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Metis

Y2 WIP Adventures (come and proof-read!)

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2 hours ago, Metis said:

The Lion Seeking Fish, stage 2:

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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 at the reading 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 reading corner 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 a 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. Within one of those stores, however, 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 easy to 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 likely 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.

Simply make one of its criteria that players' characters not have the Vegetarian trait.

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That'll likely be the case with the adventure as written, the problem is that I'd rather not deny such PCs access to the adventure because they chose to be a vegetarian during character creation. It's a positive background, not a negative one, so picking it should be rewarded, not punished. Present the player with an otherwise non-obstacle because they have to stick to their principles, acceptable, but outright denying them access to an adventure not so much.

Of course having a separate adventure for such a PC, for one singular background, is a lot of effort spend typing and thinking. Rest assured that the full extent to which vegetarians would object to this particular adventure goes all the way to stage...13, literally to the very end of it. So that's a lot that'd have to be redone and checked.

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The Lion Seeking Fish, stage 3:

Spoiler

You've got a recipe to cook a carp, but looking it over it calls for herbs and spices that you don't happen to have on hand. You're also not sure if they'd be worth getting - you have no idea how Xu might react to them. Usually they really enhance the flavor and are very healthy and everything, but you've got no idea whether Xu's taste would agree with the former or whether the rest of her body would agree with the latter. You decide to head over to the ward and see if Chi could possibly shed some light on this situation. It's a long shot, you feel like, but it can't hurt to ask.

Over at the ward Chi and Leon are both busy in the kitchen. Leon, looking like a bit of a nervous wreck, is busy trying to gut a crude Glamour of a carp as Chi instructs him to, with Leon having to put down his knife and wave around his wand to update the Glamour every step. You really hope those two are going to figure out what they're doing at some point in the near future, because unlike them you're making actual progress. Regardless, Chi (not to mention Leon) is more than happy to take a quick break and look over your recipe. "I'm think we might've had this exact seasoning before," Chi says. Leon still translates to make sure you understand her, but you feel like it's starting to become less and less necessary. You understood her just fine, you just needed Leon to confirm. "And even if we didn't I doubt Xu would care one way or another. She'll just eat anything, pretty much."

You nod and look at Leon, since this is pretty much his project and all. It doesn't take him any time to conclude that it's best to get the seasoning the recipe calls for. "I've got no real experience deviating from recipes or substituting ingredients or what have you. I can follow a recipe, assuming it's reasonably simple. That's it. I'm going to need everything a recipe calls for if I'm going to do that. Whether Xu likes it or not, who knows, but I'm sure it'd be better than whatever I'd come up with if I had to either skip steps or improvise."

That does sound like the better plan, yes, even if it means extra work for you. Of course you're a second year Academagia student, and at least a slightly exceptional one at that. Surely a task as simple as securing some common seasoning is not beyond your capabilities, right?

-Wilderness Survival. Harvest what you need out in the wild.
--Most students would probably frown upon you taking plants from the Imperial Reserve when you could just buy them in the Admiratio, but to them you say: "You first". Coughing up Pims for something you can get for free, that is.

Sneaking into the Imperial Reserve isn't really significant anymore. Honestly you've been doing this pretty casually ever since you were a first year, let stand now. As for finding what you're looking for, you know where to find edible plants. And how to tell the edible ones from the poisonous ones. Make no mistake, the Imperial Reserve is not a friendly place to find this kind of stuff, it's just a place where you can find this stuff. And only because you know how.

Indeed, it doesn't take long to find what you need and collect enough for a plate worth of cooked fish. Multiple, even. This will definitely be enough for Xu. And if not than you've got an entirely different problem on your hands anyway.

--You head out into the Imperial Reserve and start looking around for what you need. It takes some poking and prodding at various places, but once you get into the swing of things it's almost like you're shopping at the Admiratio. Except that out here you don't need a bag of Pims.

What you are going to need is a survival guide, because halfway through your expedition your hands start itching badly. Not long after that your hands are covered with red, irritated skin and a few blisters. Curses, you must have rooted around among poisonous plants without realizing. Well, great. You didn't even find what you came here for! What a grand waste of time...

-Negotiate. Buy it off the market for whatever Leon can afford to pay for it.
--You shake down Leon for however much he can afford to pay for seasoning, because you're not putting down your own money until Leon cooks for you, and head off to the Admiratio. There you quickly realize that Leon's allowance must have been reduced to nothing after the summer, because he's a few Pims short of a decent price. Still, that's merely a challenge for you to overcome, right?

It takes a desperate man and a promise of future business over at the Farmer's Market to get what you need for the price you've been given to afford, but at the end of the day you got what you came for and that's all that matters. You're just not going to tell the guy that Leon's business is worth about as much as an empty pocket, though. Don't want to needlessly break anyone's spirits...

--You run up and down the Admiratio multiple times, looking for a deal that's within your price range, but multiple merchants are not swayed by either your haggling or dramatic storytelling. Well, okay, one of them was impressed with your dramatic storytelling, but not impressed enough. Honestly he was probably only indulging you in the hopes that you'd buy something else.

Either Leon is going to have to wait on his next allowance (which, all things considered, you don't think he still has) or you're going to have to get better at working the markets, because you're not making any progress here and you're not putting down your own money until Leon promises to cook a plate of carp for you. Which, if his current attempts at butchering is any indication, you can honestly do without...

-Study Habits. Ask Professor Vickery about (cheaper) substitutes.
--You head off to the Academagia's greenhouse, where you find Professor Vickery closely examining the end term projects of a few senior Durand students. Thankfully he's not so busy with it that he can't lend you an ear, and after explaining the situation (as much as you can, at least) he nods appreciatively at your search for cheaper seasoning. "Too many students just ask me for a handout and consider the job done, uninterested in actually learning anything. But a student who's genuinely interested in learning, and to cook at that, I've got time for...cheaper seasoning for cooked fish, though, now there's a rare question. Still, it's one of those questions that tends to come up as a trivia question, so I'm sure I've got something for you. In fact, one moment..."

The professor quickly ducks into another section of the greenhouse and comes back with a thick root in his hand. He explains, in more detail than is strictly necessary, that the root he's holding is what you're looking for if you're looking for a cheap alternative for seasoning. Of course the reason they're cheaper is because they take actual effort to prepare to cook, but according to the professor it's a simple enough process. You ask exactly how they're prepared, and make sure you take detailed notes for Leon. You'll have to make sure to tell him about the root and give your notes to him later, but beyond that you don't think using this root will be a problem. Leon can prepare it. He better can if he can prepare a carp, at any rate.

As a rewards, or measure of thanks for actually paying attention and being interested in his craft, Professor Vickery even gives you his root to use. Score!

--You head to the Academagia's Greenhouse looking for Professor Vickery, and unfortunately you find him there grading senior Durand student projects. Needless to say that he doesn't have the time to lend your worries an ear. So instead you try asking the seniors. If they're seniors students you feel like they ought to at least know whether or not they can help you, and it can't hurt to ask.

All you get a bunch of nervous nods and requests to ask someone else. Write it down, this Class of Botany students is completely doomed. Guess you'll have to come back later.

If it seems as if these stages go by really quickly, they are. This is the victory lap portion of the adventure, so it's pretty much the point. Rest assured that unreasonable amounts of words will be back as soon as part two starts.

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The Lion Seeking Fish, stage 4:

Spoiler

That's the recipe and the seasoning secured. Next...right, finding where carp are are how to transport them to the Academagia. Capturing them isn't something you're concerned about, you should be able to do that easily enough with just a magical net. Oh, right, speaking of magic - the bone pins issue! Nearly forgot about that.

You should probably address that first. So...a spell to detect trace amounts of bone in meat, and extract said bone without ruining the meat in the process. Preferably Revision spells, as you've got no idea how difficult these spells will be to cast and Revision is definitely Leon's strength. Not that he's the best student, but...still. Either way that sounds like a tall order, and like the kind of spell you're not going to find in the Venalicium. Surely there must be a spell for it, though. At least you imagine that it's a common enough occurrence in cooking if not medical situations for someone to have devised a spell for it at some point. So where are you going to learn this spell?

-Library Knowledge. Check the Infirmary Library.
--Something that a surprising amount of students are not aware of is that the Infirmary actually has an attached library, albeit one that technically isn't open to students. The nurses don't particularly care about students going there to study their craft, however, they mostly only care about students getting in their way. So, to make sure that this goes as smoothly as possible, you flag down one of the nurses (thankfully the Infirmary seems to be mostly empty right now) and ask if she can help you find what you need. You're not sure that it's even located in the Infirmary Library, after all, so it can't hurt to ask.

"A spell to tell meat from bone, sure, that's one of the most basic chirurgery spells you can learn. You'll cast it whenever someone might have fractured something somewhere that's not easy to tell, and rest assured, that happens a lot more frequently than you'd think. A spell to remove bone fragments likewise. That one you don't cast as often, but it's an important spell to know whenever someone broke one of their bones. You don't want to leave fragments laying around in a patient's body, rest assured. I can show you where the relevant textbooks are in the library, so come along."

A better answer you could not have asked for. Needless to say that you make sure to quickly copy everything you need from these textbooks, enough to make sure that Leon can teach himself to learn these spells. They're even both Revision spells, and they seem simple enough for a reasonably trained first year to cast, so Leon should have no problem casting this stuff.

And if he does than you're going to have to ask Ana to teach him a lesson in humility, but that definitely won't be necessary. Probably...

--You swing by the infirmary and find that it appears to be quite busy. You're not sure what happened, but at a glance you see a lot of first years in mostly Morvidus uniforms, so maybe something went wrong during Zoology or Revision class? Eh, probably Revision, assuming that Professor Aventyrare is teaching that class again this year. Big and flashy she may prefer, but big and flashy the consequences of failure that makes...or something along those lines.

All told you decide that discretion is the better part of valor, and leave for now. You don't want to stick around in case whatever these students are here for turns out to be contagious, and with it being so busy you don't think you stand much of any chance at getting into the Infirmary Library without getting chased out by one of the Infirmary staff. You vaguely recall that it's not open to students, though it doesn't much matter because it definitely isn't open to students that end up in people's way, so...call this one a bust.

-Courage. Ask Gwendy Zuyder if she knows any spells like that.
--Another profession where being able to distinguish meat from bone would be useful, you imagine, is taxidermy. And that's something that, if you remember right, Gwendy has some experience with. Or at the very least she should be able to point you in the right direction, either works for you. So you head off to Godina campus and start asking around for her. Turns out, however, that you honestly needn't had bothered - Gwendy finds you before you find her. She asks what you want, and you explain, pretty directly, what you're looking for. There's a flash of recognition on Gwendy's face that, sadly, gets replaced by confusion all too quickly. "Wait, hang on, so you started out the year taking pity on Girars and putting him on his ill-fated path towards trying to push the staff to offer vegetarian menu option, and now you're looking to stuff a few animals? What? You know, I've heard whispers of you being involved in some weird stuff, but I never thought those rumors were worth anything before. What happened?"

"Nothing, Gwendy-well, stuff happened, but nothing you need to worry about. Point is that I need a spell to remove small bone pins from carp meat before cooking it, without ruining the meat in the process, and I was hoping that you could help me. Oh, carp is a kind of fish, if you didn't know."

Gwendy, looking no less confused, slowly nods her head. "Ah-hah...alright. I mean I can help you with that, I've never used it for cooking before but I do know the spells you're looking for. That said, do you think you've got the guts to learn it? This isn't magic you can practice on your hands, to put it gently."

You roll your eyes. "Gwendy, I've seen far worse things than your family's trophy collection already. I'll be fine, don't worry about me."

Gwendy, with a thin smirk that she really shouldn't either have or at least show, nods and promises that she'll "take good care of you". And indeed, she does do her best to teach you the ins and outs of the spells she uses, as well as how you could possibly modify it to better suit your needs. They're both Revision spells, as you were hoping for, so Leon should be able to handle this no problem. Of course, you make sure to take detailed notes nevertheless. As much as you can handle Gwendy's approach to teaching it's still not something that you'd prefer to have to experience more than once if you can help it.

--Another profession where being able to distinguish meat from bone would be useful, you imagine, is taxidermy. And that's something that, if you remember right, Gwendy has some experience with. Or at the very least she should be able to point you in the right direction, either works for you. So you head off to Godina campus and start asking around for her. Turns out, however, that you honestly needn't had bothered - Gwendy finds you before you find her. She asks what you want, and you explain, pretty directly, what you're looking for. There's a flash of recognition on Gwendy's face that, sadly, gets replaced by confusion all too quickly. "Wait, hang on, so you started out the year taking pity on Girars and putting him on his ill-fated path towards trying to push the staff to offer vegetarian menu option, and now you're looking to stuff a few animals? What? You know, I've heard whispers of you being involved in some weird stuff, but I never thought those rumors were worth anything before. What happened?"

"Nothing, Gwendy-well, stuff happened, but nothing you need to worry about. Point is that I need a spell to remove small bone pins from carp meat before cooking it, without ruining the meat in the process, and I was hoping that you could help me. Oh, carp is a kind of fish, if you didn't know."

Gwendy, looking no less confused, slowly nods her head. "Ah-hah...alright. I mean I can help you with that, I've never used it for cooking before but I do know the spells you're looking for. That said, do you think you've got the guts to learn it? This isn't magic you can practice on your hands, to put it gently."

...Oh. Oh. Eh...that's a complication you didn't foresee, actually. And given how Leon reacted to him gutting that Glamour of a carp you're not going to be able to send him in your stead, either. That's, eh...that's unfortunate. Gwendy, unsurprisingly, notices your nerves and pointedly remarks that she'd be happy to teach you a thing or two, but after you've proven that you can manage to keep a straight face around her hobby as well as you can tolerate Girars' frequent ramblings.

That, as they say, sounds like a challenge. Probably. Your priority is to find the spell you need, not prove yourself to your peers, though, so...ah, whatever. If Gwendy wants to throw a gauntlet down than the game is on!

I sure hope Wikipedia didn't lie to me about the characteristics of carp, because otherwise I'm about to look like a massive fool.

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The Lion Seeking Fish, stage 5:

Spoiler

With some significant progress under your belt you decide to head to the ward and see how things are progressing there. Also to store the seasoning you got, since there's no reason for you to hold on to it when it'll eventually get used in the ward's kitchen anyway.

From the looks of it Leon is getting a handle on Chi's techniques, as well as Glamour. He looks less like a nervous wreck than he did earlier. Walking up to the two of them to check their work up close only confirms that observation. "We've basically reached the point where we can't do anything more without actual carp to practice on," Leon notes, with Chi nodding suspiciously hard at that behind him. "How are things on your end? Did you find the seasoning we'll need?"

"Found that, as well as the spells to detect and remove the bits of bone from the carp's meat. Here's all the notes you'll need, I know you can't exactly test things too well without a carp to cook but get to practising anyway." Leon readily takes your notes and reads them over, but you already know that they're not beyond his skills.

"Is that everything?" Chi asks. "What else are we-well, you two missing to go out there and bring me-eh, to prepare, you know what I mean, a bunch of carp?"

Let it be known that an eyebrow was raised at that, but you decide to let if go for now. More important things to focus on for the moment. "Not quite. We still need to figure out where carp can be found, how to capture them, and how to deliver them to the Academagia. It might be a long trip to the nearest lake or river where carp are, and I don't know how long they'll stay outside the water."

"Generally not very long, according to the biologist' overview of fish I used for that carp Glamour," Leon notes as he continues reading, eyes glued to the parchment like they're never coming off. "If you dry them out and salt them, sure, but of course we don't want to do that. Especially since we're not exactly in the middle of the cold seasons anymore we're going to have to bring the lake - or the river, whichever - to the Academagia, pretty much."

"Surely it won't be that complicated. Can't we just get a big fish tank? Use magic to maintain a bubble of water, something?" Leon nods, but points out that you shouldn't underestimate how heavy water is - a fish tank large enough for "a bunch" of carp would be big and heavy, especially to carry around for an hour. Incantation he has no real experience with, but he imagines that juggling a bunch of carp in a massive water bubble and keeping them in there, across a large distance, is probably going to be more difficult than not. There's also the fact that this entire plan hasn't exactly been approved by any professor, so however you two are going to end up getting carp into the Academagia it's preferably going to be a way that's not going to attract attention. Which a giant bubble will. "Point taken, but by that logic it's not as if we can haul in a giant fish tank and have no one ask questions either. Especially if you are going to end up hauling the tank, since you're somewhat of a noticeable person as of late."

"Can either of you two magic your way through windows?" Chi suddenly asks a bit out of nowhere. Pointing at one of the many windows lining the top of the walls she adds, "If so, why not smuggle them in through those?"

...Where, exactly, is this ward located again? You know how to walk to it from inside, but where on the Academagia's Ground is it on the outside? You imagine you can figure that out, so going through the windows might be an option? You imagine this place is very well protected against any sort of intrusion, though. It's not just students that the professors, Badcrumble especially, are afraid of breaking in here...

"Going through the windows isn't an option, but come to think of it there is a back door we can use," Leon notes, surprising you a bit. Of course you immediately ask if anyone has tried to sneak into here through that door before, and if not why no one did. "Oh, people have tried. But what most don't realize is that that door has a similar spell cast on it as my Gaes. Basically anyone who manages to break the lock can go through, take in the deserted hallway that lies beyond, and draw their own conclusions as to why they thought it would lead to something interesting in the first place. That spell is hard to detect, too, since it's set up to look like the usual burglary detection spells that students don't trigger, and the few who even suspect there's something amiss will have a hard time doing something about it. It shouldn't trigger for either of us, though, since we're allowed to be here. And even if it did I'm pretty sure we wouldn't forget why we ended up there with a tank full of carp so easily. Hell, you've proven yourself capable of breaking through better spells before, so I'm sure we'll be fine."

