Leon and his friends since basically Athonos, and even if he hasn't actually accomplished anything on that front you're sure that he has researched the Gaes in as much detail as probably anyone has done. Well, Leon and his friends themselves perhaps, but they don't study Negation or Dialectic as far as you're aware, at least that aspect of it. But Lambert, being a Durand student, does. He may not be the sharpest tool in Durand's shed, but it's literally part of his homework, he's surely motivated to study it and he's had plenty of time to work on it. So if anyone could (and would) help you...it's Lambert.

"I still don't think that Lambert is going to be able to tell you anything useful. Genuinely, I don't believe he could," Rikildis says. Needless to say that after Lambert's frequent teasing and taunting that he was getting close to something big and how he wasn't going to tell her Rikildis' opinion of the boy has dropped a bit. Not that she thought much of him to begin with, mind.

"One way to find out, unfortunately," you say. Rikildis actually seems to pity you a bit for having to talk to Lambert, even though you don't think it's going to be that hard. Hopefully it won't, anyway. You get up, head off to Durand College, and ask around about Lambert. Strangely enough you're directed to Professor Piaxenza's office, though thinking about it that does makes sense. Still, it took you by surprise. Nevertheless you head off to the regent's office and find Lambert "inconspicuously" leaning behind a statue in the hallway, pretending to read a book. It kinda works, but it also kind of doesn't. All the same you walk up to him, and tap him on the shoulder after he refuses to acknowledge you.

"What, [PC FIRST NAME]? Can't you tell that I'm trying to be sneaky here?" Lambert asks, lowering his book enough to glare at you.

"Lambert, I literally asked the people in the Durand Common Room about where to find you and they directed me here. Your idea of trying to hide out in the open is clever enough, but I'm afraid it just doesn't work."

Lambert lowers his books, looks around, and frowns at the lack of people around that are doing what he's pretending to do. Without which his "disguise" obviously doesn't work very well. "A-alright, I guess this 'reading a book' thing wasn't my best idea," Lambert hesitantly admits. "It's not like there's many places to actually hide in a hallway, though. Believe me, I tried." You nod, frankly not doubting that Lambert actually did try to hide in this hallway. Repeatedly, and in increasingly more unlikely ways. "Anyway, you said you were looking for me? What'd you need? I know I might not look like it, but I'm kinda busy here..." Lambert raises his book again and tries to look at Professor Piaxenza's office in an inconspicuous manner, but...it really just doesn't work.

Well, here goes nothing. "To make a long story short, I need your help. With breaking through Leon's Gaes."

The second half of that surprises Lambert so much he almost drops his book, though thankfully he manages to catch it on his knee. An impressive bit of fumbling around, sadly it won't help him not stand out. "Y-you know about that!?" Lambert asks, and you nod. "And you think you could possibly manage to do that? Professor Piaxenza created that Gaes himself, you know. I did everything I could think of to try and break it, everything. But I never even came close to damaging it, much less breaking it. Do you really think you can succeed where I failed so miserably?"

If that's true than that means that Lambert must have studied the Gaes thoroughly. Good. This plan is starting to come together. As for his question, you shrug and admit that you really don't know. "With your help, maybe. Maybe I can manage to do something. I know I won't be able to break the Gaes outright, but I might be able to crack it enough to ask Leon some important questions. That's the best I can hope for, but even so, I think it's worth a try." Lambert thinks about it, a lot, before he finally asks what you need his help with. "I need to know exactly how the Gaes is made up, cast...everything. You've studied it in great detail, no doubt. With that I might be able to devise a Negation specifically attuned to that Gaes, and with that I might be able to crack it. It's a long shot, I know, but it's a long shot that's worth a try."

"That's a bold and advanced plan, for a second year," Lambert says as he fishes a roll of parchment out of his knapsack and gives it to you. As you expected, it contains every detail about the Gaes that Lambert has managed to figure out. And credit where credit is due, however long it might have taken him, he's done a great job of it. "But what's magic for if not to accomplish the impossible, huh?" You'll admit, that is a nice way of putting it. "If you do manage to get anything out of Leon, tell me about it later. I'll one-up Rikildis at her cursed game one way or another, even if I have to rely on someone else to do it. Not like she doesn't get help herself from Grainne and Sigalis, anyway."

You can't help but feel sorry for this poor guy, because he has no clue and isn't going to find one any time soon. Sigalis isn't even on this case anymore, she's given up after what happened between her and Leon and she passed the torch onto Rikildis, Grainne and yourself. The faculty was getting on her case too much for her to really do anything anyway. In any case, you got what you needed. With this breakdown of Leon's Gaes you're as close to getting answers as you ever have been, so it's time to finalize this plan. And then put it into action...

--For you to be able to do anything to the Gaes with Negation you're going to need to know exactly what that Gaes is made up of. Trying to figure that out yourself, and without including Leon in it so that he doesn't get annoyed with you too early, would take forever and a year. Lambert Cobo, however, has been going nuts over the mystery that is Leon and his friends since basically Athonos, and even if he hasn't actually accomplished anything on that front you're sure that he has researched the Gaes in as much detail as probably anyone has done. Well, Leon and his friends themselves perhaps, but they don't study Negation or Dialectic as far as you're aware, at least that aspect of it. But Lambert, being a Durand student, does. He may not be the sharpest tool in Durand's shed, but it's literally part of his homework, he's surely motivated to study it and he's had plenty of time to work on it. So if anyone could (and would) help you...it's Lambert.

So your thought process was, anyway. In practice it turns out that Lambert is kind of...what's a polite way to phrase it...obsessed? Sure, obsessed with not just Leon's situation, but...something else to do with Rikildis, probably College Aranaz in general. Maybe Aymeri Couer got on Lambert's case recently? You're not sure. Point is that, according to the people in the Durand Common Room, because you have no idea where else to start looking for Lambert, he's kind of gone utterly nuts lately and you're not really feeling like trying to tip-toe around the subject of you working with Rikildis on this "project", so to speak, in order to convince him to maybe, possibly help you. You'd feel better about that if you had any other alternatives in mind, truth be told, but...Lambert just sounds like he's borderline unapproachable right now. And you don't feel any need to test that theory.

...You might have to, though. Who knows when, if ever, Lambert ever decides to chill for a bit? He hasn't since Athonos, apparently, so why would he start doing so tomorrow? Hmm...maybe you're going to need to put more effort into figuring out how to convince him. Or how to convince yourself to convince him, because the way things stand now...really not an inviting opportunity, even if it is your only one...

[PC !MASTER'S MARK]-Research. Doing some very pointed (and *careful*) research.
--You're not entirely sure how your "got nothing better to do research" ended up being "your plan", you're not a great fan of that change regardless of how it came about, but regardless you've put in plenty of effort already and you're not going to stop now. Not unless these two get too curious for their own good, which...you really should have not counted on, huh? Well, too late to change course now.

You tell Grainne and Rikildis that your "plan", if they wish to call it that, is still very much being worked on and you've got nothing worth reporting yet. But rather than dwell upon that fact you'd prefer to head straight into the Venalicium and get right back to it. The bad news is that Rikildis nods and says she'll come along, which is a problem because it means you can't dive into the Forbidden Archive at all - you can't risk Rikildis noticing you've gone missing and asking questions. On the bright side you did think of something useful you can do in the public section of the Venalicium - masking what it is that you're actually doing. Leon and his friends, thankfully, only transferred to Hedi this year rather than having attended it to begin with. If any of them actually knew Glamour all that well this plan might have fallen through basically as soon as you thought of it just because you wouldn't be able to hide the fact that you're not casting Glamours from them. As is, though...you'll be fine. You're sure that you'll be fine. They're not the brightest candles in the box, and you've got a good handle on where to find books on the relevant subjects and keep Rikildis off your back in the meantime, if the latter proves necessary.

Sometimes it's really useful to know the Venalicium like the back of your hand. Very helpful for being able to get useful information out of otherwise impossible situations like this, and as for the rest of the Mastery stuff you need to research...well, you've come this far already, you don't think it'll be any problem to go a bit further. You're just hoping that you don't mess up the final part, because if that goes sideways...well, you'll have a very interesting situation on your hands, that's for sure...

--You go to the Venalicium intending to dive into the Forbidden Archives, but despite spending multiple hours here you just never end up getting the chance. That's honestly fine, better safe than sorry, but you really don't like to sit around waiting for an opportunity to come along that just never does. It's not as if you could research anything Mastery related in the public area of the Venalicium, though, so...waiting for an opportunity it is.

As much as you hate to admit it.

[PC MASTER'S MARK]-Glamour. Giving this plan of yours an actual test.
--"Speaking of my plan, did you two manage to piece together a test subject for me?" you ask. Unfortunately Rikildis shakes her head.

"I did find an instructional tract with the barebones basics on how to create a Gaes like that, which I'll have you know wasn't easy, but it's at least fourth year material. Probably advanced fifth year material. Creating a Gaes is trivial, even a first year can manage that. But a Gaes that influences someone's mental state and muddles their memories when being told about a specific subject, especially in a manner as subtle as Leon's Gaes does it, is simply beyond us. We could manage something that's vaguely similar, but I think it'd be too different to be useful. That, and...I don't know if you'd be putting yourself into any danger, testing yourself against a, frankly, shoddily-made Gaes like that. Rest assured that it's not for a lack of trying but...I just don't understand it as well as you do, I've got no experience with it. So you're going to have to tell me if it's worth trying this."

"I think it's worth a try, and don't worry. I don't know everything about it myself but I doubt I'd be putting myself into any real danger. Do you have a copy of that instructional tract, still? I'd like to take a look at it." Rikildis nods and tosses it over at you. Quickly looking through it...this doesn't seem that advanced to you. You decide to give it a careful, thorough read, but no, you still don't what makes this fourth year material at minimum. It's definitely not early second year material either, but still. "Are you sure this is beyond both of you, Rikildis? Actually, Grainne, aren't you studying Glamour?" Rikildis and Grainne both nod, staring at you a bit curiously. "Can you really not pull this off at all? We can skip like half of these steps, you know. We don't need the entire thing."

"Wait, seriously?" Rikildis asks, and overcome with curiosity Grainne walks over and asks what parts she'd actually have to do. You point to the section that describes how to set up the Gaes itself, the section that creates the perception and memory muddling effect (to the extend that Grainne could manage it), and finally the section that covers how to create the specific trigger you need. You further point out the sections that cover how to add exceptions to the targets of the Gaes, how to set up a complicated hierarchy of covered subjects and individual pieces that can be exempt from the Gaes triggering, and finally the entire section that covers how to set up a Gaes to prevent writing as well as speech, and explain that for the test none of that is necessary. Neither is duration, obviously, if this spells lasts an hour that's fine. All you need is something that Rikildis can't talk about without triggering the muddling effect for some amount of time, beyond that you don't need anything else. It takes a minute to explain all that, but Grainne seems convinced that she can pull something functional like that off. "Hang on, what's this about using me as a test subject?" Rikildis asks as Grainne takes the instructional tract and starts to fiddle with her wand and see if she could actually manage to cast such a spell. "Also, that singular roll of parchment covers all of that? How?"

"It's a condensed summary that assumes the reader has the prior knowledge and training to fill in the gaps," you explain. "It's not second year material, not in it's entirety, but the parts that require skills and casting knowledge beyond what we've been taught already are parts we don't need to set up a functional experiment. And don't worry about finding a textbook, I know enough about Glamour to fill in the gaps myself."

"That's good, because these spells don't seem to work as is," Grainne adds. Rikildis, confused, asks Grainne if she can really set up a good test subject. Preferably not her. "I think so, if [PC FIRST NAME] can fill in these gaps for me. Oh, and sorry, but we're going to have to use you as our test subject. It makes setting up the Gaes easier, and as doable as this looks I feel like I'm going to need every edge that I can get, regardless."

"The better your Gaes the better the experiment, anyway," you note as you walk over to Grainne and start to help her with setting up the Gaes. Grainne would have an easier time setting one up on Rikildis than you would, though you think you could set one up yourself as well. Probably for the best that you don't use your own Gaes as a test subject anyway. That's a level of familiarity that you're not going to have with Leon's Gaes, so you'd rather not have it for the experiment either.

"Seriously, I'm going to have to be the punching bag?" Rikildis asks. You nod and point out that she should be happy to be your test subject, considering how curious she is about what you're studying. "Yeah, except that I'm not going to be the test subject for that part, only the punching bag. This is just going to be awkward for me, and not in an interesting way either." Be that as it may you and Grainne both conclude that Rikildis is definitely the best test subject (or punching bag, whichever term she prefers) to use, so the two of you get to work on setting up the experiment. Thankfully it doesn't take any effort to convince Rikildis that this is the best option, as far as you experimenting with bypassing a Gaes is concerned, and with your help Grainne is able to put into place a very rudimentary, but otherwise functional copy of the Gaes placed on Leon. Obviously not as strong as the regent's, but hopefully close enough to work for this experiment. It's only to test the theory for now, not to test whether you could pull it off in practice. "Alright, eh, I guess if you two are ready than...what am I supposed to do, exactly?" Rikildis asks, slightly perplexed. She's got no clue what to do in this situation at all, needless to say it's a bit new to her. You tell her that first she should try to tell you about whatever Grainne forbid her from talking about. Rikildis looks confused. "And what is that, exactly? Grainne, don't say, we don't want [PC FIRST NAME] to hear you."

"I know, I know," Grainne says with a tone which is about as innocent as a rampaging bear covered in metal spikes and fire. Much more subtle, but no less menacing beneath the innocent surface. "And don't worry, you know what I forbid you from talking about." Honestly you're not sure exactly you should make of Rikildis' death glare or Grainne's smug smirk, but either way you decide to get Rikildis' attention and ask if she could just begin. She does throw one more death glare Grainne's way, but after that she turns her attention to you.

"F-fine, fine. Fine! Always told myself I'd wear the other shoe better on my own foot, so here goes. Here's the truth: I hod a krousshe an djfurv sndj djgh sldn." You motion to Rikildis to stop and clutch your head. The Gaes worked, you couldn't catch that at all, but Grainne really skimped out on the subtlety! "A-are you alright, [PC FIRST NAME]?"

"Y-yes, I'm fine...just give me a minute. Grainne, couldn't you have set this up to be less...overpowering? I can't cast magic if I can't focus, and this is just...painful, honestly." Grainne shrugs and says she did the best she could. The effect shouldn't be as severe once you've gotten used to it anyway. Honestly you don't want to get used to this, but whatever is necessary you suppose. At least Leon's Gaes isn't going to be this over the top. Gods, you don't even want to imagine the amount of people he'd be giving a headache just by talking if it was. Worse, that would probably still not be enough to deter Lambert anyway! "Alright, so for the record I caught maybe two words of that, and one of them was 'I'. So let's see if-actually, how is this supposed to work if I can't hear the words correctly in the first place? Grainne, is that going to happen with Leon's Gaes as well?" Grainne shrugs and says that, as far as she knows, it shouldn't. It's just an unintended side-effect you're going to have to work through. Rikildis, for her part, confirms that as far as she can remember she did hear Leon perfectly fine, she just couldn't remember it. You nod and cast a quick spell to hopefully limit the intensity of Grainne's Gaes, since that aspect shouldn't be there in the first place anyway. "Alright, let's give this another try. Rikildis, repeat your line again."

"I'm going to have to say it like twenty times before we're done here, aren't I?" she asks, looking no less happy than she did initially when the only response she gets is you and Grainne nodding your heads. "Oh...fine! Anything to get to the bottom of Leon's story, I guess it's just my turn to offer up a sacrifice. Fine: A vos a kvousshe an djfurv sndj djgh sldn." Much better. Still a garbled mess, but manageable.

You spend the next hour and a half, to the point where Grainne actually recasts the Gaes to make sure it still functions properly, fiddling with your magic and trying different things to bypass the effect of the Gaes. You're able to make some measures of progress, it feels that way anyway, so you're confident that as far as proving the theory goes this experiment was a success. The practice, however...well, it needs some more work and practice, but you think you can at least try to pull it off. It might be a situation where you're going to need to talk with Leon multiple times to really get his story stuck in your mind, but if that's the worst of it you'll gladly take it. As for what Rikildis kept "trying" to admit to...well, unsurprisingly, after all of that time and effort you just can't resist. "Hey, Grainne, so what was Rikildis 'trying' to say anyway? You know, to...check how close I got." you say after Rikildis leaves you and Grainne behind to further study Gaese, in the hopes of finding something that'll allow Grainne to set up a better copy, while you help her practice.

"Tell you what - figure out what she was 'trying' to say, and I'll fill in the rest." Grainne answers with a knowing smirk.

Heh, you'll take that offer. And, surprisingly, after you spend a while thinking about it the answer seems to put itself together in your head - it's an odd feeling, but the effect is undeniable. "She had a crush on someone last year," you suddenly say. Grainne looks shocked and asks how you figured it out, which you explain as best you can (which is to say, not very). Nevertheless, you theorize that having a measure of personal knowledge of the Gaesed person must be helpful to figure the answer out, and Grainne, understanding, says she'll do her best shadowing Leon and getting more information for you to work it. Right now, more than ever, you've got hope that you'll be able to actually solve this case.

...And, of course, get some scandalous gossip! "So, who was it?"

"Wouldn't believe me if I told you. I don't know his name anyway," Grainne answers. You frown at that, but Grainne remains confident. "You remember the anti-hybrid students article debacle from last year, right?" You nod, it's come up before a few times now so it's actually pretty fresh in your memory. "One of those hybrids, a second-year at the time, well...let's just say that he wanted a have a few words with Rikildis, and while we both thought he was just going to be another loudmouth with a point to shove down our throats...heh, boy were we wrong. Not my type, personally, but Rikildis...she was a little red in the cheeks that day. Really smooth voice, that one. Soothing too, if he wanted to be. Rikildis could listen to him talk all day, that's how she stared at him anyway."

You try to think about who Grainne could be talking about, but the only people that come to mind who could fit the description of "year older hybrid student" is Leon and friends, so, eh, suffice to say that you run out of suspects very quickly. Pity you didn't pay more attention to the people who approached you after the anti-shapeshifting debacle, because that could have been some really interesting information to know...

--"Speaking of my plan, did you two manage to piece together a test subject for me?" you ask. Unfortunately Rikildis shakes her head.

"I did find an instructional tract with the barebones basics on how to create a Gaes like that, which I'll have you know wasn't easy, but it's at least fourth year material. Probably advanced fifth year material. Creating a Gaes is trivial, even a first year can manage that. But a Gaes that influences someone's mental state and muddles their memories when being told about a specific subject, especially in a manner as subtle as Leon's Gaes does it, is simply beyond us. We could manage something that's vaguely similar, but I think it'd be too different to be useful. That, and...I don't know if you'd be putting yourself into any danger, testing yourself against a frankly, shoddily-made Gaes like that. Rest assured that it's not for a lack of trying but...I just don't understand it as well as you do, I've got no experience with it. So you're going to have to tell me if it's worth trying this."

"I think it's worth a try, and don't worry. I don't know everything about it myself but I doubt I'd be putting myself into any real danger. Do you have a copy of that instructional tract, still? I'd like to take a look at it." Rikildis nods and tosses it over at you. Quickly looking through it...yeah, this looks pretty...eh, actually, not, reading through it more carefully this doesn't look that advanced so much as incomplete. You think, anyway? You're sure there should be more to creating a Gaes than this.

You point out your suspicions to Rikildis, but unfortunately she doesn't have any other parts or pieces of that tract, just what she gave you. So unfortunately you're going to have to find the rest of it before you're able to try out your theory, because you couldn't make anything happen with just this any more than Grainne could.

On the bright side what parts of the Gaes you actually need don't look that difficult or complex, really, so it seems like you should be just fine if only you could fill in the gaps. Of course you are going to need to fill in those gaps, so for now you spend your time researching Glamour spells in the Venalicium...

-Compete. Throwing out your entire plan so far out and starting over from scratch...
--Leon actually caring about his academic record, to the extend that it isn't written entirely in red already, is a major setback. You were counting on him and his friends to actually cooperate with you on this plan. Now you're going to have to engineer a situation where Leon not only picks up the ring that he has no business being anywhere near in the first place, but actually holds onto it for some amount of time! Long enough for the ring to break the Gaes on him. You need to get both the ring and Leon right where you want them, and than get him to behave in a very specific way that doesn't really fit him picking up the ring beforehand. That's going to be one hell of a puzzle to solve, but it's not one that doesn't have an answer, you don't think.

"Well, [PC FIRST NAME]?" Rikildis asks, looking at you with a mix of disapproval and, less visibly, concern. At you not being able to figure this out. "Can we pull this off, do you think? Can we use the ring to break Leon's Gaes? Without him noticing?"

"Breaking it isn't going to happen, no. The ring simply isn't strong enough to do that within any amount of time that Leon can hold onto it without getting expelled. Cracking it, however, possibly. There's no way to tell but to try." Both Grainne and Rikildis are obviously less than perfectly happy with the plan they've tentatively agreed to go with, but they're anxiously waiting for it at the same time. It's a bit of an odd sight, honestly. "Basically, the plan is a follows: One of us, probably me, will break into the storeroom where the ring is kept. It's not impossible to break into it, I know it isn't, and even if it isn't without tripping any alarms that's fine. We make sure that Leon is nearby, near enough to hear the alarm and react to it - we'll need to make sure that he will, but we can cause our own noise if we have to. Anyway, we 'steal' the ring from the storeroom, 'drop' it nearby, and make sure that Leon is the first one to find it...and pick it up. the Gaes breaks, we talk to him afterwards, and we win."

"He might not pick it up, though," Grainne notes. "What if he assumes that picking it up makes him look like the burglar? He might be scared of that, and surely the faculty would consider him a suspect-hell, Leon actually has a very solid motive for trying to steal that ring, even! It's something he can use to break his Gaes, after all."

"True, but thankfully Leon shouldn't know about the ring at all. Hopefully that'll keep the professors off his back," you note. "That said, good point on making him look like a suspect, we definitely can't have that. So, new plan: We create a scenario where he 'sees' the burglar, truthfully one of us underneath a Glamour, trying to grab the ring after we 'drop' it. We turn around, maybe even hastily try to reach for the ring, but when Leon swings at us we turn tail and flee, leaving the ring behind for him to 'protect' rather than give chase, since that'd mean leaving it behind. Does that sound better?"

"Two-no, three problems with that idea, [PC FIRST NAME]," Rikildis says with a sigh. This can only end well. "First, how are we supposed to maintain the Glamour if we pick up the ring? It'll destroy our spells just as readily as Leon's Gaes. Second, how do we know for sure that Leon won't give chase anyway, or use some kind of spell to lock us in place? He seems to favor using his fists more than an Academagia student should, but that doesn't mean he definitely wouldn't use his wand if we keep any sort of distance from him. And we have to, because he'd murder us otherwise. Third, how do we get to Leon and talk to him before Professor Piaxenza is called in to inspect and, if needed, repair the Gaes? Grainne is right, Leon does have a motive to try and steal the ring himself, surely the faculty wouldn't miss that fact. Even if there is a 'burglar' for Leon to chase off and witness, I doubt the faculty wouldn't investigate him as a suspect, anyway. Especially if Professor Badcrumble can't use Astrology to determine the guilty party, and all she's left with is her literal least favorite student, and his motive, and his word..."

Yikes...okay, so this is going to be hard. One way or another you'll get it done, though! "Alright...that's quite a list, but let's tackle them one problem at a time. First, we forgo the Glamour entirely and instead hide our identities the old-fashioned way, with masks and, if necessary, a costume. No magic, nothing fancy, just something so that Leon won't recognize us. Admittedly I'm not sure which of us three he'd recognize the most, you two have a reputation but I talked to him that one time, so...I've not decided on that yet. Second, how we make sure that Leon behaves the way we want him to, again, use the masks. He'll likely recognize the whole 'masked person pulling a raid to steal something from a secure location' thing, we can use that to our advantage. We'll have to figure him out a bit better, of course, but I'm sure Grainne can cover that aspect." Indeed, Grainne confidently nods. Excellent. "Third, to address the problem of Leon appearing as a suspect, we simply pick it up and run with it until we reach somewhere useful with it. We're not going to avoid making him look suspicious, that's just utterly impossible, so let's use that guaranteed suspicion to our advantage instead - if we make it look like we tried frame Leon, which is again where the masks come into play, the faculty will no doubt figure that out and let him go. He would be one of the biggest suspects if someone steals the ring, but that makes him the perfect scapegoat as well. And I'm sure we can dress him up as such. As for Professor Piaxenza, I'm afraid I don't have an answer to that problem. We'll just have to distract him beforehand and get him somewhere far away from the Academagia, to give us time to get to Leon and ask him questions. Hopefully if Professor Piaxenza isn't directly involved whoever else handles this mess will forget about Leon's Gaes, at least until later, and give us the chance to ask him questions before it's fixed."

"Okay, so to summarise: One of us distracts Professor Piaxenza - I think that should be Grainne, since she has a bit of dialogue going with the regent already about Glamour dream magic - while two of us don a mask and raid the storeroom, after making sure that Leon is in position. We either intentionally trip an alarm or cause some noise ourselves, whichever, to lure Leon over and make sure he 'catches us in the act'. We drop the ring in our entirely genuine attempt to flee from him, either hope he doesn't catch us or somehow make sure he won't either bother or think to try-"

"I've got it!" you suddenly shout, scaring the daylights out of Rikildis in the process. "We use the ring to protect ourselves from whatever Leon tries to cast on us! It projects a magical void, so it'll break Leon's spell as well! So, after he realized that magic doesn't work, and we stupidly give him some time to act because of course we'd be overconfident and haughty about having stolen the ring and demonstrated the power that it holds, the boy will drop his wand and rush up to punch us. Then we drop the ring and flee, because of course we wouldn't expect that and fumble the ring in the process, and because Leon saw what the ring does he'll pick it up before giving chase! It's the perfect plan! He can even claim that he was making sure we weren't going to steal the ring after dropping it, hell we can make a grab for it if we really need to give him that excuse. Either way if he's got a single bit of Queen Hedi in him he'll be in the clear."

"First off, I think Leon having any subtlety in him is a generous guess as best. Second, can that ring protect two people?" Rikildis asks. You, sadly, shake your head, since you doubt that it can. "Are you sure that ring can protect one person, actually? How strong is that anti-magic field exactly?" You recall that Ana couldn't manage to cast a spell on it at all, and later Professor Badcrumble couldn't either. Leon is definitely not going to know what to expect and he couldn't prepare for it even if he did, so you've no doubt that his spell will be stopped as well. So, yes, it will protect one person. Chances are that's why Laroche enchanted it that way in the first place. "Alright, but that means that only one of us is going to be doing the breaking an entering. And I'm nowhere near athletic enough to pull that off."

"I don't think I'd be either, and I'm already distracting Professor Piaxenza anyway," Grainne adds. That's fine, though, you can be the "thief".

"Alright. Than Rikildis, I guess your task will be to keep an eye on Leon. Make sure he goes the right direction, without getting seen preferably-oh, as well as helping me with a disguise, actually. A mask alone isn't going to cause Leon to not recognize me, I don't think, and if he recognizes me I'm dead in the water. For real this time."

"Don't worry, the two of us can manage that," Rikildis confidently assures you. Grainne nods, as well. "So, Grainne distracts the regent, I lure Leon, and you manage that break in. Do we really want to trip the alarm intentionally, though? Wouldn't it be better to give Leon time to...[/i]ponder[/i] the ring, maybe give chase while holding it or something, and not making it harder on us - you, specifically - to get away? Because if faculty shows up too quickly you won't be able to hide, I'm pretty sure." True, that's a valid point. So you suggest that you try your best not to trip any actual alarms, and instead coordinate with Rikildis to exit the storeroom at just the right time. There's no way that Leon, of all students, is going to see that exact situation and not put two and two together. Rikildis readily agrees. "An attempt to frame, yes. I think I'll try to figure out exactly what mask Leon used during the estate raid and get you a copy of it. That'll definitely be enough to inform Leon what's up." Indeed, this plan is coming together...

"Actually, one more problem," Grainne points out. "How are we going to talk to Leon afterwards and not stand out like sore thumbs, especially if we actually manage to get anything out of him? Even if we get to him before Professor Piaxenza does, there's no way the faculty isn't going to suspect we were behind that 'theft'. And we'll probably get send straight to a Hall Session if we get caught, or worse..."

