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Y2 WIP Adventures (come and proof-read!)

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Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 11:

Spoiler

With your (work in progress) map of the...as far as you can find unnamed continent that the novels take place on in hand you head off to the Venalicium to see if it actually works. Of course surface geography is...not a common subject. You're sure there will be at least some books in the Venalicium about it, but those'll likely take some digging to find. Good thing you're a second year Academagia student, huh? You'd be downright embarrassed if you couldn't find books in the Venalicium by this point.

First things first you check in with the front desk in case any of the librarians there can point you in the right direction. They can't. Afterwards you hit up the registry to look through promising titles. Surface geography isn't a subject that titles are going to be subtle about, you feel like, so you quickly skim through the list looking for obvious books to check. Your intuition is not proven wrong, at least immediately. You note down two books that sounds promising, check where they're kept, and head off into the darkness were it not for the magical lights hanging around. These books are in the Venalicium, alright. Deep inside the Venalicium...

In front of...and behind, come to think of it...and-really, just surrounded on all sides by aged bookshelves and the musty tomes they contain you finally find one of the titles you're looking for. After blowing off the dust you open it up to give a quick look, to make sure this is the book you're looking for. Unfortunately it's just dry text all the way through, no illustrations at all. Unfortunate, but quickly skimming the text it seems solid nevertheless, so you'll take it. Didn't the author hear the one about a picture being worth a thousand words, though? Guy must have been paid by the word and not by the lesson, the cheapskate.

"Hang on, [PC FIRST NAME]," a quiet voice suddenly calls out behind you, nearly causing you to jump straight out of your shoes and through the roof. Because that's what you needed to make a dry textbook more exciting - recovering from nearly having a heart attack! "Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to startle you," the voice quickly adds, though you don't look even slightly convinced of that as you slowly turn around and get a look at your mysterious guest among the shelves. Turns out you've been cornered by Cordelia Troublepot. Huh. Wasn't expecting her, honestly. Like, her voice obviously should have given her away but you were just so sure it'd be either Grainne or Rikildis that you honestly didn't even notice the different voice. While you're recovering from that Cordelia sneakily steps closer and steals a glance as the book in your hand. "'The Complete Compendium of Surface Biomes', huh? Would you mind if I asked why you need a book like that, [PC FIRST NAME]?"

That's actually a good question. You don't want people to know why you need this book, but if you can just pass if off as "homework" you really don't care. You're starting to feel like that excuse might be getting a bit long in the tooth, though. And why is Cordelia here asking you about what books you need, anyway? Forget your "homework", that's the real question here. "Do you need it as well?" you ask in turn, trying to deflect Cordelia's question. Or at least change the subject in case she does actually want the book herself for whatever incomprehensible reason. Would be really funny if she ended up having been recruited by Matteo to do the same thing Keith asked you to do, though. Funny and kinda frustrating.

Cordelia shakes her head. So much for the easy way out. "Professor di Lucca Alazzo postponed several meetings because of an 'unexpected workload' he refuses to say anything about, and I'm getting a bit nervous. I'm worried about what's eating up his time, but from what I've heard you've apparently been saddled with some really curious 'homework' and should maybe know something about it, supposedly. So as much as I don't want to rely on rumors I thought you'd be the best person to ask about it. I'd approach the Legate if I could, but he's been really on top of his game lately. Hiding from people, I mean. So, if you don't mind me asking...what's going on?"

Huh...so you were right on having dragged out the "homework" excuse a bit too much. As for how to get Cordelia off your back, since these are questions that you'd rather not answer...

[PC FRIENDS with CORDELIA]-Tell Cordelia the truth. You know you can trust your friend, and she hates to gossip anyway.
--"The truth is a long story, and one that I was asked not to spread around. Your regent likewise I imagine, but if it really bothers you so much...promise not to tell anyone?" Cordelia nods, and you're happy to see that afterwards she visibly looks relived. These postponed meeting were really weighing on her that much, huh? You should ask her about that later. "Alright, than lets go. But trust me, you will not believe some of the nonsense I've gone through recently."

"I'll take that bet," Cordelia says with a friendly smirk as she follows you to a study cubicle.

The two of you spend a while in the study cubicle talking, gossiping (a little bit, mainly you trying to tease some information out of Cordelia and failing to get her to bite) and mulling over your map and the book that describes, in helpful detail, the degrees to which it doesn't actually work. In hindsight you're really glad that you decided to go the extra mile and check this stuff, since the primary aspect that's completely off is actually Matteo's intended battlefield. But some adjustments here, some notes and reference material for Matteo to look into later there, quickly giving your notes another look to see if anything else is affected by this new information...old hat, really. You've definitely gotten used to this.

You're unashamedly excited about your progress by the end of it, and Cordelia even more so. This whole project is definitely running like her clockwork, and barring any further unexpected interruptions you expect to be done with it pretty soon!

-Lie. Don't tell the truth.
--"Homework," you answer with a straight face. As expected Cordelia doesn't seem to believe you, but when lying it's better to go all-in than change your story twenty times until you finally cobble together the "perfect" patchwork of excuses. The latter tends to be a lot less believable, needless to say. "I know, it's weird, but it's what it is. And if you get a chance to get some favor with a professor, you take it, you know?"

Cordelia remains sceptical, but she doesn't seem to have clued in on the fact that you're lying to her face. Which, yes, is a key distinction. "Than...why does Professor di Lucca Alazzo refuse to say anything about it? If it's just homework?"

Oh, clever! Good question by Cordelia, but of course you've got an answer prepared for every possible question. Hopefully. You shrug and answer, "I don't know, actually. I wasn't told."

"You never asked why the regent has you doing all of this random stuff?" Cordelia, looking at you a bit perplexed, asks.

"Didn't see a reason to, honestly. I'm sure he's got his reasons, whatever they are, but I'm hoping the secretive nature of it all means that by the time it's all said and done my reward for helping him with be that much sweeter."

Cordelia looks thoroughly annoyed at that answer, even through she tries to hide it. Of course she doesn't because she's clued in on the fact that you're lying to her face. She's annoyed at her regent, for whatever reason. "Any chance you'd...no, of course not. Never mind, [PC FIRST NAME]. Sorry for bothering you."

With that said Cordelia turns around and stomps off, although the force of her rage hitting the floor fails to so much as shake the dust off of the tomes surrounding her. Not the best outcome, perhaps, but you've got your book and a clear path to a study cubicle as far as you know. So...mission accomplished!

--You try the tried and true method of passing it off as homework, it's a cliche for a reason, but Cordelia doesn't believe you. Fine, you'll do better. You add a few details you make up on the spot, make it sound better, but Cordelia is still not convinced. You keep going, but again, not convinced.

Eventually, after practically coming up with half a play on the spot - and a good one, if you do say do yourself - Cordelia turns around and stomps off, more annoyed than you've ever seen her. How did that not work? The perfect excuse, the most carefully constructed and well thought out...well, okay, the best piece of improv you've ever come up with, and Cordelia just...walks off? Sure, whatever. She's out of your hair, so...missions accomplished?

