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Missing Y1 (Class) Adventures - Help wanted! Again!

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Stage 2:

 

"So why are we all going to the docks, if I may ask? I mean-"

"Don't ask, [Character]Character/Self..."

[Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re's sharp demand does indeed silence you, but in your mind the question keeps going back and forth. Cosetta and [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes approached you a few minutes ago and said it was time to scope out the (suspected) FASSS warehouse. "No problem," you said, "I'm free for the next few hours." And you are. But somewhere between then and now your three-person group got...well, it got a little bigger. [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets apparently heard about the three of you, from someone wanting to get away from his droning stories no doubt, and he demanded that he'd be allowed to take part. Whatever matter involved Avila's boys involved him too, and apparently that was reason enough for Cosetta. Although you're pretty sure she just brought him along to blame everything on it case this little adventure goes belly-up.

"No need to be so edgy, Cosetta. It's obvious why we're all here, isn't it?"

[Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari, however, is another story. She's apparently recovered from whatever cold she had, or maybe got from Cyrus...it's doesn't matter. Point is that she's back and when she saw Cyrus walking around with Cosetta she...well, she gave the latter an ultimatum - allow her to team up with Cyrus or die. Supposedly. You weren't there when that happened and Cosetta's ability to accurately retell a story has been confirmed to be questionable at best, and although you are a bit curious as to what actually happened you're not curious enough to ask Avgust about it, so here she is. Walking next to Cyrus, who seems a bit nervous about her being so close. You're pretty sure she doesn't even know why she's here, she just knows that Cyrus is here along with Cosetta and that's enough to get her blood boiling. You've decided not to question that further. It seems healthier, that way.

"Well, can I at least ask what, exactly, we're doing and why? You kinda still owe me an explanation."

Cosetta glares at you, but it's not a glare of anger or frustration. It's a glare of her hoping that you can tell her why she's still here. Unfortunately for her...you can't. With what sounds like ragged breath she says, "Well, alright, you remember about the two older students, right?"

You nod, although Avgust and Olivia shake their respective heads. Cosetta lets out a sigh, and slowly shakes her head herself. She's not enjoying this, and you haven't even reached the docks yet. "Alright, well, for the two newcomers, the short version is that I 'got' a 'tip' from two older students about some shady business going on somewhere. [Character]Character/Self here helped to confirm that it's taking place at the docks, and so we're all going there to do something about it. Starting with some information gathering."

"You mean Mineta's docks? That seems a bit far out of your way, Cosetta. There's plenty of people in the Academagia you can tattle on." Avgust says with a passive-aggressive tone. Apparently Cosetta tattled on him recently...although how recently you couldn't tell. In response she glares at him, but before she can say anything Olivia pipes up. "More to the point, if there's something going on why not just tell a professor? The docks isn't a place a group of first years should just show up and mess with, isn't it?" Everyone except for Cyrus stares at Cosetta, who lets out a sigh.

"I did. Professor [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble said that it was nothing. That the card was just a card and all that. Well, I don't believe it, so if she doesn't believe me I'll just have to reprimand all of them myself."

"What card?" Avgust asks, and you quickly fill him and Olivia in on the details thereof. The latter looks especially sceptical after hearing about the fact that it pointed to a building in the docks. "Are you sure this is even safe? I mean I don't expect a pair of students to team up with a gang of pirates or something, but that doesn't mean it can't be dangerous. Or a gang of pirates anyway, for that matter..."

"The office building in question is in a reputable area of the docks," Cyrus tells Olivia. Much to the latter's relief...and delight. "Besides, it's not like meddling in the affairs of older students inside the Academagia is any more certain to be safe."

"So...how does this relate the the boys in Avila, than?" Avgust asks as he turns to look confused at Cosetta. The latter lets out another sigh. "Because Cyrus had a map of the docks and Aaran was meant to help us figure stuff out and I was just lazy, alright!? Now come on, we're almost there."

Cosetta is definitely on edge more so than usual, although you're not sure why. But, true to her word, the group has arrived in the docks and is now standing in front of the supposed FASSS warehouse. Only it's an office building, and not a warehouse. It's also closed, by the looks of it. In fact, it looks like it's been closed for a while. Windows are covered up with boards of wood, no light visible anywhere, and the front door is locked with a sturdy plank and a half-dozen nails. Oh, and a conventional lock, presumably.