"You're right in that we'll definitely be suspicious, and I don't think there's any way to avoid that, but I think we'll be able to get away with it so long as Leon can't recognize us at all. All of us, preferably, not just me. If, say, Rikildis hears about the attempted theft very quickly, as one would expect from Rikildis, than from the fact that Leon picked up the ring we could reasonably guess that it might have damaged the Gaes and that we got a big chance to get information out of him, which we naturally took. Recall, we know about the ring's properties. Even if you two don't officially know about it I do, the Legate directly explained it to me and I easily could have told you. Also, remember that this isn't the first time that an item of Laroche was attempted to be stolen. We're not the only suspects, just, you know, some of the biggest ones out there."

"What braindead baboon of a professor would suspect the Thieves Guild if a fourteen year old breaks into a secured storeroom in the middle of the Academagia?" Rikildis, pointedly, asks.

"The same one that thinks we can't be send to detention for a breach of conduct the faculty can't prove we actually committed, I hope." you answer. It doesn't impress very much, but the gears in Rikildis' head slowly start to turn.

"I guess it's not as if the faculty shouldn't already be suspicious of us, given the fact that they should know Sigalis broke down and asked us to finish the job for her, and honestly we probably wouldn't be any less suspicious than if we, say, managed to Negate Leon's Gaes enough to get answers from him. In this case we at least have a level of plausible deniability, as much of a stretch as it is. If we Negated Leon's Gaes directly we wouldn't even have that."

"Exactly!" you tell Rikildis. She still doesn't look happy, but she does seem to nod to herself. And at the plan. "So, Grainne distracts Professor Piaxenza, I lure Leon, you put on a show for him with the ring, we make sure he picks it up - has the chance to, at least - and question him as soon as possible, before Professor Piaxenza has a chance to be informed about the matter and put together that his Gaes doesn't want to put a magical void ring on itself. No alarms, just us and Leon. Is that all correct?" You and Grainne both nod. Rikildis...let's out a sigh. "I wish I was more confident in this plan, but I suppose this is only the first planning stages, we've yet to finalize everything. Still, that shouldn't take too long. Grainne, [PC FIRST NAME], please, prepare yourself as best you can. To pull this off is going to take dedication and coordinated effort. Probably some luck and quick thinking, too. A lot of luck, I feel like."

Perhaps, or perhaps not. Either way, the plan to break Leon's Gaes is on!

--Leon actually caring about his academic record...that's just a kick in the teeth, honestly. How, how are you supposed to make this plan work if you're not able to get Leon to cooperate with you and keep the whole thing quiet!? Worse, how do you involve him in this without getting him expelled for it? Without him knowing anything about it? How?

Those are questions you just do not have any sort of answer to. Gods, this...this is a disaster! You're going to need to approach this situation differently, there's no plans to be made if you can't even imagine a scenario in which they could possibly take place to begin with...

I'd say "welcome to Words: The Stage", but it's only...around 8.2K words. Oh. Eh...so welcome to Words: The Stage. I hope you don't drown in words enjoy your stay.

Edited by Metis

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Dawn of a New Day, stage 8:

Spoiler

Today's another day that you spend taking a trip to the editorial office, and it's a big one. The pieces are in place, plans are ready to be put into action, and everyone is feeling a bit nervous. A lot of time and effort went into this, and it's going to have to go right if you all don't want to waste a bunch more time and effort. Or worse.

"So, before we proceed with [PC FIRST NAME]'s plan, did anyone have any new information to share?" Rikildis asks shortly after you arrive and gather together for one last strategy meeting. Grainne shakes her head, and Rikildis notes that she doesn't have anything new to add either. "Alright, I guess that means it's time. [PC FIRST NAME], any last words?"

"Aside from 'please don't make it sound like I'm about to die', one question I had - has Sigalis recovered yet? From, you know, Leon..."

Rikildis shakes her head. That's...worrisome. "She's fine insofar that she can talk again, but Professor Badcrumble is basically keeping her prisoner in detention until she believes that Sigalis finally learned her lesson about 'not sticking her nose into other people's business', of course referring to the professor's own. Sigalis won't be able to help us. Mind you, if we can't figure this out ourselves than we clearly can't help her either, so I'm fine with her taking some time off, so to speak." Fair enough, you suppose, but still. It'd really help if you could just ask her a few questions. Rikildis is adamant, though. "The last thing we want is for the faculty to clue in on the fact that Sigalis asked us to look into this matter on her behalf before we basically set whatever cover he had on fire, and one thing that Sigalis did tell me is that she doesn't know everything herself either. So that's up to us, regardless. And if we can't find the answers that she already knows we can't find the rest either. So we may as well proceed without her, at least for now."

Unfortunate, kinda annoying, but fair enough you suppose. You don't need Sigalis' help to pull off your plan right now anyway.

So...yeah, that's it. Plan time. You're ready, Rikildis is ready, Grainne is ready, and as far as you're aware Leon isn't stuck in detention or otherwise inaccessible. So...time to go.

-Negation. Crack the Gaes.
--You wish Grainne and Rikildis good luck with their respective projects, they wish you good luck in turn, and you head off to find Leon again. You'll admit, you're a bit nervous about this. You've spend a lot of effort into this Negation and it'll be a right feather in your cap if you manage to pull this off...albeit one the faculty won't be overly proud of, probably, but still. Even cracking something that a regent put in place, as a second year. That has to count for something.

As for finding Leon, it's not a hard task at all. You first check Heart's Hollow, the same place you found him before, and sure enough, Leon and his friends are both here. For better or worse Leon sees you coming before you get the chance to call out to him, and jumps down before giving you the chance. Both of his friends soon follow. "[PC FIRST NAME]! It's been too long! Lay it on me, what've you got for your favorite mess of a student today?" he asks, leaving you standing nervously on one foot as the other prepares to turn tail and flee. Thankfully Leon's friends silently make it clear that they'll stop Leon if they have to, though you're not sure if that should really makes you feel any better. Just the fact that that's deemed necessary in the first place is...problematic, you feel like.

"I...I'm here to break your Gaes," you nervously sputter out. "I know you're not going to believe me, but I need answers. And I'm willing to break through a regent's Gaes to get it. Try to, at least."

Both of Leon's friends react to that as they should - disbelief, with a side order of absolute dumbfoundedness. Leon, however, just shrugs. Up until your words actually sink in. Then he nearly loses his balance. "You can do that!?" Leon shouts, far more loudly than you'd like. Thankfully that didn't seem to draw any attention, there's no one else around right now, but you nevertheless motion to Leon to quiet down. His friends do likewise, and thankfully the three of you are enough to get Leon to take the hint. "I-I mean, seriously, you can do that!? Just how much Negation did you study, are you secretly Professor Briardi's child or something? You know that Professor Piaxenza...eh, actually, yes you do. You just said as much, didn't you? I did catch that right?" You nod and confirm that, yes, you know you're talking about Professor Piaxenza's Gaes. Apparently Leon can't even talk about that, at least not directly. Leon, after the minute he seems to usually need to to collect his thoughts and pick up his jaw when you're around, leans against the great tree and rests his head in his hand. "Are you freaking...like, okay, seriously - and I can't believe that I'm actually about to say this, because this should not be the weirdest thing I've seen by any stretch - are you Professor Briardi's secret child or not? Or apprentice, or friend-of-a-friend student or whatever else, just...is there something weird going on? Something I should know about, something I should be worried about?" You roll your eyes and, shaking your head the entire time, explain to Leon that he needn't be worried about anything, you're just going to cast some regular Negation spells on him like the child prodigy that you (hopefully) are, and that'll be that. There are no secret heritages or names of Dragons you're going to need to invoke or call upon, just a Negation.

Not that you wouldn't just stick Leon into a bathtub of magical void magic if you could, but it's Proscribed and you're not able to cast it anywhere near as well as Laroche, so...alas. Regular, albeit fairly complex and advanced, Negation is it.

"Well...a-alright?" Leon says, looking as confused and perplexed as he usually seems to whenever you're around. "I mean, go ahead, I'm not going to stop you. But I genuinely don't believe you'll manage to break it, either. Genuinely, I don't think so."

"Well, one way to find out," you answer. "It'll take some time, and attempts quite frankly, to cast this spell correctly and see a result, but I'm willing to try. And if, indeed, you're so confident that you don't see any need to try and stop me..."

"There is no way," Leon says underneath his breath. You'll show him, though. One way or another, you'll show him!

You do exactly as you said you would, carefully putting together and casting the spell you devised as best you can and just keeping on the pressure until the Gaes cracks enough for you to get any sort of answers out of Leon. You can tell because, annoyingly enough, Leon actually starts making small talk with his friends right in the middle of your work. But while they talk amongst themselves about what they'd want to tell you about the most if they could only tell you one thing, or how it's possible that a second year could do anything to a regent's Gaes, stuff like that, you finally manage to break through. Just a bit, but just enough, to get an answer out of Leon. "What was that about an egg, Leon?" you ask, trying not to sound smug. You immediately realize your mistake a second later, and brace yourself for Leon to accidentally rip you apart.

"Huh? Oh, the egg, eh...wait, didn't you already mention that before? How you got the cook's recipe and couldn't tell what kind of egg it was at all? Am I remembering that right?"

...You're safe! Thank every God out there, you're not going to die!

Anyway, you feel like this is as much as you'll be able to to. Simply put, this Gaes is just too much. You are able to wear it down, slowly but surely, but your casting wand feels like it's about to fall off and you feel like you're about to fall down yourself. That's a bundle of spellcasting you'd just as soon not repeat, if possible, especially since you don't have any sort of control over what part of the Gaes you end up breaking. It seems that Leon can now talk about this egg, at least a bit, but...getting more information this way is just not a practical solution. So much effort, no control, you feel like it'd be better to report back to Rikildis and see if there's anything that you can do with what information you've managed to shake loose. Because getting more is just a gamble you're not willing to take. The option is there, worst comes to worst, but...let's wait until that point before you even consider to bust it out again.

Time to take this information back to Rikildis and see what can be done with it. You really need to sit down for a bit...

--You wish Grainne and Rikildis good luck with their respective projects, they wish you good luck in turn, and you head off to find Leon again. You'll admit, you're a bit nervous about this. You've spend a lot of effort into this Negation and it'll be a right feather in your cap if you manage to pull this off...albeit one the faculty won't be overly proud of, probably, but still. Even cracking something that a regent put in place, as a second year. That has to count for something.

As for finding Leon, it's not a hard task at all. You first check Heart's Hollow, the same place you found him before, and sure enough, Leon and his friends are both here. For better or worse Leon sees you coming before you get the chance to call out to him, and jumps down before giving you the chance. Both of his friends soon follow. "[PC FIRST NAME]! It's been too long! Lay it on me, what've you got for your favorite mess of a student today?" he asks, leaving you standing nervously on one foot as the other prepares to turn tail and flee. Thankfully Leon's friends silently make it clear that they'll stop Leon if they have to, though you're not sure if that should really makes you feel any better. Just the fact that that's deemed necessary in the first place is...problematic, you feel like.

"I...I'm here to break your Gaes," you nervously sputter out. "I know you're not going to believe me, but I need answers. And I'm willing to break through a regent's Gaes to get it. Try to, at least."

Both of Leon's friends react to that as they should - disbelief, with a side order of absolute dumbfoundedness. Leon, however, just shrugs. Up until your words actually sink in. Then he nearly loses his balance. "You can do that!?" Leon shouts, far more loudly than you'd like. Thankfully that didn't seem to draw any attention, there's no one else around right now, but you nevertheless motion to Leon to quiet down. His friends do likewise, and thankfully the three of you are enough to get Leon to take the hint. "I-I mean, seriously, you can do that!? Just how much Negation did you study, are you secretly Professor Briardi's child or something? You know that Professor Piaxenza...eh, actually, yes you do. You just said as much, didn't you? I did catch that right?" You nod and confirm that, yes, you know you're talking about Professor Piaxenza's Gaes. Apparently Leon can't even talk about that, at least not directly. Leon, after the minute he seems to usually need to to collect his thoughts and pick up his jaw when you're around, leans against the great tree and rests his head in his hand. "Are you freaking...like, okay, seriously - and I can't believe that I'm actually about to say this, because this should not be the weirdest thing I've seen by any stretch - are you Professor Briardi's secret child or not? Or apprentice, or friend-of-a-friend student or whatever else, just...is there something weird going on? Something I should know about, something I should be worried about?" You roll your eyes and, shaking your head the entire time, explain to Leon that he needn't be worried about anything, you're just going to cast some regular Negation spells on him like the child prodigy that you (hopefully) are, and that'll be that. There are no secret heritages or names of Dragons you're going to need to invoke or call upon, just a Negation.

Not that you wouldn't just stick Leon into a bathtub of magical void magic if you could, but it's Proscribed and you're not able to cast it anywhere near as well as Laroche, so...alas. Regular, albeit fairly complex and advanced, Negation is it.

"Well...a-alright?" Leon says, looking as confused and perplexed as he usually seems to whenever you're around. "I mean, go ahead, I'm not going to stop you. But I genuinely don't believe you'll manage to break it, either. Genuinely, I don't think so."

"Well, one way to find out," you answer. "It'll take some time, and attempts quite frankly, to cast this spell correctly and see a result, but I'm willing to try. And if, indeed, you're so confident that you don't see any need to try and stop me..."

"There is no way," Leon says underneath his breath. You'll show him, though. One way or another, you'll show him!

So you hope, anyway, but the reality turns out to be quite different. You're having trouble casting your spell perfectly, frankly it might also need more work, and in addition to that you're just not able to keep up the pressure enough even if the spell (and your casting thereof) were up to snuff. The regent's Gaes is just too much for you to break. Not impossible, you think, but at the moment? Too much.

Thankfully, you think, Leon just shrugs at your failure and says that what you lack in spellcasting you more than make up for in determination. Which you're sure he intended as a compliment, but you'll take that as a challenge. This spell of yours can work, you're sure it can, and one way or another you'll pull it off and knock Leon's socks off!

And, you know, answers. Those are also important. But this is now personal! So socks are on the list as well.

[PC !MASTER'S MARK]-Mastery. Bypass the Gaes, on your end.
--You nod to Grainne and Rikildis, and head off to do your thing while they continue to do theirs to the extend that they can. Rather obviously you're not bringing them along, that'd be mighty foolish, and hopefully they'll actually leave you alone. It's a question of whether their curiosity is going to beat their willingness to look the other way if you can bring them results, however you can manage that, but you're confident that you've done a good job to make them not expect success. Not give them a reason to think there's anything that they perhaps shouldn't witness. You just hope that Leon is going to feel the same way.

Speaking of Leon, you find him at Heart's Hollow again, same as before. Why these guys are hanging out here of all places is still one of the biggest mysteries to you, and yet hopefully it's not the one that you're going to solve today. For better or worse Leon sees you coming before you get close enough to shout up to him, and within the blink of an eye he jumps down. This is going to be more problematic than you had hoped. "[PC FIRST NAME]! It's been too long! Lay it on me, what've you got for your favorite mess of a student today?" he asks, leaving you standing nervously on one foot as the other prepares to turn tail and flee. Thankfully both of Leon's friends also jump down and silently make it clear that they'll stop Leon if they have to, less thankfully that also means more witnesses. They shouldn't recognize what you're about to do, you're not casting any spells on them for them to potentially realize that something's off, and they don't need to know that you've actually succeeded at the futile task you've put before you. You've had plenty of time to think this plan through, including your excuses, so you're well prepared on that front.

"N-nothing, nothing, I'm afraid," you say, hoping for dear like that Leon takes it well. He looks disappointed, but otherwise goes back to being his regular self. You'll take that as a victory. "I'm here because of...okay, I know this is going to sound a bit odd, but hear me out: It's not quite homework, but I'd like to test some spells against your Gaes for that reason regardless. I need one that's set up just like yours is and one that's set up well, so I'm afraid that hunting down a textbook on how to set one up myself won't work. I'd just create the Gaes equivalent of a scarecrow with a bucket and a broomstick. Just spells I'll be casting on myself, of course, you don't have to worry about anything weird happening to you." You feel like you managed to say that pretty convincingly. Of course you'd hope so after the amount of times you practised that particular spiel. Hopefully the improv isn't where you trip over your own tongue and live only to regret life.

Leon, for his part, looks at you curiously, but not overly so. Not stunned speechless, no jaw that dug a hole through the ground, just a raised eyebrow and a curious hand stroking his chin. "Ah...I guess I could? What kinda homework, or...what is this for, though?" Leon asks. The first question, and one you fully anticipated and prepared for.

"Myself," you confidently answer. "I'm trying to get better at casting spells to help me maintain my focus while studying, not get distracted by stuff and zone out and the like. Which is exactly what your Gaes does, and to a degree that at least doesn't feel unnatural at all, so it's basically ideal for me to try my spells against."

Leon, curious hand still stroking his chin, shrugs. Though there's a bit of a pained look on his face, too. "Right...well, if it'll help you study I suppose I should, it's not like it'll take much effort on my part anyway. Professor Piaxenza definitely doesn't have the time to help you right now either, so...sure, I'll give it a go. I just have to...well, talk about the stuff I can't talk about, right?"

You nod, as your mind mulls over the fact that Leon and Professor Badcrumble seem to get along like an undead cat and a rabid dog, but he's willing to go out of his way (albeit, slightly) if it could help Professor Piaxenza? Interesting information, you'll just keep that in the back of your mind for later, possibly. "Yes, exactly. You just try to tell me, say, why you raided the estate, and I'll see how well I can maintain my focus. There should be a measurable difference, if I got these spells correct."

Leon nods and, seemingly none the wiser, casually watches as you cast Mastery spells on yourself right in front of him, trying to get whatever it is that Leon says to stick in your memory. As you made sure to confirm, neither he or either of his friends have studied enough of Glamour to be able to recognize these Phemes as obviously not Glamour Phemes. And, slowly, the spells work. More and more the dreamlike state that you feel every time Leon talks seems to fade away, replaced by an unnatural focus, or force even, and what'll soon become a splitting headache. Eventually you're able to actually hear Leon's words, and after a while of casting magic, able to force those words to settle into your mind. The Gaes tries to muddle those words, get them to slip through your memories, but you're able to put a stop to that. Eventually, not a moment too soon, you're able to perfectly recall what Leon says. "We raided the estate to steal an egg". Those words, irreversibly settled into your mind. You're honestly sure that you'll be able to hear that phrase until the day you die.

Unfortunately you couldn't think of any reasonable excuse to get Leon to talk about something else, so that's the only bit of information you get. But, frankly you think like you wouldn't be able to get anything else to settle in your mind right now even if you tried anyway. You'll just take your spoils and run with it all the way to the editorial office, none any wiser as to what you just pulled. Leon and both of his friends don't even ask any more questions, though Leon still has a pained look on his face when you call it quits and when you leave he doesn't ask anything. Well, he does ask you to come back if you find out anything more, but he doesn't ask anything about what you just pulled. It's a shame you can't tell him, but that's just what it is.

Grainne and Rikildis, however, you're kinda going to have to. Of course you knew that going in, so you've prepared yourself for those two as best you could. No time like the present, either. You've got actual information, finally, and it still feels like it's well past time to use it. So, without doubt or regret, just a headache, you make your way back to the editorial room...

--You nod to Grainne and Rikildis, and head off to do your thing while they continue to do theirs to the extend that they can. Rather obviously you're not bringing them along, that'd be mighty foolish, and hopefully they'll actually leave you alone. It's a question of whether their curiosity is going to beat their willingness to look the other way if you can bring them results, however you can manage that, but you're confident that you've done a good job to make them not expect success. Not give them a reason to think there's anything that they perhaps shouldn't witness. You just hope that Leon is going to feel the same way.

Speaking of Leon, you find him at Heart's Hollow again, same as before. Why these guys are hanging out here of all places is still one of the biggest mysteries to you, and yet hopefully it's not the one that you're going to solve today. For better or worse Leon sees you coming before you get close enough to shout up to him, and within the blink of an eye he jumps down. This is going to be more problematic than you had hoped. "[PC FIRST NAME]! It's been too long! Lay it on me, what've you got for your favorite mess of a student today?" he asks, leaving you standing nervously on one foot as the other prepares to turn tail and flee. Thankfully both of Leon's friends also jump down and silently make it clear that they'll stop Leon if they have to, less thankfully that also means more witnesses. They shouldn't recognize what you're about to do, you're not casting any spells on them for them to potentially realize that something's off, and they don't need to know that you've actually succeeded at the futile task you've put before you. You've had plenty of time to think this plan through, including your excuses, so you're well prepared on that front.

"N-nothing, nothing, I'm afraid," you say, hoping for dear like that Leon takes it well. He looks disappointed, but otherwise goes back to being his regular self. You'll take that as a victory. "I'm here because of...okay, I know this is going to sound a bit odd, but hear me out: It's not quite homework, but I'd like to test some spells against your Gaes for that reason regardless. I need one that's set up just like yours is and one that's set up well, so I'm afraid that hunting down a textbook on how to set one up myself won't work. I'd just create the Gaes equivalent of a scarecrow with a bucket and a broomstick. Just spells I'll be casting on myself, of course, you don't have to worry about anything weird happening to you." You feel like you managed to say that pretty convincingly. Of course you'd hope so after the amount of times you practised that particular spiel. Hopefully the improv isn't where you trip over your own tongue and live only to regret life.

Leon, for his part, looks at you curiously, but not overly so. Not stunned speechless, no jaw that dug a hole through the ground, just a raised eyebrow and a curious hand stroking his chin. "Ah...I guess I could? What kinda homework, or...what is this for, though?" Leon asks. The first question, and one you fully anticipated and prepared for.

"Myself," you confidently answer. "I'm trying to get better at casting spells to help me maintain my focus while studying, not get distracted by stuff and zone out and the like. Which is exactly what your Gaes does, and to a degree that at least doesn't feel unnatural at all, so it's basically ideal for me to try my spells against."

Leon, curious hand still stroking his chin, shrugs. Though there's a bit of a pained look on his face, too. "Right...well, if it'll help you study I suppose I should, it's not like it'll take much effort on my part anyway. Professor Piaxenza definitely doesn't have the time to help you right now either, so...sure, I'll give it a go. I just have to...well, talk about the stuff I can't talk about, right?"

You nod, as your mind mulls over the fact that Leon and Professor Badcrumble seem to get along like an undead cat and a rabid dog, but he's willing to go out of his way (albeit, slightly) if it could help Professor Piaxenza? Interesting information, you'll just keep that in the back of your mind for later, possibly. "Yes, exactly. You just try to tell me, say, why you raided the estate, and I'll see how well I can maintain my focus. There should be a measurable difference, if I got these spells correct."

Leon nods and, seemingly none the wiser, casually watches as you cast Mastery spells on yourself right in front of you, trying to get whatever it is that Leon says to stick in your memory. As you made sure to confirm, neither he or either of his friends have studied enough of Glamour to be able to recognize these Phemes as obviously not Glamour Phemes.

Unfortunately you either overestimated yourself or underestimated what a regent's Gaes would be capable off, because despite trying again and again until you feel like your head is about to split open you're not able to get anything that Leon says to stick. Vague bits and pieces, familiar sounds you just quite can't reach, but...nothing useful. Nothing coherent. Nothing but a great, big headache...

"Hey, are you alright, [PC FIRST NAME]? You look like you're about to collapse." Leon asks once he notices your condition. That would be your cue to give up for now, you think.

"Y-yeah, I'm fine, don't worry. Just practised too hard, I guess. I'm not really used to casting these sort of spells, especially not this frequently within so short a time. Still, do you think you've got time to help me out again later, probably tomorrow at the earliest? It is good practice, and yes, this spell does need more fine-tuning, definitely learned that, and thankfully here rather than on an important test."

"Sure thing," Leon says with a shrug. "Just get some rest and, no offence, learn a bit about pacing yourself better. That's no less important for studying than spellcasting, you're not going to get anything done if you burn yourself out."

Something tells you that Leon is speaking from personal experience, but your head is is no condition to think right now. You'll try again later, and dammit, you're going to succeed next time!

[PC MASTER'S MARK]-Synchronicity. Bypass the Gaes, on your end.
--You wish Grainne and Rikildis good luck with their respective projects, they wish you good luck in turn, and you head off to find Leon again. You'll admit, you're nervous, but hopefully it'll work out. Also hopefully Leon isn't going to ask too many questions you can't answer. It'd no doubt be justice for him, having someone else be unable to speak their mind for once, but you don't enjoy it any more than Leon does.

As for finding Leon, it's not a hard task at all. You first check Heart's Hollow, the same place you found him before, and sure enough, Leon and his friends are both here. For better or worse Leon spots you approaching before you get the chance to call out to him, and he jumps down before giving you the chance. Both of his friends soon follow. "[PC FIRST NAME]! It's been too long! Lay it on me, what've you got for your favorite mess of a student today?" he asks, leaving you standing nervously on one foot as the other prepares to turn tail and flee. Thankfully Leon's friends silently make it clear that they'll stop Leon if they have to, though you're not sure if that really makes you feel better. Just the fact that that's deemed necessary in the first place is...troubling.

"I-I..." you nervously sputter out, afterwards letting out a tired sigh. "I know you're not going to believe me, but...I'm here because I need answers. And I'm willing to bypass your Gaes to get them."

Both of Leon's friends react to that as you expected them to - utter confusion. Leon, in contrast, casually shrugs. Until your words actually sink in, after which he looks...eh, "excited", let's put it that way. "You can do that!?" Leon shouts, far more loudly than you'd like. Thankfully that didn't seem to draw any attention, there's no one else around right now, but you nevertheless motion to Leon to quiet down. His friends do likewise, and thankfully the three of you are enough to get Leon to take the hint. "Seriously though, you can do that!? How? You know that Professor Piaxenza...eh, how to put this-you know that-"

"He's the one who put that Gaes in place, yes, I'm aware," you fill in for Leon. Apparently he can't even talk about the Gaes itself, at least not directly. "And even so, I can bypass it. D-don't ask me how, I can't answer that question, it's...it's a long story. But I need answers, and I'm willing to resort to...my methods, to get them."

Leon, after the seemingly standard minute he needs to to collect his thoughts and pick up his jaw, leans against the great tree and rests his head in his hand. "'Your' methods...forgive me if I suddenly sprout oversized shoes, but I just have to ask: What methods are those? Anything I should be worried about?" You shake your head and repeat that you can't say. You also explain that Leon needn't be worried about anything, you won't be casting any spells on him, only yourself. That's basically how you'll be able to bypass the regent's Gaes - on your end. Leon slowly nods, but the look on his face...it's one you've never seen on him before. A mixture of many things, few (if any) of them you've seen on his face before. You're putting him in a very awkward and conflicted situation, but sad to say you don't really have a choice. "Well, alright, if it's just going to involve you casting spells on yourself, what do I have to do? Just...talk, say stuff I can't talk about and you'll do the rest?"

"Basically, yes," you answer. "It'll probably take some time, it might take some attempts quite frankly, this isn't exactly what I've been taught to do, yet, but given enough time and effort I can manage. I've made sure of that already, tested it, and the theory works out. I just need time from you, nothing more."

"Well take however much you need," Leon says. You'd say it's comforting, and it is, but he sounds...tired, worn out. You need to get to the bottom of this, for his sake as much as Sigalis', it feels like.

And that's exactly what you're here to do. You do your best to build upon what you've learned from testing this magic on Rikildis, separate Leon's actual speech that your ears pick up from the Glamour that tries to invade your mind (or so it feels like when you're this aware of it, anyway) and keep it out. It takes multiple attempts, multiple goes to piece the snippets of words you get through into your mind together into words, and than a coherent sentence, but slowly, surely, you do manage. Unfortunately, despite querying Leon about multiple things you're just not able to get most of it to settle in your mind, the regent's Gaes is just too much for your inexperienced self to overcome. Fortunately, however, as happened before with Rikildis your mind is able to piece one of the answers together, based on context and prior knowledge you already had on the subject: it wasn't a collection of random chicken eggs that the cook was planning to use. It was one, singular, large egg. You're not able to get more information about that out of Leon, and rest assured that it's not for a lack of trying. But the number of eggs that the cook was intending to use, the number of them that were at that mansion that night, that you are able to confirm, beyond a shadow of doubt.

That's all you're able to get out of Leon, though. The rest is just...too muddled, too messed up, you're not going to be able to make heard or tails of it without some sort of hint or context. Hopefully that knowledge will come in useful later, but...not in it's own, unfortunately. As for Leon...you're not sure what to make of his reaction when you first mention "the egg" to him. He's so eager to get his story off his chest it's painful to look at, but you can't help him any more than this. Not yet, anyway.