-Speaking Quietly of Riddles. Do tell the truth...technically.
--???

--???

-Ethics. Determine whether you should tell Cordelia or not.
--"I can say it doesn't involve your meetings being postponed. Why I need this book, I mean," you say. You add that the regent is merely busy, but Cordelia slowly, nervously, starts to shakes her head.

"Do you know what those postponed meetings are about?" she pointedly asks after you fall silent. You shake your head in response. You've a good educated guess, but nothing more. "Than how can you know for sure that they're not related?"

Hmm...Cordelia has you there, leaving you with quite the dilemma. On the one hand neither you or Keith want to say too much about why you need this book. On the other hand you feel like Cordelia has a right to know that these postponed meetings are because of an outside situation, nothing to do with her personally, and she clearly seems torn about it. Keith's (and Matteo's) privacy, or Cordelia's feelings? Put like that you have to side with Cordelia's feelings, to be honest. Keith and Matteo would understandably be upset if Cordelia went on to shout stuff over the rooftops, which you absolutely cannot believe the girl doing in any way, shape or form, but Cordelia seems upset as is and only will be more so if you don't answer her. It's worth the risk. If you were talking to, say, Rikildis you'd probably have come to a different conclusion, but Cordelia really is not the kind of person who gossips if she can help it.

You offer to explain the situation in a study cubicle, seeing as how you're going there and you'd prefer not to have a lengthy conversation surrounded by musty tomes and layers of dust (Cordelia readily agrees), and do just that after the two of you sit down. Cordelia is both perplexed and excited at your explanation about the situation with Keith and Astrid, and how that lead to Professor di Lucca Alazzo's time mysteriously disappearing, although (somewhat hypocritically, you feel...) she doesn't want to explain why at all. Instead she offers to help you with figuring out your map, which is an offer you do take Cordelia up on.

It turns out that the map is mostly fine, with notable exception of Matteo's intended battlefield. That one takes a fair bit of adjusting in order to talk right, and you go so far as to leave some notes and reference material for Matteo to look into later. Beyond that, after quickly giving your notes another look to see if anything else is affected by this new information, things seem fine. You've definitely gotten used to this.

So that's another aspect resolved. This whole project is just running like her clockwork. In fact (barring any further unexpected interruptions) you expect to be done with it pretty soon!

--"I can say it doesn't involve your meetings being postponed. Why I need this book, I mean." you say. You add that the regent is merely busy, but Cordelia slowly, nervously, starts to shakes her head.

"Do you know what those postponed meetings are about?" she pointedly asks after you fall silent. You shake your head in response. "Than how can you know for sure that they're not related?"

"Because they're not", you think to yourself as you wonder how Cordelia's meetings with Professor di Lucca Alazzo could possibly be related to this. Unless she actually was recruited by Matteo to do the same stuff you've been doing, but...seriously? There's no way that's the answer, is it?

In any case Cordelia impatiently asks again, but you stand firm on Keith's privacy and refuse to tell her anything. Even if Cordelia doesn't believe you there's just no way that her meetings and your "homework" is at all related, so there's no reason to breach Keith's privacy.

Obviously Cordelia is unhappy with that outcome, but what are you supposed to do about that? It's what it is, and you don't let it bother you as you take your book and get to studying...not that you're able to avoid getting distracted, thinking about the situation and how you (mis)handled it over and over...

-Character Study. Is there more to Cordelia's questions than she's saying?
--Cordelia manages to maintain a fairly composed face, but either way you can suss out that she must be really upset about these postponed meetings. Otherwise Cordelia, who normally is not a fan of gossip in any way, shape or form, would not have cornered you like this based on what other students were saying about you behind your back. Moreover, Cordelia looks more than just annoyed at being sidelined in terms of her regent's attention. She's nervous, hesitant beyond what is normal even considering that this whole situation must be taking her pretty far out of her comfort zone. Does she want those postponed meetings to continue, or is she here to confirm that they've been called off entirely? Because you can't tell how she really feels about them.

All that said it shouldn't be too hard to convince Cordelia to drop this subject. At the same time, though, you're mildly curious about what's going with these meetings...

--Maybe? For as many books as people have written on the subject at the end of the day one frown is the same as any other, isn't it? Cordelia is annoyed and looking for an answer, doesn't seem to be any more complicated than that as far as you can see.

[MALE PC, HIGH RELATIONSHIP/AFFECTION WITH Cordelia(?)]--Flirting. Ask Cordelia about these postponed meetings, offer her some support.
---You try to politely throw what Cordelia asked you right back at her, whether she'd mind telling you about what's going on with her. But how difficult it is to not make that come across as insulting, combined with the fact that Cordelia is looking right at you the entire time, causes you to nervously stumble over your words. Worse, by the end of it you're all too aware of how much your heart is starting to race. Still, you buckle up as much as you can and stand on what you said. As shaky a foundation as that patchwork mess of botched words you ultimately put together is.

"Are you feeling alright, [PC FIRST NAME]?" Cordelia eventually asks, but despite her words you swear that she doesn't actually sound concerned. There's a hint of playfulness, of amusement to it. And indeed, the corner of Cordelia's mouth is daring to show the faintest smile. "The professors must really be running you ragged. Come on, let me give you a hand with that book. I might not be an historian, but I'll help out with whatever they've got you studying." Slightly confused about the unexpected direction this ended up taking you hold out the (admittedly thick and pretty heavy) book for Cordelia to take, and as she does you can feel her hand brush against yours. That was no accident, that was deliberate...actually, that was more than deliberate, that was foretold. "Give you a hand with that book", huh? Devious little girl. "Alright, off to a study cubicle," Cordelia says with that same playful-ish tone. Though with a serious, more quiet voice she adds, "I want to know what Professor di Lucca Alazzo has been up to...and to get why that's bothering me so much off my chest."

You nod at that. Yes, Keith asked you to keep it quiet, but you know Cordelia. She won't spread the story around, you know she won't, and you'd like to support her. So you follow Cordelia to a study cubicle, and there the two of you spend a while sharing information. You about all that you've seen and been through since meeting Astrid and Keith, Cordelia about her meetings with her regent and why she's both excited and scared of them at the same time. In short, Professor di Lucca Alazzo has been introducing Cordelia around to possible mentors and/or backers, and has encouraged her to strike up correspondence with folks of similar bents who aren't local - which she has. For the most part this has been exciting for her, she's had a great time at the Academagia so far and is looking forwards to expanding that scope (so to speak), but there's a part of her that can't help but be terrified at the same time. Cordelia knows that sooner or later she'll run into someone who'll deceive her, exploit her, or worse. And while that's not enough to convince her to seclude herself she nevertheless is afraid of what will happen when, inevitably, she'll encounter the wrong person.

Professor di Lucca Alazzo suddenly cancelling a bunch of meetings because of Astrid's little project unexpectedly taking up his time, and the regent not telling Cordelia about that because Keith doesn't want that story to spread around, has allowed Cordelia's fear to finally overcome her excitement. And so she came to you looking for answers.