True, but all the same you'd rather not have to repeat that trick if you can avoid it. Still, Leon's right, if nothing else a tank worth of carp should be sufficient reminder of what you were doing. So that solves that problem (that you didn't even realize existed before). Next, how to transport carp to that back door reasonably, and preferably without making a dozen trips?

-Negation. Levitating fish tank.
--You look around for the nearest heavy object, and your eyes land on one of the chairs in the reading corner. Would those be about as heavy as a large fish tank? You haven't the slightest clue, but it'll suffice for testing purposes anyway.

You tell Leon that carrying around a fish tank won't be that hard, and to prove your point use your wand to make one of the chairs levitate off the ground, all the way up to the window. Chi stares at your really basic and simple trick with wide eyes, like someone who's never seen magic before.

"Impressive," Leon says, nodding his head at the chair that suddenly took flight. "Can you really hold it in place like that for, what, an hour at least, though? And while moving across wilderness, albeit fairly tame wilderness? What do you think, are you up to test that theory?"

"Let's not, spend that time finding an actual fish tank instead because I don't happen to have one of those on hand, and say we did."

There's about two seconds of silence before Leon has an answer ready for you. "Deal. And don't worry about finding one, I happen to know a good place to look..."

--You look around for the nearest heavy object, and your eyes land on one of the chairs in the reading corner. Would those be about as heavy as a large fish tank? You haven't the slightest clue, but it'll suffice for testing purposes anyway.

You tell Leon that carrying around a fish tank won't be that hard, and to prove your point use your wand to make one of the chairs lift slightly into the air. It's, eh, a bit wobbly on it's non-existent surface, but hey, it's off the ground.

"It's a start, but we can't have a fish tank wobble so much. All the water would spill out," Leon notes and Chi walk over to the levitating, unintentional rocking chair and curiously looks it over, like a child would cautiously approach an animal she's never seen before. Either sadly or thankfully she doesn't take a seat in it, because that could have been fun.

As for using this as a solution, unfortunately Leon is right. You're going to have to put in more work before this is a viable option. Still, it's an option. And a bit of study shouldn't be an impossible task for a student...

-Incantation. Floating fish bubble.
--You take out your wand and conjure a floating bubble of water, which Chi ends up staring a bit amazed and bewildered at, while you try to explain to Leon that maintaining this bubble for an hour isn't difficult at all.

"Good to hear, but what about keeping the fish from swimming out? Isn't that going to be a problem?"

You shake your head and assure Leon that it won't. There's ways to add barriers to water bubbles, both physical and improvised ones, that will repel fish, and you know how to create such things. You can't exactly show off that you can, not without a fish to use as a test subject, but you're confident that you can manage.

Thankfully Leon is willing to believe you on that confidence, so the plan to use a magic water bubble to transport the fish is ready to go.

--You take out your wand and conjure a floating bubble of water, which Chi ends up staring a bit amazed and bewildered at, though Leon looks less than impressed. "Good start, but what about keeping the fish from swimming out? Is there a way to prevent them from doing that? Because I don't think putting them back by hand is a viable option, honestly."

"I, eh, was honestly counting on the fish not wanting to, you know, die to keep them in the water bubble. Is that not something we can count on?" Chi and Leon both nod their heads. Curses, your perfect plan ruined by the suicidal curiosity of a fish!

You'll have to figure out a way to keep the fish from swimming out, if you're going to use this plan...

-Revision. Temporarily shift the fish into smaller forms.
--It's curious, and slightly annoying, that you have to point this out to a former Morvidus student, but you pull out your wand and explain that you two could simply shift the fish into smaller, more easily carried forms temporarily. An opposite of Sergei's Timely Doorjam, basically.

"Of course I thought about that, the problem is that I have no idea if I could cast that spell properly and then maintain it for long enough. I've only ever used such spells on myself, and I'm not as familiar with fish needless to say."

Okay, that's a fair concern, maintaining that spell for however long it takes to run back to the Academagia. You're confident you're skilled enough to pull it off, however, and in absence of a better plan Leon is willing to go along with it. You'd prove that you're able to do it, but unfortunately that'd require either an actual fish to test your spells on, or the closet substitute you're able to find, which would be Chi in her mermaid form.

Somehow you don't think Chi would approve of being a test subject, nor would you want to use a shapeshifter as a test subject for shapeshifting magic because that just sounds like it could go all kinds of wrong, so...not even going to bother asking.

It'll be fine, though. You know Revision, you know you can do this.

--You ask Leon if he can't simply use his Revision spells to turn the fish into amphibians, or at least smaller fish temporarily. Long enough to transport them to the Academagia. Sadly he shakes his head. "I thought about that, of course, the problem is that I don't know if I could cast such a spell and maintain it. I've only ever used such spells on myself, and I'm not as familiar with fish needless to say..."

Yeah, fish aren't the most common things for students to try their Revision spells on. And maintaining those forms for however long it'd take to get back to the Academagia...yeah, you can see why Leon would be hesitant to try using his magic to solve this problem. You're no more confident in your Revision spells, either, as basic as an inverse Sergei's Timely Doorjam is you're less sure about maintaining a spell for that long. And on organisms you rarely have a chance to use them on, too.

It's doable, it's certainly doable, but this is going to take some research and practice to work...

Unfortunately no option to Gates the fish to the Academagia, because of course someone would notice that happening.

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The Lion Seeking Fish, stage 6:

Spoiler

Every piece that you can see (as well as several that you couldn't) are in place, all that's left is to find the carp and capture them. The latter problem you imagine can be solved by throwing a net, and if that doesn't work than you've got no idea what will without seeing what causes the net idea to fail, so...a problem you'll have to solve later, if it comes up. As for where to find them in the first place, that's a bit more tricky.

"That biologist's guide to fish only mentioned that carp exist 'on Elumia'. No specific lake or river was pointed out as far as I could find," Leon notes. "I don't suppose you've already come across a lake or river where we can find carp, by chance?"

Unfortunately not. They're definitely not in the Canal of Snows or Lake Ardica, you'd know if they were, and you don't recall seeing any fish in Ten Swans' Lake either. Hmm...seems like this is a situation where you're going to have to head out into the great, wide world and find yourself some carp. At least, you can't imagine that any of your Classmates would know the habitat of a specific fish. How to approach this problem, than? How to find where these fish are hiding?

-Explore. Just head out and look everywhere.
--The only way to find something is to look for it, and so you drag along a less confident than you'd like Leon with you into the great, wild unknown...insofar that a large patch of grass and dirt within view of the Academagia can be considered such...in search of a river or lake that houses the fish that you seek.

'Tis a long and...arguous? Argeous? What's that fancy word for "difficult" again? Whatever, it's an ar-something journey across plains, through forests and over mountains, none of which pose any sort of threat to your spellcasting capabilities, until you finally come across a lake that has what you seek.

--How else are you going to find something but by looking for it? So, dragging Leon along, you set out for what might be a long trek across the Elumian wilderness...insofar that the area around Mineta can be called such. Really more of an extended park with fewer than normal guarantees of not walking into something unsavory, but sometimes you'll take monsters over pickpockets. At least the former tend to announce their presence, giving you a fair chance of running away like the scared child you'd really rather not be, but not having your arms broken is nice too.

Unfortunately the long search turns out fruitless. Plenty of lakes and rivers around, what with the mountains nearby, but none of them seem to have carp in them. Perhaps you should try looking in a different area or perhaps you're just unlucky, but either way this is either going to take more stubborn looking or a more organized approach.

-Patrol. An organized search will work best.
--You grab a map of the nearby area and quickly section it off, work out a patrol pattern for you and Leon to follow to cover the maximum amount of distance, and head off. Leon seems entirely unfamiliar and uncomfortable with this sort of approach, as you'd expect from someone who's greatest claim to fame is an act that "desperation" does not begin to describe, but he'll do his best to follow along if it increases the chance of him finding his precious carp.

After a while spend searching across what is, by now, pretty familiar and safe territory, the bad news is that Leon doesn't find what you two are looking for. The good news, however...

--You quickly decide on a basic plan of action, and send a weary but willing to play along Leon out into the great wild as you go your own path. Admittedly that makes it a bit hard to get in contact with him, as you later realize, but so long as it ends up with someone finding a carp that's fine, right? And splitting up means covering more ground, so someone is bound to find a carp faster than you two would otherwise.

In theory.

In practice neither of you, after a long time spend searching around somewhat randomly and haphazardly, manage to locate the fish you're looking for. You really hope this speaks more about your ability to search and less of the age of the books in the Venalicium, because if it's the latter this is going to be a very long and very fruitless search indeed...

-Astrology. Apply some magic to this problem.
--Finding water is one of the oldest Astrology tricks in the book, and now that you're a second year you're able to adapt that spell to track carp instead. You'll freely admit that adapting it to a non-aquatic creature would take more effort, perhaps too much effort, but that's not a concern for you right now. What's a concern for you right now is following your wand-turned-dowsing rod and seeing where it'll lead you.

Because, if you're right, it'll lead you right to a...what's the term for a group of fish again, a flock? No, that's not it...whatever, it'll lead you to a multitude of carp, is the point.

--You try to use the tried and true Astrology method of finding stuff, but unfortunately you're not able to receive any visions that are distinct enough to make out. Just wilderness all around with no good reference point of where it actually is, not even one of the Academagia's tower sticking out in the background.

Either you're going to have to get really familiar with the outlying wilderness, in which case you can probably just look for carp with the two eyes you were born with rather than the third one that's not doing you a whole lot of good right now, or you're going to have to think of a different way to leverage your spellcasting into a solution to this problem...

Next stage is when the victory lap ends and things go back to being, for me, an ordinary adventure. I'm sure that I'll end up missing these really basic and simple to type stages sooner rather than later...

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The Lion seeking Fish, stage 7:

Spoiler

"Leon, over here!"

Less than two seconds after you call out to Leon you see dirt go flying in the corner of your eye. And upon seeing the (rightfully terrified) carp swimming away from him his expression lands on something that you don't think he's shown (or really felt) since basically the end of the last academic year - undisguised, genuine joy.

...It'd look more flattering if Leon didn't look half mad at the same time, admittedly. But hey, it's a step in the right direction.

"Fantastic! Let's get to catching, did you bring a net?"

"I assumed that we won't need one," you start to say as Leon, without any announcement or prompt, gleefully rips a giant fishing net out of his knapsack. What Gates magic he used to stuff that thing in there you've no idea, nor where he even got that thing in the first place, but at least he came prepared. "And never mind about the rest I suppose. So do you have any idea how to actually use that thing? Because if you think it's going to be as simple as 'just toss it in the water' I think you're going to be sorely disappointed."

"Don't need to," Leon confidently answers as he tosses the net straight into the water. Visibly it doesn't seem to do anything, so you start to wonder how you're going to tell this guy, who's a year older than you, that fishing doesn't work like that. But once again you're made to eat your words as out of nowhere you see a dozen-odd carp suddenly swim towards the net and catch themselves in it. From there Leon walks up to the net and happily tells you to get them ready to transport back to the Academagia. Which you will, but...some things deserve to be asked first.

"What the hell what that, Leon!? Fishing does not work that way!" is all your mind can make of that question. You'd be more polite about it, but seriously, what the hell.

"A magic fishing net. What, don't you have one of those?" If there's a joke in there than it's lost on you. Thankfully Leon picks up on that fact pretty quickly. "Fine, fine. Honestly one of the librarians over at the Venalicium let me borrow it. I needed help finding that biologist's guide to fish, and this net is one of those things collecting dust in the Venalicium most of the time. The librarian that helped me was happy to lend it to me so it'd finally see some actual use again, and I definitely wasn't turning that offer down."

You've heard stories about weird stuff that students manage to find or otherwise "acquire" from the Venalicium, but this...eh, could you really say this is more random than a violin? Or that it's the fifth-weirdest thing you've seen so far this year? Not really, in either case. And it's very much helpful right now, so...sure. Let's not look the gifted horse in the mouth, as much as it looks more like an elephant than a horse...

With the carp captured things proceed according to plan. You transport the carp you've caught as planned, get them to the girls without attracting undue attention by going through the back door, and Leon...well, no Gods can help the fist two fish he attempts to prepare, you feel like, but his third attempt onward is successful. A little bit of testing and fine-tuning was required, but beyond that he's fine. The spell you found to clear the fish' meat of the bone pins is successfully used as well, the meat is cooked according to the recipe you found, the necessary seasoning is right where you stashed it in the kitchen earlier...and eventually Leon, who looks like an absolute mess and a half, is ready with a plate of cooked fish. The smell is...something, alright. Not something that you're used too at all, but Chi stares at Leon's plate with a hungry look in her eyes and watering mouth. So you assume that it passes the test.

"Time to deliver this to Xu," Leon happily says as he looks over the fruits-or, rather, the fried fish of his labor. Again, it's none too flattering given the slightly half-mad look to it, but the little schemer just looks so happy right now. "[PC FIRST NAME], Chi, thanks for all the help, I couldn't have done it without you two. I don't know how or when I can pay back the favor, but I owe you two one."

You nod and tell Leon not to keep Xu waiting, which sends him running. Chi, however, mutters something underneath her breath that causes you to pause and stare curiously at the downcast girl looking glumly at the floor in front of her. Of course with Leon gone he isn't here to translate for you, but...you feel like you can hold your own in a conversation at this point. And it seems like one needs to be had here.

-Talk to Chi.
--Calling out Chi's name snaps her out of her slump and causes her to nervously look around. Until her eyes land on you, staring curiously at her. "Wh-what, [PC FIRST NAME]? D-don't...you have things you need to do?"

The question sounds neutral enough, but as you continue to stare curiously (or suspiciously) at Chi you notice her throwing a nervous glance over at the kitchen. The smell of cooked fish (and Leon's prior attempts to get to that point) still hangs in the air, it's so thick you can taste it. And as you realize that you realize something else - the hungry look in Chi's eyes is still there. You're getting the distinct impression that if you leave her alone that she's going to make off with some of the fish. Admittedly Leon brought too much for just Xu anyway, so that's really not a problem in that respect, but why this...deception? "Go and take a seat at the reading corner, Chi. I'll get you a plate of cooked fish."

Chi doesn't seem to believe you at first, but after telling her that Leon's first two catches would just go to waste otherwise she runs through a number of different emotions before eventually reigning herself in, and doing as you asked. And even than she's unable to stay still, like a little kid she's jumping off the walls in her seat.

What is going on here?

That was a nice vacation while it lasted. Now, back to words. Many, many words...

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The Lion Seeking Fish, stage 8:

Spoiler

Over at the girls' kitchen you look past the sight of the trash bin topped with a layer of leftover fish bits, not to mention the smell thereof, and cook up your own plate of fish. It's honestly a simple task - the recipe isn't difficult to follow, there's oddly cut (but otherwise perfectly usable) slices of meat left over from Leon's failed attempts at butchering for you to cook, and the spell to remove the bits of bone isn't so hard that you're unable to cast it yourself. It's a slow process as you work carefully and meticulously to make sure you get everything right, removing the bits of bone especially, but beyond that the fish practically cooks itself. Actually, it sort of literally does. As it turns out this kitchen works on enchantments and magic, so the fish really does cook itself in a way. With everything proceeding smoothly you soon find yourself with a plate worth of cooked fish. Admittedly in the form of a larger number of more geometrically challenged slices than you should, but presentation isn't something you're concerned with here. It's perfectly fine to eat, that's what matters here. You put the cooked fish on a plate, grab a fork and knife, and bring everything over to Chi.

Once Chi's eyes land on the plate you're bringing over her gaze locks to it, from you walking over from the kitchen to you putting the plate down on the small table in front of her Chi is not paying any attention to anything else. Once the plate is put down Chi takes one whiff of the cooked fish before she turns her head and stares at you with a conflicted expression. What's going on in her mind you're not sure, but you tell her to dig in as you sit down next to her. Chi blushes, looks at the food for one silent moment, and then starts to digs in as her hunger seems to take control of her. The fork you brought actually ends up being knocked off the table and clattering on the ground, thankfully not landing in your foot in the process.

You patiently wait until Chi is fully and completely done eating, up to and including licking the plate clean in fact, and after that wait some more to give her a chance to start. She doesn't, however. She just stares lost, confused and disbelieving at the empty plate in front of her. Whatever just happened is something that took Chi by surprise as much as it did you, it seems like. Which is all the more reason for you to brave the language barrier and at least try to get an answer out of her. "Chi, what's wrong? Why are you starving? Does Professor Badcrumble not provide enough food for the two of you? Three of you, rather?"

Chi slowly turns her head and looks a bit lost and hopeless at you. At the mention of Professor Badcrumble, however, she twitches. "D-don't ask," she quietly answer, bitterness audible in her voice if not her words. "You wouldn't-" she starts to add, but her words end up stuck in her throat when her eyes wander and land on the empty plate of food you brought her. After that Chi falls eerily silent.

"I would if you tried your best to explain yourself, Chi," you say as reassuringly as you can. It seems to work too, because Chi's earlier blush quickly returns in full force. "What's going on here? Why are you starving? And what's going on between you and Professor Badcrumble?"