Time to take this information back to Rikildis and see what can be done with it...

--You wish Grainne and Rikildis good luck with their respective projects, they wish you good luck in turn, and you head off to find Leon again. You'll admit, you're nervous, but hopefully it'll work out. Also hopefully Leon isn't going to ask too many questions you can't answer. It'd no doubt be justice for him, having someone else be unable to speak their mind for once, but you don't enjoy it any more than Leon does.

As for finding Leon, it's not a hard task at all. You first check Heart's Hollow, the same place you found him before, and sure enough, Leon and his friends are both here. For better or worse Leon spots you approaching before you get the chance to call out to him, and he jumps down before giving you the chance. Both of his friends soon follow. "[PC FIRST NAME]! It's been too long! Lay it on me, what've you got for your favorite mess of a student today?" he asks, leaving you standing nervously on one foot as the other prepares to turn tail and flee. Thankfully Leon's friends silently make it clear that they'll stop Leon if they have to, though you're not sure if that really makes you feel better. Just the fact that that's deemed necessary in the first place is...troubling.

"I-I..." you nervously sputter out, afterwards letting out a tired sigh. "I know you're not going to believe me, but...I'm here because I need answers. And I'm willing to bypass your Gaes to get them."

Both of Leon's friends react to that as you expected them to - utter confusion. Leon, in contrast, casually shrugs. Until your words actually sink in, after which he looks...eh, "excited", let's put it that way. "You can do that!?" Leon shouts, far more loudly than you'd like. Thankfully that didn't seem to draw any attention, there's no one else around right now, but you nevertheless motion to Leon to quiet down. His friends do likewise, and thankfully the three of you are enough to get Leon to take the hint. "Seriously though, you can do that!? How? You know that Professor Piaxenza...eh, how to put this-you know that-"

"He's the one who put that Gaes in place, yes, I'm aware," you fill in for Leon. Apparently he can't even talk about the Gaes itself, at least not directly. "And even so, I can bypass it. D-don't ask me how, I can't answer that question, it's...it's a long story. But I need answers, and I'm willing to resort to...my methods, to get them."

Leon, after the seemingly standard minute he needs to to collect his thoughts and pick up his jaw, leans against the great tree and rests his head in his hand. "'Your' methods...forgive me if I suddenly sprout oversized shoes, but I just have to ask: What methods are those? Anything I should be worried about?" You shake your head and repeat that you can't say. You also explain that Leon needn't be worried about anything, you won't be casting any spells on him, only yourself. That's basically how you'll be able to bypass the regent's Gaes - on your end. Leon slowly nods, but the look on his face...it's one you've never seen on him before. A mixture of many things, few (if any) of them you've seen on his face before. You're putting him in a very awkward and conflicted situation, but sad to say you don't really have a choice. "Well, alright, if it's just going to involve you casting spells on yourself, what do I have to do? Just...talk, say stuff I can't talk about and you'll do the rest?"

"Basically, yes," you answer. "It'll probably take some time, it might take some attempts quite frankly, this isn't exactly what I've been taught to do, yet, but given enough time and effort I can manage. I've made sure of that already, tested it, and the theory works out. I just need time from you, nothing more."

"Well take however much you need," Leon says. You'd say it's comforting, and it is, but he sounds...tired, worn out. You need to get to the bottom of this, for his sake as much as Sigalis', it feels like.

And that's exactly what you're here to do. You do your best to build upon what you've learned from testing this magic on Rikildis, separate Leon's actual speech that your ears pick up from the Glamour that tries to invade your mind (or so it feels like when you're this aware of it, anyway) and keep it out. The regent's Gaes, however, is a far cry from what Grainne set up for you to test the theory on, both in subtlety and how unbreakable it feels. The Glamour is everywhere, in your mind as well as your ears, trying to separate things seems impossible. And whatever muddled memories enter your mind, you can't grasp. Can't pick up. They're there, you can feel the Gaes take effect, you just can't do enough to stop it.

Eventually, right around the time where you feel like you're starting to develop what'll soon be a serious headache, you decide to call it quits. "So, did it work?" Leon asks, looking equal parts confused and desperate, though of course he tries not to show the latter too much.

"Eh, as well as I could have expected it to, really," you answer. Leon isn't happy with it, but again he tries to maintain a neutral expression. "The regent's Gaes is...better than I anticipated. I can get through it, well, I know it's possible to get through it, but this is going to take some practice. Like I said, I wasn't expecting this to work on the first attempt."

"Well, get some rest and get ready to try again. I've got time, don't you worry about that."

Yeah, you know he does. You'll break him out of this hell he's in, sooner or later you'll break him out...

-Plot. Get that ring into Leon's hands without dirtying them.
--You spend a few silent minutes applying your disguise, with the help of Rikildis and Grainne. The robe of a different colleges that Rikildis procured, a wig that Grainne got from the Dimmae, all the kind of stuff that a self-respecting Academagia student with just a rudimentary knowledge of Glamour wouldn't bother to touch anymore. But in this case it's necessary. Once again, here you are, applying a mundane solution to a problem that you've come to the Academagia to learn to never need again. Unsurprisingly the three of you do a pretty poor job of applying the disguise as a result, neither Grainne or Rikildis know much about that stuff and you can only do so much to disguise yourself no matter how many mirrors you check, but thankfully you don't need anyone to see it other than Leon. Everyone else you can just walk past under a Glamour that makes you look like yourself, and as for Leon the biggest point is the mask, so hopefully the low-budget nature of the rest of your disguise will be missed. And yes, the irony is not lost on you.

Once you're ready the three of you wordlessly get up and go your separate ways. Grainne to distract Professor Piaxenza, Rikildis to lure Leon to the right place, as well as to inform you as to when to break out of the storeroom you're about to break in, and of course, you to break into the storeroom and put on a little show for Leon. You, for your part, make your way to the specific storeroom where the ring is being kept - not too hard to find out, it's not regarded as anything special with the tunnel and Laroche's hideout in the hands of the guards, so it was handled exactly as it would have been, which made things easy for you - and get to work. A spell to detect any alarms and traps, another spell to silence them, unlock the door, sneak in, it's honestly old hat for you by now. You're just glad that the faculty doesn't much care about the ring anymore, because if they did this would not have been possible. Or at least, not this smoothly. You quickly, and slightly frantically as you've got no idea how much time you have, start looking for the ring. It's in here somewhere, probably not buried underneath or behind something, but you're not sure where it is. "Hurry up and wait", as soldiers tend to say if you remember correctly.

...Ah, there it is. You recognize the small box that Professor Badcrumble pulled out of her drawer and deposited the ring in all those...eh, weeks ago. It hasn't been that long, yet it feels like it has. It's not trapped, it's not locked, and opening it up...the ring is inside, just as you remember it. You try to see if it had any traps or magical markings cast on it, but you get halfway through your spell before remembering what it is that you're dealing with. What Phemes you traced break down and disintegrate before your eyes. Good. That means the ring still works. You didn't think that it had failed, but it's good to check.

Ring in hand there's nothing to do but head for the door and wait for Rikildis' signal. You know what to do, you're prepared, you're ready. It's just a matter of time.

And some amount of time later, you're not sure how much, you suddenly hear footsteps. Tap tap, the noise of a casual stroll. That must be the signal, that tapping must be Leon walking closer. Alright, time to go!

You're excited, ready to go and anxious, but of course you don't blow your way through the storeroom like someone just lit a fire underneath your behind. Like Leon no doubt blasted his way through the estate's front doors. No, you do exactly as a sneaky thief would and should, you quickly slide out of the storeroom and quickly turn around to lock the door behind you. Actually that last part would be a mistake in this situation. If you could rely on social stealth, than yes, casually turning around and locking the storeroom behind you first is the correct choice, but obviously you couldn't look like you belong in there if you tried, especially wearing a mask like you are, so you should have immediately checked the hallway for witnesses. Instead you only do so after locking the door, which gave Leon the chance to notice you...and your mask. When you turn around and "notice" him you genuinely look terrified for a moment. Because Leon has, indeed, put two and two together...and he looks furious.

"You're a dead man, thief!" Leon roars out as he rapidly, faster than you could normally counter, draws his wand and slashes out what looks like a Negative Alteration of Organic Matter. Anyone who's got an enemy that knows Revision learns to know and fear that spell, because it is a mean little monster that will hurt if it hits, especially because you've got no idea what a third year former Morvidus student could do to it to make it that much more potent. Thankfully this isn't a normal situation, and rather than draw your wand you simply hold out the ring in front of you, hoping like all hell that this is how it works.

It does. The spell flies right at you, flies by the ring, and not only flies right past you but collapses behind you in a sorry heap of broken Phemes and dreams. This thing is nice, if only you could actually keep it...but alas, you need Leon to grab it and you'd never be able to keep it anyway, so...tough luck.

Speaking of Leon, he looks perplexed at your work with the ring, which you follow up with a very smug grin right behind the mask. You know that Leon can see it anyway, though. Body language is a thing, and not only that, but Leon knows full well how it feels to be able to hide behind a "perfect" defence...and a mask. Of course being unable to cast magic doesn't stop Leon, as he knows full well. Out of nowhere the guy suddenly starts to sprint after you, and you were right to peg him as the athletic, though not booksmart kind because he picks up speed fast and frankly you're not sure if you even outrun him. That's fine, though, you're planning to drop the ring, and in the meantime you draw your wand in case you have to use Hrud’s Boots of Mud to slow Leon-you're carrying the ring. You can't cast magic right now.

Curse this damned thing and your constant forgetting! The drop-off point isn't until after Leon catches up to you, either, since you have to make it look like an accident, or necessity!

Genuinely panicking at your (in)ability to outrun Leon, if it comes to that, you turn tail and bolt as far as your legs can take you. Leon, however, is indeed faster and manages to catch up to you, but thankfully the boy isn't able to catch up to you and take you by surprise, you see him coming. You dodge his first punch easily, since you could see it coming from a mile away and there's plenty of room, but you don't really like that you're pretty much forced to engage him. You can't run into a professor even if you can outrun him, so...bad situation. Things are still...mostly going to plan, though. You intended to slow down Leon with Hrud’s Boots of Mud and fumble the ring while trying to cast a spell while running away, but obviously that plan is off the table. So improv it is.

You narrowly dodge Leon's second punch and the immediate follow-up, which could get you some distance on him, but that's useless. Instead you take advantage of Leon being in the middle of recovering from his punches and do the unthinkable, something that a desperate thief might (stupidly, admittedly) try to do - you rush forwards and tackle Leon, take full advantage of him throwing himself off balance. The boy is made of sterner stuff than you anticipated so he only stumbles back a step or two, but it's enough for you to "drop" the ring, turn around and start running, only to stop and quickly turn your head when you hear the ring clatter on the ground. You wait for a second, just taking a second to "consider" whether you can make a grab for it before Leon can, but he soon realizes what you're "thinking" and rushes forwards again, the absolute fool! Silently cursing Leon for his stupidity you make a run for the ring, you have no choice. You must try as that's what a thief would do in the face of Leon not securing it as he should have.

Very quickly, however, you get the surprise of your life a Leon nearly beats you at your own game. He also does the unthinkable himself. Rather than trying to block your path or punch you, as one would expect he actually fakes you out by readying a punch he wasn't going to throw, anticipate the direction you'll go to dodge, and rather than trying to punch you he actually dives to the floor and tries to knock you off your feet with a sweeping kick. You manage to dodge that because you just manage to see Leon dive and jump over his leg in time, but (thankfully!) that puts you in a poor position to try and grab the ring - Leon needs to recover from his dive, he's not getting off the ground too quickly, but because of the jump you couldn't slow down enough to make a running grab for the ring. If you spend time to pick it up you'll be right back where you were before, with Leon being able to outrun you, so you decide to instead take the lead in running away and leave the ring behind. Leon draws his wand and tries to send another spell after you, which he can do from the floor, but thankfully he's not able to hit you with it at the distance you put between the two of you.

Gods, that took effort but it worked. You gave Leon the impression that you were trying to frame him, so he shouldn't get into too much trouble with the faculty, and he definitely saw what the ring did. What it can do. He's going to report that, break his Gaes in the process, and that'll be that. Job done. You can get information, and...Gods you're feeling tired right now.

You know what, Rikildis and Grainne can go talk to Leon after this. You don't care if Leon likes you more, he sure won't if he figures out that you just pulled this stunt on him, and you need to sit down and catch your breath anyway. And not see Leon at all for a week or two. Preferably three. Rikildis and Grainne can fill you in later, you feel like you've done your part...

--You spend a few silent minutes applying your disguise, with the help of Rikildis and Grainne. The robe of a different colleges that Rikildis procured, a wig that Grainne got from the Dimmae, all the kind of stuff that a self-respecting Academagia student with just a rudimentary knowledge of Glamour wouldn't bother to touch anymore. But in this case it's necessary. Once again, here you are, applying a mundane solution to a problem that you've come to the Academagia to learn to never need again. Unsurprisingly the three of you do a pretty poor job of applying the disguise as a result, neither Grainne or Rikildis know much about that stuff and you can only do so much to disguise yourself no matter how many mirrors you check, but thankfully you don't need anyone to see it other than Leon. Everyone else you can just walk past under a Glamour that makes you look like yourself, and as for Leon the biggest point is the mask, so hopefully the low-budget nature of the rest of your disguise will be missed. And yes, the irony is not lost on you.

Once you're ready the three of you wordlessly get up and go your separate ways. Grainne to distract Professor Piaxenza, Rikildis to lure Leon to the right place, as well as to inform you as to when to break out of the storeroom you're about to break in, and of course, you to break into the storeroom and put on a little show for Leon. You, for your part, make your way to the specific storeroom where the ring is being kept - not too hard to find out, it's not regarded as anything special with the tunnel and Laroche's hideout in the hands of the guards, so it was handled exactly as it would have been, which made things easy for you - and prepare to get to work. Your ears pick up the sound of someone running through the hallways, closing in on you. You can't have anyone witness you-actually, that's Rikildis! Oh dear, what happened?

"I'm afraid this little plot is going to have to wait until later, we've got a problem," she says as soon as she's run up to you. Of course. You let out an annoyed sigh and ask what you overlooked. "Leon's friends," Rikildis answers. And actually, yes, you did completely forget to account for them! Curses! "Long story less long I couldn't separate Leon from his friends, so I decided to bail rather than lure all three of them your way. I assume that was the correct choice?"

"In what universe would I manage to not get killed by Leon and both his friends, after making them think that I'm trying to frame them from another grand larceny thing?" you say in answer to Rikildis' question. She seems to have gotten the hint, as well.

"Well, at least we can delay until later. Grainne's excuse can work multiple times, the regent's patience willing, but he's pretty patient when it comes to students that are genuinely interested in his field. We'll need to think of something to deal with Leon's friends, though. Get them send to detention, if nothing else."

Yeah, no, you don't want Rikildis to antagonize Leon because she might have to be the one to question him depending on how things go. Curses, so close and yet so far. At least Rikildis did the smart thing and bided her time rather than assume you could deal with three very angry and physically threatening older students at once. That's a suicide mission no matter how you slice it...

Pardon the rampant copy-pasting, but I have to cut the budget somewhere. There's only so many words I can type before my fingers fall off...

Edited by Metis

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Dawn of a New Day, stage 9:

Spoiler

Back in the editorial room the atmosphere is heavy and tense. You've succeeded and gotten actual answers straight from Leon's mouth, which is an accomplishment no matter how you slice it, but...it wasn't quite the victory you all were hoping for.

"So," Rikildis eventually begins after handing everyone a cup of hot chocolate milk. It does a lot to soothe your poor nerves. "In summary, we've learned that what Leon and his friends stole at the De Simones' estate was an egg. One singular egg. We don't know what kind of egg, but we can now say for sure that Malthezar's suggestion of the cook's recipe calling for some amount of regular chicken eggs is wrong. We've dealing with one, ridiculously large egg. Is that correct?" Grainne nods, and asks you exactly how large that egg was, according to the recipe, while you savor the taste - and warmth - of your chocolate milk.

"I, eh, I don't remember off the top of my head. But it had some kind of range to it that Malthezar couldn't figure anything out about. Smaller than the largest Alesfan bird, no clue about anything else as far as I remember."

"You know, I've heard that Malthezar raised a stink about the lack of Alesfan books in the Venalicium, and convinced the faculty to have some imported and translated," Grainne notes. You, too, vaguely remember something along those lines happening shortly after you closed the book on the estate raid case. Or so you thought at the time, anyway. "Maybe if we look through the Venalicium now we'd be able to find an answer?"

"Our answer isn't going to be in any book we can find in the Venalicium," Rikildis suddenly says. Both you and Grainne turn to look at her, confused and slightly worried. "Remember what Sigalis said Leon's 'enemy' was guilty of? Slavery. Importing and serving eggs from Alesfa to guests at a feast, even if you're buying the eggs off of the black market, even if it's from an exotic, maybe even endangered animal from Alesfa, isn't slavery. No matter how oversized the chicken, fish or reptile is that we're talking about, it isn't slavery. And neither Leon or Sigalis are fanatical enough animal lovers that they'd call it that anyway. Girars, maybe. But not either of them. As for where to go from here...I don't know. I just don't know. There's lines we can draw, but...unless a human can hatch from an egg I cannot figure out how this all fits together. And if one can than I have some very pointed questions to ask that cook who devised a recipe to cook the damn thing." You highly doubt that Pasquale was told anything beyond "it's a large egg", and what would a cook expect to find in an egg other than the obvious, a human arm? Obviously not. Hell, he demonstrably didn't if his recipe is any indication.

In any case, it seems the three of you have reached a bit of an impasse in your investigation. You've got enough information to grasp so much of the full picture by now, you feel like you do anyway, you're just missing the crucial pieces to actually connect all the dots properly. And you need to do that. Leon's enemy is, presumably, whoever hosted that feast at the De Simones' estate, the one who acquired and decided to try and serve the egg that Leon and friends raided the estate to steal. After that...well, they would have had nowhere to go, they failed miserably in trying to hide their identities, and so would have been forced to beg the Academagia's faculty to bail them out. Which they basically did, and they undoubtedly wouldn't have if Leon's accusation didn't hold any water. They no doubt took the egg from them then, too, though you don't know what happened to it afterwards. The real question, at this point, is why Sigalis is convinced that Leon's enemy is a slaver. Because all Leon did is steal the egg, you know that because he said as much himself. But unless the egg itself was the slave, which by any sane definition it can't be, than...

"Here's a question that's worth asking," Rikildis suddenly says. "Where did Leon learn about that egg in the first place? It was supposed to be a surprise, right? Didn't you say as much, [PC FIRST NAME]?" You genuinely don't remember if you did or not, but Rikildis is right as far as you recall, so you nod anyway. "Right. So where did Leon learn about it? I highly doubt he was not only invited to that feast, but let in on what was going to be served there, only for him to turn the tables on it and set the rest on fire. We know that neither Leon or either of his friends study Astrology, so that theory is out too. So: Where did Leon learn about the egg from? Either they were told about it, or they learned about it themselves, which would require an explanation anyway. So...which is it?"

Good question. You feel like it must have been...

-The cook, Pasquale Giordano.
--Pasquale was not told exactly what kind of egg he was expected to cook, his recipe confirmed as much, and that makes him the biggest suspect in terms of people who'd be rightfully suspicious as to the exact nature of it. A chef famous for having studied recipes all over the world would know a thing or two about what ingredients one can find in said world, after all. Whether Pasquale would care about it enough to send Leon after the egg to steal it, you're not sure, but you did meet him in a restaurant that offered a vegetarian menu, so you wouldn't rule out the possibility of the man having a soft spot for animals, even if he doesn't necessarily shy away from cooking meet. As for how he'd know about Leon, though...you've got no idea. Still, he's the most suspicious guy you can think of. He knew about the egg. There's very few people that that's true for, so...process of elimination leads you to him.

You run your idea by Grainne and Rikildis, but they of course look unconvinced at your suggestion. "I could honestly see the cook tipping Leon off about it...if what he needed was a distraction, to try and make off with something else," Rikildis notes. "The egg, however, no. He could have easily just used his actual skills, his cooking, to come up with something that would taste exotic without using the actual egg and than sneak out with it himself." You point out that sneaking out an egg this large would be difficult, but Rikildis shakes her head. "I don't know how much the De Simones know about his cooking methods, frankly I don't know anything about his cooking methods, but I'm sure he could have easily claimed that he needed a 'special pot' or something, like something he personally enchanted or whatever, big enough to smuggle the egg out in. Also, question, how did this cook know Leon at all? Why would he send him to pull off a commando raid, especially when he could accomplish the same goal much more quietly himself? And one more point actually - motive. Why would this cook do this in the first place, steal the egg and all? I don't see why he'd need to smuggle it out in the first place if his goal was to cook it, for instance."

From what you recall Pasquale was to, and to the extend that Leon allowed him, did, cook every part of that feast alone. No servants to help him...or see what he was doing, and you've got no idea if he could have made up an excuse like that. Honestly, he probably could have. If nothing else he wasn't given an exact recipe to work with, so if nothing else that could have provided an opening. You've no idea if anything else he was due to cook would have required a large enough pot in the first place, either. You're not sure how many guests there were that night, but if there were enough it's entirely plausible. As for how he knows Leon and all, obviously you've got no answer to that. Motive...well, it sounds pretty flimsy all things considered, that you did first meet Pasquale in a restaurant with a a vegetarian menu. It doesn't really matter anyway, to be perfectly honest. There's absolutely no way that Pasquale would have send Leon to steal the egg if he cared about anyone doing so, because he'd have done so himself if he cared that much.

Curses, you'll need to think this whole situation over again and come up with a different plan. If not Pasquale, though, than...who?

-Whoever gave Vettor (and others) his visions.
--Vettor was directed, in a way, by someone to go through the underwater death labyrinth tunnel. You, in turn, also received a vision, although the exact purpose of that one isn't as clear to you. And possibly Sigalis, in fact, as that might be how she got involved in this mess in the first place. Doesn't it follow, than, that the same could have happened to Leon? Of course you're talking directed, consistent visions here, so whoever is sending them must be targeting that specific person and that specific person alone. Not just anyone who happens to fits a given description, a specific person. So whoever is sending these visions must know all four of you, and most likely has something that belongs to each you, like a strand of hair or something. Ordinarily that would be difficult to tie together, but you, Leon, Sigalis and Vettor all share one obvious commonality that puts you all together in one specific place - you're all students attending the Academagia. If this mysterious vision sender is also a student, or a faculty member or what have you, they'd definitely have ample opportunity to pull this off.

You run your idea by Grainne and Rikildis, who slowly nod at your suggestion. "The fact that at least Vettor was directed by someone to do something specific through visions like that is absolutely undeniable. I'd comfortably bet my newspaper on that," Rikildis says with all the confidence you'd expect. "However, one thing - this estate raid happened during the summer, when none of us were staying at the Academagia. So unless the visions that Leon received were prepared ahead of time there's still the issue of accessibility, and also how this mysterious person knew Leon to begin with and why they send him, specifically. If whoever had access to Leon because they had access to the Academagia, that means that they had access to many people other than Leon as well. Also, this idea of sending such clear, consistent and...functional? I don't know the word, easy to remember visions sounds like our puppeteer is someone who knows about everything that's going on, someone who's intimately familiar with the details. Unless we want to find another possible informant that information would likely be from seeing it first-hand. That, combined with the implied mastery of Astrology despite being, possibly, a student, makes me believe that we're talking about one of the De Simones themselves."

"The only De Simone that's attending the Academagia, as a student or faculty member, is Rebecca," Grainne notes. Meaning that if your theory is correct than it basically must be her. "Could she really be our mysterious puppeteer, though?"

"Honestly, I have to assume that it's at least possible," you say, nodding your head. "She obviously knows about all the going-ons at the estate, she knows Astrology well enough, she's an Academagia student so she has reasonable access to Leon, Vettor, Sigalis and myself...it's even possible that she met Leon sometime during the last academic year, meaning that she already knew about him as soon as the summer started. Leon did spend his summer here, in Mineta, as did Rebecca, so there's no problem of access, only knowing him beforehand. The question is why she'd conspire with him to steal the egg, if she was going to conspire with anyone. Why not the cook? Why not another member of her family? Why send a firestarter like Leon? Unless she wanted to put her entire family at risk like that, to send a message or whatever, but, eh..."

"Good luck convincing anyone of that," Rikildis notes. And yeah, she's got you dead to rights there. "I don't know how much of an animal lover Rebecca might or might not be, truthfully she might be enough of one that she'd want to steal the egg right under her family's collective noses, but if she's that fanatical I have to assume that I'd have heard about it before. Girars' antics I've got a good grip on, I feel like, but he's tame compared to what you just suggested there."

"I didn't suggest anything, just thinking out loud," you insist. As much as you try to think about it, though, you cannot think of any possible explanation as to why Rebecca would send Leon to steal the egg, if that is what she wished to do. She must have had more reasonable options available to her, so there's no reason to believe that she'd send Leon unless she wanted to see terror and mayhem caused in her own home. And that is just not something you can assume reasonably. As for the possibility of the mysterious vision sender not being Rebecca...well, as Grainne said, she's the only De Simone that's attending the Academagia in any capacity. Although...no. This is just a dead end.

Curses, you'll need to think this whole situation over again and come up with a different plan. If not Rebecca, or whoever else could send people visions, though, than...who?

-Matilde Laroche, the noblewoman who "lost" her (Proscribed) wedding ring.
--If the cargo manifest of the De Simones' personal cargo ship is to be believed, than it did not transport the egg into Mineta. So the estate mistress must have gotten it from somewhere or someone else. Anything you've going to find on the open market is going to be something that has been checked and certified by local magistrates to be consistent with the "breed standard", an ancient series of standards for all forms of livestock that they are expected to adhere to if they are to be sold on the open market, so you can definitely rule that out. The De Simones might have a friend over in Alesfa who'd send them an egg, but why have it shipped through the postal service when you have a private cargo ship stopping by there anyway? So, to you, it sounds like the most likely place that this egg was bought from is the black market. Where it got the egg from, who knows, but you do know someone who previously demonstrated their ability to get something completely inexplicable from the black market already. And, based on the fact that Sigalis was on her case even before Professor Badcrumble had any idea about it, you have to assume that Laroche is related to Leon's case in some form. You don't know exactly how, but...inexplicable egg, someone related to the case with inexplicable black market connections...sounds like a winner, doesn't it?

You run your idea by Grainne and Rikildis, and they both look confused at your suggestion. "That definitely sounds like where the egg came from," Rikildis admits, "but why would this lady tell Leon about it? And why would Leon, in turn, stage his raid to steal it from the De Simones?"

"Well, first off I'd like to say that Laroche isn't a stranger to having minions do her bidding - Lucas, or whatever his name was, was doing her bidding spreading the flyers around Mineta, so it wouldn't be out of character for her to use Leon to do her dirty work." Rikildis nods and says you're right, but that doesn't answer the question of why she'd inform Leon about the egg that, presumably, she herself bought off the black market and gave to the De Simones. And that's because that is a question that...you don't really have an answer to. Did the De Simones steal the egg from her, and Laroche ordered Leon to get it back for her? Well, first off, why did they steal it? Second off...actually, Laroche would have send Leon because she got the egg off the black market in the first place, she probably couldn't just openly demand it back. Why send Leon, specifically, though? Why not Lucas? Why not anyone else? Why this kid and his two friends who were going to cause destruction and mayhem? Yes, it's probably not something that Laroche would have objected to, but it also would have drawn a great deal of attention - as it no doubt did. Laroche definitely wouldn't want that. And as for Leon, why would he be doing her bidding in the first place? Why go through all that effort to steal that egg, only to...do what? Have Laroche eat it herself? That sounds like such a scene just to determine who gets to eat this big egg. People can be petty, sure, but that's crossing the line into sheer stupidity. And Laroche may be many things, but stupid isn't one of them. Sure, she got caught in the end, but even Sigalis didn't know about the proscribed Negation magic her ring had. She stumbled across it just as much as you did.

"What if she didn't tell him directly, and Leon overheard?" Grainne suggests. Rikildis shakes her head, though.

"Setting aside the issue that I can't imagine that Laroche would speak openly about what she bought off the black market anywhere where Leon - or anyone, for that matter - could overhear her, that doesn't explain why Leon would than be basically let off for stealing the egg. If he stole it just because he wanted to eat it himself he'd have been expelled from the city of Mineta itself, not just the Academagia. He must have done the right thing, if in the wrong way, stealing that thing. At least as far as the faculty is concerned."