"So who's brave enough to knock on the door?" Avgust asks. Olivia turns to stare at Cyrus and quietly mumbles something about her "brave hero" or whatever, but you're not listening to it. For that matter, neither is Cyrus. "I'll go," Cosetta says, and true to her word she walks up to the doors - the boarded shut doors - and knocks on them. Somehow you don't think that's going to get anyone anywhere, so...what should you do?

Conversation. Ask around for information, the people who work around here might now. (Charm/v6)

"So, does anyone have a set of lockpicks on them or knowledge of a spell that'll allow us to quietly blow an invisible hole through the walls?" you casually asks. Naturally, everyone that's still within earshot shakes their respective head. "In that case I suggest that we ask around. There's...at least a half-dozen buildings around here that have a clear view of that office building's front door alone, so if there's anything funny going on I'm sure someone here has heard about it. Do you guys think we should split up to cover more ground or stick together as a group? I mean we don't need five people to ask a given person one question, but you never know..."

[Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets is the first to respond, and he confidently shakes his head. "No, we definitely don't need five people to ask one person one question, and even if something goes wrong we're walking around a well-travelled and populated area in broad daylight with our wands, aren't we? The real question is how we should split up - do we all just go one direction and ask people as we go, or do we only ask specific people questions and if so, who? I say that we don't all run around like headless chickens, but that's my only suggestion."

"Cyrus and I can ask the local muscle." [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari announces, much to the confusion (and horror) of [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes. "Avgust, you can grab [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re and ask the guards and officers - I'm sure that with her strong sense of rules and lack of a likeable personality she'll easily be able to connect with them, and failing that I'm sure that the guards would be less likely to toss her into a sack and throw her onto a ship." While Cyrus, standing behind Olivia, visibly winces at that jab Avgust shrugs and says that's fine with him. Olivia then turns to face you. "[Character]Character/Self, you can ask the less local sailors and other, eh, 'part-time workers'. You're the best conversationalist out of the five of us, so I think you have the best chance of getting information out of someone rather than being thrown into a sack and marooned." With an icy grin Olivia cheerfully adds, "Unless you think that Cosetta could do a better job than that, of course."

"Do a better job at what?" Cosetta asks as she walks back into the group. "The door is a bust, it looks like no one's home."

You look at the front door, which is still nailed shut in the most literal sense of the word, and slowly turn your head to stare, curiously, at Cosetta. "Eh, right. Anyway, we've decided to ask around here about that office building since, well, it seems like the best way to get information. Cosetta, you're with Avgust and will be asking the guards and officers. Cyrus and Olivia will be questioning the locals, and I'll be talking to the off-island sailors. Do you have a problem with that?"

Cosetta shakes her head. "Not at all, when do we meet up back here?"

"Say a half-hour?" Cyrus suggests, and everyone nods. With that the group spreads out, and you make your start walking to the nearest "juice restaurant", as some adults like to call it around kids your age. Obviously you're not going to get a drink yourself, you're nowhere near old enough for that, but you're going to need to fine some sailors that both aren't too busy to talk to a kid like you, slightly intoxicated so they're willing to talk to a kid like you, but not so drunk that they can't speak anymore (or that you can't speak anymore because of the overpowering stench of heavy drinks). Fortunately this is the right hour to try that. It doesn't take long to find one, although of course as soon as you poke your head in everyone turns to glare at you, and the guy manning the bay quickly tells you that this isn't the place for kids to play adventurer.

"I'm not here to play adventurer, I'm here because I'm looking for information on the abandoned office building two blocks south. Would any of you gentleman happen to know about it?"

Seeing as how you're not welcome here and you really don't have much of any reason to be here, right now you need to just skip straight to the point and not waste anyone's time. Obviously not to the degree that you completely forget to be polite, but a few steps can be skipped. And by "a few" you of course mean "practically all of them". Calling a bar full of sailors on break "gentleman" is also a bit of a stretch, but unless you really messed up these shouldn't be pirates, so they shouldn't take offence at being called something generally more civilized than they believe themselves to be.