Chi looks between you and the empty plate of food several times, lost in her own thoughts, weighing things you can't even begin to fathom. But you give her time to think, and after a tense moment spend in silence Chi's tense body slowly relaxes. "I can't trust her," she quietly answers, glancing at you through the corner of her eye. "Do you understand why?" You shake your head, and ask Chi to explain why she doesn't. "Because she's powerless. Powerless to remove the one who had us kidnapped, and brought here. Who had Xu's egg - Fang - taken from her, and prepared to be served as an exotic delicacy to her guests. Powerless to stop Leon from running all over her supposed authority, even. Yet she continues to praise those 'New Gods' of hers without end. Those that overthrew and drove out the Dragons responsible for the Second Captivity and tyranny this place suffered under because of them, and replaced with their own rulership. Their own empire, with their own system of laws and order. That which grant the professor the authority she claims to have...but doesn't. She comes across like she's gone mad. Like she became the monster she once hunted. I can't trust her."

...You don't have a counter-argument for that. You know Professor Badcrumble isn't like that, doesn't intend to come across like that at the very least, but...yeah. You can't, with a straight face, say that she simply does not have the authority and power she wishes she did. Leon is proof enough of that. "And because of that you refuse to ask her for more food?" Chi nods, staring intently at you with a weary expression. You can tell that it's not easy for her to trust you, and she's afraid of you saying something that proves she shouldn't. Better choose your words carefully. "She provides you with shelter and clothes, and at least some amount of food already, though. What is so hard about asking her for more? If there's a reason, please, tell me."

"Food is more important to us than it is to landbound. Or 'humans', if you prefer..." Chi starts to explain. Though after she trails off she stares at you with narrowed eyes. She wants you to answer her unspoken question, as a test. Thankfully it's a very obvious and straightforward one. You nod and tell Chi to use the terms she's comfortable with, and promise that you'll ask if you need any of them explained to you. Of which "landbound" is not one of, that one speaks for itself fairly well. Chi smirks at your answer, but it's not just a mischievous one. There's a hint of something else there as well, though you're not sure what. And right now you don't dare guess. "The reasons why food is more important for us is because it's all we really need. Traditionally, at least. Landbound need food and water, shelter against rain and snow, clothes against sun and wind...they need a lot of things, constantly, to survive. We only need food, the water provides us the rest, and even than we don't need food every day like landbound do. So long as we've got enough in us we can keep going...or at least so things were in the past. We can't follow the water like we used to, follow the warmth when the seasons change, so these days we also need either magic or shelter to survive the cold. All the same, though, food is still more important to us than it is to landbound. Accepting something so important from someone you can't trust, especially when you really need it...it's a difficult thing to do."

Several questions flying around in your head right now, and you're not sure with which one to start. You suppose you'll go with the one that's the most basic and straightforward, and possibly bothering you the most right now even if it shouldn't. "Is there a word for your kind, like you call humans 'landbound'?" Chi nods and explains that there's a number of different terms, some considered more insulting than others, but the general one is "seabound". "Seaborn" is probably the second most common term used, although some take it to be a sign of ignorance, or worse, when used by a landbound, since they're insistent on the terminology that seabound aren't born, but hatched. Most don't care to make that distinction, though. "Mermaids" is also an acceptable term, if prone to confusion should a non-shapeshifter mermaid enters the conversation, so for that reason it's not preferred. "Alright. Than, forgive me if this is a rude thing to ask, or if I don't know how to ask it properly, but do you think of yourself as a human?"

"I know what you're referring to, but it's not something I ever think about. Or really know what to think about. I'll try to answer anyway, though: I see myself as a seabound, and people like you as a landbound. The same people, but different in that they have different places they call home. Does that answer your question?"

That does answer that question, yes. So as for the next one...perhaps a bit risky, but you should be fine so long as you watch what you say. "What was living in your home like? I've only heard hushed whispers and vague rumors about it, as I'm sure you've heard about this place, so...what was it really like?"

Chi, too hesitant to answer that question right away, first asks you if you can promise that you won't judge her for her answer. You nod, without any doubt or hesitation whatsoever. Chi blushes a bit at how quickly you agreed to that, and asks you to make good on that promise. Based on her relatively friendly tone, compared to the bitter undertone she started with at least, you'd guess that she's starting to trust you a bit. She seems eager to talk about her homeland, actually, like it's something she's been wanting to get off her chest. "To be honest, hushed whispers and vague rumors is all I've heard too. I never saw the world above the water until I was...brought here. I never had a chance to explore my home below the surface either. I had to help out at home every day, and work at a job as soon as I was able to." It's hard to believe that someone could be so ignorant about their own homeland, but in hindsight it makes sense. Of course the ones who'd get kidnapped and smuggled to a faraway place are those that no one significant would come looking for, so...someone from the town or city's slums. It's sad to think about, but it's what it is. "I heard about Dragons back home, the scaled creatures that the professor hates so much. That everyone here hates so much, even Leon. They're responsible for the seabound being able to live below the water, since their magic keeps the water warm during the cold seasons. We wouldn't be able to survive otherwise, since we can't follow the water like we used to. But I never saw one before, or met one. As far as I know they never come beneath the water, if there's something they need than their seabound servants come to them. I overheard hushed whispers about them from my peers, too. Rumors about how apparently they're responsible for why our lives were so full of hardship, and why we never had anything to spare. As far as Leon told me, though, this city has places and people just like that too, and no Dragons ruling it. So I don't know whether they're really responsible or not."

"History doesn't paint a very pretty picture of them, needless to say. But than I guess you never went to any kind of school to study that sort of stuff, did you?" Chi slowly shakes her head and clarifies that schools like the Academagia don't exist in her old home town. She, like everyone else, received all the training she needed from her family and at her job. That was the only form of education that anyone could ever get, or need. "That's why you see Professor Badcrumble as someone who went mad? Because she keeps trying to force you to believe that Dragons are irredeemable tyrants responsible for so much sorrow and hardship, in contrast to the New Gods that she props up as perfect figures of law and order, despite the fact that the one responsible for everything you and Xu went through wasn't a Dragon?"

Again Chi nods, and she lets out a sigh of what you can only assume is relief. "Yes, that's why. She, and Leon too told us time and time again how important it is that we follow those convictions, that we do our best to fit in. Because people are afraid of strangers that don't believe what they do. Which I can understand, I'm no less afraid of them than they are of me. But I'm more afraid of them that I'm sure they've ever been afraid of anything else in their lives. So trying to force that whole idea on us just makes everyone seem like the kind of mad cultist that the professor is afraid we'd be mistaken for. To believe so feverishly in something that so clearly isn't true, to continue to claim it's there when Leon rubs it's in her face that it's not, all because those that we are more afraid of than they ever could be of us would condemn us for it...she must be mad. All of them must be mad..."

That is...a problem, to say the least. It's clear that there's a lot more going on than just this lack of food, a lot more that you're going to need to do than just ask Professor Badcrumble to give the girls more food. A lot more. And given how much of Chi's trust you seem to have earned it seems like that's something only you, maybe Leon can do. You doubt that Chi would confide her feeling on this subject to Leon, though. It might just have to be you. That's not something you're going to be able to address before the end of this academic year, though. It might not be something you can address until after the Madame faces the law's judgement for her crimes, even. Until that point...the best you could do is do your best to earn Chi's, as well as Xu's trust. Professor Badcrumble is not going to be able to get a word in here, not until her delaying, and failing to achieve some manner of resolution to the girls' case is justified. And that is going to be a steep hill to climb, despite her having rescued the girls from their predicament in every other respect.

The best way for you to proceed here would be to properly, fully resolve this issue of Chi's lack of food. You understand that it's a more important, more delicate subject to her than it is to you. That she can go for days, weeks, maybe months even...? Probably not months, actually, but-some amount of time without eating, is the point. Longer than you could without magical assistance, and that she will attempt to rely on that before asking Professor Badcrumble for help. More than she should, and more than she can. That has to stop. But would asking Professor Badcrumble for more food really solve this issue completely? You're going to have to find out if that's the case, and then solve whatever problem comes up because it is not going to be that easy. Let's just be realistic here, it is not going to be that easy. So how to proceed from here...

-Empathy. Try to suss out how Chi is feeling.
--"Alright...I see the problem here, and honestly I can see where you're coming from too." That assurance confuses Chi, but you're confident that she believes you. She looks tense and you don't doubt that she's scared, because of the situation she's in as well as the fact that you're confronting her about it, but despite being driven into a corner she doesn't see you as an enemy. "So, about this lack of food issue, I take it that you'd prefer if I talk to Professor Badcrumble about it?" Chi nods, but from her expression you can tell there's more to this story than just that. As you expected. "Is there anything else you need my help with?"

Chi initially shakes her head, but you give her a look that makes it clear you know she's hiding something. It sends Chi back into her own thoughts, like before, but you give her time to think. And, like before, her tension slowly fades away. "Just to check...Leon didn't tell you anything about our social norms, did he?" Chi quietly asks, staring wearily at you. You shake your head and confirm that he didn't, but you're more than willing to listen. Curious, even, to the point where you ask Chi to explain herself. Once again she blushes, but this time there's a thin smile on her face too. Like she's embarrassed to discuss her feelings with a friend, and less like she's afraid to share it with a stranger, and possibly being rejected. You hope that's the case, at least. "R-right. Well, the truth is that we...really need someone to cook for us. Me especially."

It takes you a second to realize, but it makes sense that this is a big thing to ask for Chi. If food is more important to her than it follows that cooking for someone is as well. And a problem, come to think of it. "Neither you or Xu have any idea what all of the landbound vegetables, fruits and meats really are, or how to cook them?" Chi nods and explains that the only food she and Xu both ever had back home was seaweed and fish. That said they've figured a few things out since they first arrived here, they're not as ignorant as they once were, but even so they don't really know how to cook anything. Leon got them a cookbook a while back and translated it for them as best he could, and they've gotten everything out of it that they could, but it just isn't enough. Especially for Chi, which is a bit of information that you maybe shouldn't pounce on, but it needs to be asked. "Why is this matter especially important to you? I'd have assumed that Xu would be more concerned about it, considering that she's got Fang to feed. Do you get sick from certain landbound food?"

Chi shakes her head. "I wish that was it, honestly." You'll admit, not the answer you were expecting. "I don't get sick from any of it, I'm just a really picky eater. It's not just landbound food either, I've been crying and complaining about my food ever since I was old enough to eat seaweed. I don't know how Xu does it, eating anything and everything you give her, but I can't do it. My body just rejects certain things, I don't know why but I can't eat it. Digest it, yes, but I can't eat it. Not unless I force myself to."

Huh...part of you wants to say that must be because the girls don't know how to cook their food properly, that'd certainly do it, but if it's been the case since before Chi was taken here and Xu doesn't have any issues with her food, cooked improperly or not, than...yes, this would have to be a problem specific to Chi. It's a little hard to believe that she's "just" a picky eater, though. Refusing to eat something you don't like is one thing, you're no stranger to that yourself, but actively starving yourself is quite another...but than you suppose that might not be the case for someone who doesn't necessarily need to eat every day? It's a difficult thing to judge, and for now you think it'd be best if you put off those questions until later. "I see...and given that food is so important for you, especially now that you really need it, I take it that someone cooking for you is as well. In that case, how about I try to cook for you?"

--As far as you can tell Chi is roughly two parts embarrassed by you cooking for her, and three parts scared of this whole situation. Not to mention that she seems to be on the brink of starvation, which is weighing on her as well. Perhaps the best answer here is to take a break, give her time to process what all happened so far and give yourself the chance to cook for her again later. She clearly needs it, and you don't think one plate of cooked fish will keep her going for very long.

It's not really a long-term solution, you don't have infinite fish to cook for Chi or infinite time to do so, but if it'll end her ravenous hunger for a moment it should make it easier to talk to you.

-Character Study. Ask Chi for a solution.
--"That is quite the situation you're in...but, back to the food issue, what do you think should be done about it? How do you think it could be solved, exactly?" Chi responds that she doesn't know, which you can tell is a bold-faced lie. She stares at the empty plate before her, her answer to your question written all over her face. Or, rather, right in front of her. "Chi, whatever makes this situation so difficult for you, I'll understand if you try to explain. So please, if you're not going to share the answer that's written all over your face explain to me why it's so difficult for you to ask."

Chi slowly turns her head to look at you, and silently nods. It's a difficult thing for her, sharing her feelings and culture like this, but she genuinely wants to. Give her a listening ear, and she'll talk. "Food is more important to us than it is to landbound...and so is cooking. That's what we need right now, though. Me especially. We really need someone to cook for us."

Cook...? Oh, that's right - neither Chi or Xu have any idea what all of the landbound food that Professor Badcrumble is supplying them even is, much less how to cook them. And cook them in a magic kitchen, at that. So of course-now you get it! "Right, I see. Though, why is it especially important for you? Do you get sick from trying to eat certain food?"

Chi shakes her head. "I wish that was it, honestly." You'll admit, not the answer you were expecting. "I don't get sick from any of it, I'm just a really picky eater. It's not just landbound food either, I've been crying and complaining about my food ever since I was old enough to eat seaweed. I don't know how Xu does it, eating anything and everything you give her, but I can't do it. My body just rejects certain things, I don't know why but I can't eat it. Digest it, yes, but I can't eat it. Not unless I force myself to."

Huh...part of you wants to say that must be because the girls don't know how to cook their food properly, that'd certainly do it, but if it's been the case since before Chi was taken here and Xu doesn't have any issues with her food than...yes, this would have to be a problem specific to Chi. It's a little hard to believe that she's "just" a picky eater, though. Chi does seem to care about whether she likes her food, you're no stranger to that yourself, but actively starving yourself is something else...but than you suppose that might not be the case for someone who doesn't necessarily need to eat every day? It's a difficult thing to judge, and for now you think it'd be best if you put off those questions until later. "I see...so, in that case, how about I try to cook for you?"

--You ask Chi what she thinks should, and can be done to solve this food issue, but the only answer you get is a shrug, a shaking head and a distant stare at the empty plate of fish in front of her.

If you're interpreting this correctly Chi is too distracted by her hunger, which one plate of cooked fish probably isn't going to solve for very long if at all, to really think about this whole situation too much. If so you think it'd be best if you cooked for her again later, until she's got enough in her to think clearly. You'd honestly rather not, there's not that much time left before the end of the year and you've got no idea how long solving this problem will take otherwise, but it seems to be the best solution, for the moment.

-Logic. Solve this puzzle.
--The obvious solution to this problem is for you to talk to Professor Badcrumble on Chi's behalf, but you know that even if you do (or, more likely, when you do) that isn't going to be the end of it. It's simple logic, really, if one asks themselves an important question - why are these girls not getting enough food to begin with? Surely Professor Badcrumble wouldn't be supplying them with an insufficient amount of food, and she likewise wouldn't make the mistake or forgetting that Xu is effectively eating for herself as well as Fang, and adjust her supply accordingly. The professor wouldn't make such a mistake, you're sure of that. So why is Chi starving anyway? Where does her share of food go missing?

The likeliest answer, unfortunately, is the trash can. Because the real problem is that while Professor Badcrumble supplies them with enough food, that food is undoubtedly local food - common landbound stuff. Stuff you're not going to find growing beneath the water, or imported, so the girls have no idea what any of it is or how to cook it. And their only means of cooking is a kitchen that they're not going to have any experience with using, regardless. They have no idea how to cook things, and so it's just going to waste. As for why they don't ask for help, that's a simple problem to answer as well - if food is more important to them it stands to reason that the cooking of food is as well. And they don't trust Professor Badcrumble all that much anyway. Leon likewise if Chi hasn't brought this up with him at any point, and given his single-mindedness directed towards Xu you have to assume that she didn't.

So, with that in mind, you tell Chi that you could talk to Professor Badcrumble on her behalf...but also that you're not convinced it would really solve this problem. The latter part sends Chi back into her own thoughts, but she realized quickly enough that it's useless to try and hide the truth from you. Not to mention actively harmful. Nevertheless, when she looks up again she wearily asks "Just to check...Leon didn't tell you anything about our social norms, did he?". You shake your head and say that you're more than willing to learn, if she's willing to try and explain. Once again Chi blushes, but this time there's a thin smile on her face too. "R-right. Well, the truth is that we...really need someone to cook for us. Me especially."

As you thought. Still, better confirm that you are right, just to be sure. "Neither you or Xu have any idea how to cook any of the landbound vegetables, fruits, meats, and...whatever else the professor provides, huh?" Chi nods and explains that the only food she and Xu both ever had back home was seaweed and fish. That said they've figured a few things out since they first arrived here, they're not as ignorant as they once were, but even so they don't really know how to cook anything. Leon got them a cookbook a while back and translated it for them as best he could, and they've gotten everything out of it that they could, but it just isn't enough. Especially for Chi. "Why is this matter especially important to you? I'd have assumed that Xu would be more concerned about it, considering she's got Fang to feed. Do you get sick from certain landbound food?"

Chi shakes her head. "I wish that was it, honestly." You'll admit, not the answer you were expecting. "I don't get sick from any of it, I'm just a really picky eater. It's not just landbound food either, I've been crying and complaining about my food ever since I was old enough to eat seaweed. I don't know how Xu does it, eating anything and everything you give her, but I can't do it. My body just rejects certain things, I don't know why but I can't eat it. Digest it, yes, but I can't eat it. Not unless I force myself to."

Huh...part of you wants to say that must be because the girls don't know how to cook their food properly, that'd certainly do it, but if it's been the case since before Chi was taken here and Xu doesn't have any issues with her food, cooked improperly or not, than...yes, this would have to be a problem specific to Chi. It's a little hard to believe that she's "just" a picky eater, though. Refusing to eat something you don't like is one thing, you're no stranger to that yourself, but actively starving yourself is quite another...but than you suppose that might not be the case for someone who doesn't necessarily need to eat every day? It's a difficult thing to judge, and for now you think it'd be best if you put off those questions until later. "I see...and given that food is so important for you, especially now that you really need it, I take it that someone cooking for you is as well. In that case, how about I try to cook for you?"