"If the egg was going to hatch if Leon stole it, would that get him let off?" you ask Rikildis. She shrugs.

"Depends on the egg. A chicken egg, no. Some very rare magical animal egg poached from the Imperial Reserve, possibly. But how would he know for sure that the egg was going to hatch? I don't think the faculty would have let him off if his answer to that was 'I just guessed', even if he turned out to be right." You think about it and realize that Rikildis is right - it'd be a serious crime to eat a fertile egg from a rare magical animal poached from the Reserve, but not to the point where you wouldn't really be punished for doing what Leon did. He did worse than just cause a ruckes, he set the place on fire, hurt people, he put honest-to-goodness nobility in potentially mortal danger. Important nobility, at that. That's not going to be excused easily, that takes something major to get away with. Guesswork won't cut it, but...how could Leon have known that the egg would hatch? And if Laroche got it from the black market in the first place, why didn't she try to hatch it, or eat it, or do whatever with it? Why'd she give it to the De Simones, or why did they steal it from her, and where did Leon get involved?

All in all it seems that this theory of yours is a bust. Laroche might have been the one who gave the egg to the De Simones in the first place, directly or indirectly, but she most certainly did not tell Leon about it afterwards. Not to steal it, not indirectly, not accidentally, nothing.

Curses, you'll need to think this whole situation over again and come up with a different plan. If not Laroche, though, than...who?

-Leon found out about it some other way.
--Try as you might you cannot, for the life of you, think of anyone who reasonably would (and could) have send Leon to steal the egg, either for themselves or for the egg's own sake. You just can't. So the only logical conclusion left is that Leon...didn't even know what he was getting himself into until the end of the estate raid? No, surely that can't be it. Surely Leon, and both his friends, wouldn't have randomly decided to raid an estate like that only to coincidentally stumble upon something that justified their actions retroactively. But than how'd he know about it in the first place? Gods, this is just impossible! Why does nothing about this case ever add up!?

Once again an awkward silence fills the room, but this time Rikildis isn't going to let it stay that way for long. "Okay, I think some of our information here must be wrong," she annoyedly suggests. "Someone must have told Leon about the egg, there's no way he just randomly found out about it and decided that it was worth staging a raid on a noble's estate for to steal, right? So who? Who are we not considering here? What piece of information are we missing?"

"I've got a few people to suggest," Grainne says while you sink into your own thoughts. "First, Professor Badcrumble. It sounds insane, I know, but consider this: She knows Astrology, she works at the Academagia, as a professor she knows about Leon through the antics she heard him get into, given that she, rather than anyone else, is apparently in charge of this 'ward' right now she must have some sort of possible motive, and if anyone in this city could divine where the egg was and everything it would undoubtedly be her. So is it possible that she is the mysterious vision sender, in this case, because Leon was insane enough to do what she couldn't - take that egg from the De Simones, even if it meant taking it by force?" You'll freely admit that Professor Badcrumble had you if that's the case, but you doubt it. You can't imagine why Professor Badcrumble would send Leon and his friends specifically when she, by that definition, had access to every other student and faculty member in the Academagia. At the very least why not send a group of seniors? Or a group of Aranaz students who could steal the egg quietly? Why not ask Catherine to try and impress upon the De Simones the seriousness of her request? Or, hell, Rebecca, one of Professor Badcrumble's favorites? Why Leon, when Professor Badcrumble must have known that sending him could only end violently? Rikildis likewise echoes much of these doubts, but of course Grainne isn't done yet. "Alright, than next up, Catherine Chard, or another member of her family. Catherine attends the Academagia, she could have easily scouted around for some disposable patsy and chosen Leon, if anyone could get in on the secret feast surprise it would be the Chards, if anyone has the means available to them to find and track down stuff like this egg it would be the Chards as well, I think, and based on the fact that after this whole estate raid was said and done Rebecca was 'send' to the Chards they clearly have a motive as well. So, could this have been a sneaky plot hatched - pardon the pun - by the Chards?"

Hmm...that idea is certifiably insane, but you suppose that insanity is basically the only possible option here. Still, madness. "What's all this stuff about Rebecca being 'send' to the Chards or what have you?" you ask Grainne, looking at her a bit like she's crazy.

"You didn't hear about it? I got a handle on it while investigating the whole Matthias situation. Basically, after that estate raid business Rebecca was suddenly send to live with the Chards, allegedly so that the Chards could help prepare her to eventually secure a seat in the Golden Council. But rumor has it that she wasn't send there as part of any sort of alliance, rather the De Simones were pressured to foster her to them in exchange for their silence on the estate raid matter. I don't know more than that, yet, but I have heard that the reason why Rebecca was accepted into the Academagia was because she, too, has some kind of strange fate like Matthias. And apparently - oh, and you didn't hear this from me, got it? - theirs are seemingly connected, in some form! That gives the Chards access to both parts of that bit of destiny, which is a big deal. So they definitely have a motive, I'd say." Because controlling a future member of the Golden Council isn't worth enough in it's own right, apparently, they must have weird Astrology stuff about them to be considered a worthwhile motive. Right, so Grainne's still a gossip, good to know that the generally gloomy mood and situation isn't weighing her down too much. As to her theory, though, you don't think it's a plot by the Chards to invent a scandal to grab Rebecca. Primarily because Leon performing his estate raid wouldn't actually do anything on that front, really, it's whatever the estate mistress tried to pull, so why would the Chards bother with Leon at all? If they wanted to pull one over the De Simones all they needed was the knowledge of the egg and someone to point it out, and if they send Leon they obviously already had that knowledge in the first place. "So, what's your theory, [PC FIRST NAME]?" Grainne asks, looking at you a bit annoyed. "You shoot down my theories and have been thinking so hard, what's your suggestion?"

Truthfully? That's a good question...

My only regret this stage is that I couldn't think of more options.

Edited by Metis

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Dawn of a New Day, stage 10:

Spoiler

"I think what Rikildis said earlier is right, some of our information must be wrong," you start. Rikildis of course nods, but Grainne is curious to know what information, exactly, is incorrect. "I don't know...honestly there's just no explaining Leon raiding the estate to steal that egg, no matter how we approach that situation it doesn't add up. There's no one who'd have send Leon to steal the egg, no one who'd have told him about it and left him to figure something out that'd get the faculty off his case afterwards, relatively speaking, so...I think the best assumption to make in terms of what information is wrong is that the estate raid is where this all started. If Leon did something before that, something that'd put him on the trail of the De Simones, than at least we have an explanation for why he'd raid the estate. It still leaves the question of why the egg mattered so much to him that he'd raid the place to get it, but at least it solves one issue."

Grainne seems to prepare herself to tear apart your little theory like her own were just shot down, up until Rikildis says something that you don't think you'll ever forget. "I believe [PC FIRST NAME]."

"W-wait, for real?" Grainne asks, confused, and Rikildis, with as serious an expression as you think you've ever seen on her (in a context other than revenge, vengeance, retribution, or some variation thereof), nods.

"So...you believe me?" you ask a bit meekly. You'll admit you had little faith in your own theory, but for Rikildis to believe it, well, that's something alright.

"To a point, yes," Rikildis confidently states. Of course, there's always that little sting at the end with Rikildis. "If this goes back to the last academic year, than no, I can't believe that we'd have completely missed it. That Leon would never have shown any trace of it, that the faculty never noticed it, or the De Simones, anything. But I also I can't believe that the estate raid, which goes far beyond any rivalry, far beyond any sort of personal feud, is where this all started. There are students who've been bitter rivals for years who'd never even think to do to their enemy what Leon did to the De Simones that night. And not just out of fear of punishment, but out of principle. And Leon wasn't punished that severely anyway, frankly he got off easy-still is getting off easy, even, if Sigalis is any indication. And if she wanted us to expose his enemy, as her revenge for Leon sending her flying to the ground...the estate raid can't be the only thing. Something must have gone on behind the scenes before that event, something that lead up to what Leon did, to that powder keg being set off and exploding. And if nothing and no one told him about it directly than he must have been informed of it indirectly. Beforehand. Something else must have happened."

"Such as what?" Grainne asks, leaving you wishing that you had more confidence in the only answer to have to offer. At least it's something, though.

"Assuming the egg isn't from Mineta itself, and given it's size it probably isn't, the only thing I can think of would be the Sky Gallery, the private cargo ship of the De Simones that entered port about three weeks before the estate raid. I don't know the exact date that it did, but that would still be during the summer. The very tail end of Kaliri last year, at the earliest."

"Why didn't we question that cargo ship more before, than?" Grainne asks. It's a good question, but thankfully this time you've got an answer ready and waiting.

"Because it wasn't just the manifest I checked with Girars that suggested there was nothing suspicious about it, there were actual customs officers that we asked about the vessel and they said, on no uncertain terms, that 'nothing strange or out of place had ever been found on that vessel'. Something like that. So if Leon got set on the trail of the De Simones because of this ship than something must have still been on it when Leon checked it out, presumably the slave or slaves or whatever convinced Sigalis that this case deals with that stuff, since I can't think of much else that would cause Leon to attack the estate as violently as he did. But if so either those customs officers are blind as bats or they're on the De Simones' payroll. And that is a pretty severe accusation, I'm pretty sure."

"If they're blind than they're out of a job at minimum. If they're on the De Simones' payroll than, assuming you're right, they're pretty much accomplices to slavery," Rikildis notes. "If that's not a death sentence than it should be. So, yes, careful with what you accuse people of, [PC FIRST NAME]." You nod and explain that you're not accusing anyone, just desperately thinking out loud. "Well, better late than never. On to the important part - investigating! If and when that ship is next in port we'll-"

"It's not in port," you suddenly say, much to Rikildis' displease. "It was back in Athonos, that's when Girars and I talked to the captain of the ship, but according to him he was assigned to haul cargo around elsewhere for around a year. I personally don't expect that ship to return to Mineta until Athonos rolls around again."

"Well...isn't that suspicious..." Rikildis says, but you're not too sure. Yes, being send away for so long would be suspicious if the ship had anything to do with this mess, but you're not sure how unusual such a long assignment really is (you've no desire to find out, quite frankly), and either way what's so strange about a cargo ship being used as a cargo ship? Better than letting it collect dust in port.

"Should we try interrogating the customs officers?" Grainne suggests, but both you and Rikildis shake your heads. Probably for different reasons, but still.

"All we need to do it give this some serious though," Rikildis insists. "Let's just assume, for the sake of argument, that this cargo ship is responsible for transporting the slave or slaves or whatever into Mineta that convinced Sigalis that that's what this mess is about, what convinced the faculty to go easy on Leon and his friends, and what convinced Leon that drastic measures were justified, or at least necessary. First off, the most important question: Who told him? I doubt Leon decided to raid that cargo ship just randomly, so logically someone must have informed him. Or he found out some other way. Which is it? Who or what told Leon to raid this ship?"

A very valid question, and a very large list of suspects. One of the answers must be correct, but...which one?

-The cook, Pasquale Giordano.
--The cook is one of very few people who was told about the egg, and who'd have some measure of familiarity with eggs to know that it's stated dimensions were suspect at best. And even if it wasn't actually transported into Mineta on the Flying Gallery and secretly bought off the black market instead, what would Pasquale have been told about where it came from? He would have been told nothing, and thus he would have assumed the most obvious answer. Which is probably the private cargo ship of the noble family that hired him. It transported a load of Alesfan animal feed, even the cook could have figured that out, and when you think "rare, exotic egg" Alesfa is certainly one of the places that comes to mind. The two questions that come to mind, however, are "how did Pasquale meet Leon in the first place?" and "why did Pasquale send Leon, directly or indirectly, to investigate the cargo ship?" For the first question...it's a stretch, but Pasquale is known for having mastered everything from national to family recipes all over the world, and he clearly was in Mineta before the Sky Gallery entered port with whatever was on it, officially or unofficially. If either of Leon's parents, or wherever he hangs out during the summer, had such a recipe to teach Pasquale than the two could have met each other then. That is a stretch and a half, but you suppose if you end up needing to you could just ask Leon about it. You doubt his Gaes covers his parent's cooking, at any rate. Though even if it does than you've still got your answer anyway.

As for the second, far more important question...you already know that Pasquale would not have send Leon to steal the egg, from the estate or the ship, since he could do that himself just as well if not better than Leon. So if he send Leon it must have been for a different reason, something that Pasquale thought justified sending Leon to investigate even if his reason turned out to be off-base. Such as...the egg's mother? If one assumes that an exotic egg was being smuggled into Mineta on that ship, than it's not a stretch to assume that whatever animal lays such eggs is on that ship as well. Customs would have to be on the De Simone's payroll to miss what would likely be a human-sized animal, if not bigger, though. Although if they were than that would have given Pasquale a reason to take matters into his own hands, if his "tip" that the Flying Gallery was smuggling some very suspicious stuff was dismissed.

That, however, brings you right back to the point of the De Simones having no reason to start a secret ranch in their own house if they can already have Pasquale cooking for them. They also don't have much of a reason to start a secret zoo, because why bother with that when nobility can just legally enter the Imperial Reserve? There's just no good reason why they'd go through so much effort to smuggle an exotic animal into Mineta...unless it was to turn it into a Familiar? Would that ever count as slavery, as far as more reasonable people than Girars are concerned? Like, is there some kind of technicality written into the old Empire's laws where a wizard's Familiar counts as that wizard him- or herself for the purposes of crimes committed upon their Familiar, or something?

On one side you feel like you're making some measure of progress, on the other you feel like you're making progress insofar that a chicken flapping it's wings is going to make progress taking flight. Every answer begs two more questions, and with every new generation of questions you feel like your answers get more and more ridiculous...

"Something on your mind, [PC FIRST NAME]?" Rikildis asks, and you slowly nod.

"I've got a suspect in mind, but...there's just so much that sounds so far-fetched and I can't make sense of. That said, I at least know of a good way to confirm whether I'm off-base or not. So one moment, I'll just go ask Leon a few dumb questions real quick. Since, you know, I actually can this time."

"If you think it's worth asking Leon about than I'll come with," Rikildis says. You shrug, if she wants to get up and stretch her legs for a bit as well that's her call.

The two of you end up heading out and finding, to your displeasure, that Leon is currently in one of his sessions with Professor Piaxenza. Rikildis isn't patient enough to wait, though, she knocks on the regent's door without any hesitation. Professor Piaxenza, like he did with Grainne before, steps out and closes the door behind him. "Ah, good afternoon Rikildis, [PC FIRST NAME]. I take it you wish to have another chat with Leon?"

You probably should be more worried that the regent seems to be at the point where that's the default assumption, even more so because technically speaking he's not wrong, but of course Rikildis doesn't let it get to her. "Yes, we are. Can he come out real quick, just a few short questions? You can stand right next to him the entire time if you want, it's nothing incriminating."

Eh...you don't want to correct Rikildis, not in front of the regent, but it really is. If Pasquale actually did send Leon to break into a private cargo ship than that is absolutely a crime no matter how good his reason. The regent, with a curious frown, slowly nods and says, "Well...alright. But only because, as you say, I can observe the conversation. I'd rather not have a repeat of what happened last time, understand. One moment." The regent walks back into his office and comes out a second later with a confused, excited, just generally all over the place nervous wreck Leon. Poor kid, hopefully you'll be able to put him out of this misery soon. "Alright, a few non-incriminating questions, and please do make it quick," the regent notes.

Rikildis nods and motions to you to ask the questions. Fair enough, you suppose, it was your idea. No time for small talk either, just get right into it. "Leon, do you know Pasquale Giordano?"

Leon, who was clearly expecting a very different sort of question, stares at you curiously. "Eh...that name does sound kinda familiar, yeah. Isn't he that...famous, I think? That big shot chef, the cook with a million and one recipes or something?"

Rikildis and you both stare at Leon surprised, much to the latter's (continued) confusion. Rikildis shrugs and takes out her parchment and quill, in case she needs to start writing stuff down, as you continue to question Leon. "Ah, yes, that Pasquale. Related to that, I guess, who usually does the cooking at your house? Any famous family recipes?"

Leon...does the exact same thing he did before, only more so. Honestly he seems to relax just a little bit, he seems a bit less tense than he did a moment ago. Except for the confused expression, which remains a steadfast constant. "Well, usually my mother does all the cooking. My father likes to cook, or 'try to' at any rate, but he rarely finds the time to do it. Thankfully. As for family recipes, definitely my mother's soft and fluffy pork meatball recipe. I actually never knew what was so soft and fluffy about it until my dad tried to cook one, and suffice to say that's a difference I wish I had never learned. I wouldn't call it famous, personally, but that Pasquale guy did swing by our house one day and convinced my mother to teach him, so I guess it's technically famous."

Rikildis, to her credit, manages to hold on to her quill, even if she does make a right mess of her parchment (and shoes) holding on to it in place. You, in a moment of what must be some kind of ironic justice, stare at Leon as he so often stared at you - with undisguised, dumbfounded confusion. Is this actually happening right now? The cook tipped Leon off!?

"W-what's with those expressions?" Professor Piaxenza asks, seemingly unsure of whether he should be worried. Leon just makes a dry comment about how someone else finally knows what it's like to be him on a day-to-day basis lately, but aside from that he's no less confused (and concerned) as his new regent.

"When did you meet Pasquale, Leon? Was it shortly before the Flying Gallery made port in Mineta, three-odd weeks before the estate raid?" you blurt out right in front of the regent, and you don't even care because seriously this needs to be cleared up right now.

"I-I didn't personally-but, than again..." Leon starts to answer, but all too soon he trails off and you can see the gears in his head starting to spin. And you know what that means. "Well...I'm not sure, but I think all I can say is that that cook visited our house...I want to say it was the third of Kapsus, or maybe the fourth. Point is..."

"He visited your house before the Flying Gallery entered port in Mineta, and based on you thinking it'll trigger your Gaes to say it you did raid that ship as well, it's as involved in this mess as the estate is." you fill in for Leon. Of course he doesn't confirm it for you, though he does flash a weary smile and admits that you "continue to impress him".

"Alright, I think that's more than enough," Professor Piaxenza, unsurprisingly, says. You don't care, though, you already got your answer. And what an answer it is. "[PC FIRST NAME], Rikildis, just go back to your regular activities please. I've got some things I need to discuss with Leon myself, it seems like, so rest assured that we'll be...busy."

Ha, you're fine with that considering that looking into this mess is a regular activity for you these days anyway. You, happy if no less confused despite that, nod and head back to the editorial room with Rikildis to discuss where to go from here.

-Leon, like Vettor, was send a vision to convince him to investigate.
--The fact that someone was sending Vettor visions isn't in question at this point, and whoever wanted Vettor to close the case on Laroche presumably would want to close the case on whatever sneaky business that cargo ship has been up to as well. Assuming the cargo ship has indeed been up to no good, it's hard to imagine it's completely unrelated to this case, like Laroche is. However, that asks two very important questions: How did this person learn about what was on the cargo ship, and why did they send Leon to investigate it? The answer to the first question is relatively easy - very few people would have had any way of knowing what was being smuggled on that ship, any reason to suspect that something was, a desire to see that truth to come to light and access to Vettor (and Leon, and yourself for that matter) to send those visions to stir you into action. The only person that you can think off who fits all of those criteria, if not Professor Badcrumble, is Rebecca De Simone. The problem, however, comes from the second question. Why would Rebecca send Leon, of all people, to investigate the ship? It's a puzzle you just cannot solve, and honestly, you're pretty sure that's because it's a puzzle that cannot be solved. Ultimately, no matter what situation Rebecca could have found herself in that would provoke her into using Leon to investigate the Flying Gallery, she demonstrably didn't. Because if Rebecca and Leon, at that point, were working together than Leon's raiding of Rebecca's home for the egg about three weeks later would not have happened. Even if Rebecca wanted to save the egg but failed to turn the cook to her cause or find any other way, would she have resorted to convincing Leon to do what he and his friends did to her family? No. You just cannot imagine a situation where that was the only option Rebecca had available to her, and one she was willing to take. The only remotely feasible situation you can think of is if Rebecca changed her mind about exposing her family after sending Leon to raid the ship, and afterwards Leon basically betrayed her by raiding her estate for the egg, but than why did Rebecca send Vettor to close the case on Laroche months later? No matter how you try to look at this it just doesn't add up.

No matter how many times you run the theory through your head, you just cannot think of a reasonable situation in which Rebecca de Simone is Leon's informant. But if it isn't her, than...who...?

-Matilde Laroche, the noblewoman who "lost" her (Proscribed) wedding ring
--Of everyone in Mineta who you'd believe if they told you that they found out about whatever the Flying Gallery was smuggling, despite having nothing to do with it or even the De Simones in general, Laroche if one of a very small group. Her demonstrated willingness to use minions, like Lucas, to do her bidding also convinces you that it wouldn't be odd for her to send Leon on a task such as this, something that she'd want to keep her hands clean of even if she could manage it herself. With this theory, however, you see two very large problems. First, if Laroche send Leon to raid the De Simone's private ship like that, why did no one suspect her of anything until her wedding ring was found to be enchanted with Proscribed magic? Leon got caught after the estate raid, so you know he spilled every single bean he could because the Academagia's faculty undoubtedly made sure that he did. Laroche could have used Mastery to erase the boy's memories and abused her magical void to keep herself safe from any attempts to divine her involvement through Astrology, but that would make Leon a victim, not a troublemaker, especially since there'd be no telling whether he did everything he did of his own will or if he was secretly Mastered into it. The faculty, simply put, don't treat him like that, so it's easy to believe they have no reason to so much as suspect it might be the case. And if they don't, well, you have to assume that they're most likely right. The second large problem is that Laroche was turned by the guards, so whatever situation that Leon can't talk about because of his Gaes cannot be considered a secret anymore - the Chards know, the Academagia's highest faculty knows, the guards would know, and it's unthinkable that all three of them would not do anything with this information. The Captain, if no one else, could and would do something with that information, no doubt. The only situation you can imagine where Laroche wouldn't have set the Captain on a warpath already would be if she was mistaken about the Flying Gallery, which is possible, but than why have Leon raid the estate for the egg three weeks later? If the Flying Gallery had nothing of merit than you can't imagine what purpose there was for that raid other than stealing the egg, and simply put, no omelette in the world is worth that much pain and effort.

No matter how many times you run the theory through your head, you just cannot think of a reasonable situation in which Matilde Laroche is Leon's informant. But if it isn't her, than...who...?

-Professor Badcrumble.
--Grainne suggested before that it could have been Professor Badcrumble that send Vettor, and later you and possibly Leon, Astrological visions to push you three into action. But would she have send Leon to investigate this ship? You can believe that she couldn't do so herself, she's too well known to not attract attention, but why not tip off customs? By the same token her accusation should have been taken seriously...unless they really are paid off, but than why not tip off their superiors? Why not get the guards involved? And if she couldn't get the guards involved for whatever reason, if she had to rely on someone else, why Leon? Why not Rebecca De Simone?

Now, truth be told this is Professor Badcrumble you're talking about. You have to consider the possibility that she foresaw or predicted something that convinced her to send Leon on this mission. It's not impossible. The question, though, is what kind of vision that she would get could convince her to send Leon. That estate raid is a future that the regent would try to prevent, not set in motion, and even if Rebecca's weird fate whatever deal would prevent the Regent from asking her for help...why Leon? Of all students, or faculty, or people, or whatever, why Leon? What would he do, what could he do, that would convince the regent to set that estate raid in motion, that no one else could?

No matter how many times you run the theory through your head, you just cannot think of a reasonable situation in which Professor Badcrumble is Leon's informant. But if it isn't her, than...who...?

-Catherine Chard, or another member of her family.
--It's tempting to ask yourself in what universe a family as high up there as the Chards themselves would rely on a loose cannon like Leon - matter a fact you just did - but there is one thing to consider: The De Simones, at least nominally, are the political allies of the Chards, and masters of Astrology. If the Chards were to hatch such a plot, which they would not want the De Simones or the guards to know about by any stretch of any definition, they would be advised to use the most random, most inexplicable, most impossible to divine individual that they could find.

Which, considering that Leon was caught at the estate because his identity could be magically proven though Astrology, confirms that the Chards in no way, shape or form would have ever decided to use him even if they secretly ordered Catherine to find the most disposable patsy that she could find among the Academagia's many students.

...Well, that theory was nice while it lasted. If not the Chards, though, than...who...?

Late because I had to redo the options and part of the main text. I definitely did not do all of that yesterday and completely forget to post this the next morning, totally.

This is the point where my lack of planning far ahead shows the most, I feel like. All the same this is as sensible as I could make this stage, so...good enough, I suppose.

Edited by Metis

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Dawn of a New Day, stage 11:

Spoiler

"I cannot believe that just happened!" Rikildis yells as soon as she barges into her own editorial room and falls down in the nearest chair. Grainne doesn't even ask any questions, at least not right away, she instinctively heads off and comes back a few minutes later with three cups of warm chocolate milk. You haven't gotten tired of it yet, so you appreciate another warm cup while Rikildis "fills in" Grainne, as it were. "The cook! The freaking cook was the one behind everything all along! Leon did raid the ship of the De Simones, and on the cook's secret orders. Even Leon hadn't figure that out! That son of a soft and fluffy pork meatball how was anyone supposed to figure that out!?"

"Nobody was, that's the entire point," you say, amused at Rikildis' outburst. "And from the sound of it we're the first ones that did, Professor Piaxenza didn't seem to know either. So, where does that leave us? What questions are as of yet unanswered?"

"Frankly, I don't think any of them are," Rikildis says. "The cook - of all people! - tipped off Leon that something shady was going on with the cargo ship. Because he was directly told about the mysterious egg ahead of time, presumably so that he could devise a recipe for it, and of course a chef famous for knowing recipes from all over the world would know that an egg of that rough size was suspicious. Not as well as a Zoologist, probably, but still. So he send the first random fool he could secretly get into contact with - which turned out to be Leon, because soft and fluffy pork meatball recipe, of all things - to investigate for him. Because he himself couldn't do it, and as far as him getting in trouble in concerned, even the De Simones would never figure out something as convoluted and stupid as this! After that all he needed to do was steal the egg himself, using his own recipe and everything, which come to think of it was probably so weird because he either tried to 'correct' the 'clearly off' measurements he was given or because he was planning on stealing the egg himself to begin with, so that recipe never called for that specific egg to begin with. Just however much chicken egg he needed or could smuggle into the estate to use or whatever. But then Leon beat him to it, and ended up giving the guy a perfect alibi. Hell, he might not even have figured out that it was the same damn guy he send to check out the cargo ship in the first place that ended up grabbing the egg right from under him, right from under the De Simones! The De Simones divined Leon's identity, through Astrology, remember? I don't know if Pasquale even knows how to cast magic, and apparently they never met face-to-face, so I don't know if he'd even be able to recognize Leon normally. Let stand Leon wearing a mask, and however much of a mess he must have looked like at that point."

Indeed. Gods, what an absolute, perfect mess. Of course while you've made significant progress there are still questions left unanswered. "Well, that all said I can think of at least one question we don't know the answer to - so Leon was directed, by Pasquale, to check out the Flying Gallery, because the latter was suspicious about this mysterious egg. Assuming Leon succeeded in breaking into the ship, why didn't he steal the egg then?" Rikildis shrugs and says that obviously either Leon failed, or the egg was offloaded before he managed to break into the ship in the first place. "Reasonable theories, but consider this - if he failed, than what lead him, and in turn Sigalis, to believe that his enemy is a slaver? Even if the egg belongs to some manner of intelligent creature and, itself, counts...how would Leon know? Why the raid to steal the egg, if an egg is all it seemed to be?"

"Well, being Morvidus students at the time they naturally would have studied Zoology," Rikildis notes. "Not that I know if that class even teaches how to identify rare eggs, mind. So you're thinking that Leon succeeded in breaking into the ship, and the slave or slaves that he found and freed in there is how he, and later Sigalis knew?"

"Exactly. That, I think, puts all the pieces into place. That said-"

"'That said' Kate thinks the two of you have done more than enough," a female voice suddenly calls out. You, Grainne and Rikildis all turn your heads curiously towards the door and see Catherine Chard, arms crossed, impatiently tapping a finger against her arm and a frown on her face. "My apologies for raining all over your no doubt slanderous parade, but the regent asked me to relay a message to you three - four, really, though of course Sigalis isn't here right now. Simply put: 'Cease your investigations into this affair, forever'. That is all."