The features of the man manning the bar actually seem to light up a bit, and a few glares soften a little as well. "Wait, you mean the FASSS warehouse?" one of the sailors asks, and turning to face him, you nod. That gets even more stares off of you, which is a good thing. "Ha! I thought you'd ask 'bout that," the sailor (probably lying through his teeth) says. "The guard says the place is abandoned and the city's dragging it's heels getting it fixed back up, but that ain't true! Someone owns that place and if you stand in front of that building at the right hour, you'll get to see what's inside. 'Less you're not invited, than you get your head chopped off and tossed off the isle."

"Do you know which hour is the 'right' one?"

The sailor shakes his head. "No, only that that hour's way past your bedtime and you don't want to be in front of that warehouse at night anyway."

You simply ask why, without any unnecessary comments and without even showing the fact that you don't appreciate being treated like a defenceless child. Sure, if only relatively to these sailors the child part is accurate, but they can't throw around fireballs when they feel like it. The sailor's eyes widen, and you can definitely tell that the atmosphere in the room tenses a little. "Why? I'll tell you why - that place is haunted! Sometime you can hear people walkin' around in there, see the doors open even though they're all locked and boarded up, and when it's the right hour all the ghosts get together and look for something they lost inside that building, 'least that's what people say. And it ain't a joke, either. You can briefly see the ghosts if you look at 'em right, they'll flicker in an' out even during the day. Not that the guard ever notices or does anything, but then the ghosts don't bother anyone, 'neither. Just don't go walking 'round that place, especially at night."

You're not an expert at ghosts, but you are...also not an expert at Glamour but either way you understand enough to realize that if this story has any weight to it there's probably Glamours involved. Sailors are known to be superstitious so the guards likely don't listen to the supposed ghost stories, but for those stories to be told someone must have seen or at least believe he or she saw something. Seeing as how most of the sailors here seem pretty nervous with this talk of ghosts, maybe believing them will get a few more to stop staring at you, as well.

"Do those ghosts go through the front door or do they always phase through the back door?"

"Back door," one of the sailors answer. "Ain't nothing gettin' through the front without removing the board, an' those ghosts are only half-dead, so they ain't able to phase through doors like they're air. They gotta enter through the back, which of course is locked, but they can just open the lock like it's nothing. An' you can hear that lock bein' opened, too! Course the guard's never around when they do, and even then them ghosts lock the door behind them." With a roar of laughter the sailor adds, "They might be murderen' ghosts but let it never be said that they're impolite!"

You're pretty sure "half-dead ghost" is an oxymoron, but obviously this isn't the right audience to point that out to. Also, locks being opened whenever there isn't a guard around and all that...yeah, you're thinking this is some manner of Glamour. Which means that you've either stumbled into [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Rui da Casga's long lost brother or you're on the right track. That office building is definitely the warehouse you're looking for, it's just a matter of figuring out which hour the "right" hour is. Given that all of these sailors believe that the building is haunted by murderous ghosts, though, you guess that they don't really know. All the same, good info.

"Alright, that tells me what I need to know. Thanks for the information, everyone." About a quarter of the patrons actually care to nod at you as you leave, which is still better than most could manage. Certainly Cosetta wouldn't have been able to accomplish that, you think. So now it's just a matter of going back to the meeting point and waiting for everyone else to arrive. Which takes a while, because you got done in record time, but you can wait. And about ten minutes later you see Olivia and Cyrus as well as Avgust...apparently carrying Cosetta's body. What?

"I thought you guys send Cosetta to question the people who'd be the least likely to beat her up! What happened?"

"So, remember that cold I had?" Cyrus asks with an unnatural grin on his face. "I swear this isn't my fault."

"It better not be!" Olivia snarls out, confusing you until you remember how Cyrus could still infect others - kisses and careless use of tableware. You don't want to imagine what Olivia's imagining right now.

"She just dropped suddenly and, well, that's all she wrote." Avgust says like he doesn't even care. "So, eh, [Character]Character/Self...could you give us all a hand, please?"