--Speaking as someone who had to solve one too many mysteries to get to this point in the first place, you have to admit that this one has you stumped. You know Professor Badcrumble wouldn't supply too little food for the girls, there's no way she'd do that. You've seen with your own eyes that Chi is at the point where she can't even control herself anymore when it comes to eating what food is put in front of her, so that can't be the issue...so what is? Where is this food going missing? Was Xu demanding too large a share because she's got Fang to feed? That seems unlikely, yet...you can't think of a better theory.

That's not a theory you're willing to even bring up without some reason to believe it might be true, though. So, for the moment, you think it'd be best if you continued to cook some fish for Chi, hopefully get something out of her, and if that theory is correct proceed from there. If it isn't, which you sincerely hope, than you can proceed from there instead. Either way it'll give you more time to think this mystery over, and it'll get Chi some more to eat, so it's not a bad idea in any respect. It's just less than ideal, since you'd like to get this done sooner rather than later...

And so it begins. Let's see if I manage to not mess this one up.

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The Lion Seeking Fish, stage 9:

Spoiler

Chi actually can't help but laugh at that question. You don't take offence, but it does make you wonder what all you just implied with it. "S-sorry, sorry. I know you didn't intend for it to come across like it did, I know landbound have a different view on it, just...cooking for someone is something that seabound only do for their family, traditionally. Or someone that you want to be part of your family, if they aren't already." Ah. Yeah, that'd probably do it. Makes you wonder how seabound restaurants work, though. Are there exceptions to that rule, or given that they don't need to eat every day do they not even have restaurants at all? That sounds unlikely, but...oh, and let's not forget Leon. Him cooking for Xu in that context...well, Xu's older than Chi and she understands that you're a landbound, so surely Xu understands that as well. "That said, if you could cook for us I'd actually really appreciate that. I don't know what's wrong with me, why I can't eat as easily as Xu can. I'd like to know, but right now I really just need to eat. I'm...W-wait, no, I-I mean..."

If only you knew what had Chi stumbling over her own words. It really would be better if she could just...ignore stuff like that, you feel like. At least with you. "I'll do my best. That said, could you please explain this situation you're in fully? Educate a landbound who doesn't know anything about it? The point that starving is bad I get, but there's a lot of gaps here that I'd like filled in. Not just for future reference or to make sure, although the latter probably isn't a bad idea in it's own right, but to try and understand."

Chi frowns at that question, and ponders it for a second before answering. "Could I ask you to explain things to me that I shouldn't be asking about in turn? Asking a girl about her fanyeng is a personal question to say the least, but than there's a few...sensitive things about your home and landbound in general that I'm still ignorant and curious about, too. Things that I don't dare ask of anyone else, even Leon." You nod and promise that you'll do your best to answer her questions, if she has any. Thankfully that puts a much-needed smile on Chi's face. "Okay, I'll hold you to that. That said this food situation needs to be addressed first. I'm-don't tell anyone about this, Xu and Leon especially, but I'm really close to running dry. M-my fanyeng, I mean, I'm really close to running out of fluid entirely. I-if I do, t-than..."

You're getting the impression that whatever Chi faces right now is something you'd be better off asking about after you pull her out of the danger zone. And your questions can wait until than - the point that starving is bad you get, and that's all you really need to know right this second. "It's alright, don't worry about it. Let's get this food situation under control first, than we can start asking each other about stuff. So what have you cooked before, and what can and can't you eat? Let's see if we can't narrow down what the problem is."

Chi mentions that the cookbook that Leon got them a while back should answer that question better than she could, and on the way to the kitchen to find it Chi clarifies that Xu handles all of the cooking. She further explains that (traditionally) every seabound is taught how to cook by their family, with children first being taught to help around in the kitchen and teenagers later being taught how to cook entirely on their own. But Chi's family actually never taught her how to cook. It's embarrassing for her to admit, but she nevertheless explains that cooks who make something that others won't eat are looked down upon, and someone who can't eat her own cooking even more so. So to try and avoid that stigma she was just never taught to cook. Which itself isn't an ideal situation either, but it's an easier one to deal with. Not that she could have been taught how a landbound kitchen that relies on magic works anyway. And to top it all off there's another problem with her trying to use the translated cookbook which Chi blurts out as soon as she finds it. "Here it is, I think. I can't read Tianyu any more than I can read Renaglian, but this looks like the book that Xu uses. You're going to have to tell me if it is, though."

"You don't know how to read?" you ask as you take the cookbook and quickly skim through it. It's an incomprehensible mess of symbols you've never seen before and a few familiar terms written in plain Renaglian. Come to think of it, since the girls didn't know anything about landbound food they wouldn't know the Tianyu terms for them either. So they're all left untranslated.

"Xu knows how to read and write, albeit only with a mallet and chisel. I'm sure it took some effort to write that cookbook. She used to engrave at a stone quarry, so she was taught how to read and write at her job," Chi explains, looking annoyed at herself and the kitchen. "I used to work at a seaweed farm, patrolling one of the fields and keeping out any fish that'd try to eat from it. I might not know how to read, but if you need someone to spear a fish from ten paces than I'm your girl...makes me wonder how someone who only barely knows how to swim managed to catch so many carp, though. Capture them alive, even. Feels like every time I hear about it magic seems more powerful than I last thought."

It's an amusing thought, but you really, really hope that catching a bunch of carp with a magic net isn't going to be the highlight of Leon's magical career. The one that he could actually somewhat discuss, that is. That'd just be sad. Regardless, for better or worse this cookbook is half-translated enough that you can make some sense of it, so it's time to narrow down exactly what makes Chi such a picky eater. Of course Chi can run you through what dishes she does and doesn't like, as well as a general idea why, but you'd like to confirm exactly what it is that triggers this picky taste of hers. The best way to do that would be...

-Cooking. Taste testing, of course.
--Running Chi through the cookbook quickly narrows her pickiness down to food that takes effort to chew through, as well as certain textures that make her feel like it does. Which...is mostly not the case, as far as you can tell? This cookbook isn't doing Xu any favors in terms of trying to cook something that Chi can tolerate, but it shouldn't be hurting her that much either. Is Chi that sensitive to hard foods? If so than you'd want stews, soups, pasta, stuff like that to cook for her. This cookbook has...not much in the way of any of that, if you're interpreting what little of it you can interpret correctly. Huh, so maybe that it is...? Well, that's what you're here for. First, confirming whether Chi's taste really is that sensitive. Checking the cookbook...the boiled carrot recipe seems like a good place to start. If you're interpreting this recipe correctly, and you know you are because there's barely anything to interpret, this would be inedible for someone who's very sensitive to hard foods. So if it's the recipe, not carrots in general, you've got a winner.

"Alright, let's give this a shot. You said that boiled carrot is something that your body doesn't like to eat, right?" you ask, showing Chi the recipe in question. Of course you still have to explain what recipe you're pointing at, since she can't read a word of it. In any case Chi nods, and although she doesn't do anything but stare blankly at the recipe she can't read she does twitch a bit and cast a weary glance at the kitchen at the mention of "carrot". This is going to be a tall order, you can tell already, but you're not giving up that easily. "Alright, than let's give this a test. I'll cook up some carrot and potato stew for you, differently than how Xu cooks it, and we'll see if you still can't eat it. If so, maybe you just don't like carrot. We'll move on from there. If not we'll know that it's definitely the way that it's cooked that you don't like, so we can figure out a way to cook it that you do like."

Chi nods, clearly not looking forward to this experiment, but you'll show her. Carrot and potato stew is not hard to cook, you can whip that up in...well, more than just a few minutes, since it takes longer to cook than that, but point is that you've got no problems with cooking up some carrot and potato stew. Now the slightly cluttered mess of fish everything that is the girl's kitchen right now, that's a different story, but you don't pay it too much mind. The important thing here is the texture, not the smell. Worst case Chi can just hold her nose.

After a bit of prep and cooking you end up with a plate of carrot and potato stew, which you bring over to Chi. She goes from looking apprehensive at you approaching to confused after you put the plate and fork down. "Wait, where's the carrot? And...what is this?"

"You've never seen stew before? The carrots and potatoes are there, just mashed and mixed together. Try it, I'm sure you'll be able to eat it. Just please use a fork this time, last time it nearly landed in my foot."

Somewhat embarrassed Chi nods, picks up the fork and takes a bite. You'll give her credit for at least knowing what a fork is, even though it should have been clear just from context, because she sure doesn't seem to know how to hold it. On the bright side she can swallow the stew without looking like it takes concentrated effort on her part. "This is...definitely better than how Xu usually cooks it," Chi says as she goes for another bite. Success!

"Fantastic, so you can eat this just fine? Despite it..." you start to ask, but you count Chi quickly wolfing down a total five bites before you start to trail off. "Eh, nevermind, I can see the answer to that question. So, how's the taste? Better than how Xu cooks it, about the same, anything?" Chi stares at you questioningly, looking like she's unsure whether she wants to answer you, but you tell her to tell you the truth no matter how bad it might sound. Considering how quickly she's eating it it's not as if her answer can be that bad, anyway.

"Well...I really don't want to complain at all, but if you really need to know the taste is kind of bland. The fish smell that settled into it gives it more taste than the carrots or the potatoes do...n-not that I won't eat this, of course."

"No need to be so polite about it, Chi, being honest is more important. And that's good, anyway. Not that it tastes bland, I mean, that's not good, but that there's more I can add to it while improving the dish. What do you think, would a slice of cooked fish improve it?" Chi nods heartily as she eagerly continues eating. Though come to think of it Xu can't cast that bone pin detection spell, huh? Not to mention how much effort it takes to get a steady supply of fish. You'll need to think of another kind of meat to add to this dish. But what would be easy to get, relatively affordable at least, and appeal to Chi's narrow tastes...?

--Running Chi through the cookbook quickly narrows her pickiness down to food that takes effort to chew through, as well as certain textures that make her feel like it does. Whether the cookbook Xu uses actually has many recipes along those lines, though...eh, honestly you've got no idea. You're not familiar enough with cooking in general to make sense of these recipes. Which is a bad omen, you think, but you're not giving up that easily.

So, undeterred, you decide to see about cooking something that can be used to test whether Chi really just hates certain textures or whether she just hates the taste of things...only to come up empty-handed, in terms of ideas of what to cook. You're also feeling less than confident about this whole "magical kitchen" thing all of a sudden. Sure, you cooked a plate of carp just fine, but you did also see Leon do it first and all, for your own recipe you'd have to improvise, and...yeah, you're not confident about jumping right into this mess. You're going to need a better foundation in cooking, first.

And that after you told Leon to do the same not too long ago. What an embarrassment...

-Natural Philosophy. Consider what Chi's anatomy and biology would see as inedible.
--You go through the cookbook with Chi, just to see if it'll give you any ideas, and slowly but surely it leads you to the solution. Thank you magical kitchen covered in fish bits, because that is the answer to this mystery: Bone. You're not overly familiar with seabound biology and you're not any more familiar with living underwater either, but based on your studies it makes sense - Chi mentioned earlier that in her old home carp are raised basically as pigs are here, and eaten as a source of food. Likely carp is a meal that goes back a long way, with them being hunted before they were domesticated. However, unlike pigs, carp have those small bone pins dotted around their meat. Obviously not a good thing to get stuck in your throat, and hard if not impossible to remove without magic, so unless you've got a [PC FIRST NAME]-backed Leon around you're going to risk them if you eat carp. Some seabound must have developed a fear or other kind of aversion to these bone pins over time, and in Chi's case this must have turned into a hypersensitivity. Not quite an allergy, but something reasonably close to it.

Of course testing that theory is unfortunately going to require Chi to taste a bone. Yuck. At least with the kitchen in the state that it is there's no issue of supply, thank the Gods, so...time to get to work. Chi stares curiously at you as take a large bone from the trash can and thoroughly wash it with boiling water, because that's something this magical kitchen can just produce with the turn of a dial. Very convenient. Once you're convinced that the bone (and your hands) are clean, you turn to Chi and explain your theory. She listens intently, but nervously eyes the bone in your hand the entire time. In hindsight you probably should have talked to her first, but...you did things in the order that you did. "I know it's not fun, but this is to confirm whether or not this is why you're not able to eat things as easily as Xu can. Whether something can be done about it I've got no idea, but at least you'll know where it comes from. You said you wanted to know, right?"

Chi slowly nods as she takes the bone from your hand. It's as clean as anything is ever going to be, you made sure of that, but she still hesitates. Not so much that she doesn't raise the bone to her lips, opens her mouth, and does her best to bite into it, though.

As soon as Chi's teeth meet the bone her entire body twitches, and with a shudder she takes a step back and drops the bone from her hand. Causing it, too, to clatter on the ground. You bend over and pick it up. "T-that thing's just disgusting," Chi notes as her body still continues to shake a bit, but you shake your head as you turn on the boiling water and clean the bone again.

"It's not the taste, Chi, though I'm sure it doesn't taste good. Your body is afraid of bones, to the point where it's afraid of other things that it mistakes for bone. Watch." You bite into the bone yourself to prove your point, and while it does not taste like anything you ever want to taste again it doesn't cause you to freak out either. Chi silently stares at you, annoyedly looking herself over as you toss the bone back into the trash. "Isn't this a common thing in your homeland, Chi? Something you've heard about before, at least?"

"I've heard of people that are afraid of choking on a bone pin, everyone experiences that sooner or later, but...I've never heard of someone's body being terrified of eating bones before. Is that really it? Is that what's wrong with me?"

"Obviously I'm no expert, but I have to assume so. For now, though, how about another plate of cooked carp to cleanse the palette? I can cast the bone pin detection spell, so you don't have to worry about that at all. One plate of delicious cooked fish, nothing more."

"Apology accepted," Chi says with a friendly smile as she turns around and walks back to the reading area. You can imagine that biting into that bone..."traumatized" is far too strong a word you think, but that it shook her more than it didn't. Basically facing her body's biggest fear like that. Nothing that a plate of cooked fish isn't going to clear up, though, but that does bring you to the next step along this plan: You've established that Chi can't eat anything that her body mistakes for bone, she's hypersensitive to hard food. Whether or not she can be cured of this is something you can't even make an educated (as educated as you can consider yourself, at any rate) guess at. Whether she's got a personal phobia or whether it's more akin to an allergy in that respect you have no idea. One could try to read into the fact that apparently it's relatively unheard of among her peers and the like, you'd assume that an allergy would be more well known, but than you'd assume that a phobia wouldn't be unknown either, so...you're at a loss there.

Whatever the case may be, in order to resolve the issue of Chi's lack of food at least for now you're just going to have to appease her narrowed palette. Which means that Xu is going to need to learn to cook things for Chi that she can tolerate, which would be stews, soups, pasta, anything that's soft and completely devoid of any bone. Which unfortunately means that carp is off the table, because getting a steady supply of it aside you doubt that Xu could cast the bone detention spell to remove the bone pins. Ideally what you want is something that's local, easy and relatively cheap to acquire, and that appeals to Chi's tastes. But what would that be...?

--Good question. You have no idea what to make of seabound biology, or even just mermaid biology in general, and you definitely aren't familiar with their anatomy at all beyond the bare minimum required to know that whatever knowledge you have of human anatomy isn't going to apply here, necessarily. You're completely in the dark, with no clue on where to even begin.

You don't think this is an impossible task, just...where to even begin? What could you possible say, and based on that conclude, that won't just be a string of glorified random guesses? You don't even know Chi well enough to guess if this is really some kind of allergy or other aversion, or whether she's just that headstrong and picky. Who knows? The assumption is that she isn't, but you can't really say for sure that she's not, can you?

This is going to take some more study. Preferably you'd just fetch a professor to help you, frankly, but that's off the table unless you want to knock on Professor Badcrumble's door, and you get the distinct impression that you're going to end up sliced and served on a plate yourself if you randomly drop in her office and ask her about Chi's anatomy and biology.

Well, time to hit the books, as many a student has said before...

Sure hope this whole idea actually works. Although that's a ship that set sail a long time ago anyway.

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The Lion Seeking Fish, stage 10:

Spoiler

"Hey, [PC FIRST NAME], do you know of any spells to clean an entire kitchen at once?" Leon suddenly asks a bit out of nowhere as he walks out of the back area with a stack of empty plates. "I can clean everything individually just fine, but I'd rather not spend several minutes here repeatedly casting spells if I don't have to."

...Speak of a soft and fluffy Minetan pork meatball, and he shall appear. Or a Dragon, but this time it's a soft and fluffy pork meatball.

"W-what? What's that look for?" Leon asks, clearly unsure as to whether he should be worried about you running up to him with a smug look on your face. He gets no less confused when you ask him, completely out of nowhere, whether he can teach you his mother's meatball recipe. "My...what? Why do you..." Leon starts to say, but than his eyes land on Chi finishing what you just cooked for her in the background. Then it's his turn to give you a smug smirk, but you quietly tell him not to get any ideas. "Sure. Anyway, if you want to know my mother's recipe you'll have to ask her, I'm afraid. I know what ingredients go into it, but I don't know exactly how to cook it. I live right in the Upper City though, near the Piazza Verus. I take it you're familiar with that area?" You nod and write down both the list of ingredients you'll need as well as the directions to Leon's home. As for Chi, Leon can believe whatever he wants. It honestly works out in your favor anyway, since Chi doesn't want him to know the truth. At least just yet.