"Now hold on a minute!" Rikildis suddenly shouts, looking genuinely angry. "The hell do you mean the regent told us to stop investigating!? What gives him the right to tell me what and what not to look into!? If he feels like I'm stepping on his toes he can come down here and explain to me how what I do is any of his business himself!"

Catherine seems thoroughly unimpressed. Or uninterested. It's never easy to tell the difference with her. "If you're going to insist on that argument, sure, I suppose I can I can spare the time to indulge you. You're a journalist, aren't you? So is there anything of actual interest that you have to say on this subject, or can I trust that you all have accomplished nothing but blowing a bunch of hot air?" Rikildis doesn't respond beyond a venomous glare, and after a while Catherine shrugs and says, "I'll take that as a 'no', than. Well, my apologies for thinking there was merit into keeping your investigation going."

"Because you made out like a bandit already, and have nothing more to gain from it?" Grainne suddenly blurts out. You'd say she didn't mean to blurt that out, but no, she totally did. Even you feel like Catherine deserves to be knocked down a peg here, frankly.

Speaking of Catherine, she, predictably enough, slowly turns around and glares at you with an expression you don't think you've seen on her before. It's a mixture of something, but of what you're not able to tell. "What did you just say to me?" she slowly, quietly, asks.

"Don't play dumb, Catherine. You know full well that I know about your family taking possession of Rebecca. She wasn't fostered to the Chards as part of any sort of equal give-and-take political alliance that your family claims it is, your family took Rebecca from them because they know that someone in that estate is guilty of what Leon is accusing them of. Your family pressured them to foster Rebecca to you in exchange for your silence on the matter, since you're afraid of their crimes coming to light and dragging you down as well."

Rikildis' fury quickly makes way for determination and focus, and you follow suit. Catherine, for her part, stares at all three of you for a tense few seconds before breaking out in a thin grin and saying, "First of all, how dare you accuse my family of that? Second of all, sure. If that's the game you want to play, than play. Just try and make your accusations stick. Convince me that you three have actually figured something out, I dare you." You, Grainne and Rikildis all share a knowing look, and nod in unison. Time to put your heads together and Catherine in her place, that's something all three of you can agree on.

"First off," Rikildis starts, "we already got the truth from Leon himself - he stole a mysterious egg from the De Simone's estate last summer. Something they weren't supposed to have, something that implicates them in crimes that you don't want to come to light."

"Eggs come in all shapes and sizes," Catherine calmly notes. "And you do realize that nobility, to a degree, are permitted to go on hunts in the Imperial Reserve, yes? They're allowed to keep and serve the game they get, too."

"Not when that 'game' isn't considered game," Rikildis retorts. "And we already know that egg didn't come from the Reserve. It was brought - smuggled - into Mineta on the De Simones' personal cargo ship, the...[PC FIRST NAME], what was-"

"The Sky Gallery," you fill in for Rikildis. She gives you a thumbs-up.

"And what makes you so sure it was that particular ship? Many of them and come and go into Mineta on a daily basis, you know." That is actually a good question. You admit that it's not impossible that another ship was used, but one thing is for sure - Pasquale knew what ship the egg was on. But if it was another ship he'd only know if he was told about it, and of course he wasn't. Wouldn't be. So the answer must be the one that, to Pasquale, is the obvious one. Which is The Sky Gallery. That is the De Simones' personal cargo ship, if any ship is going to deliver cargo for the De Simones (at least cargo that they claim is legal) it would obviously be their own. Even if this egg came from as far as Alesfa, it doesn't matter - the ship definitely stopped there since it picked up a load of feed for the Quarantine House, so it still would have been preferable for the ship to pick it up rather than sending the egg to Mineta through a postal service. Catherine looks confused at that explanation. "Wait, hold on, slow down a second - Pasquale? Who are you talking about?"

"The famous chef currently working in Mineta, he was hired by the De Simones to cook the egg that Leon stole from the estate," you explain. "You've never heard about him?"

"Eh, no, famous chefs are not a subject I'm interested in," Catherine answers a bit awkwardly. "Hired by the De Simones, though? I-I see, so that's how-or at least, why you think he even knew about the egg in the first place." Rikildis nods, as does Grainne. You, however, are staring intently at Catherine right now. "Right. So, regardless, why does it matter that he correctly guessed which ship this egg was on?"

"Because Pasquale send Leon to check out this ship. As a chef who knows so many different recipes he knew that there was something off about this egg. You do know who Leon is, right?" Catherine nods and say that, regrettably, she does. "That's why it matters that he knew the right ship, otherwise he'd have send Leon on a wild goose chase. But he didn't, Leon definitely found something in that ship."

"'Definitely found'-let me guess, you're talking about the sightings of a pair of 'shadowy monsters' running around the Docks, and eventually escaping the city through the Canal of Snows the night of the fifth of Kapsus?" Catherine asks completely out of the blue. She's not sure how to respond when the only response she gets in turn is a trio of confused, slightly dumbfounded faces. "W-what? Surely you three managed to at least learn that much, right? Isn't baseless rumors the bread and butter of this newspaper club, or whatever you'd call it?"

"You mean some incredibly vague sailor's rumors over six months after the fact? No, Catherine, there's no chance in hell that we'd have found that out these days. Which makes me curious how and why you know about that..."

Despite Grainne's glare Catherine manages to recover from her little slip and regain her composure perfectly. "Of course I know about everything that's related to this whole mess, Grainne. Your accusation may hold no water but it's an important matter to my family nevertheless. And did you not think that my family would think to investigate the situation themselves, for that matter?"

"That's not at all what you told when me and Girars ran into you back in Athonos, when we were in Frontino checking out the De Simones' estate ourselves, Catherine," you point out. She stares at you confused, unable to provide an answer to that. "And besides which, we weren't talking about those rumors you mentioned. Obviously. We were talking about the fact that Leon raided the ship, as Pasquale asked him to do, and than later Leon raided the estate during the feast, which Pasquale didn't ask him to do. So, Leon must have found something when he was raiding the ship that gave him a reason to raid the estate anyway. To steal the egg from it, even if it meant causing a right mess, right under Pasquale's nose. Let stand the De Simones."

"Hold on, what makes you so sure that Pasquale is guilty of one thing, but not the other?" Catherine asks, and you explain to her that Pasquale already had the best person in his pocket for smuggling the egg out of the De Simones' estate without anyone being the wiser. Namely the chef that was to cook the egg, alone, with a deep knowledge of recipes and ingredients, not to mention access to whatever else he'd need to cook up something else that could pass for the egg, only to actually smuggle it out in an oversized pot - himself. Catherine doesn't have an answer to that, either. "A-alright, I...I guess that does-wait, but how did Pasquale meet Leon in the first place? Why'd he send him, specifically?" You answer that Pasquale actually went to Leon's house to learn a family recipe from Leon's mom, and while they didn't seem to have ever met personally (at the very least Leon wasn't asked to raid the ship by the man directly, since even he didn't know where that information came from) she no doubt make small talk with the man while they were cooking. Information he could use to convince Leon. And he, strapped for time and any other alternatives, decided to send Leon on this little mission. Also because he needed someone that even the De Simones, his employers, would never trace back to him. He was one of very few people who was told about the egg, which was secretly smuggled into Mineta since it wasn't listed on the cargo manifest you checked, meaning that he'd definitely be regarded as a suspect if anything happened to the shipment. Admittedly the Sky Gallery did dock in Mineta about three weeks before the actual feast, but you've got no idea how much time Pasquale would need to devise a recipe for an ingredient he couldn't do any tests with, let stand how much time the De Simones would think he'd need.

Catherine is stunned speechless at that. You feel it's an entirely justified reaction, but it nevertheless draws a confused look from Rikildis. "Didn't Professor Piaxenza mention any of this to you, miss 'family is on the case' Chard? We literally just asked Leon about his connections with Pasquale a few minutes ago, right in front of the regent. Didn't you drag that information out of him when he asked you to relay his message to us?"

-Bring it home.
--You shake your head and correct Rikildis in that she said that Professor Piaxenza asked that. Or at least, a male regent, which logically would refer to Professor Piaxenza all things considered. Catherine, however, mentioned that Kate thinks the three - or, counting Sigalis, four - of you have done more than enough, but that obviously refers to Kate Badcrumble. "Though, if you don't mind me asking, since when do you refer to your professors by their first name, Catherine? Considering the fact that your family is, in effect, party to the conspiracy that has put Leon and his friends in such a sorry state, not to mention whatever situation that Professor Badcrumble's ward is in - or wards, even, if what you said about that rumor from over six months back is correct - I'm having a very hard time believing that they'd let you in on this case any more than they did the three of us. So what's really going on here? Why are you being asked to deliver the professor's messages if you're effectively on opposite sides, and with a level of familiarity that no student should have towards a regent, no less?"

Catherine, after a minute of silently thinking over her answer...starts laughing. Not quietly, not like she's failing to try and suppress it, no, she starts laughing. Heartily, loudly, she's roaring like you've just told her the world's funniest joke. You're not entirely sure how to respond to that, and neither does Rikildis or Grainne. "I feel like I don't get to say it enough, and in this instance it's certainly justified once again: Bravo, [PC FIRST NAME]," Catherine says when she finally composes herself. It definitely doesn't sound like her, though. Voice, sure, but not in tone. "I'll admit that you've got a good head on your shoulders. All three of-five, even, all five of you if you wish to count Sigalis and Rebecca, her not-so-secret little partner in crime. Yet at the same time you all have so much left to learn, too." You blink, confused, while Catherine casually snaps her fingers. The open doors leading into the editorial room suddenly slam shut, shimmering chains shooting out of the walls criss-crossing around all over the place, locking it down tight. Catherine doesn't say anything, she just grins. "Um..." is all you can manage in response to that. Grainne jumps back and draws her wand, pointed at Catherine, and a second later you do the same. Rikildis does as well, though she takes the time to hide behind a table, for what that's worth.

"If you think you're going to put me down because I know too much you've got another thing coming, Catherine," Rikildis threatens. Not that you think she's in a very convincing position to make such threats. Catherine doesn't respond to it, either. Instead she slowly takes out her own wand and calmly uses it to dispel a series of spells she's cast on herself. Rikildis seems prepared to cast something within the blink of eye, but Grainne and you watch spellbound at the changes that occur. Layer after layer of illusion breaks off, until a minute later it's no longer Catherine Chard standing before you, but someone else altogether. It's...Legate Orsi?

"Once again: Bravo," he says, grinning. Rikildis is still on edge, wand drawn, pointed and ready to go, as she looks at the Legate with wide, confused eyes. You, for your part, put your wand back in your pocket. You don't think you could do anything of merit to someone good enough to put layers upon layers of disguises on themselves if this isn't the Legate, or if this really is, you know, the Legate. Grainne comes to the same conclusion shortly after, and stows her own wand as well. "I had hoped that your investigations into this matter would bear fruit, and it seems that you've indeed discovered some things of genuine merit. Unfortunately not the person I'm after, but still. The fact that the chef that the De Simones hired was the person who, inadvertently, set off this whole mess is something that neither I, nor the De Simones or the Chards, or Leon himself, knew before. I sure that you've discovered something that, say, the real Catherine Chard never could." You don't know if that compliment is genuine or if it's supposed to be a joke. If it's the latter it's in poor taste, you think.

"The hell is going on here!?" a thoroughly confused Rikildis asks.

"What is going on is that you three, at this point, are stepping on Kate's toes, and not just hers. Especially after that incident at Kate's ward and someone, not naming any names, managing to ask Leon pointed questions despite the Gaes. Professor Piaxenza informed Kate of the new developments that came up just a few minutes ago, as well as who was responsible for them, and she send me to tell you three to finally put this matter to bed. And force that issue, if I had to," the Legate plainly explains. Rikildis, and to a lesser extent Grainne, do not look amused. "I've got my own reasons for continuing to look into the matter, however, and I was hoping to bait you three into sharing what you've learned without revealing the fact that I'm interested. Even if that didn't tell me anything new, which I honestly didn't expect, I thought it'd be an effective review of how well the Academagia can actually hold it's secrets. But you three managed to surpass every possible expectation! To think you've already pieced so much of the story together. Honestly I'd say that you've solved it in it's entirety, since you frankly never stood any chance of figuring out the rest anyway."

"You want to bet on that?" Rikildis, somewhat foolishly, blurts out in equal parts wounded pride and sheer confusion. The Legate shakes his head in response, saying there's no need. "Good!" Rikildis says as she puts away her wand and replaces it with a roll of parchment and quill. The Legate does not look amused at that. "Oh don't give me that look. I mean, let's be honest here, I get that Professor Badcrumble has her reasons to try and keep this all confidential and all. But realistically, what could you even do to 'force the issue' at this point? Are you going to put a Gaes on all, what, five of us? Because first of all, we've already proven that Gaes isn't going to stop someone determined enough to break through it, and we are far from the most skilled or talented students here, I would hope. Second off, if all of us suddenly have a Gaes like that placed on us than everyone and their dog is going to go nuts trying to figure out why. Forget Lambert, you're going to have at least half the Academagia on your case. And third, I don't know how the De Simones - or the Chards, for that matter - would feel about Rebecca being placed under such a Gaes. If she's the one that Sigalis has been working with than by my count she's been working against her family. Sigalis wanted us to expose Leon's enemy, and Leon's enemy one of the De Simones, isn't that right?"

"Rikildis, I know it goes against your very nature...but please shut up for a moment," the Legate says with a deadpan voice. Rikildis doesn't even look bothered, if anything she takes it as a compliment. "Understand, I need you all to be quiet about this. This is a very delicate and unstable situation, one that no one knows the full extent of yet. And if anyone is going to get to the bottom of it than no one can set the powder keg off ahead of time. I was willing to tolerate you three-five, honestly, digging your noses into this as a means of possibly finding some kind of clue that I might have missed. As a test of how well this school can actually keep it's secrets. But I'm afraid that experiment has run it's course. Frankly, if anything it went too far."

"So, bring me on board with this investigation," Rikildis says with a knowing, meaningful look. "What do you think I intend to do for a living, write poetry? You want something investigated? Just ask! I can be quiet, or subtle, or whatever you need me. Well, I can't be someone that people won't see coming, there's limits given my reputation, but that same reputation means that, practically, there's little else you could do to silence me. I'm too well known among the students, and faculty for that matter. If something like that Gaes happens to me than everyone is going to know that something is up, I don't think I could keep something like that quiet even if I tried. And I wouldn't be very motivated to try, in any case. You've seen how Leon and his friends have fared under their Gaes, frankly I'm sure I would fare no better." The Legate frowns deeply at everything Rikildis says, he looks a little disgusted you think, but at the same time he can't exactly deny any of it either.

"Rikildis, I'll not deny that, practically speaking, there's limits to what I'm able to do in this situation. But for your own sake, if not the sake of everything this mess has affected, don't underestimate the severity of this situation. It might just be a great story to you, but for others this situation is a literal nightmare made real, one that they will likely never wake from. You don't know the full extent of what is going on, either, I know that for a fact because I have yet to figure it all out. If this situation gets out of control before all the pieces are in place, than the person behind it all might very well get away with it. That, more than anything else, is what I'm trying to prevent," the Legate says. You wouldn't bet money on it, but Rikildis seems to have gotten the message. Grainne certainly did. You, however, are starting confused at the Legate, still. "[PC FIRST NAME], do you think you could keep silent about this?"

That's a question that your mind answers for you far more quickly than you think it would. Long story short, no. Staying silent about everything, deflecting every question, ignoring every time you see or notice something related to it and forgetting about it every time something reminds you of it, after you've been investigating everything in a manner that has been less than perfectly subtle most of the time...no. You don't want to end up as Leon, having that weight on your shoulders that you can't get rid of. So, in answer to the Legate's question, you shake your head. Although there's one important question you want answered, in turn. "Prof-I mean, Legate, if Grainne is right about the Chards having Rebecca De Simone in their pocket because it bought their silence, doesn't that mean that you investigating the situation puts you at odds with the Chards? They'd want this situation, the crimes of the De Simones to stay buried forever, wouldn't they?"

"No," the Legate answers, as confidently as you've seen anyone answer a question. "This whole situation is one that has far more unanswered questions surrounding it than you all think. It's not as clear and straightforward as Leon and his friends believe it to be. But what I do have no doubt about, is that if if Madame Ginevra De Simone is truly guilty of what Leon and his friends have accused her off, than no sane beggar, peasant, merchant, nobleman, priest, guard, king, queen or God is ever going to forgive her." Ah-hah. That...sure is a way to phrase something. And that name. Madame Ginevra De Simone, the current head of the Renaglian De Simone family herself has been accused of being behind this? You thought "estate mistress" meant "the one in charge of the building", not "the one in charge of the entire Renaglian De Simone family". That explains a lot with regards to why Rebecca is in the custody of the Chards, though it also begs more questions in turn. "The Chards have their reputation that they wish to maintain, yes," the Legate continues. "They also wish to keep the Captain at bay, since he'd stand to gain a great deal of political ground if he managed to take public control of this situation and end it in a manner that'd curry the favor of the masses, and cast a black cloud over the Chards and their allies that they'd likely never recover from. But that aside...no. The Chards are on the Madame's side no more than Leon is. They simply have more to consider and more unknown to investigate, for the time being. They are no the Madame's allies. Not anymore, you'd know if you'd have been keeping an ear to the ground on that matter."

"I said I didn't intend to spend the rest of my life writing poetry. Nice line, though," Rikildis quips. "In any case, Legate, could you finally give us some answers? We came so close, we know about the slavery accusations and everything, just...what was that egg? Who or what did Leon find, and set free, these 'shadowy monsters' you mentioned? You said we had no chance of ever figuring that out anyway, and I'm willing to believe you on your word on that matter, so...what's the answer?"

"That, and no doubt many other questions, is something that I think would be best answered by showing you all the answer. There's little chance you could make sense of it all otherwise, anyway. Assuming that you three, as Sigalis and Rebecca before you, agree to keep silent on this matter...I'll bring you to Kate's ward, as much as she's not going to appreciate it. You'll find your answers there."

You, Rikildis and Grainne all nod. And with that said the Legate leads you three all the way to the area where Sigalis got knocked down, that mysterious unknown area of the Academagia, no one saying a word the entire way.

I can't honestly say that I'm happy with how this stage turned out, but compared to how it once looked it'd say it's an improvement...kinda? I intended for this to be the point where all the pieces were finally put into place and the great, big mystery was solved (to the extent that it could be), but A: hell if I know how to make that look/read decently, especially when I've got no new information to use beyond Catherine's "rumor", and B: It'd be somewhat redundant with the summary you get next stage anyway. And rest assured, redundancy at this point is...not ideal. You've got enough more than enough words to go through as is.

Edited by Metis

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Dawn of a New Day, stage 12:

Spoiler

You know you've arrived at the right place when Professor Badcrumble, unannounced, walks out one of the doors and looks quite displeased at the Legate. He succinctly explains that the three of you have already figured out too much to be kept in the dark or silenced, and that instead you'll be helping him in his investigations. Professor Badcrumble looks dangerously unamused at that, but sees no point trying to argue against the Legate's decision, and turns her attention to the three you. She informs you that, as part of the Legate's investigation "team", as it were, you will be allowed within this area of the Academagia. As well as visit with the regent's wards, to the extend that they will allow it. But she also warns that if any of you ever say the wrong thing to the wrong person she will find out, and than she will personally make sure that no star in heaven will look your way to save you from her wrath. Rikildis again quips about the poetry lines, but despite that it's clear that she's gotten the message. Grainne as well, and of course you. "Don't forget," Professor Badcrumble warns again, though you doubt it's necessary. "In that case I suppose it's time for you to meet them. I shouldn't have to remind you, Gods help you if I do, but mind your manners." You nod, honestly getting a little annoyed at the repeated warning. You got the message the first time, really, no need for a third. In any case once the three of you step through the doors and see what's inside the repeated warning quickly explains themselves. And, if you're reading this situation correctly, justifies.

The room you step in looks like something that was renovated recently. The big thing is a large swimming pool in the centre, which has been filled with a bottom of soil and assorted stuff to make it look like part of a lake, and based on the worn tile floor and rounded edge along the rim of the pool it's clearly been here for a while. Everything else looks like a recent addition, however, like it wasn't part of the room to begin with. Portraits of crudely drawn maps, various symbols you can't make heads or tails of, and a small landscape painting of a bridge in a nighttime wilderness decorate the walls, with no markings denoting they've been there for long. Short bookcases, cupboards and assorted furniture are scatted about here and there along the walls, as well as a few potted plants and other basic decorative stuff. Major standouts are a small kitchen against one of the walls, as well as a trio of comfortable chairs, a crib, couch and table forming a small living area in the corner. High up along the wall are a surprisingly large number of windows, although none of the glass in them is clear, so you're only able to make out vague outlines of colors of whatever is visible outside, which honestly isn't much. Nothing that you see seems especially distinct, just lots of blue, as you'd expect. There's a door in the back of the room, though there's no visual clue or sign telling you where it goes or what lies beyond. Finally, as far as people are concerned, you only see three-eh, scratch that, four. One you recognize, all too well at this point, is Leon. He's staring at you with a confused look, but despite the somewhat distant look in his eyes he seem more at ease now than you've ever seen him. Before there was always an edge to him, in his expression as much as his tone and body language, but that appears to be gone. The more visible of the other people here are two girls, one looking roughly around your age and the other one definitely older than you, probably older than Leon, though only by a year or two. The fourth person, that you didn't notice initially, is a small baby that the older girl is busy breastfeeding, hidden carefully from view in her arms.

You, Grainne and Rikildis are all stunned silent, staring blankly at the scene, trying to figure out how it all fits together and failing miserably. Thus, the first to break the awkward silence is the older of the two girls, who speaks harsh sounding words a language you don't think you've ever heard before. Neither Rikildis or Grainne seem to understand it, and based on the fact that the Legate and Professor Badcrumble both turn their heads towards Leon when they hear it you imagine that neither of them do either. The girl glares at the three of you with a piercing gaze, awaiting an answer, but you notice that she she seems more scared than anything. Her eyes are darting between the three of you, she looks tense, and the tone in her voice doesn't sound like anger so much as panic. Leon places a hand on the older girl's shoulder, which does nothing to ease her tension, and has a short conversation with the girl in what sounds like her own language. The intense glare in the girl's eyes slowly mellows out, and Leon turns his attention to you. In plain Renaglian he explains that "Xu", assuming you heard him correctly, wants to know what you three are doing here. "They'll be assisting me with my investigations," the Legate answer, curtly. "That's all you need to know." Leon translates the Legate's answer for Xu (which, for the record, is not a name you think you've ever heard of before), she slowly nods and turns her attention back to her(?) child, though you can see she's keeping a weary eye on the three of you regardless.

"...I don't get it," Rikildis, after far too long spend staring blankly at the girls, finally admits. "How does this fit into the estate raid? Leon's raiding of the Sky Gallery, and everything else we investigated? I...I keep trying to piece it all together, but somewhere along the way it just...I can't make sense of this. How is this supposed to add up?"

"Because the impossible puzzle the three of you put together...is actually correct," Leon cryptically notes. "Chi, I think-eh, right." Leon proceeds to switch to his mysterious moon language and talks to the younger of the two girls for a bit, and while you can't make heads or tails of their conversation you do notice that Chi eventually (through Leon) includes Professor Badcrumble in their conversation. Nothing that Professor Badcrumble says has any sort of context to it that you can make anything out of, though, and as you've proven you are usually good at that. Honestly it sounds like they've had this exact conversation before, and despite the professor's reluctance to repeat history she hasn't found a better alternative in the meantime. After she's finished saying (repeating?) her piece she lets out a sigh, shakes her head and reluctantly admits that "it's probably for the best". Whatever that means. You'd cast a translation spell, but without at least vaguely knowing what kind of language they're talking it's just not something you know how to do. Presumably that's why Professor Badcrumble and the Legate aren't casting those spells either, but...what all does that imply?

While your mind mulls over that question, and completely out of any sort of context since none of you understood a word of what Chi or Leon just said, Chi proceeds to take her clothes off. Rather casually, in fact, she doesn't seem ashamed at all. "Wait, what?" is all that Rikildis manages to say on that point, Grainne just looks thoroughly confused. Of course both are still intently looking for anything that could possibly answer their questions, though you strongly doubt they'll find it just observing. You turn towards Professor Badcrumble, and apparently being the genius problem solver of the group, simply ask Professor Badcrumble what Chi is doing. "She...I can't believe I'm saying this, but please just pay attention. Rest assured that you either wouldn't understand or wouldn't believe me if I tried to explain. I know that from experience, regrettably."

So you did read that correctly. Eh, well...if that's the professor's answer, than...sure? You shrug and turn your attention to Chi, who has dove into the pool and is looking right at you, seeming waiting for you. Then, without using a wand or casting any kind of spell that you can perceive, her legs change. It seems to happens within the blink of an eye, one second you're looking at regular legs and the next they seem to be sprouting scales. In any case, faster than you can follow Chi does whatever she does and swims out of the pool, at speed, nimbly using her momentum to jump out and onto the edge in one graceful move. Quickly recovering from the water splashing around you, Grainne and Rikildis all stare, dumbfounded, at Chi. Rather than the legs she had a moment ago she's now spotting a single tail fin, dark green and seemingly covered in scales. You say "seemingly" because at the same time they seem to be missing something. Shadows, depth, it's hard to explain but the scales look off. Are they really there, or is it just how her...skin(?) looks?

"So...she's like a werewolf? Part human and part mermaid, rather than part human and part wolf, and able to control her transformation as well?" Rikildis slowly asks. Of course Chi doesn't understand Rikildis' question so Leon answers it for her, confirming that Chi is basically exactly that. And the other two, as well. "That's not a variant of lycanthropy that I've ever heard of before. And I got whined at by what felt like the entire Academagia's extended collection of hybrid students and their sympathisers last year, not to mention that whole anti-shapeshifting flyer situation that I was initially accused of this year. So I actually know a fair bit about basically every were-creature that's ever existed. But a...were-mermaid? I've never heard of that before." Rikildis observes. You, too, admit that a large number of such students approached you to thank you for your work after the whole anti-shapeshifting flyer business concluded, but the closest you've heard to a human mermaid is Ana. And of course she was just using Revision on herself, so that hardly counts. "Never heard about this before in all of my years chasing rumors, either," Grainne adds.

While Grainne and Rikildis take a moment to let that information sink in and collect their thoughts your take another close look around the room, determined to answer every last lingering question you can think of right now. But no, you don't see any large eggs lying around. You were sure that the faculty took possession of it after Leon begged them to bail him out, but...it's not here. "Leon, what happened to the egg after you stole it from the estate? And just what kind of egg was it, anyway? I had assumed the Academagia's faculty would take possession of it, that it'd be kept here, but...I don't see it."

"The egg that the Madame got her hands on, simply put, was Xu's," Leon slowly answers, shifting his gaze over to Xu. She spares him that same weary glance, but then returns to watching the three of you. You're not sure if that is an answer or not, though. Sure, Xu's got a baby in her arms...which is frankly a bit disturbing to think about if that's what the case ends up being, but...aren't mermaids mammals? Large fish are, humans are, so...aren't mermaids as well? And by extension, were-mermaids? If so don't mermaids not lay eggs? Are you just completely wrong about that, or what's the deal here? "As for what happened to it, as you thought the Academagia took possession of it - returned it to Xu, really - until the 18th of Hionosi. On that day, a few weeks later than expected, this little girl finally hatched from it." Leon says, pointing at the baby in Xu's arms. Professor Badcrumble quickly interjects and adds that that's why, on the 18th, she was called out of her own detention session so suddenly. It was time for her ward's egg to hatch.

...There are...no words. None. No words manage to rise from the linguistic pit of your mind, as you try to find something fit to describe this situation. There's just a distant desire to drag Girars out here and hold his head under the water until he stops struggling. Gods alive, this is not where you were expecting to end up when you agreed to look into some stupid "animal abuse" rumors however many months ago!