You can't help but shake your head. "Fine," you say, "I'll inform you of the details later..."
--- +1 Storytelling ---

 

"So, does anyone have a set of lockpicks on them or knowledge of a spell that'll allow us to quietly blow an invisible hole through the walls?" you casually asks. Naturally, everyone that's still within earshot shakes their respective head. "In that case I suggest that we ask around. There's...at least a half-dozen buildings around here that have a clear view of that office building's front door alone, so if there's anything funny going on I'm sure someone here has heard about it. Do you guys think we should split up to cover more ground or stick together as a group? I mean we don't need five people to ask a given person one question, but you never know..."

[Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets is the first to respond, and he confidently shakes his head. "No, we definitely don't need five people to ask one person one question, and even if something goes wrong we're walking around a well-travelled and populated area in broad daylight with our wands, aren't we? The real question is how we should split up - do we all just go one direction and ask people as we go, or do we only ask specific people questions and if so, who? I say that we don't all run around like headless chickens, but that's my only suggestion."

"Well," you say a second before [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari says something, "if we all go in separate directions we'll be able to cover more ground. I mean we might run into the same person twice but even if we do, so what? That's not a crime is it?"

"It's impolite." Olivia says, and you half-heartedly shrug as she apparently doesn't feel the need to say what she was planning on saying earlier.

"Sure, sure, it's impolite, but no one is going to die from it, so that' the best option. So...does anyone have a particular direction they'd prefer, or...?" You can see [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes glare at Olivia, probably waiting for her to choose a direction so that he can go the opposite way. Unfortunately Olivia has noticed this and is now glaring at Cyrus, waiting for him to choose a direction so that she can take either the same one (along with some flimsy excuse as to why, no doubt) or the one next to it. Seeing that and how this'll go nowhere at this rate you can't help but let out a sigh. "Oh alright, fine. Look, from the warehouse front doors there's five streets one can walk through, so everyone just pick one and go. And whoever takes the back alley there can tell [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re to go the last route standing, as well as when and where to meet up. Does right here in, say half an hour work for everyone?"

Nods all around, Avgust even volunteers to take the back alley route. Finally, progress. Feeling better already you wish everyone good luck and walk off in some direction, asking people about the office building as you go. It quickly occurs to you that if you keep walking in roughly one direction it's easier to describe the exact office building you're talking about, so you do that, but unfortunately no one you talk to - guards, sailors or locals who haul around cargo for a living - knows anything about it. One or two people vaguely mention that a sailor claimed to have seen a ghost or something somewhere in that general area at some point, but that doesn't really tell you anything, so there's that. At the appropriate time you start walking back, and it seems you're the last person...no, actually, Cosetta isn't here yet, either.

"Second to last to arrive, [Character]Character/Self. Did you find anything?" Olivia asks.

"Nothing useful, I'm afraid. Where's Cosetta? Is she still wandering around?"

Olivia shrugs, as does Cyrus and Avgust, and so you all stand around and make small talk for a bit. Only ten minutes after Cosetta should have come back she's still not here.

"Did she just completely ditch us, or did she find a great lead and decide to act on it before we could 'steal her glory' or whatever? Where is she?" Avgust asks, looking a little cross.

"Maybe she got sick and went back to the Academagia? She was acting pretty...weirdly before, don't you guys think?" Olivia asks.

"Nah, she was just mad, nothing unusual. I guess she just got sick of it and decided that if we're all here anyway we might as well all figure it out." Cyrus says, not sounding offended in the slightest.

Olivia tries to say something about how she decided to knock on the front doors of a boarded-up building, but Avgust interrupts and ends up speaking over her. "Ergh, why does she have to be so difficult? No matter, will we check this place out again, later?" Nods all around. Wherever Cosetta is she's probably fine. Probably...

--- +1 Stress ---

 

Lockpick. Break in and case the place. (Finesse/v6)

You look around to make sure no one is watching, and covertly take out your lockpicks.

"What do you plan to do with those?" [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes asks.

With one of your trusty tools you point to [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re. "Take a wild guess as to how much information that's going to get us. Now, you three keep old tattletale busy, I'll scope out the inside."

[Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets nods, seemingly approving of your idea, and runs up to Cosetta. [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari takes a step towards her as well, but she stops when she notices Cyrus stay behind. "And how are you going to, eh, 'enter' a building that's been locked up and boarded up?" he asks, looking a bit curiously at you.

"Via the back door that's just been locked. Now please, distraction?"