"You have no idea how happy I am to know that Professor di Lucca Alazzo had to cancel our meetings for this, of all things," Cordelia, visibly relieved, says as she falls in the study cubicle's chair as best she can. Given that they're little more than boards of wood, fit for no purpose other than to have a less uncomfortable place to sit on than the actual floor, Cordelia probably doesn't look as relieved as she actually is. "Anyway, enough about me," she quickly adds before you get the chance to ask her about how happy she really is. "You needed help with figuring out this map, right? Well, I honestly don't know how much help I can be but I'll do what I can."

Cordelia does end up helping out a fair bit, in her own way...embarrassing as it is to admit having to do this by yourself, alone, would have been quite boring if not actually hard...and you can't argue with the results, either. The primary aspect that doesn't work with the map you drew is actually Matteo's intended battlefield - apparently combining coast and a large mountain chain leads to rainfall patterns which Matteo completely failed to guess correctly. But some adjustments here, some notes and reference material for the man to look into later there, quickly giving your own notes another look to see if anything else is affected by this new information...old hat, really. You've definitely gotten better at this.

You're unashamedly excited about your progress by the end of it, and Cordelia even more so...not that she still doesn't deflect your every attempt at asking her about that. You don't want to pry, but than trusting that coy smile of hers...? Eh, she'll tell you if it's important enough. You feel like you can trust her on that. Either way this whole project is definitely running like Cordelia's clockwork, and barring any further unexpected interruptions you expect to be done with it pretty soon!

---You try to throw what Cordelia asked you right back at her, whether she'd mind telling you about what's going on with her. Unfortunately your attempt at doing so fails miserably, as your question comes across as nothing short of insulting. Thankfully your tone wasn't dripping with sarcasm to match, something that Cordelia hopefully picked up on, but even so you're left staring at your feet with a pale face and feeling a cold chill all over.

Cordelia, for her part, silently stares at you with a curious, questioning expression before silently turning around, and leaving.

Eh...yeah. That was not your finest moment. You'll have to apologize to her later, assuming you'll ever dare to face her again. For now you take your heavy book to a study cubicle and half-heartedly read through it, not even paying attention at all as the whole scene, short as it was, repeats in your mind again and again...

I really should stop trying to solve problems through Speaking Quietly of Riddles, because I have no idea how to make it work...

Edited by Metis

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Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 12:

Spoiler

You're in your room, silently putting the finishing touches on the last...creative piece of Keith's little homework project. Which was simultaneously easier and harder than anything the Legate must have been doing - this Matteo fellow is a few clues short of a proper riddle and that's being generous!

You're knocked out of your concentration when there's a sudden knock on your door, though you swear your felt your head get hit as much as the wood. You're tired, you can tell, but you're also close to finishing...or were. You put your quill down, get up, and lazily walk over to your door while mumbling something along the lines of "I'm coming".

You open your door, but there's no one on the other side. The hallway is empty too. All there is, once you think to look down, is a single piece of folded paper dropped lazily in front of your door. How mysterious. A prank from Rui? An unsigned love letter from a secret admirer? Rikildis trying to make you think that it's an unsigned love letter from a secret admirer when it's actually from Rikildis trying to bait you into revealing whether you secretly admire someone before revealing to the secretly admired person that they've got a secret admirer by dropping what looks like an unsigned love letter in front of them but what is actually an unsigned letter spelling out the fact that they've got a secret admirer in a distinctly un-romantic way? And from the wrong person besides?

Call her thorough, but that girl can go a bit far sometimes...

You pick up the paper, and so far disaster fails to happen. No fires, no strange smells, no oddly colored smoke, no explosions and definitely no combination thereof. That's good, you suppose. Despite the paper's size there's only two sentences written on it:

"I want to have a word with you about that alchemist. I'll be waiting in the Garden Gallery.

-Aenor Charpentier"

That name...kinda sorta rings a bell somewhere in the back of your mind? It sounds a bit familiar, but...

-Memorization. Try and remember where you recall the name from.
--It takes a second, but sifting through your memories of all the stories you've gathered of what stunts some other students have pulled over the years (great examples of what not to do, and all without having to embarrass yourself) you do recall the name Aenor Charpentier. She tried to start a "pro-republic club" during her first year in the Academagia, which would be the year before you joined as a first year. And...well, long story short is that a number of people briefly put aside their usual Aranaz against Durand differences in order to mercilessly burn that whole idea down to the ground. You've never gotten a clear idea of the details, but frankly the end result speaks for itself. That's given Aenor a lasting reputation as a Pievran shill, not that she did anything to justify that reputation in the past two years. At least anything that managed to reach your ears. Not sure why a girl like that would drop a message in front of your dorm room, though.

Hmm...did you asking about Matteo's war inspire any rumors? Something certainly did, if Cordelia tracking your down that one time is any indication. But, no, the letter mentions her wanting to talk about "that alchemist". Sid you mention an alchemist at any point? You...gateway city, theoretical war, something else before you checked the map situation...was there something you asked about before the map situation? Ah...you can't remember. Damn this fatigue, you feel like there was but you can't remember. Nor whether you mentioned alchemy or "that alchemist" at any point...

It doesn't really matter. Either way you're going to have to deal with this, one way or another, although the best course of action would be to try talking to her first. There's no better way to figure out what's on her mind, and in terms of keeping things on the down low it'd be best to not get any unnecessary people involved. At least for the moment.

--You spend a while going through whatever texts you've got available in your dorm, but you can't remember who this person is. At least not from memory. You're confident that Aenor isn't a student in your year, but beyond that? You're drawing a blank.

Regardless, better go and see what...she? You think she. Better go and see what she wants, before she gets any ideas about needing to do something more drastic to get your attention. You really don't need that in your life right now...

-Gossip. Discreetly remind yourself of who this is.
--You go to your Common Room and ask around whether anyone...noteworthy recently came through. You don't mention the message you got, enough people are gossiping about you as is and you don't feel like giving them yet more to talk about on that topic, so you just broadly fish around for anything obvious. As luck would have it you get it: [RANDOM SAME PC COLLEGE STUDENT] mentions seeing Aenor Charpentier walk into and out of your area of the dorms really quickly, like she didn't really do much of anything. At least didn't have the time to.

Aenor Charpentier...right, yes, that name does ring a bell now that you think about it. She tried to start a "pro-republic club" two years back, and that idea was mercilessly burned down to the ground. Unfortunately you were never able to figure out exactly why people objected to it as much as they did, it always seemed too...personal to merely be differences in political ideas. Pity you weren't there to see it first-hand, all you've got are second-hand accounts at best. Either way Aenor has a reputation for being a Pievran shill to this day, although if she did anything to justify that reputation in the past two years it's never managed to reach your ears. Which means it must have been a quiet affair indeed. That girl is on a lot of people's lists still, as far as you know. Which makes you wonder why you're on hers. Why would a girl like that would drop a message in front of your dorm room? Hmm...