"Hold on, time out," Rikildis, snapped out of her own thoughts, suddenly says. "That baby, that Xu is holding in her arms right now, hatched from an egg? The same one that this Madame intended to cook and feed to her guests!?" Rikildis, having achieved a new, enlightened form of thoroughly confused, blurts out. Professor Badcrumble quickly tells her to quiet down and be more considerate of the girl's feelings (they, for their part, mostly seem confused as to why this one student just started yelling in a language they don't understand), but of course it doesn't change the expression on Rikildis' face. Grainne even tries to subtly jab her in the ribs, but the perplexed looks remains firmly in place. Leon, in answer to Rikildis' question (and yours, quite frankly), nods. "E-excuse me? I don't-Chi didn't look any different from me...t-tail fin aside, I guess, but - and I know I never tested this theory but trust me when I say I have it on good authority regardless - I don't lay eggs. I don't know if mermaids do, but I sure don't, so...what? How-I mean, what...?"

Leon shrugs. "I don't claim to understand it either, but...does it really make a difference, ultimately? You can ask yourself why Xu lays eggs or ask yourself why you don't, the knowledge won't change either of you. Oh, and for the record, the baby's name is Fang. She's a girl, if I didn't mention that before."

He actually did, but...that hardly seems relevant now. Rikildis, after far too long spend trying to figure out how to respond, just lets out a sigh and gives up. It's impressive, actually. Finally something broke her. Grainne is still looking like the gears in her head are spinning, but you...Gods, the desire to drown Girars right now. He better not be around Lake Ardica at any point in the near future, because boy is that going to call his future into question...

That pretty much solves the mystery, though. Leon, secretly directed by Pasquale, raided the Flying Gallery, the private cargo ship of the De Simones, because the chef was informed of a weird egg that he was hired to cook...and thank all the Gods that he didn't...and wanted it investigated. But he lacked the skills to do it himself, so instead Leon, unknowingly, was send in Pasquale's stead, and ended up freeing these two girls from captivity. They fled into the night, escaping the city through the Canal of Snows according to the Legate...though where did they end up? You ask Leon to fill in the rest for you. "Me and my friends broke the girls out not long after the end of the school year, shortly after I got a mysterious note pleading me to investigate it - right when that cook was at my house might I add - and initially tried to bring the matter to customs. But the Madame has them on her payroll, so they blew me off after I'd promised the girls that I could convince them to help. So they fled." Oh, gods, those guys are dead if that crime ever comes to light. Accepting bribes to overlook smuggling is bad enough, overlooking slavery...yikes. Of course it's possible that they just plain didn't believe Leon, but still. Not how that situation should have ended, and given the fact that they're on someone else's payroll, you're willing to bet that it'll be considered their fault primarily. "We tracked them down to the Imperial Reserve two days or so later, near the Duelling Bridge, and then spend something like two to three weeks trying to understand and study their language. Otherwise we couldn't really communicate."

"Wait, hold up, you basically taught yourself that language in less than three weeks!? How?" Grainne asks, perplexed.

Leon shrug and says "There's a reason I attend the Academagia," with a bit of a smug smirk on his face, but based on the disapproving frown on Professor Badcrumble's face when he says that you suspect that might just be a more specific talent than a general one. Or, more likely, pure dumb luck backed by stubborn determination. "For real though, it wasn't easy. When I say we spend two weeks doing that I meant we did that and nothing else. Three guys diving into and out of every library we could, trying again and again, it was the most frantic and insane homework project I've ever done. Kaliri Finals don't even come close." Yeah...you can believe that. "During that time we also brought food to the girls, since they were on the brink of starvation, Xu especially having just laid an egg, and I'm sad to say that that's the only reason they continued to bother with us. But eventually we managed to learn enough of their language to talk to them, and ask them to come to the Academagia. Though I'll admit I only suggested that because I didn't have any other ideas. I didn't expect anyone here to actually believe or help us any more than the girls did, after that fiasco with customs..."

You can't help but glance at the two professors here after Leon says that. Professor Badcrumble still has the same look on her, but the Legate shakes his head. "I'd have believed him, if he could have convinced the girls to come here at least. Finding me might have been another matter, admittedly, but..."

Not much help, than. You nod and turn your attention back to Leon. "Since they still didn't trust us - anyone, really, after-" he continues, until he's suddenly interrupted.

"You'd best skip that particular part, Leon. These three don't need to be told about the girl's personal lives." Professor Badcrumble interjects. Grainne and Rikildis frown at that statement, but honestly, if that's what the professor believes than you're willing to take her word for it. This all is more than enough to take in at once as is, anyway.

"R-right. Well, they didn't trust us, so Xu gave me an ultimatum - they'd agree to come with us to the Academagia if we managed to get her egg back. It took us a day to actually figure out it was at the estate, and by that time it was far too late to get it through any means other than the raid we pulled. If I remember right we had about a day before the feast was going to be held, a day to prepare for that raid. So...we went it with what we had already, and not much else. Thankfully we at least succeeded at getting the egg out of there intact."

"Which is more than could be said of the estate's garden, the hallway that caught fire, the servants who injured themselves in the panic and at practically every guest that found themselves at the wrong end of a Negative Alteration of Organic Matter spell. To say nothing of the cook that you knocked unconscious, when he was in the middle of his own scheme to smuggle the egg out of there rather than cook it as he was hired to do, as it turns out. But yes, you did indeed save the egg." Professor Badcrumble notes with all the reverence you'd expect. Which is to say, none at all.

"Even you didn't know about the cook's plans until [PC FIRST NAME] figured out his part in the story, and it's not as if he knew who the egg belonged to anyway. Don't blame me for not knowing about it way back when." Leon retorts. The Legate quickly asks him to get back on track, and with some reluctance he does. Looking at Professor Badcrumble the feeling appears to be mutual. "In any case, we got the egg back and gave it back to Xu, and they reluctantly agreed to come with us to the Academagia. We, eh, decided to 'stay' there as well since, you know, the Madame was kinda unhappy about how her feast went and we had no better place to hide." That's one way to understate it. "I don't know exactly what happened there, but a day or two later, I forget exactly, the Legate approached me with a lot more of the story than I thought anyone was even going to believe, much less find out, so...I spilled the rest. The girls, as well as Xu's egg, were officially taken in as Professor Badcrumble's wards, since their...circumstances is something that College Avila takes personally, and me and my friends were kicked out of Morvidus and transferred to Hedi. And I have to say that as much as I hated it at first I can't say that I regret that transfer, in hindsight. Professor Piaxenza is a lot better at his job than Professor Storey ever could be, I'll tell you that."

You can see Professor Badcrumble preparing herself to say something, but the Legate pointedly shakes his head. The regent gets the hint and (reluctantly) stays quiet. "To fill in the rest, the day after the feast the Madame informed the guards that a 'trio of crazy animal rights activists' had raided her estate, with magical proof of their identities, and demanded that they do their jobs and capture them. That lead to the guards to threaten a raid upon the Morvidus dorms to grab the known troublemakers, though I managed to delay them long enough to figure out most of what had happened and convince Leon to tell me the rest. If you're curious about that landscape painting of the Duelling Bridge, for instance, a Vernin student went into the Reserve over the summer to paint that and ended up being mistaken for Leon. Xu swam up to him, even called out to him before realizing her mistake and rushing back off into the darkness. Of course nothing came from those rumors, but those who know the boy knew that something was off from his painting. It's accuracy, to be specific." You look at the painting in question and wonder who the Legate is talking about, but you have no idea and (most importantly) no desire to go looking for an answer. Grainne and Rikildis, however, share a knowing look with each other. There really is just no stopping those two, is there? "With Leon's story, as well as sufficient evidence of it in hand, I contacted Catherine Chard and asked her to deliver a message to her parents, both informing and warning them of what had happened. Unfortunately, that was all I could do about the Madame at that time."

"I still don't know what else evidence you need," Leon says looking pointedly at Xu, as well as Fang you suppose. You're not sure what to make of Xu's expression when Leon does that. It's noticeable how her gaze seems to follow him, but than you suppose that you've all been talking about stuff they can't understand a word of for a while now and Leon appears to be the only translator around. Someone really needs to devise a translation spell sooner or later, for their sake if not yours.

"This situation isn't that simple, Leon. Not when the nobility and their intrigue is involved," Professor Badcrumble tries to tell Leon, but you'd bet money it doesn't change anything. She seems to come to the same conclusion, as she turns her attention to your three. "Sigalis and Rebecca understood that, thankfully. [PC FIRST NAME], Grainne, Rikildis, I hope you understand that fact as well. Don't go spreading this story, to anyone. It'll upset the fragile balance of a delicate situation, and nothing good will come from it falling to pieces prematurely. I'm no happier about it than Leon is, but that's simply how it is. And until than we all will have to do what must be done."

"Is it really, professor?" Rikildis asks with an unconvinced frown on her face. "If it was anything else, sure, but we're not talking about poaching and smuggling exotic animals here. If these girls are indeed lycanthropes, humans, than by the laws of the Empire of Man - it's spirit if not it's letter - their captivity is slavery. Are you really telling me that someone demonstratively guilty of slavery isn't an open and shut case, so long as they're nobility?"

"Like I just said, Rikildis, it isn't that simple." Professor Badcrumble says with a sigh. "There's too much about this situation that we don't know about, too many unknowns and moving pieces we haven't identified yet. If we let this situation get out of control, if we set off this powder keg, we might never even figure out what we missed in the aftermath. And I can't allow that. Please, for both our sakes, don't act as if this situation is an open and shut case even if you believe that it is."

Rikildis smirks and says that that's her speciality, and of course Grainne does likewise. You, though...you're not sure. This is a lot to take in, and how do you quantify the unknown? You don't even know what all could still be out there, if anything, how are you supposed to judge that? That anti-shapeshifter flyer, for instance, it's obvious now that it was aimed at these two-three girls, and in perpetuating that Laroche played a part of this whole mess even if she didn't know anything about it. But doing something for someone related to these mysterious, unknown girls, and that completely inexplicable, borderline magical magic that she had...that can't be a coincidence, right? She must be an accomplice on some level...but Laroche was turned, so the guards are probably already on that case. Yet...Gods, what a mess. And that's just one aspect of it. You can't even imagine the rest.

In any case that finally answers the last of your questions. The last that can be answered right now, anyway. As for what now...you'll see. You feel like you need multiple nights to sleep on this before all the information has settled in, and honestly there doesn't seem to be anything else going on for you to do anything with anyway. Laroche is the biggest thing, of course, but that was, what, months ago? And she got turned anyway, so the guards are definitely on her case. Hell, you personally, along with Vettor and Ana, made sure that case didn't get stuck on a lack of evidence, so you know that progress could be made on that front. You'll just wait for the Legate to call for you, you think, or someone else you suppose. Otherwise you imagine that Grainne and Rikildis will be keeping the Legate (and others, most likely) busy enough. Hey, at least they might finally leave Matthias, and in turn Catherine, alone. Though probably not. Speaking of which, actually, before you head back to your room and call it a day - because seriously, you're done with today and have way too much information to process as is - there is one person you're going to have to pay a visit to first. Namely...

-Catherine Chard. The real one, that is.
--You say goodbye to everyone, leaving behind Grainne and Rikildis to discuss even more stuff. Gods, those two really never stop, do they? But, no matter. You make your way to Vernin campus and poke your head into the Common Room, expecting to ask around about Catherine's whereabouts. Turns out however that she's right here in the Common Room itself. Very convenient. You walk up to her, not hiding the fatigue evident on your face, and silently wait for her to finish looking you over. "D-do you need something, [PC FIRST NAME]? You should head to bed, maybe even the infirmary. You look really tired."

"Yeah, sorry about that. I'm not sick, though, don't worry about that. I just came from a long talk."

Catherine's narrowed eyes stare at you a bit nervously. She knows full well what you've been looking into, no doubt, and what "long talk" you just came from. "R-right. Was...there anything you wished to discuss with me, about that?" You nod. Catherine lets out a sigh. "Alright, I suppose. Let's take this to my room, though. Fewer people whispering to each other there." You nod, knowing full well that it's not the whispering part that Catherine (and you, to be fair) objects to. You follow Catherine to her dorm room, where she asks you to sit down in her chair. You happily take her up on that offer. She, for her part, sits down on her bed. "Didn't I tell you that I don't want you involved in this, [PC FIRST NAME]? Or make that clear, at least? Why are you involved with this whole mess? Why did you have to dig your way to the very bottom of it?"

"Because Rebecca 'asked' me to, with one of her visions," you confidently answer. Catherine looks surprised at that, but not that surprised. She probably already heard about the visions that Vettor got, and figured out who was responsible for it. "That, and Sigalis broke. After Leon nearly broke her jaw, might I add. She told Rikildis about it, asked her to expose Leon's enemy - which is a very unusual thing to ask her friend after that same Leon punched her straight into the infirmary, mind - and asked me to help her, since I knew the case so well. Even if I wasn't aware of just how much I did know about it at the time." Catherine slowly nods. You get the impression that nothing you're telling her right now is news to her, as such, but she doesn't look like she really knew about it either. Bits and pieces she's been trying to forget, probably. "Now that I do know about it, though, I can't help but wonder to the point of asking you: Professor Badcrumble's wards...I take it you know them? About them, at least?"

"Not personally," Catherine answers, staring down at her feet. "I've seen them, though. The truth is, I was called to the Academagia by the Legate during the summer, and on the way to his office I overheard a group of confused future students and their parents talking about something that happened during their tour. One that Professor Badcrumble was heading, until she was called away suddenly. I didn't understand what happened at the time, but I heard that in the middle of the tour 'some news' was delivered to her. The whole story about those girls. The students and parents weren't told anything, of course, but...she nearly broke down in tears right in front of them. Professor Badcrumble, I mean. Considering who was watching...I knew that whatever news reached her had to be something extraordinary." Yeah, you don't recall anything of the sort happening before either. "So I got curious, and rather than going straight to the Legate's office - as if I knew exactly where he was hiding, anyway - I looked for Professor Badcrumble. That's when I saw them. The two girls, Leon, and Professor Badcrumble leading them around...and the older girl's egg, held tight to her chest."

"What did you even make of that sight? I mean that must have just been so random, seeing Xu with a, what, small baby-sized egg?"

Catherine shrugs. "I'm not sure. It looked smaller than that I think, but I obviously never held it or looked at it up close. And I'm not that familiar with how large an average small baby is, anyway." Okay, that's fair enough. "As for what I made of that sight...I don't know. I still don't know, I feel like. It was too bizarre for words, like I was going to turn around and see Rui laughing hysterically at how I'd fall for such an obvious Glamour. But of course that was during the summer, so even though I fully expected to turn around and see Rui or someone else, anyone else...no one was there." That honestly sounds kinda sad, you're not going to lie. "I wanted to go back home, forget I ever saw it and just push it out of my mind. But of course I wasn't done at the Academagia quite yet."

"Because the Legate still had a message for you to deliver to your parents about the whole situation, right?"

Catherine nods. "He didn't say anything about it, he just gave me a sealed letter and told me to deliver it to my parents, but I'm not a fool. I knew that what I saw, whatever I saw, had to be what it was about. And after I gave my parents the Legate's message, after they read it...well, let's just say 'tranquil fury' is a phrase that achieved a new definition in my home that day." Yeah, that's about the reaction you expected. "My parents and the Legate aren't on the best on terms, the latter basically having been appointed to his position by the Captain. And you know how well my family gets along with him. Still..."

"They still took the advice seriously, and not long after Rebecca was suddenly living in your family's estate," you fill in for Catherine. She slowly nods.

"My own home, yes. I couldn't even look at her at first. I knew about the girls, Professor Badcrumble's wards, and I'm no fool. I could imagine all to well what must have happened to them, and frankly I'm sure the actual truth is worse still. And Rebecca...she had this look to her face, like she had something to prove. Someone to take revenge on." So Rebecca at least knew that something was off about the Madame's actions way back then, even if she didn't know the full story yet. And she later teamed up with Sigalis and started directing people with her visions, trying to get to the bottom of it. Which, ultimately, she did. Professor Badcrumble basically confirmed as much. "Of course normally I'd get my mind off of things by visiting the De Simone's estate, their art gallery, but...well, you already know what happened to that." Just one thing after another with Catherine, it sounds like. Of course things could be much worse, still. She seems to recognize that particular frown on your face, though. "Apologies if this is all making me sound like a spoiled, spineless coward. I know full well I've got no right to complain compared to certain other individuals, and I've no intentions to, but..."

"Don't worry, I understand the severity of the situation and why it'd hit you so hard. If this powder keg goes off than at best it can only benefit the Captain, at worst no one at all, and in either case it'll be a situation that your family will get in a lot of trouble for. But you're simply not ready to actually do something about it, at least as much or as convincingly as you'd want to. You're afraid of the consequences just as much as the possibility of you being unable to change them, right?"

Catherine actually looks up and smiles a little after you say that. And you'll admit, it's nice to see a smile on her face again. "Y-yes, exactly. Thanks, [PC FIRST NAME]. That actually means a lot to me."

"I'm no fool either. Though I'm afraid I do have to ask: What are your parents planning to do? I get that they want to keep the whole situation under wraps for the moment, thankfully the Legate agrees with that course of action, but...what about afterwards? Surely your parents aren't planning on turning a blind eye towards a slaver and her victims, even if it's their former ally, so what's their plan? How are they going to resolve this situation without setting the powder keg off, and without leaving either Leon's Clique or the girls in a position where they'd still be looking to set it off themselves? Get revenge, seek what they consider justice, whatever?"

Catherine's answer to that question (or series thereof) is one that you were expecting, but not hoping for. "I don't know. I trust my parents' judgement, of course, and I'll happily say that Leon and his friends really are simpletons if they believe the matter could just be brought to court without the entire city's political landscape crashing down and catching fire in the process. If they even manage to stick their accusations to the Madame, which I can tell you right now they wouldn't. But...maybe that's part of the reason why I feel sick every time I catch a glimpse of Professor Badcrumble's wards. You probably never noticed before, but they do wander around the Academagia with Professor Badcrumble and Leon sometimes, disguised as students. Disguised with Astrology, mind, not Glamour. That's why no one ever really notices or remembers them." Huh. You didn't, no, though you wonder if Lambert ever noticed something. He's been on Leon's case for so long, stalking Leon, you think he'd have noticed. It also reminds you of Leon's Gaes. It makes you wonder how the girls react to it, since Leon and his friends demonstrably suffered from being under it so badly. Hopefully the girls aren't as bothered by it. "That's...pretty much it. Is that all you wanted to ask me, [PC FIRST NAME]?"

You'd say it is, but actually, no. Looking at Catherine you realize that there's one last question to ask. "Almost. One last thing I wanted to ask: Catherine, what do you plan to do about all of this? What do you even want to do about it, really?"

"Waiting for my parents to decide on a plan, and doing my part in seeing that plan through, assuming I have a role to play in it," Catherine answers with a monotone voice. It sounded like she forced those words out of her more than anything else. Still, you're willing to take that answer on Catherine's word. "What I'd want to do, though..." she quietly follows up with a more natural sounding tone. One that sounds tired, and worn. Much like how Catherine looks right now. "If I had a choice, I'd try to wake up from this unending nightmare. Turn around, have Rui laugh at my face, and just walk away. Not even look back. There's worse things than what trouble that prankster has caused me. Far worse things, I'm sure..."

On the one side Catherine is far from the biggest victim of this whole mess. You don't know exactly what all happened to the girls yourself, but even so you're absolutely sure of that much. On the other side she's clearly torn by it all, and writing off her feelings as the whining of a spoiled brat that doesn't understand anyone's place but her own pedestal simply cannot end well for anyone involved. You shouldn't disregard the feelings of the girls because they are human, and ultimately, as far as you can see right now Catherine is as well. So by your count you shouldn't disregard her feelings, either. "It'll be alright, Catherine," you say. Whether she really appreciates it you're not sure, she just looks up at you, staring at your face a bit confused and not saying anything, but dammit you're going to try and if that ends with you having to explain yourself than so be it. "You're only a student right now, but even students can pull off some amazing things sometimes. Leon's raid, Rebecca's manipulations, Vettor swimming through that underwater death labyrinth, me investigating this whole mess...grand things that made a real difference, and yet we're only students, every last one of us. You're no worse at politics than any of us are at our fields, so don't worry if something does happen. You're not completely helpless, and worst case scenario you've got people you can ask for help. And don't be afraid to do so, if you need it. Vettor didn't manage to go through that tunnel alone. Leon didn't raid the estate on his own. And Rebecca...well, you know where I'm going with this."

"Is that an attempt to make me feel better, [PC FIRST NAME]?" Catherine asks. There's a thin smirk on her face, but you know she really feels. You can hear it in her voice. You nod, and Catherine can't help but lightly shake her head. "Well...let it be known that it worked. And it's appreciated. So, thanks, [PC FIRST NAME]."

As you thought, despite Catherine's social status and upbringing she's not at a point where she's able to completely write off the girls because of their heritage, or even not feel personally guilty that this whole mess happened to them. You keeping that empathy alive can only be a good thing, you think, and Catherine having someone to confide in can only help her. It helped Leon, from the looks of it, you're sure it'll help Catherine as well.

Worst case, if it does turn out that Catherine's trust in her parents is misplaced, well...friends, enemies, and the distance at which you should keep them...

-Vettor and Ana.
--Did you say one person? You meant two. Counting is hard when your brain feels like it got left on a grill for too long and dribbled out of your ears, alright?

In any case you find Vettor in the Great Hall, playing a game with Ana. Fantastic, that is just what you need right now. "Hey there, [PC FIRST NAME]," Vettor says as you sit down next to him. "Are you alright? You look like you're about to pass out."

"Long story, Vettor. Very long story. Rest assured, you don't want to know." you say, wearily. Vettor shrugs and asks what he can do to help you. "Sorry if this sounds ridiculous, but I'm in need of some good news right now. Something light, something innocent, something good. The conversation I just came from was...heavy, to put it lightly."

"'Innocent' and 'Vettor' in the same sentence? Did you forget who your friend is, [PC FIRST NAME]? Because if you hadn't noticed he's kicking my ass mercilessly," Ana jokingly says, pointing to the (one-sided, it seems) game they're playing. That's the kind of banter you recall from these two. At least before that whole mess with the underwater tunnel rose up to the surface, so to speak.

"Well, I don't know if it'd really help you to know, but 'Thema's situation is a lot better now than it was back before we scouted out that tunnel," Vettor notes. That's right. Ana's phobia of the depths, her issues with her self confidence (or lack thereof) and her regent, all too quickly all of those things come back to you. Issues with her regent, though? From what you recall...huh.

"What all exactly happened between Ana and Professor Storey, anyhow? You mentioned that she was having...some kind of trouble with him, right?" you ask Vettor. Ana quickly asks him if he really told you about that, and Vettor casually nods. Instead of explaining, however, he asks Ana to do so herself. She's clearly not used to being put on the spot like that, but one look at your weary expression is all the motivation she needs to start.

"Professor Storey just plain hated me for no reason, pretty much. He always assumed the worst, kept an eye on me like I'd cause all kinds of trouble the moment he turned his back, he'd never actually help me with me trying to cast advanced Revisions either...I honestly don't know what's wrong with the man, or why he's still allowed to teach." Given what you know now you can only assume that the concept of an "aquatic girl", perhaps of the mermaid variety, being put in his college made Professor Storey completely and utterly paranoid, after the debacle he had to deal with involving Leon and his friends. No reason to take it out on Ana, of course, but still, you can only imagine how haggered the man must be after having to deal with that and Philippe's brothers year after year after year. "Thankfully Professor Badcrumble asked me about it, because she really put him in his place. She even talked the Praetexta Council into letting me switch Colleges mid-year, so now I'm in Godina instead. Honestly I can't say that I care for Professor Massioti's obsession with Rimbal at all, but I'm much more at home in Godina than Morvidus, so I'm happy with the switch. And Professor Massioti isn't that bad of a regent anyway. He does insist that I help with matches every now and again, but he does the same to every student that doesn't have a broken arm, so I can't complain too much. Honestly, it's good practice for me anyway. I'm still a fair bit behind in Incantation and Music, but Professor Badcrumble convinced my parents to let me drop Arithmetic and Dialectic for them, so that's extra work I really don't mind putting in. Incantation is close enough to Revision, in terms of magical theory, that I can pick it up reasonably quickly, and Music...well, I've yet to sing a song that didn't make Professor Chastellain's ears bleed, but it's a lot less boring than Arithmetic, so I still consider it a win. Even if he probably wouldn't."

You hadn't even noticed Ana's new Godina robes. So that's how out of if you are, huh? Well, so long as she's happy you suppose. "And your phobia? Did you end up finding a way to overcome it?"

Ana actually blushes a bit and looks at Vettor, who's got a big, goofy smile on this face. The sight of it makes Ana giggle. You'll admit, it is good to see that these two managed to come back from whatever mess the whole tunnel situation left them in. "Y-you could say that," Ana says with a shy smile. You can't help but glance pointedly at Vettor after seeing that. Once again he doesn't say anything, though. It's Ana that does the explaining herself. "I thought that I could get over it myself at first, just doing whatever Vettor did to get himself through that tunnel...but that just went every kind of nowhere possible. So Vettor eventually convinced me to ask Professor Badcrumble for help again. She insisted on telling my parents about it first, which...took some convincing in it's own right, I'll admit, but she did ultimately arrange for a meeting and explained the situation. And she was right, too. My parents didn't react to the news as I was expecting them to. I assumed that they'd take it as confirmation that they shouldn't ever encourage my hobby, that they'd forbid me from swimming ever again, but they were really worried about me. That I'd be stuck sitting on a shore watching my best friend basically sacrifice himself for me, because I was just so afraid I couldn't do anything to help him." Quietly Ana adds, "They know how hard I take those kind of things. And they're right, too..."

You do recall that being the case, yes. That said there's a zero percent chance of Ana's parents having an accurate idea of who Vettor really is at that point, you think. Not that Vettor doesn't genuinely seem to be a good mentor, even friend to Ana, but still.

"After informing my parents about it she recommended that they take me to this...what do they call it, a potion shop? I don't know, it's a little shop right outside the Admiratio. The employees there know magic that can help people with deeply rooted fears, apparently...not that I'd call my phobia that, personally, but...nevertheless, my parents convinced me to try it." You curiously ask Ana what she means by them "apparently" being able to help her. "I say that because even having experienced the, eh, techniques they use...I still can't explain it. I tried, many times, to explain it to Vettor, but I still don't know how to explain it."

"What matter most to me is that the results so far speak for themselves, anyway," Vettor notes. Ana nods in agreement, as well.

"I'm still afraid of there being no straight path back up to the surface, and from what Leene told me that fear is too deeply rooted to be dug out easily. Apparently it'll be a while before I'll be able to swim through that tunnel like Vettor did, and as far as I can tell she's right. But I do feel like I've changed, in a good way, ever since I started seeing her. Before I always felt like I was stuck, like I didn't fit inside my own body or my own life. I could never say what I wanted to say, never felt like I could do what I wanted to, sometimes I'd even feel like I didn't have the space to feel what my heart wanted to. Or the opposite, where I didn't want to feel something, but that was just the only thing I had room for. The only feeling that felt like it would fit, not make things harder on me."

This conversation is starting to get heavier than you wanted, but whatever. It's not the worst conversation you could be having by any stretch, and frankly this is something that's been in the back of your mind for a while now. "Vettor told me at one point that you were jealous of me, something along those lines, after I ordered you around when we were retrieving Laroche's ring. Is that why you felt that way? You knew you had no reason to feel that way, didn't want to, even, but you just couldn't stop it?"

Ana pointedly stares at Vettor for a second, who he lets out a sigh and nods. Ana nods in turn, but in more of a "you're in for it later" kind of way. "That jealously, if that's what you'd call it, yes. That was a case of me wanting to just be happy that we all succeeded and did a good job and all of that...but no matter how many times I told myself that I'd still only feel annoyed that you stole my spotlight. And before you ask, no, I don't know what award you were given for returning that ring that I wasn't either. I just couldn't help it. No matter how often I'd tell myself my feelings didn't change. The opposite often happened too, like I said. You have no idea how much I wanted to turn Vettor's shoulder into a pool and desperately ask him to tell me everything would be alright, after he first told me about the tunnel and that the Legate needed someone to swim through it, that we both knew I couldn't. But...nothing came out. No tears, no words, nothing."

"And that's changed now? Now if you feel like you want to cry, you can?"