"I think I'll go along and keep watch-"

"No you won't!" Olivia suddenly blurts out, and dragging Cyrus behind her she runs towards Cosetta. Fine with you, since you're better off without a watch anyway. Casually you make your way to the back door, make sure that no one can see you, and satisfied that you're clear you start picking the lock. You didn't expect the back door of an abandoned office building in the docks to have a great lock protecting it, and those expectations were on the mark, because it's not long before you manage to open the door. Too easy, really, the door on your dorm room managed to hold you back longer than that. Feeling a bit more smug than you probably should you quietly, though quickly slip into the building and close the door behind you.

The first thing you see, for a somewhat stretched definition thereof, is the fact that with all the windows boarded up there's not enough light to really see anything in here. Nothing that a quick spell doesn't fix, of course, but it goes to show just how well the windows have been boarded up. Second is the fact that this place was apparently vacated in a hurry. Old desks, chairs, crates and even a few filing cabinets have been lazily stacked against the closest wall they were probably already leaning against in the first place, and everything else was just tossed in a corner and forgotten about. It's pretty weird. Normally these buildings are quickly re-purposed as actual warehouses whenever they're replaced or otherwise abandoned, but furniture outside this building seems pretty intact. The same is true for pretty much every room you step in. Dark, cramped with stuff stacked against the walls with maybe the occasional junk pile, but otherwise clean.

In fact, checking the furniture more closely you notice that they're too clean. No dust, no scratch marks from being hastily moved or haphazardly stacked, nothing seems to have collapsed under the weight of everything stacked on top of it in any room you poke your head into...and it looks like everything is stacked in such a way that you can't open and look into anything. Even the junk piles are covered with all manners of scrolls and other outdated paperwork that if there's anything hiding in them, you can't find it. There is definitely more going on here, but there's nothing really in here that tell you what is, so with some reservations you decide to slip back out of the building and rendezvous with the rest of the group. When you round the corner you see that Olivia has grabbed Cyrus by his collar and is seemingly in the process of choking him, while Avgust looks around nervously. You don't see Cosetta.

Avgust is the first to see you coming, and he runs up to you when he sees you. "Hey, [Character]Character/Self? We, eh, have a small problem with Cosetta..."

You frown. "Oh, what now?" Avgust shrugs and invites you over to look for yourself. Brushing past Cyrus and Olivia you see Cosetta slumped against the front door, her face flushed red and her eyes closed. She's breathing a bit heavily, so much so that you can actually hear it (if it weren't for Olivia and Cyrus' argument, anyhow). You walk up to check her forehead, and she appears to be in as good a condition as she looks. Which is to say, not well.

"Are you sure she didn't accidentally use your fork!?" Olivia snarls out a bit randomly, while Cyrus looks at her nervously. "Hey, the nurses told me I wasn't contagious, so it must have been Aaran that infected her. You know I'd never go for Cosetta, right, Olivia...?"

Olivia doesn't seem to really buy it, and you look at Avgust. "So, now what?" you rather casually ask him given the circumstances.

He shrugs. "Carry her back to the Academagia, I guess. So, did you find anything?"

You look at Cosetta, who doesn't seem to be awake, turn to look at Olivia and Cyrus, who are now arguing over the possible progression from snot to blood to icicles (which is a wonderful discussion to have out in the open with or without context, you must say), and finally turn to look at Avgust. "You know what? You grab her arms, I'll grab her legs, and we'll all get together later."

Avgust stares at the bickering not-couple for all of a quarter second before giving you his answer, which is but a single word. "Deal."
--- +1 Infiltration ---

 

You look around to make sure no one is watching, and covertly take out your lockpicks.

"What do you plan to do with those?" [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes asks.

With one of your trusty tools you point to [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re. "Take a wild guess as to how much information that's going to get us. Now, you three keep old tattletale busy, I'll scope out the inside."

[Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets nods, seemingly approving of your idea, and runs up to Cosetta. [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari takes a step towards her as well, but she stops when she notices Cyrus stay behind. "And how are you going to, eh, 'enter' a building that's been locked up and boarded up?" he asks, looking a bit curiously at you.

"Via the back door that's just been locked. Now please, distraction?"