With the list of required ingredients and directions in hand you leave Leon to the task of cleaning the kitchen, one dish one at a time because you're not at the point of cleaning an entire kitchen at once any more than he is, and quickly head out into Mineta to see if you can convince Leon's mother to teach you her recipe. The quickest way to get there would likely be through the Canal Gate and the Via Canale, but should you maybe do ingredient shopping first? Probably not, you'll have to walk some extra distance to go to Leon's home first and then swing by the Farmer's Market to get ingredients...but it's extra distance to go through the Great Gate and swing by the Farmer's Market before heading to Piazza Verus by crossing the Ponte Roscius anyway. So...actually, no, you'll definitely swing by the market first regardless. You want to actually test this meatball, taste it and see how soft and fluffy it really is. You are dealing with someone who's got a hypersensitivity to hard food here, it's worth checking. For that you'll need ingredients, so swinging by the market first will save you an extra trip. Alright, to the market first than.

Going to the Admiratio is definitely old hat by now, and while you don't go to the Farmer's Market specifically that often it's not exactly out of your way or unfamiliar territory. That said you don't go there right away. First, since you're at the Admiratio anyway, you decide to swing by a few bookstores and see if there's any useful cookbooks that are available on the cheap. The one the girls have just is not doing Chi any favors, if you're going to solve this issue with Chi's eating habits you're basically going to need to make your own. That'd be a lot easier if you didn't have to figure out, write down and compile the recipes yourself, though, so a quick shopping trip it is.

In the bargain bin of the third bookstore (since the first time you lost count) you finally find what you're looking for. Entries of a collection of a pocket-sized series of cookbooks, with each entry focussing on a different type of dish. According to the back of the cover, which lists all the other entries, there's...about two dozen-odd in total? Yikes, that's a lot of cooking. Full-blown feasts, home-made candy, camping meals that can be prepared with just a campfire? Okay, you'll admit that's impressively thorough. Of course right now you're only interested in two entries - stews and soups - and both of those entries...are right here! You give them both a quick skim to see if they've got what you're looking for, and it seems that they do. Better than you starting from absolutely nothing, at any rate. Excellent, took long enough but you're glad you made the detour. Time to buy them and head to the Farmer's Market.

As you turn towards the shop's proprietor to buy them you notice that the man is in a heated conversation with someone wearing a guild uniform. You don't want to interrupt them, but on the flipside you don't want to stand here and wait for their conversation to end either...forget it. This has taken long enough already, those two can debate on their own time. You approach the proprietor, both cookbooks visible in your hands.

"...don't care how long it takes, the Captain has every right to-oh! My apologies, I wasn't paying attention. Those two books, from the bargain bin I take it?" the proprietor asks as he notices you approach, which he thankfully does sooner rather than later. You nod and put both on the counter. "Excellent choice, let me just confirm real quick-"

"Hey, why not ask [him/her]?" the guildsman suddenly suggests. You are, needless to say, not a fan of the suggestion. "[S/he] ought to have an informed opinion on whether the guards can justify delaying a case involving Proscribed magic, as an Academagia student."

...Wait, what? You weren't paying attention, what are these two talking about?

"I'd prefer if you didn't drag my customers into this," the proprietor sternly says. You don't think the guildsman cares though. He doesn't seem moved, at any rate.

"It won't even take a minute," the guildsman counters. And pointed ignoring the frown he gets from the proprietor he turns his attention to you. "So what is your opinion? If you don't mind me asking."

You consider excusing yourself and leaving, but what are these two talking about? You're just too curious, you must know. "My opinion on what? Sorry, I didn't catch what you were discussing."

"You haven't heard about it? Strange, I had assumed that the entire Academagia was talking about it...well, regardless, we're discussing the bounty that the guards recently posted on a black market trader who stands accused of sell Proscribed magic from one of the lands beyond the Wall - Dragon-controlled territories - on the black market here in Mineta. Personally I feel like such a bounty should have been posted much sooner, as soon as possible in fact. How are we citizens supposed to feel safe if our law enforcement thinks they can drag their heels bringing in someone who has connections to places like that? Under no circumstances should it have taken so many months to find out about it and assemble a case against him. The mere existence of such magic right here in Mineta should have been proof enough to bring the man in, not to mention the noblewoman that agreed to become a witness, if you ask me."

Somehow, you suspect that you know exactly what Proscribed magic case these two are talking about.

"How do you expect the guards to assemble a case if they're not given the time they need to do their jobs?" the proprietor counters. The guildsman prepares to say something, but stops himself and instead turns his attention to you, asking you for your opinion.

Factually speaking the guildsman is in the wrong here - he doesn't seem to be aware, but the guards needed that time to build a case against the person who directly sold Laroche that magic, to coerce him to become a witness for them since his alternative at that point was to be found guilty and executed. That way they could go after the person who (presumably) smuggled that magic into Mineta in the first place, or at least get one step closer to whoever did. The guy that Laroche knew and could testify against was just a contact, an inconsequential middleman. That said this still isn't a simple question to answer, since the bigger question here is one that's been weighing on your mind for a while now. You know a lot more about it than these two do, after all...

Is it right for the girls and Leon's Clique to be made to wait for resolution and justice? Is it right that their pleas are ignored, and the Madame left a prisoner in her own home until the situation is thoroughly investigated from all angles? There's no telling what more there might or might not be to this situation, like the guildsman who seems ignorant about the whole chain of black market traders you could just as easily be ignorant of someone pulling the Madame's strings. Of course there could also be nothing more to it, and all this time spend "investigating" is really just time spend on drawing out the nightmare that the Madame's victims are stuck in. Time that the Madame can spend on trying to cushion her inevitable downfall, if that anti-shapeshifter flyer business was any indication, and maybe even hatch a plot to frame someone else for her crimes or otherwise escape justice once the Legate finally makes a move.

You suppose it's time to answer this question for yourself, once and for all. Which is right? Bringing the Madame to justice immediately and to hell with whatever consequences and irrecoverable truths that might create, or investigate the situation thoroughly while drawing out the nightmare the girls and Leon's Clique is stuck in, even if that risks adding to the nightmare if the Madame is given enough time to hatch a(nother) devious plot?

-Stick to the facts you know, that's the only opinion you need.
--The problem with telling what's right and wrong in this case is that there's too many unknowns. It's wrong to draw out the nightmare if there is no more to be found, it's wrong to take action against the Madame if there if more to be found, maybe, depending on what there is to be found, but at the end of the day no one knows the answer to that question at this point. Not Professor Badcrumble-or, hell, even the Madame herself. Since if Astrology could reliable predict the future than the Madame sure wouldn't have gotten caught in the first place, now would she? She'd have figured out that her cook was going to be her downfall, but she didn't. She could not predict the future then any more than anyone else could now. Of course that line of thought leads you to another question: If you assume that it's wrong to act in ignorance, which this whole "stick to the facts" idea certainly sounds like, wouldn't it follow that acting while ignorant of all the possible consequences is also wrong? One could say that, but the problem there is that there's no way to always know the consequences of one's actions ahead of time either. Will investigating this matter further lead to the Madame managing to throw the blame on someone else, meaning action should be taken against her now, or not, meaning that investigating and confirming all the facts of the case would be preferred, even if that would mostly gives you hindsight about the situation rather than information to act on right away? There's no way to tell either which way, and acting based on either assumption would be wrong. There's just no answer to this, either which way.

Maybe Professor Sido can shed some light on this, actually. You'd honestly like to discuss this at some point with someone who's really knowledgeable on the subject of philosophy, and preferably law as well, but there's few people you can discuss the situation with the girls with in the first place. And fewer still who have studied philosophy and law. Nevertheless, right now your answer to the guildsman's question is simply "I'm not sure". Only time will tell which answer is right, and even than only because of how things turned out, not because either option is any more inherently right or wrong than the other.

The guildsman and the proprietor both aren't sure whether to take that answer as confirmation that you're wise beyond your years or lazy beyond your years, but either way that's your answer. Only time will tell.

-There is no justice in delaying action against the Madame, her guilt is not in question.
--Any situation in which a Dragon's former slave, assuming that's what Chi and Xu were back in their homeland (and every history book you're ever read would indeed insist that they unquestionably must have been), can be smuggled to Mineta and end up genuinely convinced that their homeland is less of a tyrannical cult is a situation in which everything the New Gods tried to achieve on this side of the Wall has failed utterly. Any situation in which someone wealthy and respected, with a title of nobility, makes themselves guilty of a crime that Dragons have been reviled and hated for since the beginning of humanity's history and to this very day, and not get punished for it because "it's complicated" as Professor Badcrumble put it, is a situation in which everything the New Gods tried to achieve failed utterly. Not to mention, had it been the other way around you don't think things would have turned out this way. Had it been the Captain who made himself guilty of slavery, or one of his lieutenants, you don't think that the Guards as a whole would have turned a blind eye and spend their time "investigating" because the situation would be considered politically delicate. You definitely don't think that the Chards would have agreed with that and accepted anyone's request that they bide their time and not do their actual jobs in governing and maintaining order in the city, as the Captain as things currently are is forced to do. How is this whole situation supposed to be "investigated" if the guards are not told anything about it, anyway? They did good work on the Laroche case, as far as even you, well-informed of the situation as you are, can tell. Is no one going to give them any credit for that? Yes, you admit that there's a political aspect to it that the Captain would likely try to use to his advantage, but on the flipside he'd also be a fool not to. Because is that not literally his job? To find and root out crime and corruption in this city, be it in the slums or the Golden Council? What else is an officer of the law supposed to do when faced with that level of crime and corruption? Turn a blind eye, because nobility is involved?

All in all you actually end up siding with the proprietor as far as the guildsman's question is concerned - you don't think it's right for the guards to be prevented from doing their jobs, whether that job ends up taking more time than one would like or not. Factually speaking the guildsman is wrong about his assumption that the guards didn't need that time to build a case against Laroche's contact, which you happily inform him of when he asks you why you choose to stand on the opinion that you do. Even the proprietor is impressed that you actually do know so much about the case, and naturally he feels vindicated. The guildsman can do no more than admit defeat, too.

Despite that you don't feel like a winner, though. This whole idea is inevitably going to put you at odds with Professor Badcrumble, and a fair few other people most likely. And while the girls and Leon's Clique are in the right, you feel like, they're unfortunately not the strongest allies that one could ask for. Still, you're not worried about that. The difference between you and Leon is that you're smart enough to know that reckless acts are not going to serve anyone's purpose, even his, and you're not that pressed for time. You running to the guards yourself right now is suicide, nothing more. What you should do is try to convince Professor Badcrumble that the ones who should have any say on the matter is the girls and Leon's Clique, since they're the victims in this mess, and their wishes should be respected. It might take time-hell it will take time, and effort, but that's the only reasonable course of action. You're going to stick to what you believe in, but within reason. You'll just need to be careful, and make sure that you keep your friends close...and your enemies closer...

-As the case of the black market trader showed, thorough investigations are critical.
--You have encountered far too many ridiculous and unbelievable things that you were completely ignorant of previously, far too many times this year, to even entertain the idea that there can't be anything more to this case than what you already know of it. And as if you needed another example of it there the guildsman is, right there in front of you, ignorant as to the whole situation and what the guards were actually doing. It's undeniable that the Madame is not just sitting on her laurels while everyone around her is slowly working to tighten the noose around her neck, those anti-shapeshifting flyers were a good example of that, but what other option is there? The guys the guards are now after fled because he's not an idiot and realized which way the wind was blowing when Laroche was turned, and when the attempt to steal her ring and destroy any evidence in her lair failed. What's going to happen if the same happens to the Madame? The only way that anyone will ever know who all might have been involved in this mess is to look through the missing person reports.

So, as for the guildsman's question, you agree with the proprietor - investigations cannot be done halfway or rushed if all the facts of a case, or at the very least enough of them are going to come to light, and so if they need time they must be given it. Naturally the guildsman is less than pleased at your answer, not that he openly admits it, but you're more than happy to inform him of the little details about this case that he completely missed. By the end of it he can do no more than admit defeat, and of course the proprietor looks happy that he was vindicated.

As good as it'd normally feel to put adults in their place, though, you don't really feel good about this situation at all. How in the name of every God, New and Old, out there are you supposed to convince he girls and Leon's Clique, the actual victims of this case, that they're just going to have to wait for those that they have been given no reason to trust to do their jobs? All the while their enemy, their nightmare, shamelessly abuses the time and opportunity that she's given to spread baseless slander so that maybe, hopefully, when all is said and done her downfall won't be as bad as it otherwise would have been? You don't think it's right to take action against her until this whole mess is investigated, but at the same time it's a situation that's just impossible to explain. Especially if the girls just don't care. You assume that they would, if there's someone behind the Madame pulling strings, but...that's an assumption on your part. Not a certainty.

In any case, you feel like you're going to have to do your best to support the girls, as well as Leon if he ends up needing it, throughout this whole mess as best you can. There's very few others that could, and you're not sure how well you could look at this city if someone doesn't. Hopefully this case can get closed sooner rather than later. You don't know how long everyone that's suffering because of it can wait...

Rest assured that this will come up again later. Maybe. In theory.

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The Lion Seeking Fish, stage 11:

Spoiler

It took a lot more time to get here than you intended or wanted, but finally you've reached Leon's home. It's not an impressive looking building on the outside, it's got the same style as the rest of the buildings along this street. A few potted plants, but aside from that nothing about it stands out. Nevertheless you're sure this is the right address, so you walk up to the front door and knock on it.

"Oh, coming!" a female voice from inside cries out. Leon's mother, you have to assume. And indeed, after some loud, frantic-sounding movement the door is opened by a middle-aged woman who bears a clear family resemblance to Leon. She initially looks excited, but upon seeing you her expression changes to confusion. "Oh, eh...sorry, I was expecting someone else. Or were you send to deliver a message to me? My name is Cloe Chevalier, if that helps."

...Why would you be send to deliver a message to Leon's mother? What about you makes that a likely possibility, in her eyes? Because as far as you know this woman doesn't know you, by name or otherwise...a mystery to ponder another time, perhaps. You're here for different reasons. Very different reasons, as it turns out. "I'm afraid not, no. I'm [PC FULL NAME], and I'm here because...I'm sorry if this sounds ridiculous, but I heard about your - as your son described them - 'soft and fluffy' pork meatballs. I'm here to ask if you could please teach me your recipe. I already brought the necessary ingredients for it, at least as far as Leon could recall them."

The woman's confusion quickly gives way to a wave of disappointment. She lets out a sigh and says, "My son, huh? Gods only know how and why you ended up getting his advice, but yes, you did actually come to the right place. Though I should ask: My recipe aside, did he tell you anything weird? Give you any ideas he shouldn't have, by chance?"

Yikes, talk about disillusioned parent. She doesn't know the truth behind what Leon did at all, does she? Does she believe that her son is just a violently crazy nutjob? That's...that's just depressing, honestly. And not something you can address either. You, too, are just going to have to bite your tongue and ignore it for now. "N-no, nothing of the sort. One of my friends is hypersensitive to hard food and in desperate need of recipes for things that she otherwise wouldn't eat. Hence me being interested in the recipe and getting the ingredients for it beforehand - I'm going to need to test it."

Cloe looks at you questioningly for a moment, but after that the confusion fades and she nods. It's good that she believes you on your word and doesn't question it at all - not that you were lying to her in the first place, mind - since this isn't something you're too comfortable trying to explain in any sort of detail. "The Academagia really does attract all types, doesn't it? Very well, come on in than. My recipe is honestly a bit famous, but I'm not one to keep good knowledge to myself." Gods, the effort it takes you politely nod instead of rolling your eyes out of their sockets. "Attracts all types", yes, that's one way to put it. And you're sure that her recipe will indeed be famous once all is said and done...albeit for completely different reasons than she thinks. Nevertheless, despite the effort it takes you manage to not act like a clown and follow the woman to her kitchen, where you lay out the food you bought off the Farmer's Market for her to inspect. "Hmm-hmm, that's everything. Although that's everything for a family of three, not just one person. I'll show you how much you need for smaller portions, so you can cook the rest later at your leisure. I take it you're already familiar with the basics of cooking? If not I can show you that too, but don't expect any mercy. I've learned my lesson about being too soft of a parent, or a teacher."

Heh, oh boy...poor Leon. So, are you going to take her up on that offer?

[PC Cooking SKILL HIGH]-Cooking. No need, you're familiar with the basics already.
--"I'm well familiar with the basics, unless there's something special I need to know to follow this recipe," you confidently answer. Cloe gives you a look that's (hopefully) more playful than not as she, no doubt as a test, asks you to pick out all the right tools to cook a meatball. You ask if you'll need anything special to cook her recipe, and she assures you that you won't. So you quickly look through her kitchen for everything you need, and lay it out. Cloe nods approvingly.

From there things are honestly pretty straightforward. Cloe's recipe indeed has no unusual or difficult parts to them, at least for normal people. You are noticeably less comfortable with the point where you're required to crack an egg than you once were, but that aside following her recipe is a routine affair even for you. So much so that you're comfortably able to take notes as you go, and Cloe is able to pass the time with small talk in between pointing out steps for you to write down. For better or worse, however, she assumes that you don't really know Leon at all beyond having taken his advice in coming here. And so her small talk is mostly dedicated to her explaining (or venting) her frustrations with her "miscreant" son. Most of it you already know about, in fact most of it you know more about than Cloe does. But one part does catch you by surprise - the reason why Cloe was was initially expecting you to have been given a message to deliver to her, as you suspected, is because you're clearly an Academagia student. Cloe and her husband have been in touch with Professor Piaxenza about the possibility of having Leon stay at the Academagia over the next summer. Both as a disciplinary punishment for his crimes and continued misbehaviour, as well as to help him catch up with his new core classes.