"Not on cue like an actor, but...Vettor's been getting some extra mileage out of his drying spells, yes," Ana says. You'll admit, it's a fitting way to put it. "It honestly took some getting used to, for myself as much as my Classmates. But despite how awkward it is sometimes to not really know when you're about to cry, I don't really know this new me yet, it's worth it. I know I wouldn't feel jealous anymore if we went to complete another job like before. Unless you actually stole my spotlight this time, but than I'd tie you to a chair and starve you out until I convinced you to teach me your secrets, rather than just feel annoyed at everything. So still an improvement from before, I feel like." You know Ana wasn't serious with that last part, but still. You feel like you ought to wish Vettor good luck, since it sounds like he'll need it. "I also finally got into a Clique. On the surface my friends a pair of knuckleheads that couldn't solve a basic formula to save their lives, but beneath the boy-ness and Rimbal obsession they're a pair of sweet softies that have more of a clue as to how to comfort a crying girl than I did at first. That's how I got into their Clique, actually. They were the first of my Classmates that noticed me cry, at first I only did when Vettor was around but after a while those tears started to flow even without him. And they noticed. I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting to end up in a Clique with two boys that know how to treat a girl better than I did, but I'm glad I did. I really needed the help getting through Music, and they've been better friends than I could have asked for. I'm really glad I met them." Oh dear. It's good that she's making friends and all, but if those two end up fighting over Ana one day it'll end up a bloodbath that Ana herself will be the one to cause, one way or another. Of that there can be no doubt. "Incidentally, [PC FIRST NAME], have you heard about what happen after you and Vettor scouted out the tunnel?"

Actually, no. You got that vision the same day that you scouted the tunnel, and after that you weren't really paying too much attention to that. You wanted to know what the vision was for and about, and now that you've solved the mystery you think you've got that answer. "I remember the Legate saying that he'd drag Professor Massioti through the tunnel himself if he had to, he was done with his students risking their lives, but I don't know what actually happened."

"Well, suffice to say that several Athletics classes involving swimming and the importance of temperature maintaining magic were mysteriously cancelled after you two scouted out the tunnel. Funnily enough I actually didn't mind it, I already knew everything those classes would teach and I wasn't in any mood to swim at that point anyway." Poor Professor Massioti. At least he had a map to work with, but still. You're hoping that he didn't pick up any phobias from that experience. "He did make it through, though, thanks to the map you two drew of the labyrinth. From there he managed to make his way to the hideout and set down some kind of Gates artefact that allowed him to teleport back in and out, like Laroche had herself." The faculty resorted to using a thing like that? Yikes. You don't blame them, but still, way to set a bar on what justifies using Proscribed magic. "With that the faculty managed to teleport in a platoon of cave spelunkers and non-magic gear for them that wouldn't work if it was taken through the tunnel - like, say, torches - and they ended up exploring and digging their way to a surface entrance that had collapsed countless centuries ago. The guards send in an expedition of their own through there, to take possession of everything in that hideout whether it was nailed to the floor or not, since they didn't want to risk anything getting lost or damaged or compromised because of the Gates item Professor Massioti brought. No attempts were made to disrupt that expedition, needless to say that it was prepared to fight a small army, so all of the evidence was brought to the most secure building the guards could. They didn't even say where they brought it, not publicly, but they've got it." You'd bet fifty Pims that they brought it to the Academagia itself, honestly. There's nowhere else in the city that's more secure, at least that the guards could possibly use as a secure storage dump. "I haven't heard anything more about the Laroche case, but I'm assuming it's proceeding smoothly. The guy that the guards wanted to turn, that middleman salesman that Vettor told you about? The trial against him was 'postponed until further notice', basically cancelled. From what I've heard it's a sign that the guards managed to convince him to become an informant for them, so whatever they found in the hideout did the trick."

Hard to believe you didn't even think to check that at any point. All that effort to swim through the tunnel, the ordeal that that was, and you got too distracted by the vision you got to check if it was worth the effort in the end. You're glad that it was, even if you needn't expect any sort of recognition for it, as the Legate said. And you know all too well why that is, now. Laroche...you wonder if her case is basically confirmation that there's more going on than Leon thinks there is. He seems pretty convinced there isn't, but...

"Hey [PC FIRST NAME], how about a game?" Vettor asks, snapping you out of your thoughts before you could even get lost in them. You'd call that rude, but...for the best, probably. "You and 'Thema, teamed up against me. Do you think you two can beat me?" You glance over at Ana, and yes, she indeed has a look on her face that says she is ready to go and teach Vettor a lesson in humility. And honestly, looking at that big, goofy grin on his face as he shuffles his pack of cards...he could probably use one.

"Deal," you say as you get up and sit back down next to Ana. Whatever madness might await those who know about the case of Professor Badcrumble's wards, it can wait. You need to unwind after all you've seen and heard today, and Vettor needs to either learn or teach you a lesson in playing cards.

-Rebecca de Simone.
--This whole mess started because you got roped into investigating a stupid rumor with Girars, and from there you ended up poking at this mystery from multiple angles for some reason or another as time went on. However, it wasn't just coincidence that you happened to land in Professor Badcrumble's detention session where she was called away because...it was time for Fang's egg to hatch. For Fang to hatch out of her egg? You are not that familiar with egg terminology. Point is, that day you feel like you followed your vision to end up in that situation. The vision you got after you and Vettor swam through the underwater death tunnel. You know now that Rebecca was behind it, must have been behind it, and honestly? You feel like she owes you a few answers. What she wanted you to do, why you only got the one vision rather than the series of them that Vettor got...you've got questions, and you want answers.

You make your way to the eight dorm towers of Avila and, after quickly asking around, make your way to Rebecca's dorm room. You knock on her door, and a few seconds later Rebecca opens up. She looks even more weary and fatigued than you do right now, which is simultaneously impressive and worrisome. "[PC FIRST NAME]?" Rebecca asks, looking you over with a weary expression. "You look like you were just told a very long, and very unbelievable story. So I guess it's over, and you're here for answers?"

"Shown, not told," you correct. It surprises Rebecca somewhat. "Professor Badcrumble learned from her mistake, if I understand thing correctly. She showed me the unbelievable story. And yes, I don't think I would have believed it if she hadn't." Rebecca briefly frowns at that, but all too quickly her weary expression returns in full force. "So I'm not here to ask you a bunch of questions, I'm only here to ask you one-okay, two of them: Why did you send me that vision after Vettor and I mapped out the tunnel, what exactly did you want me to do? And why only the one? Vettor got a series of them-and I'm not just asking this because I'm jealous, obviously, I mean that considering what happened on the eighteenth there was still a lot more to find out that you could have shown me. Could have asked me to help you and Sigalis, or Rikildis, or whoever to figure out. So...why didn't you?"

"Simply put, I never intended to ask you for help in the first place. I'm glad that you ended up doing what you did, don't get me wrong, but Sigalis was the one that asked you for help. Not me," Rebecca answers. You'll admit, you were not expecting that answer. "I send you that vision, yes, but I intended it as...a reward, of sorts. A favor in return for the favor you did me in scouting out that tunnel before the guards ran out of time. I thought that after what you pushed yourself to do, even if had no idea that it ended up doing me a favor or even if you'd never intended it as a favor to me, giving you one night of relatively comfortable sleep was the least I could do for you in return. Even if you'd never know that it was me." That's...somewhere between sweet and creepy, you feel like? More to the point that's not how you remember that vision at all, even outside the context of you knowing about the visions that Vettor got and naturally assuming yours was the same deal. It just wasn't like that. You point that out to Rebecca, and she shrugs. "Truthfully, that was a mistake on my end. I wanted that 'vision' to be just as I said, but..."

"Secretly you wanted me to investigate and get to the bottom of this case more so than giving me a relatively peaceful night's sleep," you fill in for Rebecca. She's clearly hesitant to admit it, but she nods all the same.

"Secretly I wanted you to find a way to stick it to the damned criminals out there that still are, and have been running free since Kapsus. All while their victims are being kept here at the Academagia in a safe cage," Rebecca admits. There isn't a bitter undertone to her voice so much as she drips bitterness every other word. It's frankly kind of unnerving, even if you find it hard to disagree with what she's saying. "I failed, though. The Legate, even Professor Badcrumble is content with standing by and 'investigating' the matter further while the victims under her 'care' can't do anything but flinch and panic at the sight of the niece of their enemy, despite all I've done and tried to do. And if that's how clear this situation is to them than who would I be to try and tell them any different? They're the victims here, the victims of my family, and I'm neither their master or their authority, as no one should be. It's not my place to disagree with what they're saying. Or what Leon says they do at any rate, since no one else in this cursed town can even speak their language."

Again, hard to really disagree with her, but this is starting to get a little, eh...out there you feel like. Maybe you should take your answers and leave. Rebecca seems like she's going to need a while to settle down from this whole ongoing mess, understandably enough all things considered. "R-right, right. That's all I wanted to ask you, though, so unless you've got any questions to ask me I'll just leave you to your studies."

"There's one thing I'd like your opinion on, actually," Rebecca says, much to your surprise. Still, you meant what you said, so you nod and tell her to go ahead and ask. "A girl being made to marry someone she's never met, or being made to have children she never wanted...do you think there's any situation where that's right? Where that girl isn't just someone else's slave?" You're getting the distinct impression that Rebecca intended that as a rhetorical question, or at least a question where any answer but the one she wants to hear is not worth the effort it'd take to convince her of. She's not asking for your opinion or for you to challenge hers, she's asking for you to validate the conclusion she's already come to on her own. But she isn't willing to admit that, so instead she asks you a very loaded question in the hopes that you'd just give her the answer she wants to hear. Which you have to say is pretty underhanded no matter how much you otherwise would just agree with the conclusion she came to, so...

"Why are you asking me something like that?" you ask, not giving Rebecca's "question" an answer either which way. She seems to hesitate, wondering whether to answer your question, until what you can only describe as a the loudest snort from the quietest creature that has ever snorted rings out from inside Rebecca's room. She turns to look towards the sound right as you lean a bit to the side and try to catch a glimpse of what you just heard, because it defies explanation and after the rest of today you'd very much prefer to not be left with that particular kind of unanswered question. Unfortunately Rebecca notices you staring into her room, which is a rude thing to do, but thankfully she seems to understand why you care about it more than you normally would.

"Don't mind the noise, that's just my Familiar budding into my conversation. Again." Rebecca says with crossed arms as a rabbit with a downright regal bearing confidently trots up to the two of you and makes a series of motions that you can only interpret as him "properly" introducing himself to you. Unfortunately for him, and you don't want to sound...speciesist? Whatever it'd be called you don't want to sound like it, but...it'd look less comically ridiculous if the guy wasn't a rabbit that's two buddies and a ladder short of reaching your knee. "Anyway, to answer your question, do you recall the noble family that the guards called in to turn Laroche?" Rebecca asks, and you slowly nod. You don't really know anything about them, but you do remember when Vettor first told you about that, yes. "Please don't gossip about this to anyone, especially those newspaper club pests that Sigalis somehow manages to consider her friends, but the reason I'm asking is that...the Chards have pledged me to marry the current heir of that family." Wait a second, hang on, the Chards pledged Rebecca to the heir of the noble family that's actively aiding the Minetan Guard? Huh. Now there's an interesting development. Rebecca doesn't seem to think so, though. "Is it really so surprising? My family was pressured to foster me to them as a warning to my aunt, as a punishment and deterrent. That it could help prepare me for the task of one day trying to secure a seat on the Golden Council at the same time is just a happy coincidence, really."

You know, you think you're starting to get the picture here. It's not as hard to figure out as other things you've figured out in recent memory, that's for sure. "And I take it you don't want to marry the guy?"

"I'm reserving judgement until I've actually met the boy, he's right around my age and I'm sure the Chards would not pledge me to marry someone who couldn't behave himself as well as someone of his standing should," Rebecca answers with a slightly strained voice. You hope that confidence of hers lasts, but you're not sure if it will. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't starting to have some doubts, though. There was a time where I'd have said the same about my own family, that I'd trust their judgement. And you've undoubtedly figured out by now how that turned out..." Yeah, that's one way to put it. "So, I was curious to know your opinion: Could it ever be right for me to be pledged to marry someone I don't even know? Or for a girl to be forced to have a child she never wanted?"

Oh for-you are not doing this! Not the first time, and not the second time. "Rebecca, don't lie to yourself and don't lie to me. You don't care to know my opinion at all, you're looking for someone to validate the conclusion you refuse to admit you've already come to." Rebecca looks surprised, but only at the fact that you'd call her out like that. Her Familiar, for what it's worth, excitedly nods at what you're saying. He seems downright impressed. "I'm not saying you're wrong. I'm not saying that you shouldn't doubt the actions of your family - or the Chards for that matter - after everything that's happened. But don't try to trick me into telling you to interpret the situation like you know you want to, like you probably already do. However you feel about it either let yourself feel that way or let others tell you otherwise, that's your decision to make. Don't ask me to make that decision for you, directly or indirectly."

Once again, Rebecca's rabbit heartily nods his little head. You don't think Rebecca herself even notices, though, despite her tired eyes staring right at the floor. "I guess I should have expected better of the student that came so far, so alright, let me try asking you a different question: Do you think the Legate and Professor Badcrumble are right, biding their time while this nightmare continues, or do you think Leon and Professor Badcrumble's wards have the right idea trying to settle this matter as soon as possible? My aunt is guilty of what they're accusing her of, I can personally testify to that. Though I'm not sure how much that word would be worth in an actual court, admittedly."

Hmm...still phrased a loaded question, which you point out to Rebecca, but beyond that there is at least an actual argument to be made for both sides here. On the one side Leon and the girls have every right to want to end their nightmare as quickly as possible, but the professors aren't wrong when they say that there is more to this case than it seems. And while the guilt of the Madame is not in question, not by very many people at least, one question that has gone unanswered so far is a very important one - why would the Madame ever do something like this in the first place? Even if she didn't see the girls as humans, even if she saw them as mere beasts to be poached and...what, eaten? Like Xu's egg nearly was? A disgusting thought, but more to the point one that very much can't be it - if the Madame is that crazy, if she's that much of a monster than people wouldn't miss that. Her family, the Chards, her own niece, the Academagia's faculty, the guards now that they've got Laroche on their side and must know about the flyers she was asked to print and distribute, there's is just no way that everyone completely missed this woman's madness, and continued to do so for months on end. She must have had a (relatively) sane and logical, albeit amoral reason to have done what she did. But as things stand you've got no idea what that is, what else she may have already set in motion as part of that grand plan, and if she is dragged to the city square and beheaded, as Leon's Clique and the girls would no doubt wish to see her crimes punished and ended, than that truth might never come to light. Worse, if she's not the mastermind behind this whole smuggling situation, if she was merely following someone else's orders to pick up "cargo" over at Alesfa and wasn't told anything beyond that she'd get a special "Alesfan" egg as payment...well, that mastermind might escape, and continue to try and do as he did before elsewhere. That would likely convince the Leon and the girls to let the faculty do their work as slowly as they wish, but of course they don't. They are stuck in this nightmare, and can't help but want to escape it.

With that in mind, your answer to Rebecca's question is: There's way to know for sure. If the Madame is the final, big baddy of this whole mess, if there is nothing more to it than what's already known, than there's really no point to delaying taking action against her. If there is more, however, than it can certainly be worth waiting, even if that does put more strain on Leon and the girls. But, of course, the issue is that there's no way to be sure.

It's not the answer that Rebecca wanted to hear, but it's the answer that you're giving her. The answer you feel is right, at least for the moment. You haven't had the chance to really think it over yourself yet. Her rabbit, again, nods approvingly at your current reasoning, so...yay? You'd like to not let that influence your opinion, in all honesty...

"Right," she says with a tone of voice that's less "convinced" so much as "too tired to argue". "I guess I should do the same with regards to my arranged marriage, I can't say whether or not I should be so apprehensive about it yet. So, thank you for the insight, [PC FIRST NAME]."

You really, really hope that whoever Rebecca was pledged to marry turns out to be someone she doesn't want to throw off the edge of the island, because otherwise you think this whole situation might end...poorly. Well, that's not your problem to solve, though, if it ends up becoming one. But maybe you should, as the Legate did, "keep an ear to the ground". Just in case...

-Lambert Cobo.
--You find Lambert in one of the Venalicium's many study cubicles, reading one of his textbooks. Part of you feels like you shouldn't disturb him, but you've got a question flying around in your head that you simply need answered. So, unceremoniously, you sit down next to him. Lambert evidently noticed, as without prompt he puts down his book. "You look like you've got the weight of all you know bearing down on your shoulders, [PC FIRST NAME]," he says with a smug expression. His smirk goes away once he sees that the only response he gets from you in turn is a raised eyebrow, though. "Hmm...not a good line, than? Darn it. I've been working on them for when I manage to finally one-up Rikildis at her own game...but so far I've yet to impress anyone. I'll figure that out eventually, though. For now you look like you've got something you need to get off your chest, and if so, I'm all ears."

You consider telling Lambert that yet more poetry is not going to impress Rikildis in the slightest, but...he can figure that out on his own. "I suppose you're right about that. Honestly, I've only got one thing I wanted to ask you. With regards to the whole situation with Leon...what are you even trying to do?" Lambert looks confused, like he doesn't understand the question. You thought it was pretty straightforward, though. "Lambert, you've spend the past six months and change, literally over half of this academic year, trying to figure out the story behind Leon. Why? What do you plan to accomplish with that knowledge, if and when you get it? What are you going to do with it that you couldn't otherwise?"

"I take it that you've figured it out? All of it?" Lambert asks. You nod and pre-emptively tell him that no, you can't say anything about it. Not unless you wish to find yourself mysteriously walking off the edge of a cliff, and frankly you don't. The fact that Lambert seems to understand, even believe that says something about his own knowledge of this mess...but it's just not going to be enough. "What if I told you that I already know about what's going on? That I don't really care about Leon's story that much?" You shrug and answer that, honestly, you'd call him a terrible liar. It causes Lambert's smug grin to return, but you're ready to call his bluff if he tries. "Well, than I'm afraid you are wrong. I do know Leon's story already, at least more of it than most do. I haven't figured out the full story myself yet, but that's because I don't care to. What I care about are Professor Badcrumble's 'wards', those two girls that she tries to keep so carefully hidden in plain sight. If you know everything than you've no doubt seen them yourself, so...would they happen to look somewhat like this, by chance?"

Lambert takes two pieces out of the mountain of parchment that he always has on him and shows them to you. And you'll admit, your eyebrows reach new heights for entirely different reasons when you see what's drawn on them. Lambert isn't the most artistically inclined student by any stretch, but even so these two sketches are unquestionably of Chi and Xu. "Lambert, where and how did you manage to draw this!? Did you break into the ward and-hang on, wait a second, are you the reason that Sigalis got punched into the infirmary?"

Lambert quickly shakes his head. "I'll admit that I tried to sneak in there once, but that was back in...like the first week of Pramidi or something? Definitely so long ago that I've got no idea why it'd make Leon paranoid over three months later. And you, I suspect, know why Leon was there that day already." Thinking about it, yes, that happened the day that Fang hatched. You indeed have to assume that's a better reason than Lambert being sneaky three months prior. Or not sneaky enough, rather. "In addition it wasn't Leon that caught me, Professor Badcrumble did. I may know how the girls look now, but that still doesn't tell me which room they're in, unfortunately." In utter disbelief you ask Lambert why, in the name of every God out there, he thought that him breaking into that room would accomplish anything good at all. Unless he's completely clueless surely he'd realize that breaking and entering would only severely upset the girls. "Oh, I wasn't planning on breaking in then and there, rest assured. I was casing the place, looking for hiding spots, hidden paths or shortcuts, that sort of stuff. I was laying the groundwork for future sneaking, but that's hard to do when you don't know exactly where your end point is."

Okay, still bad, but not that bad. "Still, why would you even-I mean...just...why? What about these two girls fascinates you so that you'd stalk someone-and you didn't even answer my first question, come to think of it: When did you ever get the chance to draw these sketches? Because if you didn't break into their room that day, then..."

"Please, just calm down, [PC FIRST NAME]. I'll explain," Lambert says. You end up taking a few deep breaths before he's satisfied, but after that he does keep his word. "I was told a very strange bit of information back on Juvenalia by my...what do you call him, the first year I'm supposed to mentor?" You shrug and say that you've always gone with "mentoree", but whether that's actually a real term, much less the correct one, you've got no idea. Never could be bothered to find out, either. "Good enough, I suppose. Anyway, I was showing my mentoree around the Academagia, refreshing him on where everything was and how to navigate the buildings and all, until we got to the Astrology classrooms. There we ran into Professor Badcrumble. I didn't really have anything to say to or about her, I didn't take Astrology last year so neither of us really know each other at all. But my mentoree, he had something to say about her. Apparently she was in charge of giving a group of first year students and their respective parents an official tour of the Academagia during the summer, including my mentoree. But midway through that tour another member of the faculty suddenly ran up to the regent and delivered her a message. My mentoree didn't know what she was told, but he and his parents both saw the end result. Namely, she nearly broke down in tears. In front of a group of soon-to-be first years and their parents. I don't know about you, but I've never heard about anything like that happening before." No, you can't say that you've heard about anything like that either. Though you can imagine that news of the girls being delivered to her would do that, yes. "Naturally I got curious, and after I was done showing around my mentoree I decided to look for Professor Badcrumble. And I found her, alright, leading one very irate Leon around by the neck along with two other 'students' that just seemed so mysteriously insignificant, if you know what I mean." You can imagine, but...that is hard to believe. Very hard to believe, in fact. Still, you'll keep listening. "Professor Badcrumble did a great job hiding the girls in plain sight, it took me months to get those sketches of them, and I'll tell you how I managed that later. But for now you need to understand that she made two mistakes. One, she didn't afford Leon the same kind of protection, so every time they went out together he'd stick out like a sore thumb. Second - and this is what really made me curious - every time she'd say something Leon would repeat exactly what she just said, word for word. You can figure out why that happened, and the mistake that the regent made, right?"

...Their language. The girls can be made to look as inconspicuous as an old chair all Professor Badcrumble likes, but she still hasn't devised a spell to magically translate their language yet. Leon can speak it, however, so that's why he was always dragged along and why he'd always repeat exactly what the professor said - he was translating. Of course Professor Badcrumble could mask his actual words with a Glamour, making it sound like he repeated what she just said, but she couldn't hide the fact that Leon had to repeat what she said as easily. Lambert apparently noticed that, and either came to the same conclusion or discovered a mystery he still hasn't solved. Just in case you won't say anything, though. You wouldn't want to solve the mystery for him.

Lambert notices your hesitation, though also the gears spinning in your head. Overall he looks pleased with himself, as you'd bet he feels right now. "When I noticed that oddity I decided to try to figure out what was going on. Those two mysterious students, hidden behind a spell that desperately tried to appeal to the exact opposite of what my nature really is, I wanted to know who they were. I wanted to know their story. Leon's, not so much. But I wanted to know their story." You let out a sigh and ask Lambert to stand up, pick up his chair and just beat you to death with it right here and now if his story is going to end with him falling romantically in love with...well, presumably the younger of the two girls, Chi, or whatever you'd call that. Because honestly? You'd sooner contemplate a chair being smashed into your head than the reality of romancing a were-mermaid (or whatever) that lays eggs. Some questions your still innocent mind was simply not meant to ponder, and that's definitely one of them. Lambert looks pretty confused at your request, and assures you that it will not go in that direction at all. Thankfully. "I'm interested in their story because if they speak a language that Professor Badcrumble has to drag another student around to translate for her, and a student that she hates about as much as he does Professor Storey at that, than they must come from somewhere very far away indeed. Not to mention, I'm not sure what to make of them not speaking our language at all, or any language that Professor Badcrumble might understand. I wouldn't expect her to speak Alesfan-or Miya's language, for instance, not without a translation spell, but that's just it: Those spells exist. She can learn to cast them, or have another member of the faculty cast them for her, worst case. Where are those girls from, than, if a spell to translate their language just doesn't exist?"

It's a fair point. You know for a fact that such a spell doesn't exist, not as far as Professor Badcrumble knows, because she definitely would have cast it earlier if she did. As is the girls were left completely in the dark about what you, Grainne and Rikildis were talking about, as well as Leon when he wasn't actively translating for them. As for where they're from, though, you genuinely have no idea. You checked the cargo manifest of the Flying Gallery to confirm whether it went as far out as Alesfa, but that obviously wasn't worth the paper is was written on, so...who knows.

"Anyway, after I noticed that language barrier I tried to ask Leon about what all was going on, only to be left feeling like I fell asleep halfway through that conversation. I figured that the same spell Professor Badcrumble uses to hide the girls was used as part of his Gaes, it had the same feel to it, so I decided to study the Gaes to devise a spell that would allow me to see the girls properly." A shame that you never got the opportunity to try that, because it'd have been much easier than trying to break the Gaes on Leon. You didn't start looking into the matter until after the incident with Sigalis, though. You don't think Professor Badcrumble would have taken the girls out again after that. "It took me a while to manage that, but I did eventually succeed and drew those sketches of the two girls. At that point I was happy to see any kind of progress, but if I'm being honest it really wasn't. I didn't get me any closer to being able to talk to the girls, or understand a word of what they'd say for that matter. I could see them, but I couldn't talk to them. Or hear Leon talk to them, in their own language."

"And...what, that's just been what you've been doing since literally Juvenalia? Banging your head against a problem you don't have the means to actually solve?"

"I'd prefer if you didn't say that," Lambert notes with a frown. "But, yes, basically. I'm curious, really curious. Where those girls are from, why they're here, what happened to them...they're the kind of total mystery that you don't often see, even at the Academagia. Rikildis could go on and on all day about what's his name, that kid Catherine hired. Matthias? Everything she knows about him. Grainne too, talking my ear off about this kid's grand destiny that she doesn't actually know anything about. But even if she's right...I know Astrology. I mean I never studied it, but I know roughly what it entails. I know the Chards, I know Mineta, I know so many things about that whole situation already, if it even is one. Those girls, though, speaking a language even the professors don't know...I don't know anything about them. Nothing. Alesfa, I could sit down next to Malthezar and have him talk my ear off for five hours only to spend another three in the Venalicium reading books on the same subject, especially now that the faculty has finished importing and translating a bunch of them. Miya you can never tell whether she's actually telling you the truth every other sentence out of her, but you know that you can't trust every other sentence out of her, so you know what to expect. Those girls, though, I don't. I know, I'm sure they never asked for or wanted this kind of attention, but I can't help myself. Even Leon I can rattle off personal information about for at least half an hour. But they are a complete mystery unlike any other." Gods, this guy. And he doesn't even know about them being egg-laying were-mermaids, apparently. If he knew his head might explode. "That is the truth of what I know about Professor Badcrumble's wards. So, you really can't tell me anything about them?"

"I can say that you are right about one thing: They didn't ask for, or by my guess, want this kind of attention. For anything else you'll have to ask Professor Badcrumble, but I suspect that if she finds out about you managing to exploit her disrespect of Leon to stalk the girls you might find yourself dead on the bottom of a lake. So be careful with what question you ask her, if any."

"I intend to keep looking, so long as the mystery remains interesting," Lambert confidently says. Meaning that if he ends up mysteriously disappeared you know who to blame. "One thing though, I haven't seen Professor Badcrumble lead around the girls for a while now. They used to go around pretty consistently. What changed?" Eh...without a clear idea as to when those tours suddenly stopped your best guess is that Xu refused to leave Fang's side starting around the time she was due to hatch, and Professor Badcrumble couldn't possibly hide either Fang's egg or Fang herself after she hatched, so the tours came to an end. Why she didn't walk around with just Chi and Leon you're not sure, but that's your best guess regardless. Not that you tell Lambert as much, of course. "Well, in any case that's my answer. I'm doing this because I can't ignore such a curiosity, and if there is something more to it, which there seems to be considering how thoroughly you and Rikildis' little band of journalistic outlaws investigated it...all the better, as far as I'm concerned."

If and when Lambert ever gets a clue you want to be there to see it. His expression will be priceless, no doubt. And "if there is something more to it", yeah. Good joke. You let out a sigh and tell Lambert to keep doing whatever he wants. Just, you know, make sure the girls never learn of his existence, because Professor Badcrumble if not Leon will rip him in half if he leaves a bad first impression. And it's Lambert you're talking to here. He will.

Lambert seems confident that he'll be fine, regardless, but...well, you'll see. Lambert doesn't know it, but this mess is far from over, most likely...

As before I'm not happy with parts of this stage, but this was the least awful way I could think of to cram in all the information I wanted to. At least without the adventure making no sense. I know, saying that about the last two stages of a 5 adventure long chain isn't an ideal situation, but it's what it is.

Also, yes, that is 15K-odd words worth of stage, or 3½ Pig Blood Vault events stacked on top of each other with some more words added to bridge the gaps. Whether that's a sign that my pacing is all kinds of back loaded I'll leave as an exercise to the reader.