You consider asking around about it, but no. Honestly you've said too much already. You don't want the rumors about you to spread any further than they have already, and asking around is just going to inspire more people to ask questions and think of stupid answers. The best move right now would be to go and talk to Aenor directly and get this whole "secret meeting" thing swept under a rug as quietly as possible.

Given the fact that she dropped a signed letter in front of your door you have to assume that Aenor thinks the same, at least for the moment. So this meeting should go just fine, so long as you're careful...

--You head off towards the Great Hall and see about trying to maybe get some clues, but it seems like every other person is talking about your antics right now and you don't feel like throwing even more fuel onto that fire is going to accomplish anything you'd be proud of. You're really going to have to deal with these gossipers sooner or later if this keeps up, but for right now you're just left in the dark.

Speaking of which, better not leave Aenor herself in the dark by not meeting up with her. The last thing you need right now is to give her any ideas about needing to spread stories around to get your attention, especially when she's the one behind this latest one...

This stage and the next one were recently overhauled, so beware issues. This is why I usually "finish" an adventure before starting to post it, but things happened as they did.

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Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 13:

Spoiler

You head off to the Garden Gallery and find your quarry impatiently fidgeting in one of the Gallery's many dead ends, sitting uncomfortably on a statue of a big fish that looks like it'd make a better bench than Aenor is giving it credit for. For better or worse you feel like you're about to learn why.

Aenor suddenly looks up when she sees you approach, and silently beckons you over to sit down next to her. You'd be lying if you said that you trust her, but you're willing to sit down next to her. Slowly, after making sure that nothing appears to be amiss. "Did you get my message in time?" Aenor quietly whispers, leaving you wondering if she really didn't cast any sort of Glamour on her or on this corner to stop people from listening in. A reasonably capable first year could pull that off, so you'd certainly expect at least that much Glamour from a third year Hedi student.

"In time for what?" you bluntly ask. Seeing as how this is not what you'd like to be doing right now you're not really in the mood for polite small talk.

"For whatever that man is scheming," is the answer you get. Very comforting to know that this girl has a firm handle on whatever this mysterious affair is...in her dreams. Since when is "scheming" something that Keith does, for starters? You can't say that the man struck you as the scheming type, and if he is than you're sure he just loves having two regents and the Legate breathing down his neck. "Don't you know who he is, his history before he came to Mineta?" Aenor asks, and you (reluctantly) have to admit that, in truth, you don't. You also didn't really care, mainly because a guy who introduces himself as a performer of bloody chirurgery experiments on the closest he can come to living people, in order to eventually perform said techniques on actual living people, is peak shady no matter where he comes from and what he did. You're willing to let Aenor say her piece, to satisfy your curiosity if nothing else, but you highly doubt anything she has to tell you will ultimately change your opinion of the man. And if anything did you would immediately counter it with "there's no way Professor Briardi and the Legate both haven't noticed and warned me about it if any of that was even remotely true".

"He's a fugitive from Pievre," Aenor explains. Your socks have (so far) failed to grow wings and fly off. "I couldn't tell you all what happened in Pievre, not first hand, but I know that alchemist fled the country wanted for a number of crimes. Sedition, heresy, possession and suspected abuse of illegal Saisyne spices, name it. The guy's got connections to the wrong people, and no doubt even worse plans brewing. He might not be as...directly active, here in Mineta, but regardless he's bad news."

You frown at that. You can't recall seeing or smelling any odd spices in Keith's little forest home and heresy in Pievre is something completely different from heresy in any other part of the former Empire, so either way you can't say that you opinion was changed by that. Sedition, though? As in, actual concentrated effort to subvert Pievre's government? Why? How? Nothing the man has ever said or done within your presence makes you believe any of that. Still, you'll admit that you're no more willing to believe the idea that Aenor is just completely insane. So you ask her whether she knows, for sure, what all the man actually ever did.

"I'm afraid I don't have an answer to that. The man had an escape route prepared ahead of time, which should tell you something considering he ended up needing it too, and using that he fled before anyone could question him. The authorities did their best, of course, but he left a lot of unanswered questions behind," Aenor admits, which leaves you with mixed feelings. "That man is cunning, clever. He never shows anyone his real face, he has connections with people you don't want to deal with, and right now he even seems willing to play a long game with so many pawns that I'm sure even he will lose track of them soon." Yeah...you're not convinced by any of this. You can totally believe that people are more than they seem and all of that, even Keith, but again: Two regents and the Legate. No matter how poor a judge of character you might be you just can't get a word in against those two, so to speak. Aenor, however, frowns at your obvious scepticism. "You know, you've been asking some very weird questions lately, [PC FIRST NAME]. If you think you know the man better than I do than pray tell what you've been doing that has you asking around about a theoretical war, unless my ears deceived me. Rest assured, I'm very curious."

Alright, point for Aenor there, that wasn't your brightest (or most discreet) moment. Unfortunately you're sure that she'd never accept "it was for a book I'm helping write", but what are you supposed to say beyond that? The dumbest, most cliche excuse of all dumb, cliche excuses is actually the truth this time - there's a reason it's a classic! So you're actually not sure how to respond here...

"I won't ask you to explain yourself if you've gotten yourself caught up in something you shouldn't have, [PC FIRST NAME]," Aenor suddenly says with a completely different tone than her (entirely valid) inquisitive question earlier. It feels like she's trying to pull a good guard, bad guard routine on you with just herself, so the effect falls a little flat. "I know how embarrassing it can be to admit that you made a mistake, but I also understand how important it can be. I won't ask what you've been doing, but I do need to know: Have you gotten yourself caught up in something you shouldn't? Met the wrong people, bought into the wrong promises, and found yourself on the wrong side? Because if so you really need to cut those ties and get the professors involved, no matter what you've been told. If you're afraid of talking, if you're being threatened, just tell me. I'll bring word to the faculty and tell the world it was me who figured you out. No one else needs to know the truth." Looking pointedly at you, right in the eyes, Aenor slowly adds, "But I do."

You're...really not sure how to respond to that. Aenor is genuinely concerned about what you've gotten yourself into? You suppose if you at all believed her accusations, as she seems to, than you could easily see where she's coming from. And yes, even you find it hard to believe that she's completely and utterly wrong about all of it. Surely there must be some hint of truth to it, otherwise why would Aenor believe any of it? She doesn't seem the type to believe something like that simply because someone told her as much. But this entire idea about Keith being this evil, conniving villain secretly planning to overthrow Pievre's government or whatever is just ridiculous! Never mind the fact that the guy never gave you any sort of impression that anything of the sort could be the case, you know better than to assume you're a perfect judge of character, but surely you can trust two regents and the Legate to have clued in that something was off if there was any truth to that story. Surely. And if not than what in Octavius' name are you supposed to do about it? Not help Keith (and not even Keith so much as Matteo, really) help piece this fantasy novel together? In what way is that book supposed to be a secret instrument of Pievre's downfall, exactly? Matteo is certifiably crazy with some of his ideas, but that would be crazy on a completely different level!