The more you realize the sheer reach that this whole situation has the more you feel like you understand what makes Leon tick. He seems to be less on edge now than he did when you first met him, or rather, when you were investigating Sigalis' lead though. You didn't manage to get a good read off of him when he thanked you for your part in the anti-shapeshifting flyer debacle, in hindsight. Especially now that Leon has managed to cook up some fish for Xu, that definitely put a smile on his face, so at least things do seem to be improving. You just hope that Xu understand where Leon is coming from.

In less gloomy news, however: Meatball! It's ready, and Cloe happily drops it on a plate and gives you a fork and knife to give it a try. Time to give it a taste, and put it's recipe that you've got well written down to good use if it manages to live up to it's reputation.

The knife cuts a chunk off of the meatball more easily than you were expecting, which you take as a good sign. Not as easily as the cooked fish that you know Chi can eat, but more easily than most other kinds of meat. Tasting it confirms that it's not just the knife making things look easy, your teeth have just as little trouble biting through this. You're not sure if Chi will like the taste, which is honestly fairly powerful due to the seasoning, but this should definitely be something that she can eat. It may take some fine-tuning to get the taste right, but it's a great start. And hey, since you've already gone out and bought enough to have left over for two people after cooking this one, why not give it a shot and see if she likes it? Might as well head back to the Academagia and give it a try, see if either of them like it. Honestly you're going to be doing that a lot in the near future anyway, trying recipes from the cookbooks you bought and seeing if Chi and Xu like them. Once that's done you can put together that information for Leon and Xu, so they can translate themselves a bigger, better cookbook for themselves. One that Chi will eat everything from. Than with Professor Badcrumble supplying the ingredients, which shouldn't be hard to do at all since local ingredients are not expensive or hard to get by any stretch, this whole lack of food situation will be fully resolved.

In any case you thank Cloe for all her help and start to make your way back to the Academagia, wondering if you should drop by the girls or by Professor Badcrumble first. You were fine with buying the ingredients you needed yourself in this case, since everything was local produce and that is just not expensive compared to, say, how much you seem to spend on ink and parchment, but you'd rather not go through two cookbooks worth of food on your own pocket money if you can help it. If you can convince Professor Badcrumble to support you that'd be great, but than you'd have to explain the situation to her too. Of course you're going to have to explain it to her sooner or later anyway, so you might as well do so sooner. Especially if it'll end up saving you a bunch of money you wouldn't have to spend otherwise.

...Yeah, there's really no arguing with that logic. Time to head to Professor Badcrumble's office and explain the situation. You're going to have to sooner or later anyway, might as well explain it sooner.

[PC Cooking SKILL LOW]-Cooking. You're confident in your natural talents.
--You might not be overly familiar with cooking, but you're not completely ignorant about it either. You ask Cloe to take things one step at a time, assuring her that so long as you can get a minute to think you'll be fine. She nods, and so the cooking starts.

From there the entire recipe, start to finish, is honestly pretty straightforward. Many series of smaller steps, ultimately culminating in one cooked dish than you're used to, but other than that you don't think you were required to do anything you haven't done before. You make sure to write down detailed instructions for yourself whenever you have to chance, for future reference, and...honestly that's all you think you'll need. You can manage this.

Cloe likewise approves of your "progress", if it can be called such, and despite her threat to not spare the whip earlier she doesn't really make good on it. Instead she fills the time with small talk about her "miscreant" son. Most of it you already know about, in fact most of it you know more about than Cloe does, but one part does catch you by surprise - the reason why Cloe was was initially expecting you to have been given a message to deliver to her, as you suspected, is because you're clearly an Academagia student. Cloe and her husband have been in touch with Professor Piaxenza about the possibility of having Leon stay at the Academagia over the next summer. Both as a disciplinary punishment for his crimes and continued misbehaviour, as well as to help him catch up with his new core classes.

The more you realize the sheer reach that this whole situation has the more you feel like you understand what makes Leon tick. He seems to be less on edge now than he did when you first met him, or rather, when you were investigating Sigalis' lead though. You didn't manage to get a good read off of him when he thanked you for your part in the anti-shapeshifting flyer debacle, in hindsight. Especially now that Leon has managed to cook up some fish for Xu, that definitely put a smile on his face, so at least things do seem to be improving. You just hope that Xu understand where Leon is coming from.

In less gloomy news, however: Meatball! After far too long it's finally ready, and Cloe happily drops it on a plate and gives you a fork and knife to give it a try. Time to give it a taste, and put it's recipe that you've got well written down to good use if it manages to live up to it's reputation.

The knife cuts a chunk off of the meatball more easily than you were expecting, which you take as a good sign. Not as easily as the cooked fish that you know Chi can eat, but more easily than most other kinds of meat. Tasting it confirms that it's not just the knife making things look easy, your teeth have just as little trouble biting through this. You're not sure if Chi will like the taste, which is honestly fairly powerful due to the seasoning, but this should definitely be something that she can eat. It may take some fine-tuning to get the taste right, but it's a great start. And hey, since you've already gone out and bought enough to have left over for two people after cooking this one, why not give it a shot and see if she likes it? Might as well head back to the Academagia and give it a try, see if either of them like it. Honestly you're going to be doing that a lot in the near future anyway, trying recipes from the cookbooks you bought and seeing if Chi and Xu like them. Once that's done you can put together that information for Leon and Xu, so they can translate themselves a bigger, better cookbook for themselves. One that Chi will eat everything from. Than with Professor Badcrumble supplying the ingredients, which shouldn't be hard to do at all since local ingredients are not expensive or hard to get by any stretch, this whole lack of food situation will be fully resolved.

In any case you thank Cloe for all her help and start to make your way back to the Academagia, wondering if you should drop by the girls or by Professor Badcrumble first. You were fine with buying the ingredients you needed yourself in this case, since everything was local produce and that is just not expensive compared to, say, how much you seem to spend on ink and parchment, but you'd rather not go through two cookbooks worth of food on your own pocket money if you can help it. If you can convince Professor Badcrumble to support you that'd be great, but than you'd have to explain the situation to her too. Of course you're going to have to explain it to her sooner or later anyway, so you might as well do so sooner. Especially if it'll end up saving you a bunch of money you wouldn't have to spend otherwise.

...Yeah, there's really no arguing with that logic. Time to head to Professor Badcrumble's office and explain the situation. You're going to have to sooner or later anyway, might as well explain it sooner.

--You might not be overly familiar with cooking, but you're not completely ignorant about it either. Not to mention, you cooked for Chi twice before. Surely this can't be that hard, right?

What you should have remembered is what people say comes before the fall, because it turns out that the magical kitchen the girls have is a lot more convenient than you gave it credit for. It's not until you try to cook without it, where you have to do every little step yourself, that you even notice.

Needless to say that Cloe is not impressed, and with your confidence in shattered pieces on the floor you don't really get anything worth noting done. Gods, you feel like this is going to take weeks to recover from, but you don't exactly have time to spare, do you? Going to have to pick yourself up and try again...

[PC Cooking SKILL LOW]-Confidence. You'll be fine, just don't let this woman get to you.
--You managed to cook fish for Chi before, surely a pork meatball can't be that much of a challenge, right?

So you would think. And, in fairness, to a point you're right. But you also underestimated the degree to which the girl's magical kitchen did a surprising amount of the work for you. It's subtle stuff for the most part, not something you'd notice unless you tried to cook without it right after. But that happens to be exactly what you're doing. And so you can tell, from experience, that the difference is definitely noticeable.

It's not just you, either - Cloe can tell exactly which steps the magical kitchen did for you earlier. And true to her word she does her best to drill those steps into your head...but with every success it becomes more clear that this whole "strict parent" thing is just not her thing. Pretty soon she slips back into her usual habits, and starts gossiping with you about Leon. For better or worse, however, she assumes that you don't know Leon at all beyond having taken his advice in coming here. And so her "gossip" is mostly dedicated to her explaining (or venting) her frustrations with her "miscreant" son. Most of it you already know about, in fact most of it you know more about than Cloe does. But one part does catch you by surprise - the reason why Cloe was was initially expecting you to have been given a message to deliver to her, as you suspected, is because you're clearly an Academagia student. Cloe and her husband have been in touch with Professor Piaxenza about the possibility of having Leon stay at the Academagia over the next summer. Both as a disciplinary punishment for his crimes and continued misbehaviour, as well as to help him catch up with his new core classes.

The more you realize the sheer reach that this whole situation has the more you feel like you understand what makes Leon tick. He seems to be less on edge now than he did when you first met him, or rather when you were investigating Sigalis' lead though. You didn't manage to get a good read off of him when he thanked you for your part in the anti-shapeshifting flyer debacle. But especially now that Leon has managed to cook up some fish for Xu, he definitely has a smile on his face at times. So at least things do seem to be improving. You just hope that Xu understand where Leon is coming from.

In less gloomy news, however: Meatball! It was a trial to cook it, more than it needed to be, but it's ready. Cloe happily drops it on a plate and gives you a fork and knife to give it a try. Time to give it a taste, and put it's recipe to good use if it manages to live up to it's reputation. Probably should have taken notes in hindsight, you can do that afterwards.

The knife cuts a chunk off of the meatball more easily than you were expecting, which you take as a good sign. Not as easily as the cooked fish that you know Chi can eat, but more easily than most other kinds of meat. Tasting it confirms that it's not just the knife making things look easy, your teeth have just as little trouble biting through this. You're not sure if Chi will like the taste, which is honestly fairly powerful due to the seasoning, but this should definitely be something that she can eat. It may take some fine-tuning to get the taste right, but it's a great start. And hey, since you've already gone out and bought enough to have left over for two people after cooking this one, why not give it a shot and see if she likes it? Might as well head back to the Academagia and give it a try, see if either of them like it. Honestly you're going to be doing that a lot in the near future anyway, trying recipes from the cookbooks you bought and seeing if Chi and Xu like them. Once that's done you can put together that information for Leon and Xu, so they can translate themselves a bigger, better cookbook for themselves. One that Chi will eat everything from. Than with Professor Badcrumble supplying the ingredients, which shouldn't be hard to do at all since local ingredients are not expensive or hard to get by any stretch, this whole lack of food situation will be fully resolved.

In any case you write down the recipe just to make sure you won't forget any steps, thank Cloe for all her help, and start to make your way back to the Academagia, wondering if you should drop by the girls or by Professor Badcrumble first. You were fine with buying the ingredients you needed yourself in this case, since everything was local produce and that is just not expensive compared to, say, how much you seem to spend on ink and parchment, but you'd rather not go through two cookbooks worth of food on your own pocket money if you can help it. If you can convince Professor Badcrumble to support you that'd be great, but than you'd have to explain the situation to her too. Of course you're going to have to explain it to her sooner or later anyway, so you might as well do so sooner. Especially if it'll end up saving you a bunch of money you wouldn't have to spend otherwise.

...Yeah, there's really no arguing with that logic. Time to head to Professor Badcrumble's office and explain the situation. You're going to have to sooner or later anyway, might as well explain it sooner.

--You might not be overly familiar with cooking, but you're not completely ignorant about it either. Not to mention, you cooked for Chi twice before. Surely this can't be that hard, right?

What you should have remembered is what people say comes before the fall, because it turns out that the magical kitchen the girls have is a lot more convenient than you gave it credit for. It's not until you try to cook without it, where you have to do every little step yourself, that you even notice.

Needless to say that Cloe is not impressed, and with your confidence in shattered pieces on the floor you don't really get anything worth noting done. Gods, you feel like this is going to take weeks to recover from, but you don't exactly have time to spare, do you? Going to have to pick yourself up and try again...

[PC Cooking SKILL LOW]-Conversation. Remind Cloe that you are NOT Leon and needn't be treated as such.
--It doesn't take much effort to convince Cloe to not treat you like her son. She's a social gossip at heart, not a strict mentor, and giving her the chance to be herself is as much more fun for her as it is for you. And gossip she does, talking a bunch about Leon and why she's so disappointed in him. It's honestly heartbreaking to listen to, since of course Cloe has no idea why her son did what he did, and because of that he's being written off as just a rebellious miscreant. She even talks about how she's expecting a message from Professor Piaxenza, since she and her husband have been in touch with him about the possibility of making Leon stay at the Academagia during the summer, both as a disciplinary measure and to help him catch up with his new core classes. It makes you think about how far this whole situation really reached, although of course you don't say anything. You can't say anything, unfortunately.

As for the cooking side of things...well, there's plenty of time for the two of you to engage in small talk, but you don't set anything unnecessary on fire. You really underestimated just how much that magical kitchen the girls have can really do, if you put it to use. And of course you did, even if you didn't realize it, since you did your cooking before Leon cleaned up. Thankfully Cloe's recipe isn't difficult to cook, in the grand scheme of things, it's just a bit of a rude awakening for you that there's so much you completely missed earlier. Still, after much longer than it should have taken (although that's partially because you made sure to take notes as you went), you have a prize to show for it: One cooked meatball! It's finally ready, and Cloe happily drops it on a plate and gives you a fork and knife to give it a try. Time to give it a taste, and put it's recipe that you've got well written down to good use if it manages to live up to it's reputation.

The knife cuts a chunk off of the meatball more easily than you were expecting, which you take as a good sign. Not as easily as the cooked fish that you know Chi can eat, but more easily than most other kinds of meat. Tasting it confirms that it's not just the knife making things look easy, your teeth have just as little trouble biting through this. You're not sure if Chi will like the taste, which is honestly fairly powerful due to the seasoning, but this should definitely be something that she can eat. It may take some fine-tuning to get the taste right, but it's a great start. And hey, since you've already gone out and bought enough to have left over for two people after cooking this one, why not give it a shot and see if she likes it? Might as well head back to the Academagia and give it a try, see if either of them like it. Honestly you're going to be doing that a lot in the near future anyway, trying recipes from the cookbooks you bought and seeing if Chi and Xu like them. Once that's done you can put together that information for Leon and Xu, so they can translate themselves a bigger, better cookbook for themselves. One that Chi will eat everything from. Than with Professor Badcrumble supplying the ingredients, which shouldn't be hard to do at all since local ingredients are not expensive or hard to get by any stretch, this whole lack of food situation will be fully resolved.

In any case you thank Cloe for all her help and start to make your way back to the Academagia, wondering if you should drop by the girls or by Professor Badcrumble first. You were fine with buying the ingredients you needed yourself in this case, since everything was local produce and that is just not expensive compared to, say, how much you seem to spend on ink and parchment, but you'd rather not go through two cookbooks worth of food on your own pocket money if you can help it. If you can convince Professor Badcrumble to support you that'd be great, but than you'd have to explain the situation to her too. Of course you're going to have to explain it to her sooner or later anyway, so you might as well do so sooner. Especially if it'll end up saving you a bunch of money you wouldn't have to spend otherwise.

...Yeah, there's really no arguing with that logic. Time to head to Professor Badcrumble's office and explain the situation. You're going to have to sooner or later anyway, might as well explain it sooner.

--You attempt to convince Cloe that you're not Leon, but the slight mess you make of the cooking side of things does nothing to help your case. You might not be overly familiar with cooking, but you're not completely ignorant about it either. Not to mention, you cooked for Chi twice before. So surely you couldn't possibly mess up that badly, right?

What you should have remembered is what people say comes before the fall, because it turns out that the magical kitchen the girls have is a lot more convenient than you gave it credit for. It's not until you try to cook without it, where you have to do every little step yourself, that you even notice.

Needless to say that Cloe is not impressed, and with your confidence in shattered pieces on the floor you don't really get anything worth noting done. Gods, you feel like this is going to take weeks to recover from, but you don't exactly have time to spare, do you? Going to have to pick yourself up and try again...

This is indeed the stage where effort went to die, yes.

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The Lion Seeking Fish, stage 12:

Spoiler

You find Professor Badcrumble in her office, holding another of her detention sessions. This time the topic seems to be all about cutlery, from the correct sides of a plate that forks, knives and spoons should be placed at (depending on whether the person using it is left- or right-handed) to how one properly holds each of them in which hand. The students here, none of which you recognize, don't seem to have been expecting anyone to show up. In fact most of them seem confused that the professor's door wasn't locked. Professor Badcrumble herself, however, doesn't look the least bit surprised. "Ah, good afternoon [PC FIRST NAME]. I take it your message can't wait?" she calmly asks. You're not sure if you'd call what you're here for a message, but than Chi did ask you to talk about the food issue on her behalf, so...close enough, you suppose? You don't feel like it can wait, regardless, so you shake your head. Professor Badcrumble doesn't even question you at all, she just nods and turns to address the other students here. "Than that'll be all for today. Those here for detention, return to your respective dorms and stay out of trouble for the rest of today. And preferably every day thereafter. If I don't receive any complaints from your respective dorm masters or other faculty members I'll consider your detention over."

There's a number of students that stare curiously at you out of the corner of their eyes, no doubt wondering what your "message" is all about, but all of them then cast a meaningful glance at Professor Badcrumble and quickly come to the conclusion that this particular gifted horse is not worth looking in the mouth. No doubt that there'll be some rumors spreading around, but Rikildis can handle those easily. You're stopped worrying about that a while ago, in fact. In any case it doesn't take more than a minute for every student to leave, and for you to sit down in one of the seats. There's more than enough to choose from.

"First off I would like to ask: Was Leon's attempt to cook some carp for Xu successful?" Professor Badcrumble asks completely out of nowhere, at least from your perspective. She knows about that? You didn't think she did, or that she'd approve of it. "Surprised I know about that, [PC FIRST NAME]? Don't tell you me actually believed that one of the Venalicium's librarians just happened to have a magical fishing net collecting dust underneath her desk."