Edited by Metis

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So something I forgot to mention: My intend for after Dawn of a New Day, broadly speaking, is that the PC be given a series of location-based abilities that will help them train a few fitting skills. Exactly which and how I'm not sure, Y2 mechanics are arcane and mysterious, but something that'll be useful even though you won't get access to them until late. Recall that Dawn of a New Day can't be started until the 18th of Hionosi, and it'll take a few turns to complete it, so you won't get access to those abilities until the last third of Hionosi at the earliest.

One of the skills that those abilities will teach, which ideally will both exist and not be available through Y2 Joie de Vivre and the like, is the language skill of our new friends. And if that reaches a high enough level, before the end of the mythical Y2? Well, one is intended to get access to this:

The Lion Seeking Fish, stage 0:

Spoiler

It's a slow day, time ticking by one individual second after another as you're working on an essay in your Common Room. Textbook on one side, reference book borrowed from the Venalicium on the other, parchment in the middle, and supplies wherever there's room for them to fit. It's a setup that makes it seem like so much more work than it really is, but even so this essay feels like just that - so much work. How the people that wrote your textbooks managed to come up with so many words worth of things to say you'll never understand, but by Octavius, your professors will make sure you know they're there even if you'll never understand why they're all there. Yes, you are thoroughly bored right now. It happens whenever you get this dry, boring stuff assigned as homework.

Out of nowhere there's a cascade of noise as someone swiftly opens the Common Room doors, which you ignore, and a brush of wind rushing past your face as someone runs up and stops right next to you, which you don't ignore. Looking to your side you see an older student staring at you who you recognize all too well, though you wouldn't call him a friend - Leon Chevalier. He's got the look on his face of someone caught between panic and determination. Which, honestly, has basically become his default expression ever since he's stopped glaring at the world around him all the time. "Did something happen?" you ask, knowing full well the only possible situation in which Leon would rush up to you like this. In response he only nods, thought he looks like he's got more to say. Alas, he still has his Gaes on him, so outside of a few very specific areas he can't say what he wants nearly as often as he'd like. Thankfully you know one (undoubtedly relevant) place where he can speak freely. "Alright, I'll be right over. Have to clean up first, but that won't take a minute."

Leon nods, says that he'll meet you there, and runs off. It earns you a few curious glances and odd glares, since the idea that Leon has some very obvious secret hanging about him is pretty much common knowledge at this point, and despite Rikildis' best efforts those interested in such rumors have clued in to the fact that you're a part of whatever secret Leon holds. Though thankfully no one bothers you about it. Those that care about it see you as just "the minion", the person who got dragged along with someone else's search and doesn't know enough [him/her]self to be worth bothering. Another one of Rikildis' (and Sigalis', for that matter) little tricks. You'll admit, as reluctant as the Legate was in bringing them on board they seem to have been doing a good job so far. Especially in terms of drawing attention away from those who can't handle it as well as they can, such as yourself and Leon's Clique, and instead painting a target on the back of the Glamour illusion of themselves they left on top of a trap door. Yeah, they can be kinda mean-spirited about it sometimes but it gets to job done. You get people asking questions every now and again, but just one mention of Rikildis is enough to send them away these days. Your impression is that Rikildis has "spread the word" that she's noticed people bothering "her minion", and all questions better be directed at her from now on or else. Rikildis, of course, easily handles the pressure.

Even so, you hope whatever this is isn't something that's going to give Rikildis and Sigalis more work, so to speak...

-Pack up.
--Within a minute your books are in your knapsack, and your supplies similarly packed away as well. Time to head to the ward, and see whatever situation has popped up.

My intent for this adventure is one part victory lap, one part new content. Whether it actually does...we'll just have to see.

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The Lion Seeking Fish, stage 1:

Spoiler

The path to the ward is clean, intact, not on fire, and still within the same dimension as when you last came through here. The girls' room, likewise, seems to be fine. Honestly you were expecting that someone had broken into this place, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Curious as to what did happen you walk over to the kitchen, where Leon is looking through every single cupboard, cabinet, pot and vaguely similar thing that he can find. What he hopes to find in a pot, though, you've no idea. "Hey Leon, what's going on?" you ask as you curiously look over the boy's work. He's made a right mess of this place, there's stuff laying around everywhere.

"Xu's sick," Leon answers as he annoyedly puts down the last possible hiding place for whatever he could be looking for. Again, what he hopes to find in a pot is a mystery you're not going to figure out, you feel like. "Her fanyeng got infected, she's in desperate need of something familiar and healthy to eat right about now."

Her what? You've studied a fair bit of Tianyu since you first met the girls, but that's not a word you've heard before and now just seems like a bad time. "In Renaglian, Leon. We can study language later."

"'Fanyeng' basically is the Renaglian term. It's an organ-a pair of them, more specifically, that the girls have, but humans don't. Nor any other creature that I learned about in Zoology class, at least as far as I recall, so as far as I know there's no Renaglian term for it." Leon explains. Your first thought is that it must be something related to Xu's tailfin, or her ability to manifest one (not that you think Iustus has anything similar about him, but than you can't say you ever checked either). It's a moot point regardless, because before you can even finish that thought Leon shoots it down. "Basically, it's their way of storing food to use later. Humans put on fat, they fill up their fanyeng."

You hope that only sounds ridiculous because you're not used to it, because it seems like you'll be hearing that word a few times in the near future. "Ah-hah...kinda hoped that we'd be past the point of these kinds of surprises coming up, but...sure. So hers got infected, what does that mean exactly? She can't use anything that her body stored up, food-wise?"

"Well, she had to toss it all. It's stored as a liquid, but all she had got tainted, infected, so...yeah," Leon says as he nervously look over the mess he's made of the kitchen. You should be glad you only came here after that scene, from the sounds of it. "Problem is that Xu isn't just eating for herself, she's got a baby to feed. So you can imagine just how big of a problem this is." You can see how it wouldn't please her at all, and you'll readily believe that any kind of infection isn't pleasant without argument. But if she can still eat and her body still digest that food is it really a situation where she absolutely needs some kind of medicine, or something else? You're not sure and you've kind of had your fill of unexpected surprises for the rest of the academic year at least, so just in case you ask Leon if he can clarify the situation a bit more. "Xu can still eat, even feed Fang right now, yes. It's not the same as a stomach or intestinal infection would be for us. But between being sick, constantly feeling like she's on the brink of starvation, all the while having Fang to feed...you can imagine that Xu's feeling pretty miserable. So I asked her what would make her feel better, what would be good and healthy for her to eat. And unfortunately the answer is fish." Ah, you can see where that's a problem. Wherever the girls are from exactly there's no doubt that fish are a lot less common locally. Not impossible to find, but certainly much harder. "So I decided that I'd get some for her. Catch a bunch of fish, cook them, whatever it takes to get her something that her body is more used to, something that'll be good for her. Unfortunately..."

"You haven't got the slightest idea where to find a fish, let stand multiple of them, or how to cook them?" you fill in for Leon. He lets out a weary sigh.

"I'm also missing what kind of fish I'm looking for, exactly. Xu used to live in a large freshwater lake, and I have no idea if that means that she can't eat saltwater fish. Considering she's sick already I'm not inclined to try, but it's not as if I've got a large selection to choose from, so...I should probably prepare to make do with what I have. I've got no idea how different different kinds of fish really are, though, as far as cooking and eating them is concerned. And of course I can't find a cookbook - or any other kind of book - anywhere to answer that question...if only Professor Pachait actually taught about fish in Zoology class I might have learned about it, but nope, fish isn't something he ever bothered to cover..." You don't want to say it out loud, but regardless of how different fish are and whatever else, you're ultimately dealing with were-mermaids here. Neither of you have a chance of finding a clear, definitive answer. In the Venalicium, Professor Pachait's office or otherwise.

All things told it's a hell of a task that Leon put before himself, but surely there's a way to accomplish it. You believe that, in order, you guys should identify what kind of fish would be good to look for (and that are available locally), prepare recipes to cook them, and-actually, hold on a moment. "Hey Leon, quick question: How do you cook fish underwater?" Leon turns around, looks at you confused, and shrugs. Seems like he hasn't really thought this idea through all that well. So it's probably a good thing that you're here. "Right. Are you actually sure that we should cook these fish, or would Xu be better off eating them raw? I know humans would be better off with cooked fish, but they also don't have a what's-it-called. Or are used to eating raw fish for that matter, unless Xu can cook fish underwater somehow. So..."

"'Fanyeng'. And good point, but no. It'd definitely be best if we prepared and cooked the fish beforehand, to remove everything Xu can't digest and cut it into bite-sized chunks. Good call on capturing the fish, though, that way we can make sure they're perfectly fresh. That's much better than ones already dried and salted in order to preserve them on the open market, definitely." And so ends the story of how you made your life more difficult, albeit for good reason. Wonderful.

Well, regardless, like you said earlier there must be a way to solve all of these problems if you take everything one step at a time. First off, figuring out what kind of fish to look for. You ask Leon if he thought to ask Xu (or Chi) about what kind of fish they normally eat. "Of course I already asked, the problem is that all they could give me was a description for a single fish. Despite living in a lake they didn't have much of a varied diet back home, and of course the Tianyu name for the fish is...less than useful right now. Still, maybe you can do something with this." Leon, pun not intended, fishes a bit of parchment out of his robes and shoves it in your hand. On it is written (in terrible, barely legible handwriting) a surprisingly detailed description of a fish. Color, length, average age at various stages of it's life, preferred diet, everything up to and including the number of lines of scales that make up it's body. If one fish is all you ever see you'll learn a fair few things about them you suppose. You doubt you could rattle off this much information about pigs or chickens if anyone asked, not without a textbook next to you.

Regardless, this is starting to sound like it'll be a fairly straightforward task. You've got as detailed a description that even the most veteran Minetan fisherman could give of a particular fish, all you need is to find out what kind of fish this is. Yes, fish are rare, but they're not that rare, and you're got plenty of material to work with. So, how to figure out what kind of fish this is?

-Fish. You are a master of all things fish(y)!
--You tell Leon to start cleaning up the kitchen while you take a seat over in the living room corner and take out a sketchbook. You carefully translate the girls' description into a rough sketch, making sure to pay attention to all the small details, add some rough measurements, and take a look at it.

...It wasn't clear when it was just words (poorly) written on a piece of parchment, but looking at this sketch of a fish you've drawn it looks very familiar. In fact, if you just quickly erase a few of the details and the estimated measurements...you definitely recognize this. This is a carp. Why are the measurements so off, though? Apparently the carp that Chi and Xu are used to are about twice as big as the ones here. Or are you the one misremembering how large they usually are? Frankly you're not willing to bet your life (or at least Xu's well being) on your memory of how large one particular fish gets, so you decide to head off to the Venalicium to quickly double-check everything about them. Sooner or later you were going to, so it's not a wasted trip regardless.

Over at the Venalicium's Zoology section you easily find the answer you're looking for - the sketch is definitely that of a carp, or at least very similar to it, but the measurements are indeed as you remembered them, not as Xu suggested. Which is strange, but you suppose you'll ask her about it in a moment. For now you do some more research, while you're here anyway, looking for any information you can in terms of how to cook these fish, where they might be found locally, and so on. Unfortunately the only answer you find for that giant pile of questions is that carp are commonly found fish locally, but not exactly where one would go looking for one or how to cook one. Unfortunately the Fish section of the Zoology section is just...neglected, really. You know where to find stuff, and that's good, because that's practically everything that's here.

All the same, it's information you didn't have before...well, information you weren't that sure about. But you are now, so time to head back to the ward and see if either Chi or Xu can answer some of your questions regarding their mysterious giant carp.

--Closely looking at the description again, or at least what you can make out of Leon's handwriting...the exact fish that Xu (or Chi, either or both) described does not sound familiar to you, but individual aspects do seem to ring a bell. Time to take this to the Venalicium and see what you find, because sadly you are going to need a reference book next to you to solve this mystery. Thankfully it's very easy to get one.

Of course finding the right one turns out to be a completely different story. You find plenty of fish that fit parts of the description, but not all of it. Or at least, not enough of it. Perhaps this is going to take something bigger than the Venalicium to figure out. It's Zoology section is honestly pretty poor as far as fish are concerned...

-Filing. The Venalicium's Zoology section will be of use here.
--You leave Leon to clean up the mess he made while you make your way to the Venalicium and swing by the Zoology section. There you spend some time looking through various books to try and find the closest match to the description you've been given. No fish matches the description exactly, as you fully expected, but you do find one that you feel is close enough - carp perfectly match everything except for the estimated size and weight, which are off by...frankly a lot. It's an aspect that you don't think Xu or Chi would misremember, at least not to that degree, but everything else they mentioned matching so perfectly is just too specific to ignore. You're more inclined to believe that the fish they're used to are giant offshoots of local fish than you you're inclined to believe that there's a completely different fish that's so close to being identical in so many aspects, and just happens to be bigger. No, giant fish is clearly the better theory, as ridiculous as it sounds.

You gather together what little information about carp you could find here, unfortunately the Venalicium's knowledge of fish is fairly limited, and head back to the ward. You figure that Chi should be able to tell you whether you're on the right track with thinking that they're talking about carp, and if not you can consider where to go from there.

--You take Leon's note with you and head off to the Venalicium. First to try and (futilely) decipher Leon's handwriting a bit better, and once you give up on that you swing by over to the Zoology section and look for your mysterious fish.

Unfortunately, long story less long, you don't find it. Similar fish, sure, very similar fish in a few cases even, but not what you're looking for. You consider looking through the History section and maybe finding what you need there, like old records and legends of old fish, but...you've got no idea where to find such books in here. Finding the fish section of the Zoology section was hard enough, rest assured that it's not used often and hard to find as a result, you're not going to gamble on finding the fish section of the History section. Assuming it even has one, which you doubt.

You're going to need either someone who knows the Venalicium better than you do or someone who knows fish better than you do, it feels like. Because this library dive is not working out for you...

-Social Skills. Ask Ana to help you.
--You ask Leon to clean up the mess he made of the girls' kitchen, which he reluctantly says he'll do, while you head over to...not Morvidus, actually, Godina's campus. Ana was transferred from Morvidus to Godina during the middle of the year. A special arrangement thanks to Professor Badcrumble. Either way you head to Godina's campus and look around for Ana. You don't find her in Godina's Common Room, but a few of the students there direct you to one of the musical practice rooms. You head off over there and spend a few minutes poking your head through random doors before you end up finding the right room. Ana is in here, sitting before a music sheet and slowly playing an instrument, seeming rather focussed on the task before her. Behind her stand two other Godina first years silently working together on something musical related, though you can't tell for sure what. You patiently wait for a break in the music, and walk up to Ana as soon as there is one.

"Oh, hey there [PC FIRST NAME]," Ana happily says as she finally notices you. The other two students here also notice and turn to look your way curiously, but they don't say anything. "Sorry, did Vettor send you to find me? Because if so please tell him I'm busy, there's a big test coming up and I can't afford to fail it."

"No, and apologies for interrupting your practice. I'm here because I remember Vettor once telling me that you had a better textbook knowledge of fish than any of your peers, and as it turns out I need some help with identifying a kind of fish based on it's description. And probably more after that. I'll happily take whatever help you can give me, though."

Ana looks perplexed. "A kind of fish...? O-okay? It's been a while since I really studied fish, but I'm sure I can find the books again if I had to. What all do you need to know?" You hand Ana the piece of parchment that Leon gave you, but the wealth of information is too much for Ana to narrow down to one particular fish, unfortunately it's been too long since she really studied them. Thankfully she's willing to take a quick break to go to the Venalicium with you and answer this mystery. It takes no time to find the right books, as Ana seems to remember exactly where she left them. "This description, minus the size, is definitely that of a carp," Ana eventually concludes, and she shows you a biologist's guide to fish. Indeed, the description does match except for it's size. As Ana points out, according to this book carp are usually less than about half the length that Leon's parchment claims, but you tell Ana not to worry too much about it. She seems a bit lost and confused, but shrugs it off and asks if you've got any other questions. You do, but the book in your hand has the answer to your next question already - carp are some of the most common fish around, around Mineta or on several other nearby islands, so you definitely should be able to find them in the wild. The book doesn't mention if they're safe to eat, and how to cook them if they are, but it also doesn't say they're poisonous. You're not sure what to make of that, and neither does Ana.

"I don't suppose you happen to know where to find a fish cookbook as well?" you ask, more jokingly than not. Ana, as expected, explains that she studied fish to learn how to better swim, not cook. "I thought as much, but it couldn't hurt to ask. Thanks for the help finding-actually, I don't suppose you know of any ponds or lakes where I could find carp? You didn't happen to study fish up close like that, as part of your swimming training?" Again Ana shakes her head. Seems like this is all you're going to get out of her, which is fair enough. You've got an answer to what kind of fish this (probably) is, and you've confirmed it's available locally, so that's good progress. Time to head back to Leon and report in.

--You head off to the Morvidus Common Room and ask around for where Ana is, but the only response you get are shrugs and confused faces. Great start. From there you decide to look around all the places where you'd expect to find someone who's a mermaid at heart, up to and including Lake Ardica, but nope, Ana is nowhere to be found.

...Makes you wonder what the girls would think of Ana, actually. Eh...probably something more negative than positive, honestly, but you might be wrong about that. You hope you're wrong about that.

In any case Ana is nowhere to be found, and neither is Vettor for that matter. Asking around likewise doesn't get you anywhere, so...yeah. Perhaps you should look through the Venalicium yourself next time, as rare as fish are you don't think the books about them are that elusive...

I'll freely admit ahead of time that the act of presenting this new content might be a bridge too far for me, but hey, gotta try.

Edited by Metis

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The Lion Seeking Fish, stage 2:

Spoiler

Back at the ward Leon is still busy putting the girls' kitchen back exactly as it was before he made a mess of it, under Chi's watchful (and curious) eye. You take a seat over in the living room corner and wait for them to finish up, which they do in a minute. Afterwards they waste no time walking over to you, curious as to what you found out. With Leon translating for you, to make sure Chi understands you (and you understand her, in turn) you slowly start to explain what you've learned. "This description is definitely that of a 'carp', as they're called around here, but there's one problem I ran into - carp are usually only half has large as you described. Now in terms of getting Xu something to eat that's not a problem, if we can capture one we can capture a hundred, but I want to ask just to make sure: Chi, is this size difference going to be a problem? Local carp aren't a different kind of carp that Xu might get sick from if she eats it, or anything like that, right?"

Chi, after Leon translates your question, confidently shakes her head. "They're the same fish, I'm sure. Something that Xu forgot is that the fish we're both used to are indeed much bigger than normal. It's not wild ones we're used to, we're used to domesticated ones, aquaculture produce. They're raised as food, we got them as payment at our jobs."

"I am so glad that Professor Badcrumble stocked this place with a copy of every dictionary she could find, you have no idea," Leon says as he puts down the book he needed to translate Chi's word for "aquaculture". On top of the pile it took for him to find that translation...so another mess for him to clean up afterwards. "But alright, that local carp are a smaller size doesn't matter. Like [PC FIRST NAME] said if we can capture one we can capture a hundred. So, what all do we have to do before we can start fishing? We need to know where carp can be found, we need a way to capture and transport them to the Academagia, find a recipe to cook them...anything I'm forgetting? I'm sure there's something, but I can't think of it right now."

"We'll need to butcher the carp, or whatever the term for fish is, before we're able to cook it," you add. Leon actually shudders when he realizes that's what he forgot. Seriously, the guy set a noble's estate on fire and cast Negative Alteration of Organic Matter on the people there, but butchering a fish makes him squirm? Sure, whatever. "Chi, is there anything more that you can think of?"

"Yes, actually. If your magic can do it you'll want to remove the 'pins', the small bits of bones from the carp's meat before cooking it. They're not poisonous, but you always have to be careful when eating carp because you don't want to get a pin stuck in your throat." Huh. Well, another entry to add to the list. Because Leon, of course, quickly confirms that he'd very much like to make sure that Xu can eat the carp without worry, but he does not know a spell that can do that. Nor do you, of course. It should be possible to do with magic, but you'll need to find the right spell to do it. You're not sure where you'd find a spell like that, though. "Aside from that I can actually butcher the carp myself, remove the skeleton and separate the edible meat from the rest. I've done it so many times before and I'm sure I haven't forgotten how to do it yet...but that said I'm not sure if I'll be able to do it alone. I, eh...I-I'm really not used to any of the tools in that kitchen over there, is the problem. Yeah, for one the knives are so much sharper that I'm afraid I might end up cutting my own fingers off, and I'd rather not."

Okay, that's actually really good news. That puts this plan back on track. Because butchering fish? So far outside your (and Leon's) wheelhouse it isn't funny. Good thing that's taken care of, or at least reduced to a problem that's actually manageable.

"I'm familiar enough with cooking to at least show Chi how to use all the kitchen's tools. And if I'm wrong about that than at least I know enough Revision to put a cut finger back on...probably," Leon says. Somehow, though, you just don't feel like you're very confident in his abilities. Chi looks downright terrified, but Leon remains confident. "Don't worry, I'll take care of it. [PC FIRST NAME], I don't want to blanketly say 'can you handle the rest' because I know that wouldn't be a fair share of tasks, but can you just work on the other stuff in the meantime? Find out where carp are, how to capture and transport them, find a recipe, just whatever you think is best?"

"Sure, but two things. First off, I think it's best if we made sure that we can butcher and cook a carp before we go out and capture any. I don't know about you, but I don't think it's a good idea to dump a dozen fish into that pool at let them float around in there while we try and figure out how to cook it." Leon and Chi both nod at that suggestion, Leon with more confidence than Chi appears to have in this whole plan. She really does not seem to trust Leon, so time to try suggesting an alternative. "Second, Leon, I think it'd be best if you spend time studying and working on improving your own cooking skills. Than when you're ready ask Chi to teach you how to butcher a carp, adapt her techniques to the tools that you're used to. That way you two can actually make progress without me being here, because after some practice you shouldn't be at risk of cutting your own fingers off. And Leon, remember that if you do cut into your own casting hand than you can't cast a spell to fix that. So no heavy practising with knives until I'm around, just in case, unless you fancy having to explain to Professor Badcrumble why either you or Chi had to get a professor to stitch a finger back on. Got it?"

"Ah...yes. Yes, let's do it that way instead," Leon decides after giving the matter less than two seconds of thought. Chi looks relieved, so crises averted. "We're going to need a carp - or something - to work with if Chi is to teach me her techniques, though. At least I'm assuming you'll need one?" Chi nervously nods, but you've got a solution to that problem.

"Use a Glamour, Leon, I know you only joined Hedi this year but you should be able to manage that much. There's books in the Venalicium that detail how carp look both inside and out, if you need one." Leon notes that he's going to have to find those books first, but agrees that that's probably the best idea otherwise. Of course a Glamour is honestly poor practice compared to the real thing, especially when cast by a novice, but no matter. Better they take some time to bridge that gap than you bridge the gap between one of Leon or Chi's fingers and the rest of their hand.

As for you, that gives you three tasks to focus on, at least for the moment - finding a recipe for cooking carp, finding where you can find carp out in Elumia Proper, and how to capture and transport them back to the Academagia. To start with, the recipe. How does one acquire a recipe for cooking carp, seeing as how fish are so rarely eaten these days?

[PC HAS Fish and the Ancient Cyvan Diet ITEM]-Actually, as a matter of fact...
--You quickly swing by your dorm room, find your copy of Fish and the Ancient Cyvan Diet, and flip through it until you find the page describing carp. There's some author's notes on various species of carp, some quoted historical documents suggesting how widespread carp were back on Cyve, some other stuff you don't care about right now...and, yes, a recipe for cooking carp. So...job done.

Gods, sometimes it's just awesome to be you.

-Recipes. You know enough of recipes to come up with one.
--You have to swing by the Venalicium again to look up exactly what kind of meat carp have, because yes, there are different kinds of fish meat which each requires a different kind of recipes to cook, but once you have that information it's no problem to throw together a basic recipe to cook one. Of course it'd be better if you could test the recipe first, but, eh, there's a distinct lack of carp to do that, so...you'll have to make do with what you have. Not that you aren't confident, it just would be better if you could test it.

--As far as you recall there isn't too much of a difference between fish meat and other kinds of meat, meaning you could just adapt an existing recipe to it. Quickly swinging by the Venalicium to make sure of that, however, proves that assumption wrong. Not only is fish meat very different and distinct from other kinds of meat, but different fish have different kinds of meat which, themselves, require different recipes to cook. And while you can look up books all day you're not going to find a carp with which to test an improvised recipe, so...

This problem require taking a different approach, you feel like.

-Minetan Swagger. Scour the Admiratio's bookstores. ALL of them.
--A quick check of the Admiratio, insofar that any search of the entirety of the Admiratio can be described as such, later and you're no closer to finding a recipe. There's cookbooks for sale that have recipes for cooking "fish", sure, but you're looking for a recipe that's specifically for carp, not any random fish. Because who knows whether those recipes apply to a carp? You don't think anyone in Mineta is that familiar with different kinds of fish, honestly.

So instead you start to hit up smaller neighbourhood stores, places that most students don't know about or care to find, because the Admiratio usually provides everything they need. And within one of those stores you find what you're looking for - Fish and the Ancient Cyvan Diet! A cookbook that has a recipe specific to carp!

...Okay, so it's like two parts historical document, one part history lecture, one part biology lecture and only one fifth cookbook. Doesn't matter, it's got a recipe you need and therefore it is now a cookbook.

--You run up and down the Admiratio what feels like three times, but nowhere do you find a cookbook that has a recipe specifically for carp. Generic "fish" recipes, sure, but you've got no idea if those recipes are going to work with carp! You're starting to doubt that anyone in this city does, actually. Is carp usually eaten, actually? Supposedly they're common, but...you don't even know that.

Gods, why did it have to be fish? Why, of all things, fish? This would be so much easier otherwise...although you suppose that you're not going to find many farmers raising pigs underwater, huh? That'd be a bit difficult...

-Diplomacy. Ask Asmita Tidar if she has (or can devise) a recipe.
--You head over to Vernin campus and knock on Asmita's door. She has a neutral, maybe slightly curious look on her face when she opens it and sees you standing in the hallway. "[PC FIRST NAME]? Let me take a wild, random guess: You're here because you need help with something cooking related?"

"I'm afraid so. Sorry if it's tiresome, getting asked the same kind of stuff over and over again, but I do need help with finding a recipe for something a bit...obscure, let's say."

There's a flash of weariness on Asmita's face when you confirm that you are here for her cooking, although it's quickly replaced with curiosity when you mention that you need something obscure. "Obscure, huh? How obscure are we talking here?" Asmita asks, suddenly looking interested, and you quickly realize why - Asmita must have gotten tired of people asking her for simple things, she's looking for a challenge. Well, if that's what she wants you can provide.

"To keep a long story short, I need a recipe for cooked carp. Yes, specifically carp. It's for a sick friend, so I need a healthy recipe that's healthy and easy to eat. And prepare, if possible."

"Carp? What is that, a kind of fish?" Asmita asks. She looks intrigued when you nod in answer to her question. "A recipe for a specific fish, huh? Part of me wants to ask more questions about why you need a recipe like that, and who your sick friend is, but you know what, challenge accepted. I'll get you a healthy recipe for carp, just you wait. You're probably in no position to gossip anyway, huh?"

Indeed, no. You're willing to admit that Leon asked you for this recipe, but you can't say anything more. Asmita, as you suspected, already heard about how Leon came racing to you earlier, so that isn't news to her, and she doesn't much care about the rest. She's happy to finally have a proper challenge, and promises that you can pick up your recipe within an hour.

--You head over to Vernin campus and knock on Asmita's door. She has a neutral, maybe slightly curious look on her face when she opens it and sees you standing in the hallway. "[PC FIRST NAME]? Let me take a wild, random guess: You're here because you need help with something cooking related?"

"Y-yes, actually. Is now a bad time?"

Asmita nods, and for some reason you get the feeling that there's an overweight hyena laughing at your misfortune in the background. Well, there goes that idea. Time to hit up the Admiratio and hope that one of the bookstores there has something, because if you could do this yourself you wouldn't be knocking on Asmita's door in the first place.

This adventure is indeed not going to comply with students who have the Vegetarian background, FYI. Of course on the one side I don't want it to be randomly unavailable, but on the other side I also don't want to write basically a second side to this adventure just to accommodate a singular background.

Edited by Metis
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