In any case you feel like it's time to put an end to this farce. You've every reason to believe there's no grand conspiracies or schemes going on, time to share that information.

-Tell Aenor that the Legate is already on the case, assuming there even is one.
--You're not sure how Aenor doesn't know about the professors helping Keith when she's pieced together that you're helping him, quite frankly, but regardless it's a moot point right now. You wanted to give her a chance to say her piece-which was definitely worth it, in hindsight. You would never have guessed how concerned she really is about the whole ordeal otherwise. That said you've given her her chance to say her piece, but now it's time to bring her theories back down to the ground and mercilessly set them on fire. You point out to Aenor that the two regents and the Legate have been on the case for basically as long as you have. You further add that if there's any secret schemes attached to Matteo's book (not that you mention the man by name, of course) than you weren't able to suss out that anything was being planned, but you're confident that if something was than the Legate if not Professor Briardi surely would have figured it out by now. And if they did you'd have been informed and taken far away from it all, or at least given a convincing excuse to that effect. Aenor looks surprised at this revelation, though you're still wondering how it's a revelation at all. Cordelia figured this much out as well, didn't she? So why couldn't Aenor do the same?

"If the professors are already involved themselves than I won't blame you for believing you're not in any danger," Aenor, after thinking her answer over for a moment, slowly says. It's clear that she's still concerned, and unconvinced of Keith's innocence, but at least she's willing to believe you. "That said my warning still stands: That man is an escaped criminal with a kind of past that doesn't let go easily, on either end. Even if he wants to turn over a new leaf his old contacts won't just forget him, and he won't easily forget the sweet taste of what all he once had either. That how spices work, that's why they're illegal. I don't, can't believe he's given up on getting even, either. Getting some kind of vengeance or twisted 'justice' for what people did to him, after what he did to himself if not others in turn. I won't tell you what you should and shouldn't do, especially if Professor Briardi and the Legate both already know about it and don't see any harm in it. But I will ask you to be careful. People can change. And if not that they can turn out to be someone other than who you thought they were."

"Sure. But doesn't that advice apply in reserve, too? That people, even after going through bad times and worse experiences, can change for the better and turn over a new leaf?"

Aenor actually nods. "If they're given the chance, yes. Don't get me wrong, I'd be happy to learn that alchemist did exactly that in the end. And I'll admit that with Professor Briardi and the Legate working together with him it certainly seems to be the case," she admits. "But in my experience it's harder to turn over a new leaf than it is to have the past refuse to let go of you, even if you want to let go of it. I don't mind being wrong about this, [PC FIRST NAME]. What I mind is not being sure. Or, worse, being right."

Getting the feeling like Aenor was talking about herself moreso than "that alchemist" at the end there, which you take as your cue to ask if that is all. Aenor nods. You nod, say you'll keep the warning in mind and return to your dorm room, to continue working on Matteo's project. Whatever it truly is and especially what it truly isn't, but even so the whole meeting leaves you with mixed feelings. You know from the correspondence that something happened in Keith's past, not that he ever mentioned it in any sort of detail but the signs were definitely there between the lines. But is he really a bad guy in disguise? Are his experiments a front for something much darker? You don't believe it. Don't want to believe it, really. You want to believe Astrid, that Professor Briardi and the Legate would have sussed out something was amiss if Keith wasn't on the up-and-up...as much as a shady guy like him can be, at any rate.

Ultimately you stand by what you said: If there was something wrong the professors would have noticed it by now, and if they didn't than you never stood a chance anyway. But that doesn't get rid of all of your doubts. Your information, Aenor's side of the story, Keith's side which he seemingly refuses every opportunity to talk about...you're just not sure...

Another one of my attempts at being subtle.

"Attempts", key word :rolleyes:.

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Big Dreams of the Small Familiar, stage 14:

Spoiler

You're in your dorm room dragging yourself through a homework project when you hear a series of knocks on your door. "Delivery for [PC FIRST NAME]," a female voice which sounds like it belongs to an older teenager calls out. Which is strange. Not only are you not expecting something to be delivered right this second, but you don't know many older teenage girls who'd deliver something to your dorm room and address you by your first name. An upperclassman? You don't think any who's voice you wouldn't recognize would casually address you by your first name like that. Strange indeed...either way you get up and slowly walk up to your door. No faster way to get an answer than straight from the mare's mouth, after all.

You open your door, and immediately your mouth follows suit as your jaw decides that it has a late date with your shoes. Hate it when it does that. Standing on the other side of your door with a small, book-shaped item wrapped in plain gift wrappings in one hand, is a mostly human-looking girl who appears to be around the age of an upperclassman. You say "mostly" because her eyes are a dark shade of red, not an unflattering color but certainly not normal looking, and her ears are just a weird mess of two sharp lines leading to tipped ends, between which another, smaller pointed segment pokes out even further than the rest. You genuinely hope that this girl never feels like getting earrings, because you have no idea where to even begin with the mess of skin forming sideways mountains on both sides of her head. As for the rest her hair is a comfortably normal carpet of thick, long, dark brown stands, and although you have to admit that she makes it work you objectively have no idea what this girl's clothes are even trying to achieve. It's like a butler and a housemaid had a fight about who's uniform was better-looking, and after a long night of increasingly alcohol-fuelled debate they finally just decided to split the difference and merge their outfits together. It looks good on her, she makes it work, but looking at all the pieces individually it just looks like the outfit has no idea what it is let stand what it's doing.

"Hm-hm, what? Don't you recognize me, [PC FIRST NAME]?" the girl, giggling like a schoolgirl a few years younger than she looks, happily asks. And, eh, no. You definitely don't recognize her. Although...

"Astrid?" you ask, just as a random guess. The girl, with a broader smile on her face than Astrid's entire waist last you saw her, nods. "Seriously? You? You're Astrid? The same Astrid who had to be rescued from a bunch of wolves while hiding out in a hollow log not that long ago?"

The girl nods. Unbelievable. So your efforts to help the Legate ditch his office work actually paid off? "You won't find me hiding in trees anymore," Astrid (still hard to believe) proudly says. "Even better, with these arms and legs I've been climbing those things lately! You have no idea how much fun it is to climb up a tree the old-fashioned way. Just climb up and pick whatever I want from the branches I can reach, rather than having to levitate up to reach whatever low-hanging fruit there is to grab and then slowly falling back down to the ground with my oversized bounty."

You can only imagine. Astrid needed magic to reach your knee before, now she's actually taller than you! "So this is your new, eh...frame, body? Whichever, this is the new you now?" Astrid nods, just in time for [RANDOM SAME PC COLLEGE SAME PC GENDER NPC STUDENT FIRST NAME] walking through the dorm's hallways to stop dead in [his/her] tracks and stare, perplexed, at Astrid. Right, she probably looks a little...weird to the rest of the world, huh? Might want to address that. "Well, if you've got time come on in. I definitely want to hear about what all happened."