"Actually, yes. I mean in hindsight in does make more sense that you had a hand in it, but...I mean, I've been convinced of far less believable-sounding things this year already," you point out. Professor Badcrumble thankfully nods at that. "So...you knew about Leon's plan the entire time, and even secretly helped him with it? Why? If it was something you thought needed to be done why didn't you take over for him?"

"I would have if he hadn't asked you to help him out, rest assured. You I can trust to not set everything and everyone on fire in your attempts to accomplish something. Leon, not so much. I was counting on you to keep him in check, and it appears that you've done just that," Professor Badcrumble explains. Brow settling into a deep frown she adds, "That, and I'm afraid to admit that Leon is in a better position to assist the girls than I am these days. Considering how long it took you to come here since you smuggled in Leon's bounty through the ward's backdoor I'm hoping that from today forward I'll have someone other than that uncontrollable firestarter to rely on, however." Huh. Maybe you shouldn't be so surprised, but Professor Badcrumble knows. She knows. You weren't expecting that. "Did you get a chance to talk to the girls, [PC FIRST NAME]? Were you able to learn about anything I should know about, that they refuse to share with someone they can't trust?"

"Y-yes, actually," you admit. There's no point even trying to lie to Professor Badcrumble. Especially when she basically already knows about what's going on anyway, to say nothing of the fact that explaining the situation is why you came to see the regent in her office in the first place. "Chi wanted me to talk to you about the fact that you're not supplying them enough food. Well, she said that, but talking with her I figured out that the real problem is that Chi can't eat most of it because she's hypersensitive to hard food. That neither her or Xu really know how to cook landbound food at all doesn't help, either. Leon got them a cookbook at one point and helped Xu translate it as best they could, and that seemed to have worked to a point, but it's just not doing them any favors as far as Chi's...situation is concerned. Sorry, I'm still not sure whether to call it an allergy or something else."

Professor Badcrumble slowly nods along at what you're telling her, but she does raise an eyebrow midway through "Sorry, 'landbound'?" You nod, and explain that that's Chi's term for humans...though if the professor wants to discuss that in detail she'd be better off asking a Dialectic professor to help her out. You're less comfortable with the subject. "I understand the implications, don't worry about that. As for the food situation...I can't believe that they'd refuse to tell me about this. Xu's infection must have brought both of them literally to the brink of starvation. And even than I only hear about it through a messenger," Professor Badcrumble says with a tired sigh. You wonder if you should interject, and...decide that you should.

"I know why they didn't, actually," you suddenly say. Professor Badcrumble, for the first time since you just stepped into her office, looks genuinely surprised. "It's a cultural thing - food and cooking are very important and personal matters to them, so it's just not a problem that they are willing to share with someone they can't trust. And as absurd as it sounds it wasn't a problem they needed to immediately address, either. Since they can store food they can choose to coast on that until they run out. Or their bodies get infected, as happened to Xu, but obviously neither of them intended to let this situation get so far out of hand like this." Your revelation leads to an awkward moment as Professor Badcrumble silently lets that information sink in. It leaves you wondering whether you just tied a noose around your neck, which...isn't the best feeling.

"[PC FIRST NAME], please do your best to continue to earn the girls' trust. I need someone who they can talk to, someone who can understand where they're coming from and act in a manner that's respectful in their culture. Someone who's sum total academic record in that field isn't 'set a noble's estate that used to house an art gallery on fire', preferably." Yeah, eh, you think you can manage that. Leon does not a high bar for you to cross, at any rate. "But regarding this shortage of food situation, have you thought of any solutions to it? I'd happily cook for the girls myself if I had to...or, more likely, teach them how to cook themselves. That'd be a far more practical solution for my busy schedule, and for the girls themselves from the sound of it. But...obviously I'll need a different solution, regardless."

Well, you've got the ingredients for Leon's pork meatballs and two cookbooks on you right now. You'd call that a solution-in-progress, so...

[PC NOT ON Leon/girls' SIDE]-"Yes, I just need someone to supply ingredients."
--Again the regent looks surprised. It's an expression that remains on her face as you pull out the two cookbooks you bought and explain your plan to cook meals for the girls and see what all they like, note down which recipes work for them both, and at the end of it compile everything into one big bundle of information for Leon and Xu to translate into a cookbook that even chi will eat everything from. Once you finish explaining Professor Badcrumble looks impressed. "I'll admit, I wasn't expecting you to be so on top of this. I suppose there's a good reason why you delayed brining this matter to my attention, than. As for your ingredients I can definitely get them, assuming they're reasonable of course, but one question I'd like to ask: If food and cooking are, culturally, personal matters to the girls, isn't you cooking for them going to be a problem? And for that matter, how am I supposed to interpret Leon cooking those carp for Xu, in this context? How would Xu interpret it, rather?"

"You don't have to worry about that. I've cooked for Chi twice already, and she understands that landbound have a different view of it than they do. Not to mention that with them on the brink of starvation they don't have much of a choice either, regrettably. I have to assume that Xu recognized that as well, she is older than Chi after all."

That puts the regent at ease, thankfully to the point where she doesn't ask any more questions because she would not like the answer to how Xu would otherwise interpret Leon's little plot you suspect. In any case you're done here. You've gotten your supply of ingredients, now it's time to put them (including the meatball ingredients) to use.

...Gods, you have so much cooking to do before all is said and done...but it's good practice, right? And for a good cause? It'll be worth it, eventually, but...this is going to take a while...

[PC ON Leon/girls' SIDE]-"Yes, but...about delaying taking action against the Madame..."
--The regent lets out a weary sigh. She knows full well what conversation you two are about to have. "[PC FIRST NAME], did Leon convince you to take his side, or is that a conclusion you came to on your own?" You recount what happened in the bookstore for Professor Badcrumble, as well as what line of thinking lead you to give the guildsman, and now the regent, the answer that you did, and ask if it really matters whether you got the idea from Leon or not. the regent nods. "It matters insofar that I cannot afford to have him start any more fires while this situation is still unstable, and him 'recruiting' younger, impressionable students to join his cause could be interpreted...poorly, in that respect. I hope, sincerely hope, [PC FIRST NAME], that you understand the severity of the situation. No matter how much you might disagree with how it's being handled."

"I know full well that setting fires isn't going to do anyone any good, professor. It's just...how am I supposed to justify this situation to the girls? How am I supposed to tell them that our history, our view of things-everything you've tried to convince them to follow is right? When it wasn't a Dragon that had them kidnapped, smuggled, and Xu's child nearly turned into an omelette. How am I supposed to earn their trust if I can't agree with them on that point? Or with Leon, for that matter. I met Leon's mother earlier, and as far as I can tell she's completely written off her son as a delinquent. How long is he going to have to endure that undeserved scorn, of his own family, before they can be told that Leon had a reason to do what he did? I'm not denying that What he did was extreme, but he had his reasons, and no other options as far as I know."

As you feared, Professor Badcrumble doesn't have an answer ready for that. Honestly, you get the impression that she isn't a fan of the whole mess any more than the girls are, but her hands are tied. "We don't know that for sure, [PC FIRST NAME]. Who or what convinced the Madame to do what she did? One doesn't end up with black market connections to the other side of the Wall simply for want of money. At least I don't believe so. I know it's not the answer that you or the girls want to hear, but I'm afraid that's the only answer I have to give, for now. We have to make sure that we understand the full scope of this mess. Only then can we take action against the Madame, and who- or whatever stood behind her. And still does, possibly."

"And if she spends that time spreading another wave of anti-shapeshifter flyers around Mineta, trying to turn public opinion against the girls? Or pulling off some other ploy to try and save her skin, maybe even escape justice entirely, while the girls are stuck here unable to do anything about it?" you counter.

"Don't assume that nothing was done in response to the anti-shapeshifting flyer incident, it's just been kept under wraps since the guards turned Laroche and we cannot allow this situation to escalate just yet. And don't assume that I would sit around and watch if the Madame truly made a move against the girls, for that matter. I've made it clear to her, on no uncertain terms, that if she attempts to capture or otherwise harm them again that there will be violent reprisal. I can accept the situation as it currently is because I cannot say for sure whether the Madame is truly guilty of everything that Leon has accused her of. Not for certain. If her actions convinced me otherwise, however, that stance would change. And as much of a firestarter as Leon and the rest of his Clique is, they're mere students. Professors can cause far more damage than students, which is another reason why I have to be careful."

That is interesting, useful, and potentially dangerous information. What you're taking from this is that there are options here, angles that you could try to leverage...that'll be important to keep in mind. "So what about those anti-shapeshifting flyers? Isn't that enough?"

"Until I can say for sure that those flyers were the Madame's idea and hers alone, no. She is involved in this whole mess, of that there is no doubt, but her guilt, whether she alone was the one behind everything, still is. And in either case, we have to question what would convince her to do such a thing. As I've said, money alone does not explain this. Nothing can explain this, and yet there must be a greater reason or purpose to it. One that I have to understand, in full, before I can pass judgement on the Madame." That all sounds reasonable enough, even if you're still hesitant to call it right when Chi or Xu's opinions weren't asked for at all. And is that really feasible? Obviously there's black market contacts that trace a line all the way to the other side of the Wall, the Madame didn't go on a ship and kidnap the girls personally, so that there's other people involved besides her is not in question. But could she be anyone but the mastermind behind the whole plot? Could anyone else have convinced her to dip her toes into outright slavery? If so, how? You guess those questions are exactly what Professor Badcrumble is wanting to answer, why she's willing to be patient, but if so why not get answers straight from the Madame? There's ways to force people to confess, so why not try to turn her, as the guards did Laroche? You ask the professor about it, and this time she's got an answer ready. "Setting aside the fact that the spells to compel truth you're referring to are by no means flawless, if the Madame was arrested and turned, as Laroche was, than every black market contact that she ever met would go into hiding. As, not coincidentally, happened to the contact that smuggled Laroche's illegal magic into the city, or at least the one who informed the contact that ended up selling it to Laroche. With the Madame still 'clear', however, people will be less inclined to hide. No one would do any business with her after what happened at her estate, but they wouldn't necessarily flee either. If we are to capture them, and bring them to justice, we need to figure out who they are and start looking for them before we make it clear that we're on their trail. And that, unfortunately, requires leaving the Madame to her own devices. For now."

Again, that sounds reasonable, especially with actual examples set in Laroche's case, but...you're going to have to earn the girls' trust, as much as is required, and see if you can have a frank talk with them about this whole situation. You'd like to know what their opinions are about this whole mess.

First, however, cooking. Lots, and lots of cooking...

Here's to hoping this whole "taking sides" thing actually fits with Y2's intended theme(?), even if it comes too late to really do much of anything with until Y3.

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The Lion Seeking Fish, stage 13:

Spoiler

The sound of crackling cooking oil and thunderous steps pounding on the floor in the distance rings in your ears, but it isn't enough to drown out the kitchen's magical hourglass informing you that the meat is done. You quickly turn the heat on that down with just the turn of a dial, Gods this magical kitchen is so easy and convenient it's basically cheating, and mentally prepare yourself for the inevitable yell of "food!" seconds before-

"Food's ready!"

...Before that. Not long after Chi comes rushing out of the back area and flies over to the dinner table, eagerly sitting down at her seat and grabbing her fork and knife. The plates are still empty, though, much to Chi's disappointment. You've had some good success cooking for the girls, and nowhere does that success show more than Chi rushing to the table as soon as it's dinnertime. "What're we having today?" she excitedly asks, though you wait for Xu to show up before answering Chi's question. Given how often you've tried this particular dish and how familiar she's getting with landbound food she can probably already guess from the smell anyway.

"Today we're having carrot and union stew. I've come across a recipe that gives the stew a distinct, more varied taste without making the union part overpowering. It's honestly a very nice recipe, because peeling and cutting an union is kind of a pain if you can't cast spells, and this recipe doesn't require that. And as for meat we're having an extra large pork meatball, per Chi's totally professional and completely unbiased opinion," you answer as soon as Xu drags herself through into what passes for their living room. She politely nods at you as she slowly walks over to her dinner table and slumps down in her chair. You, with Chi staring holes through your back the entire time, fill up the girls' plates and bring them over to the table. Chi doesn't wait, once the food is in front of her she forgets all about your earlier comment and happily digs right in. Xu, in contrast, politely waits for you to come back from grabbing your own plate before she starts eating. "Are you feeling alright, Xu?" you ask as you sit down. "You look pretty out of it."

"Blame that gluttonous leech over there keeping me awake all night," Xu answers, casting a quick venomous glance over at Fang. She's happily playing with a toy in her crib, not paying attention to you guys right now. "I really wish she'd just fall asleep in bed, but no, she insists on only falling asleep in the bath. As comfortable as it is to relax in it is not designed to sleep in, but of course she just refuses to understand that." The trials and tribulations of having a roommate that's not even half a year old. Nevertheless you ask Xu why the bath isn't comfortable to sleep in. She spend years sleeping underwater, so you're not sure why it wouldn't be comfortable. "I see someone has never had to spend a night lying on a bed of seaweed," Xu answers a bit dismissively.

"Not seaweed, but I've spend the night in a makeshift bed of thatch once." Xu looks confused, and you explain that one time many years back you stayed over at your "aunt" and "uncle" - not blood relatives, but old family friends who live nearby - and instead of sleeping in the guest room (like you should have) you snuck out and decided to try and make a bed out of a bunch of thatch they had laying around. There was enough to fill a bed's worth, as least a bed that'd fit as small a child as you were back than, because they had a section of the roof they needed to fix after the Academagia's students visited Mineta's Weather Institute that year. That was not a good year for the people in Mineta, all things told. Or your back. "I honestly don't remember it at all myself. I was only...two and a half years old? Maybe three? Something around that, but my 'aunt' and 'uncle' like to tell me the story every time I visit them."

Despite how tired she is you can see Xu internally debating whether or not to share what's obviously weighing on her mind right now. You've noticed that she's fairly cagey, moreso than Chi is, especially when a subject is actually personal to her. Still, slowly but surely you seem to be earning their trust. "The, eh, 'bed' of the bath, for lack of a better term, is honestly fine. It's the lack of movement in the water that's the problem," Xu eventually says in answer to your earlier question. "It isn't as noticeable in the pool, but in the bath it's very noticeable. Or at least it should be..."

Ah, so that's the problem. Of course leaving the water running would be far from ideal either, but...actually, maybe that can work. "You know, it's possible to enchant showers to conjure water through Incantation rather than using water tapped from a source. If one of them is installed here you might be able to achieve a 'river at the foot of a waterfall' effect in the bath."

"Wait, really? Why does this place even have water ran to it if you can just conjure it through magic?" Xu asks, perplexed. Chi likewise looks at you perplexed for about two seconds...and than resumes wolfing down her food. Credit where credit is due, she might be a picky eater but if you cook something she likes you'll know you cooked something she likes.

"At the risk of oversimplifying, conjured water can't be used for everything that regular water can be. Whether it'll work for a running bath I'm actually not sure, but you could ask Professor Badcrumble about it. If nothing else Professor di Lucca Alazzo needs more opportunities to flex his crafting muscles anyhow, if it is a harder project for whatever reason." Xu twitches at the mention of Professor Badcrumble, but than she also pointedly glances over in Fang's direction with a contemplative look on her face. It may take some convincing, but you think you can get that talk to happen. You hope you can, at least.

"I'woud luoike oh ronning bwath," Chi attempts to add while continuing to stuff her mouth full of stew. Xu scolds her for her lack of table manners, but that's honestly a fairly hypocritical statement coming from someone who's holding her knife and fork like a mallet and chisel. She says that's how she's comfortable holding them, though, and she doesn't see the point in following tableware etiquette if it doesn't help her at all. More than anything you feel like that is a sad reminder of the fact that Professor Badcrumble has never so much as seen these two eat, much less sat at a dinner table with them. Because she'd have a heart attack if she saw how much Chi out-pigs the pigs she loves to eat so much...which honestly makes you wonder if they'd take her table manners as an insult or a compliment, actually...

"Fine. I'll ask [PC FIRST NAME] to ask the professor about it," Xu says. Which sounds like a rather indirect way to get things done to you, but sure. You know where she's coming from. "Though speaking of the professor and things you want, Chi, do you mind if I ask how you're eating so much?" Chi suddenly stops dead in her tracks, and looks down at her food with something between a nervous and guilty look on her face. Xu frowns, but that's all she does as far as you can see. "I recently recovered from a fanyeng infection and have been feeding a baby the entire time, yet with the seconds you usually take you've been eating as much as I have since [PC FIRST NAME] started cooking for us. I know you haven't eaten much ever since we were taken here, but just how do you still have space for so much?"

An awkward silence falls over the dinner table, during which Xu casts a curious glance over at you. You just shrug and motion towards Chi, though. Not to hit her from all sides, but you're not saying anything if she doesn't. "I, eh...I'm close to full now," Chi silently admits, but Xu calls her out on trying to dodge the actual question and asks it again. Chi gives one sad look at Xu, who is not moved by it in the slightest, and lets out a sigh. "I was close to ravenous - was ravenous, actually. But [PC FIRST NAME] cooked a few things for me, some of the fish that Leon didn't manage to butcher correctly, and that kept me going until [s/he] started cooking for both of us."

"Ravenous...did you actually lose control?" Xu asks, actually looking at Chi with some slight measure of sympathy, and in response Chi slowly nods her head. Xu then quickly turns her attention towards you again, and asks if what Chi said is right. You recall, out loud to make sure that either of the girls can correct you if you don't recall correctly, that "ravenous" is the term for when a seabound's fanyeng is (basically) completely empty. It's called such because at that point they start to suffer from both physical and mental issues as a result of their hunger, the most common (or at least infamous) of which is a lapse of self-control when confronted with food. Which you did indeed see with Chi - she definitely lost control of herself when you gave her that plate of cooked fish, although that's the only thing you saw. Admittedly it's also one of the few things you possibly could have seen right then and there, but still. You look at Xu after your (somewhat lengthy) explanation, silently asking if you're correct, and she nods. "So that's why," she says as she slowly turn her attention back to Chi. "You let yourself run that low? Why?"