Astrid nods, though as she walks in she side-eyes [NPC STUDENT FIRST NAME] and gives you a not-so-subtle wink. Seems like she's already gotten used to being stared at, and people's attempts to avoid getting stared at by association. Not too surprising to be honest, but...kinda sad too. Though you have to say that Astrid doesn't look bothered at all. Less bothered than [NPC STUDENT FIRST NAME] who is so going straight to...whatever Rikildis calls her office or club room or whatever, you just know it. "Don't worry about people talking about me behind my back," Astrid confidently starts as she sits down on your closest thing to a couch (that is, your bed) for a change. "I'm used to it, and now that I can actually look people in the eyes properly it's really not that bad besides. Not to mention that Matteo's next book has put the new printing press through it's paces, so given time even more people will learn to recognize me for what I am." Learn to recognize...? Oh now it finally hits you, that book series! That's where Astrid's current frame comes from, the homunculi in there look exactly the same. Down to the weird maid/butler combo outfit which was undeniably thought of by Matteo before he figured out how such outfits work, even if the idea and intent behind the weird outfit was perfectly valid. Truthfully you don't think you'll ever forget the time when you read through weeks of correspondence containing deep philosophical discussion between two people that never got the bright idea to ask a weaver to give them some actual answers. Especially now that there's living proof thereof standing in front of you.

"New book? I only gave Keith his big batch of 'homework' recently. Does Matteo really work that fast?" you ask, looking confused at Astrid's book-shaped package. Surely all of that couldn't fit in that small of a book, right? Dear word you hope not.

"No, I'm afraid this isn't the next major entry," Astrid clarifies as she gives you the book. You silently start to unwrap it as she continues to explain. "This is the final short story for the second major entry, basically the last of Matteo's piled up backlog he's been sitting on since his printing press broke down. Work has started on the third main entry, but given how busy he is working through his backlog I suspect that'll be a while yet..."

Can't help but note how disappointed Astrid sounds there. As for your new book, it's a short story about one of the more important characters from the first main entry who was rather conspicuously absent from the second. Though if you remember the notes correctly he actually ends up showing his face very early on in the upcoming third major entry, in the gateway city. You don't recall those notes saying anything about the man's actual journey there beyond "presumably it happened", though. And his homunculus servant which ended up being the second book's major love interest (that this doesn't even sound weird to you anymore says something about how used you've become to Matteo's brand of insanity, quite frankly) didn't have much to say about that either...curious to find out what all Matteo came up with. And Keith, for that matter.

"I hope you like it," Astrid says, snapping you out of your thoughts. "I know the short stories can be a bit...polarizing, but I think Matteo is getting a good handle on making them less different than the main stories. Not to the point where they're no longer the short stories of course, just that it's less of an abrupt shift if you dive into one right after reading through a main entry. Or the other way around, of course."

Is that strong praise from someone who obviously likes the series enough to form her own identity around it, or just a strongly biased opinion? You don't know, and decide to ask a different question...

-Ask about Keith's (supposed) criminal record. It's not a nice subject but you want to know.
--Astrid naturally doesn't look amused at what she interprets as an accusation, but you make it clear that you're not accusing Keith of anything, you're only curious where the girl who felt the need to "warn" you is getting her ideas from. In response to that Astrid looks more uncertain than betrayed, which is less of an improvement than you'd like to see. "Does it really matter?" Astrid asks with a tone that clearly goes beyond "disappointed" in any case. "Is it really going to change your opinion of someone who's welcomed you into his home multiple times now?"

"Astrid, please, I'm not accusing Keith of anything. I'm trying to figure out where that whole idea came from in the first place." Astrid looks confused at that, and ask for an explanation. "From the beginning", as she pointedly adds. And you give her one. Starting from how you were perhaps not as discreet with your "homework project" as you perhaps should have been (not that you feel like you went out of your way to let others know, either), to the message you received from Aenor, and everything that happened afterwards. You add, again, that you're not asking about it because you're suspicious of Keith, but because you're confused about who, exactly, you were warned about. "Aenor's message didn't mention Keith by name, and neither did she," you clarify. Which surprises Astrid. "I realized that later. She only said she wanted to talk to me about 'that alchemist', and after thinking about it I'm actually not sure whether that was referring to Keith or his master. Given just 'that alchemist' I'd assume the latter, since that's the man who's actually an alchemist by trade. But, I mean, how well known is it that Keith, not his master, is helping Matteo with that book series? And why is he the one assisting with it, anyway? If he was brought along because of his academic knowledge, alchemical knowledge, why him and not his master?"

It takes a minute for Astrid to mentally sort out all your information, and questions, but afterwards the sad, betrayed look in her eyes is thankfully gone. "I honestly have no idea," she eventually says while slowly shaking her head, lost among all of the information which is clearly news to her, too. "I...eh, I mean Matteo and master-no, his master also met before in-"

"Wait, Astrid, hold up," you interrupt before the confused girl starts running twenty places at once. "Slow down, calm down, start from the beginning. You can tell me the truth, I promise I won't think any less of you. Or Keith, for that matter."

Astrid stares at you pretty hard for a minute before quietly whispering, "Promise me." You nod, and give her a hand to shake. It, eh, takes her a few seconds to recognize the gesture, but once she does she takes it with both hands. "Both of them are fugitives," she starts, still staring at your hand, held in hers, with a distant look in her eyes. "Most people never got a clear idea of the situation since master's master was adamant in protecting his student. That's probably why people here only know that 'an alchemist' caused some sort of trouble." You admit that makes sense, and gently ask Astrid if she knows what really happened. She nods her head. "Truthfully, master started it all. My master, I mean. He...back when he was a student in Pievre's University he always got into disagreements with the faculty. I still don't really understand what they were always arguing about, master refuses to talk about it even now, but it was always a big debate every time someone brought it up."

"What do you remember about these arguments, what were they about?" you curiously ask. Astrid has to give it some thought, but she slowly explains that it was about Pievre's veneration of the "human genius". Keith apparently never took to the idea, and refused to go along with it no matter how many times his Classmates and faculty both tried to force him to.

"That eventually reached the point where the faculty could no longer tolerate master's refusal to do as he was told," Astrid continues. "I don't know what happened, but I recall that one day Master was summoned to the headmaster's office and spend a while there. When he came back he was furious, and told me to start collecting his stuff and packing it all up." Oh dear. Even though you can guess how this story ends that still sends a chill down your spine. "Packing everything took some time, but within an hour the two of us grabbed everything we could carry and left the school altogether. Master didn't say anything and I didn't dare ask, but we ended up going to see master's master. He didn't need any explanation, one look at what we brought told him all he needed to know. Without any comments or questions he told master where to go next, and so we ended up boarding a merchant's airship headed south, stepping off in Mineta."

"How long ago was this, exactly?" you ask, curious to get a more accurate idea of when this all happened. You never got a good feel for that, after all.

"Long. I don't remember exactly but at least a decade and change," Astrid answers. "When we first set foot in Mineta, carrying everything we still owned with us on our backs, customs directed us to a temple near the docks, St. Macario. Thankfully the people there believed master's story and offered to help us out. We stayed there for a bit, assisting the people working there as best we could until master's master eventually, inevitably, ended up showing his own face there." You ask Astrid if she has any idea what happened in Pievre in the meantime, even vaguely, but as expected she shakes her head. "Master's master never said anything, and master never asked. And, of course, neither did I. All they ever said about it they said in St. Macario's." You nod, and ask Astrid to continue. "Master's master apologized for 'being late', as he put it, and from there he started making arrangements. Don't ask me how, but that same day he got himself and master hired by one of Mineta's guilds, set up in a small house, and started the process of getting both of them Minetan citizenship. Of course that last one took some time to go through everything, and master and master's master both were called to the guards multiple times for questioning, but eventually they did get their papers."

...Just who is Keith's master, exactly? Because that sounds like an awful lot to make happen in one day, especially after outright fleeing a country with no prior warning as far as Astrid told it! Did the guy have that much prepared!? Because he was expecting trouble? Gods, maybe Aenor was on the right track after all...

"Don't ask me how he managed it, I don't know," Astrid pre-emptively answers. Saves you the trouble of asking the question, you suppose. "In any case, we lived together with master's master for...some amount of years until master decided to quit his guild job and pursue his dream business. He, eh, wasn't the most motivated of workers, alchemy is simply not his calling, so the guild wasn't exactly sad to see him go."

"That, more than anything, is why I'm confused about who people are actually talking about when I get a note mentioning 'that alchemist' and everything," you mention. And yes, Astrid gives you a knowing nod that makes you feel like your...loyalty? Eh, something was proven. "I mean I was helping Keith with that book stuff and he does definitely practice alchemy, so I can see why people would make that mistake if it is one. But at the end of the day he's a chirgeon at heart and occupation insofar that he can be said to have one, not an alchemist. But his master is, and barring someone knowing that it's Keith specifically who's Matteo's contact - which I know at least isn't supposed to be public knowledge, but I don't know how much of an open secret it might or might not be - my first thought would be that Matteo's contact is the guy who's actually passionate about what Matteo wants to know about for his series. So...I'm not sure. I can see the reasoning if Aenor was referring to Keith, but I'm not sure."

Again Astrid nods. She might not have an answer to your questions, but at least she believes you. "I'm not sure either. You'd assume it's referring to master-my master, specifically, since he's the one you were working for and he is Matteo's contact for alchemy-related knowledge, but in addition to what you said it makes no sense for people to warn you about master's 'criminal record' because he didn't do anything. We both left Pievre before any of that was put to paper, and whatever did was because of master's master, who tried his best to protect his student. So..."

"You really should just call Keith by his name, or maybe call his master 'grandmaster' or something," you playfully suggest. "Seriously, this is getting confusing."

"I've actually tried both before, but neither of them would have any of it," Astrid answers with a sigh. "Master because me calling him by his name reminds him of his old girlfriend, and master's master objected to 'making it sound like I'm sixty years old', as I believe he put it. Of course he is actually approaching that age these days, so maybe I can give that one another try."

Keith had a girlfriend? Now there's something that's hard to imagine. Of course despite that you still can't help but smile at Astrid's little slip of the tongue, how at ease she's become since this conversation started. Of course you promise that you won't be spreading any unnecessary gossip. The poor girl looks embarrassed enough as is. "For what it's worth, what I was told is that Keith - or his master, either or - was suspected of sedition, heresy, possession and suspected abuse of illegal Saisyne spices. Does that help narrow down who people were referring to at all?"

Astrid starts to give your question some thought, but all of a sudden that thought goes flying off the path and she stares at you perplexed. "I'm sorry, sedition? Who suspected master, or master's master-hell, who suspected 'that alchemist' of that?"

"No clue," you answer with an earnest shrug. "Based on what you told me I have to assume it's an accusation the authorities placed at the feet of Keith's master, but I have no idea what that guy did while you two were waiting in Mineta. So whether that was deserved or not? Maybe something to try and protect Keith, in some way? I've no idea."

"I'm sure it isn't," Astrid confidently states. "As for that student you mentioned was talking about, I'm...actually not sure. Heresy is something that master made himself 'guilty' of as far as his professors were concerned, but the Saisyne spices is definitely the field of master's master. Not in the sense that he's an addict, mind, he uses them for his anaesthetic research. According to him Saisyne has some of the best natural painkillers there are to find, and he's trying to find a way to get the most out of them."

"Isn't that illegal?" you ask, and Astrid quickly shakes her head.

"Suspicious, perhaps, but not illegal. Well, quasi-legal. It depends on who your friends are. Of course back in Pievre master didn't have many friends, especially in the end, but master's master I'm actually not sure. He definitely knew the merchants who's ship we boarded, but..."

You and Astrid continue to discuss the mystery of who "that alchemist" is for a few hours more, but in the end neither of you are able to definitively say whether you were warned against Keith or his master. In the end it doesn't exactly matter - if Keith himself was that bad a person than you've no doubt that the faculty found out about it already, and if Aenor didn't know about the faculty's involvement because she was actually talking about Keith's master than you're more inclined to take Astrid's word about his character than Aenor's. But talking to Astrid it remains the main topic of conversation (or gossip) until she eventually has to go back home. Of course before she leaves she does mention that Keith's research is nearing completion and has even been submitted to the Academagia for peer reviews. So Astrid, at least, is hopeful that Keith will be able to start up his new business pretty soon, with the aid of Professor di Lucca Alazzo. And, with a bit of a bashful smile, Astrid asks you to visit it once it opens, so that you can see what all your effort helped paved the way for...assuming that it actually works out, of course.

You're sure you will. And hopefully when you do you'll be able to spend hours chatting away with Astrid about less gloomy subjects that you wouldn't be afraid of Keith finding out about...

-Ask what happened with the Legate and all, how Astrid went from looking up at your knee to this.
--"I, eh, actually don't remember what happened all too well," Astrid nervously says. Nervously? No, more like...awkwardly? You get the impression she's embarrassed, but what for? "I know you'll ask so I'll just tell you the truth right now, as much as I don't want to admit it: I kinda...fainted."

You blink, confused. Of all the stories you were expecting this...was not one of them. "You fainted," you repeat, just to make sure you heard Astrid correctly. And indeed, she nods. That's...yeah. Unexpected. "Well, what happened? What made you faint, and where?"

"I was just...well, really nervous," Astrid slowly explains. You, needless to say, are all ears. "One day the Legate walked in and said he finally completed his last preparations, so master and I followed him to the Academagia to perform the transformation. I passed out on the way there, but master carried me and stayed by my side while the professors cast their magic. The next thing I remember is waking up in an isolated wing of this school's Infirmary, looking like this."

Such an amazing story that would have been, reduced to this...wow. Well, that's just life sometimes. "First off, congrats on teaching an Academagia student something [s/he] didn't know before, despite all the books I looked through: Homunculi can faint." Astrid, with a knowing smirk on her face, says that that's also something she learned that day. "Second, you really shouldn't be so embarrassed about it. It was a major, life-changing moment for you. Makes sense that you'd be nervous."