"I didn't intent to," Chi clarifies. She doesn't answer Xu's second question, though, and unlike before she doesn't try asking it again.

"I suppose I gave up too soon on forcing you to eat, but you are one picky eater usually. Are [PC FIRST NAME]'s recipes really so much better?" Chi, either intentionally or coincidentally, answer's Xu's question by showing you her empty plate and asking if there's more. You snort and point her towards the kitchen, where she eagerly goes to pick up her second helping. You've done this song and dance before, you've learned to be prepared. Xu, for her part, rolls her eyes. "I suppose that answers that question..." she mutters underneath her breath.

"It's not your fault, Xu. Chi really is far more sensitive to hard food than you are, and the entire situation of trying to cook unfamiliar ingredients using an unfamiliar kicken into a recipe that wasn't going to do Chi any favors regardless...I don't think anyone could have pulled that off. Even my wand couldn't have managed that," you try and gently tell her. You remember what Chi told you about cooks who's dishes people refuse to eat. Thankfully Xu seems to understand that as well, as she slowly nods.

"I know. But even so I still feel like I got asked to leave the kitchen. Which actually brings me to the summer that's fast approaching - what are we going to do when [PC FIRST NAME] leaves the Academagia, at least until the next academic year? Because I don't know about you, Chi, but I can't hold out for two months without eating. Not unless you want me to eat Fang for a change." Chi, looking and no doubt feeling rather nervous now that that issue has been put on the table, notes that even she wouldn't be able to hold out for two months without eating. Let stand Xu. "Right. So how do you propose that we solve that problem?"

You vaguely recall that you were going to teach Chi how to cook while working on these recipes, at least you're pretty sure that was the plan at some point, but you didn't want to deal with cooking new recipes and figuring out the ins and outs of the girls' magical kitchen and trying to teach Chi how to cook (using said kitchen you had to get a feel for yourself first) all at the same time. So if that indeed was the plan at any point it fell through. Which now present the girls with a rather large problem. Of course you remember all too well that cooking is a big deal for the girls, culturally. So what would be the best answer to suggest here...

-Teach Chi how to cook before the Academic year ends.
--You weren't too confident trying to teach Chi how to cook while you were experimenting with recipes and figuring out how their magical kitchen works, but you're done with both of those things now. Though the end of the academic year quickly approaches there's still time left, time enough to teach Chi how to cook you think. It's not that hard, and the kitchen itself does most of the work anyway. So you suggest that you could teach Chi how to cook, using what time you've got left before summer comes.

When the response you get is a stunned silent look from Chi and a curious frown from Xu you realize that you may have chosen your words poorly. Worse, Xu's frown gets directed towards Chi instead when Xu notices her rather strong reaction. "Is there something going on that I should know about, Chi?" Xu asks like a viper that's about to pounce.

"Eh..." is all Chi can manage to say in response before she buries her head in her hands. That's not something you usually want to see, nor is the knowing look on Xu's face...

"Your silence is noted. For now, though, [PC FIRST NAME], do you know the significance of a stranger teaching a seabound how to cook?" Xu asks. And you'll admit, being called a "stranger" like that? Not a good feeling.

"Yes, Xu, I do know. I also know why it'd be more significant for Chi than it would be for you, but I can't just sit here watching this problem repeating itself all over again and I just don't have a better alternative to suggest. I do have an alternative to suggest, but I don't think it's one that either of you would be more comfortable with - Leon, I've heard, will be staying at the Academagia over the summer rather than going back home until Juvenalia. So I could teach him to cook for the two of you during the summer instead, if you'd prefer." The distant, slightly twitchy look in Xu's eyes confirms that that would indeed be the greater of two evils for her. Chi likewise doesn't seem overly thrilled by the idea of Leon cooking for them, but not as apprehensive towards it either.

"Okay...point taken," Xu slowly starts as she casts a meaningful look over at Chi. You've pulled yourself out of this one, you feel like. "So, hang on, you said that it'd be more significant for Chi than it would be for me? Why?"

...Out of the frying pan, into the fire. Lovely. How are you going to talk your way out of this one!?

"I can't cook," Chi suddenly blurts out, staring sadly at her empty plate. The confession takes Xu by surprise, who asks Chi if she's talking about not knowing how to use the kitchen. "No, in general. My parents never taught me how to cook. Y-you're not the only one who had trouble cooking something I could eat, you know..."

It takes a(n awkward) minute for Xu to let that information sink in. During which time Chi tries to stifle a few sobs, and you're anxiously shifting in your seat unsure as to whether you should move over to try and comfort her or not. It's kind of your fault, after all. "Is that all that's bothering you, Chi? That you were never taught how to cook?" Xu asks, like an older sister trying to console her sibling. Chi slowly nods as you wonder what else Xu thought you two were talking about. Perhaps it's best that you never know, though. "Alright. Stop crying, Chi, it's alright. In that case I have to agree that it'd be best if [PC FIRST NAME] taught you how to cook," Xu eventually says. It causes Chi, slightly teary-eyed, to look up surprised at Xu. "Practically speaking we can't reasonably expect me to be able to cook at all times anyway. I don't doubt that I'll eventually learn how to cook [PC FIRST NAME]'s recipes, either," Xu neutrally states, almost like a professor giving a lecture. "What if I get sick again? When I'll inevitably get sick again. We can't assume that Leon or [PC FIRST NAME] will be there to cook for us every single time. We can avoid eating for some time, sure, but I'm on a tight budget with that gluttonous leech to feed, and being full doesn't matter if either of us get a fanyeng infection anyway. So it'd certainly be best if you learned how to cook. That way either of us can cook, even if the other is sick." That sounds sensible enough, but you have to wonder about the, eh, implications of you teaching Chi how to cook. So naturally, as if in answer to your unspoken questions, Xu turns her attention to you after Chi nods at her advice. "Considering we're already sharing a dinner table I don't see any reason why you shouldn't be allowed to teach Chi. So, [PC FIRST NAME], please do your best to teach Chi how to cook. This isn't just a skill for us, even ignoring this...unusual situation we're in. Make sure she learns to eat what you have her cook. You wouldn't be doing right by her if she couldn't."

...Of course. Food in general is more important to them, so of course sharing food would be as well. You can't believe you completely forgot about that.

In any case that should be the final thing before the end of this academic year that you'll need to make sure to get done with the girls. After that it's back to business as usual, summer vacation, and who knows what'll happen than. So much about the girls' case is still out there, and still up in the air, but you're one step closer to winning the girls' trust. One step closer to earning the chance to either guide them on the path to greatness, or happiness, whatever they'd prefer...or complete and total ruin.

Hopefully it won't end up being the last one...

-Suggest that Leon cook for the girls.
--The idea that Leon's parents had, letting Leon stay at the Academagia over the summer, was approved by Professor Piaxenza and the Legate last you heard. And you're sure you did, because boy was Leon not a fan of that idea. You hope that when this case is finally solved that there will still be a bridge left to repair, between him and his parents, but for now the important thing is that you know that he won't be going home this summer. And you know that he's at least not a completely klutz in the kitchen, so you suggest that you could teach him how to cook your recipes.

The response you get is a stunned silent, confused look from Chi, and a revolted shudder from Xu. Perhaps not the best suggestion you're ever made, than.

"[PC FIRST NAME]," Xu starts, ready to lay down some fire, but she suddenly falls silent. And a second later she slowly nods to herself. "Wait, that's right, you're a landbound. And landbound don't value cooking at all, do they?"

"Not especially so," you say, biting your tongue when it comes to your dislike at being called that. Now that Xu's wrong, but it makes you feel like the girls are more distant from you than you'd like them to be. So much so that you're going to try and drag yourself out of this hole you dug for yourself. "I do recall that cooking is significant to you two, for the record, I just don't really understand that situation all too well. I also have anything else to suggest, but really don't want to see the two of you go starving yourselves again, so...even if it's not a great idea, I have to try."

Chi seems unsure about what to make of your defence. Xu, in contrast, frowns. "I suppose, but wouldn't a better idea be you teaching Chi how to cook your recipes? Because it sounds like you'd have to show Leon how to cook in general, so I assume you'll have to time to teach Chi your recipes instead."

Normally you'd agree with that, but of course there's one slight issue with that idea. One that causes you to look a bit concerned at Chi, who's shifting nervously in her seat. Xu, confused, asks Chi what's wrong with her suggestion, though she doesn't get an answer. So instead she asks you what's going on. "I, eh..." is all you can manage to say, because you genuinely have no idea how bad of an idea it'd be to blurt out Chi's secret, and you can't very well ask her about that right now either. So nothing to do but fall silently and have Xu glares holes through you...

"I-I can't cook!" Chi suddenly blurts out, staring sadly at her empty plate. The confession takes Xu by surprise, who asks Chi if she's talking about not knowing how to use the kitchen. "No, in general. My parents never taught me how to cook. Y-you're not the only one who had trouble cooking something I could eat, you know..."

It takes a(n awkward) minute for Xu to let that information sink in. During which time Chi tries to stifle a few sobs, and you're anxiously shifting in your seat unsure as to whether you should move over to try and comfort her or not. You wouldn't call it your fault, but you feel for her all the same. "[PC FIRST NAME]," Xu quietly asks as she slowly turns to face you. You're either about to be saved or killed, one or the other. "Did you know about this?" You nervously eye Chi, who nods at you, and you nod at Xu in turn. You admit that Chi did tell you about it and asked you to keep it a secret, so you did. Or tried to, at least. You further explain that you don't really understand the significance of being taught how to cook all too well, so the promise you made to Chi aside, you have no idea if you teaching her how to cook is at all a reasonable suggestion. Hence why you suggested Leon instead, but...perhaps that was in error. Xu, in answer to your unspoken question, nods her head. Looks like you're off the hook, at least for the moment. "To explain, being taught how to cook is considered your step into adulthood. Seabound children can't coast on their fanyeng in the way that teens and adults can, partially because their bodies simply can't store as much and partially because they spend so much on growing up, so one of the noticeable signs that someone has grown up is their ability to go for longer without eating. And since the only thing a seabound needs to survive is food, traditionally, being taught how to cook is considered the point where you achieved your first measure of independence, your first step into becoming an adult." You nod at that, and ask what you ought to make of you teaching Chi how to cook. And what Chi is supposed to make of it, for that matter. That question takes Xu a moment to think over, but quickly enough she answers, "I don't think either of you should feel embarrassed about it. [PC FIRST NAME], you've cooked for both of us so often, even sat with us at our dinner table that I don't feel like we ought to treat you as a stranger. Understand that cooking isn't just a skill to us, and that Chi learning to cook something she can eat means a lot more to her than it does to you, but that aside I see no reason why you shouldn't be allowed to teach Chi how to cook. Particularly when we don't really have much of a choice, anyway."

...Of course. Food in general is more important to them, so of course sharing food would be as well. You can't believe you completely forgot about that. But, in any case, success! Hole successfully dragged out of! Admittedly it'd feel more like a victory if Chi wasn't staring at you with a scared and confused tear-soaked face, but...eh, gotta take the victories where you can, right? You'll do your best in teaching her how to cook, that won't be an issue. You're done with trying out recipes and figuring out that magical kitchen, you can show Chi how to work it.

"Xu...are you really okay with this?" Chi asks, to which Xu deftly nods.

"We can't reasonably expect me to be able to cook at all times. What if I get sick again? When I'll get sick again. We can't assume that Leon or [PC FIRST NAME] will be there to cook for us every single time. We can avoid eating for some time, sure, but I'm on a tight budget with that gluttonous leech to feed, and being full doesn't matter if either of us get a fanyeng infection anyway. So it'd certainly be best if you learned how to cook. That way either of us can cook, even if the other is sick." That certainly sounds like a logical enough argument, even if Chi doesn't seem particularly moved by it. You'll do your best to talk to her, though. Something is swimming around in her mind, causing her to feel fear and doubt, but you'll do your best to figure it out, and support her.

In any case, that should be the final thing before the end of this academic year that you'll need to make sure to get done with the girls. After that it's back to business as usual, assuming there's time left for that, summer vacation for sure, and who knows what'll happen after that. So much about the girls' case is still out there, and still up in the air, but you're one step closer to winning the girls' trust. One step closer to earning the chance to either guide them on the path to greatness, or happiness, whatever they'd prefer...or complete and total ruin.

Hopefully it won't end up being the last one...

-Show Xu how to cook your recipes.
--You don't think there's enough time left in the academic year to teach Chi how to cook, and you feel like Xu could use a share of a undisguised appreciation that you've gotten from Chi since you started cooking for the girls. She deserves it, if nothing else. So you suggest that you could teach Xu to cook your recipes, perhaps work together on translating a cookbook for her in the process.

She frowns at the suggestion, but you can tell that she doesn't hate the idea. You can read her expressions well enough to tell the difference by now. Xu lets out a sigh and says, "I do want to learn your recipes eventually, just so that I can cook for Chi if I have to. All the same, though, I feel like it's her turn to do the cooking. So, please, teach her your recipes for now. I'll get the chance to study it when we put together the cookbook anyway, since I'll be the one to write everything down." That...makes sense, it's a logical plan, but there's a slight problem with the whole idea - Chi doesn't know how to cook. You wouldn't be teaching her your recipes, you'd be teaching her how to cook in general. Something that Xu clues into, as she notices the awkward silence that falls over the dinner table, as well as the nervous look on Chi's face. "Is there a problem with that plan?" Xu asks, pointedly looking between you and Chi.

"Eh..." is all Chi can manage to say in response before she loses her cool and buries her head in her hands. Xu, not that Chi can see it, looks confused at that response.

"Chi..." you slowly start to say, but all too quickly you fall silent as you can't bring yourself to even ask Chi whether she wants to tell Xu herself or whether she wants you to inform Xu about her secret. She might want to try and keep it a secret, after all, as futile as that seems right now.

Xu, for her part, lets out a tired sigh. "Chi, did your parents refuse to teach you how to cook?" she asks, as directly as it sounds. Chi looks up at Xu, surprised that she knew, and after a moment slowly nods. "I was afraid of that. Were they that embarrassed by your narrow taste?" Again Chi slowly nods, tears silently streaming down her face. Xu nods in turn, while you're anxiously shifting in your seat unsure as to whether you should move over to try and comfort Chi or not. It may not be your fault that she's crying, but you still feel for her. "Very well. In that case, [PC FIRST NAME], please teach Chi how to cook. She needs to know, and it's well past time that someone teaches her." Both you and Chi both looks surprised at Xu at that, in your case because you've got no idea whether you're not supposed to be surprised by that. Given that Chi reacts the exact same way you have to assume you guessed right. Xu, however, has a neutral look on her face. "Practically speaking, we can't reasonably expect me to be able to cook at all times. What if I get sick again? When I'll get sick again. We can't assume that Leon or [PC FIRST NAME] will be there to cook for us every single time. We can avoid eating for some time, sure, but I'm on a tight budget with that gluttonous leech to feed, and being full doesn't matter if either of us get a fanyeng infection anyway. So it'd certainly be best if you learned how to cook. That way either of us can cook, even if the other is sick." That sounds sensible enough, but you're still unsure as to the, eh, implications of you teaching Chi how to cook. It can't be that bad regardless, otherwise Xu wouldn't be arguing in favor of it, but still. You're a bit confused, and curious. And Chi, for her part, has much the same expression on her face as well. Xu glares at Chi with a stern expression, but you she gives a more neutral look. "You're curious about how cooking and teaching others how to cook fits into our culture, I take it?" Xu asks. You nod, and she calmly explains that being taught how to cook is considered a step into adulthood. Seabound children can't coast on their fanyeng in the way that teens and adults can, partially because their bodies simply can't store as much and partially because they spend so much on growing up, so one of the noticeable signs that someone has grown up is their ability to go for longer without eating. And since the only thing a seabound needs to survive is food, traditionally, being taught how to cook is considered the point where you achieved your first measure of independence, your first step into becoming an adult. Which is...certainly something, for you to teach Chi how to cook in that respect, but Xu insists that you shouldn't worry about it. "We've shared a dinner table many times before now, you've cooked for both of us many times, I see no reason why we should be shy about letting you teach Chi how to cook. Though, [PC FIRST NAME], make sure that Chi learns to eat what you teach her to cook. It would not be good for her to continue to be held back by this whole situation clawing at her."

...Of course. Food in general is more important to them, so of course sharing food would be as well. You can't believe you completely forgot about that.

In any case, if that's the best solution than you suppose you'll have to try and find the time to get that done before the end of this academic year. After that it'll be summer again, two months away from the Academagia, and who knows what'll happen then. So much about the girls' case is still out there, and still up in the air, but you're one step closer to winning the girls' trust. One step closer to earning the chance to either guide them on the path to greatness, or happiness, whatever they'd prefer...or complete and total ruin.

Hopefully it won't end up being the last one...

If it wasn't clear by now, I'm relying on players filling in the time they spend off-screen to fill in the gaps that the adventures don't cover. Although maybe I should work on a series of applicable REs to fill in those gaps a bit more? Hmm...that'd be an easier question to answer after I see what Y2 really looks like, as well as this whole adventure chain. Assuming it even gets added in the first place and everything.

In any case, that's the extent of it you'll (likely) see in Y2. More is of course planned, and decisively not planned (bonus points to anything who manages to suss that out, as I belatedly did) but part of the whole thing anyway, maybe. Possibly. We'll see...eventually...

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