"I never felt that way before, though," Astrid corrects, looking puzzled. "Even when those wolves were trying to eat me I didn't feel anything of the sort. And not because I heard you coming, either, I just never did. Up until that walk to the Academagia I can't recall ever feeling that way before." Huh. That's...odd. You've got a few theories as to why that might be, and although you don't dare guess you do dare to ask more questions.

"Have you ever felt that nervous since?" you start, not expecting that anything could possibly top whatever must have been going through Astrid's mind that day. And indeed, she shakes her head. "Have you experienced anything else similar since you got your new frame? Extreme emotions, or anything you at least don't remember experiencing before?"

"Master has asked me a lot of questions like that since I woke up, but no. I definitely do feel different now that I have this new frame, but I can't say I've experienced any signs of breaking." B-breaking? That sounds...severe. Naturally you ask Astrid about that. "Oh, no, not like the Legate's magic is going to fail. That shouldn't ever happen, my new self is here to stay. I'm talking about me getting the desire to become human, having issues with my stone, stuff like that."

You raise an eyebrow at that, and Astrid, grinning, points to the book in your hands. Right, she's talking about what happens to some of the homunculi in that series - one of the major plot points therein is homunculi inexplicably...developing? Picking up? It's never been clarified, and as someone who's read the behind-the-scences correspondence between Matteo and Keith you can say with authority that neither of them have much of a clue either. But basically some homunculi in that series, chiefly the protagonist from the first main entry and a major character from the second, end up wanting to become human and figuring out a way to actually accomplish that. There's a whole process that's described, from the initial stages to advanced symptoms and the rest of the whole nine yards, but all of that is from a book. Astrid is right in front of you. Surely that book doesn't describe the whole homunculus deal that accurately, does it? You were sure it was just a work of fiction-hell, you researched homunculi before. No books you found in the Venalicium mentioned any of that stuff!

"Want to try listening to my stone?" Astrid suddenly offers, likely in response to your perplexed look. "The...what'd he call it, the tool that the doctor uses to listen to people's hearts - or a homunculi's stone, in this case - is a real thing. My master has made several of them, and I happen to have one on me. I don't mind if you want to give it a try." Yes...wait, you mean-you also recall that from the correspondence! Astrid is talking about a part in the second main entry where Keith's more obscure chirgury knowledge basically ended up writing one part of the story entirely on it's own, and Matteo happily continued on from there. The device Astrid mentioned is indeed a real thing, and although Keith didn't invent it (in the correspondence he credited it's discovery to a Merillian doctor named Courvaise) he did end up creating his own variant of it which the book (and apparently Keith himself?) uses. You didn't think Keith had a use for them, though. Why fiddle around with a hollow tube when you've got magic at your command? For anyone who doesn't have a wand at hand, sure, but you know for a fact that Keith does...in any case, yes, you'd very much like to give that a try. Very curious to know whether Astrid really has a stone like that, and how it sounds if she does. You nevertheless get a bit embarrassed when Astrid reminds you that it will involve her taking her shirt off, but you don't let that get to you. Your curiosity right now is just plain overwhelming.

All the same if anyone chooses now to drop in unannounced in your dorm room and sees you pressing a hearing device too small to see compared to the (relative) size of your head against a shirtless Astrid you are going to behead someone...

Despite the awkwardness, not helped by Astrid's playful teasing, you nevertheless do end up managing to get this wooden tube to connect your ear with Astrid's chest. And indeed, although it's difficult to set up (should have just used your wand in hindsight) you can hear a distinct, constant humming...maybe buzzing-like sound coming from inside her chest. Not at all like a heartbeat, there's no pulse to it, no rhythm. Just a constant, low noise.

"Magical, isn't it?" Astrid asks while you're still listening to the noise, trying to think of what you could compare it to. And yeah, you'll agree with her on that. This definitely has that sense of...new-ness to it, of an undiscovered wonder. "I can feel it, too. It's not quite like a heartbeat, but whenever I'm climbing trees or walking through the busy streets of Mineta I can feel it hum." Fascinating. You were positive that everything Keith described in the novels was as much fiction as the rest of it, but...maybe not? Why was none of it described in the Venalicium books if that's the case? You ask Astrid whether she had such a stone before her transformation, how she experiences the stone's humming, what all that Keith described in the novels is actually accurate to real life homunculi and how much of it is simply details that she ended up adopting (the very idea of which is an interesting topic in it's own right), and more...

Long story short you end up talking with Astrid for much longer than she intended her delivery to take, but it's time she's happy to spend answering your many, many questions. She also informs you that, while her whole deal was going on Keith has managed to finalize a lot of his own research as well, so given just a little bit of time (relatively speaking) he'll be ready to open up his new business, with Professor di Lucca Alazzo's assistance. Astrid goes on to mention that while Keith's master was pretty open to the idea of doing business with a reputable member of the city's academic community, mainly because the man himself has a shadow cast over his own reputation due to "past events" and partially because his own research isn't all sunshine and rainbows either. But Keith was fairly hesitant to get others involved with his professional life, especially the faculty of a magical academy. You do ask, and unlike with Keith's master Astrid does (reluctantly) admit that "things happened" between Keith and the University of Pievre...though she refuses to say more about that. Regardless of that, though, the faculty's efforts to help Astrid was thankfully enough to get the faculty's foot in the door, so to speak, and Professor Briardi ultimately managed to convince Keith to donate his research to the Academagia so that it could be read, reviewed and - most importantly - corrected by anyone willing to do experiments of their own and further Keith's future field of chirgury. Astrid goes on to explain that Keith was adamant on having his research remain his own initially, that he wanted no competition for his future business or even his ideals when it comes to what direction he intends that future business to take, but the regent convinced him that if his research remained his own than it's failures and mistakes would also remain his own. And the best way to ensure that his research was as solid, as accurate as it could possibly be for the sake of his future patients, was to donate it to an academic institute and allow the man's peers to take their own stab at it. Especially because as bold and productive as his plan to use homunculi as test subjects was it's no substitute for actual humans. At least, so Professor Briardi insisted.

"I don't know if those research papers will be made available to students, since they are kinda...well, you know what went into making them. But they should be going through the proper channels and made available to the right people as soon as the Legate gets over the disappointment of having to do office work again," Astrid notes with a smile that matches yours perfectly at the end. "I don't know how long it'll take for master to open his new business, and obviously I hope you won't end up being a customer there, at least for a while, but...it'd still be nice if you could swing by one day. I'd like to show you around once everything is set up, show you what all you managed to set in motion by saving little old me from a bunch of wolves ever so long ago."

You definitely are curious as to how this new business idea of Keith is going to end up working out or not. You'll definitely go and visit it, probably for all of ten minutes before spending hours talking with Astrid again. That's one day you'll be looking forward to...

And that, for now, is that. Why, yes, a Y3 continuation is already in the works. It'll be out hopefully sometime before I die of old age ;).

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