"I think I'll go along and keep watch-"

"No you won't!" Olivia suddenly blurts out, and dragging Cyrus behind her she runs towards Cosetta. Fine with you, since you're better off without a watch anyway. Casually you make your way to the back door, make sure that no one can see you, and satisfied that you're clear you start picking the lock. You didn't expect the back door of an abandoned office building in the docks to have a great lock protecting it, but it ends up giving you a run for your money before you finally manage to get the damned thing open. Hopefully that's not an indication of how the rest of this search is going to go.

Sneaking into the building is easy with the door opened, although you immediately encounter a few problems. First off, it's too dark in here to see anything. Second, after you cast a quick light spell, is that this place just looks abandoned. Furniture stacked against the walls in very boring and useless ways, doors locked and sometimes barred by something that apparently fell over at some point (that or your skill with picking locks needs some work, but you choose to believe the former), and just...nothing. As far as you can tell this is just an abandoned building, unless one of the blocked rooms has something, but you're not sure how you'd get into those. At least not without making it incredibly obvious that someone broke in here, and just in the off chance that you're wrong and this isn't just any random abandoned building you definitely don't want to leave any traces of your passing behind. So...that's that, apparently. Nothing here. Time to regroup with the others and start discussion what plan B is going to be.

Leaving the building is easier than entering it, of course, but when you swing by the front door you notice that your friends are apparently looking around panicked and moving back and forth like headless chickens. You weren't gone for more than ten minutes, what the heck happened here?

"Ah, [Character]Character/Self, we, eh...we have a small problem." Avgust says as he runs up to you.

"Apparently. What happened? I was only gone for like ten minutes!"

Avgust motions to the front door, and stepping past Cyrus and Olivia you see what the problem is. Cosetta is slumped over against the door, eyes closed and breathing heavily, but otherwise not moving. You can't get a good look at her face like this, but you don't really need to.

"Well...I can't really say that's unexpected, can I?" you ask your companions, being only slightly sarcastic. "I don't suppose anyone here is strong enough to carry the princess all the way back to the Academagia, huh?"

Shaking heads all around. Not a surprise, considering how far of a walk it is even when you're not carrying someone on your back.

"Well, than let's call this day a bust and start moving. Who'll grab her first?"
--- +1 Stress ---

Fun Fact: All the interaction between the other students is what made this adventure work for me. The first iteration of this adventure had just the PC doing literally everything (stage 0 was getting driven out of the Avila Common Room because of a bunch of noisy people and stumbling across the two older students Cosetta tattled on, in fact). The second iteration was actually an Aranaz-exclusive adventure where Von Rupprecht would have handed you the card to investigate a suspected smuggling operation, since, you know, he's kinda got a totally up-and-up history with that *cough*yeah right*cough* with busting his predecessor and all. The rest of the adventure wouldn't have changed, meaning it'd still be very relevant to College Avila, but the PC's response(s) definitely would have been different.

 

There was also a sort of alpha version of this adventure (likewise scrapped) where the PC would break into the warehouse simply to look for something to steal (hence lingering references to it being a warehouse when it's actually an office building, BTW - it was a warehouse all other times but I didn't think that'd make too much sense to print on a business card). That adventure was meant to be an "evil" adventure and not necessarily Avila exclusive, rather just something for evil PCs to do or get tangled up with, but I couldn't make it work. Nor did I think that anyone would really appreciate the option of Mastering someone to jump off the docks, even though that was gated behind an "is there something to catch a falling person?" Observation check.

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Stage 3:

 

Another quiet afternoon in the Avila common room, although this time it's not because [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re and [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes are having a staring contest. "Sorry I'm late, did I miss anything?" [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets asks as he walks in and sits down. He's the last one to arrive, and after taking a seat he notices that the group is a head short. "Eh, where's Cosetta?"

"In the infirmary," Cyrus says a bit too cheerfully. Avgust nods, apparently not bothered by the news. Not bothered at all, in fact...

"You're not going to ask how she's doing?" [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari asks. Avgust shakes his head, and you get everyone's attention by way of unrolling Cyrus' map of the docks on the table. Cyrus adds to it by tossing the card on top of it, right above the FASSS warehouse.

"Alright everyone, we're all here so it's brainstorming time. We know the location, so next up we need to know the time. Any ideas?"

Naturally, no one answers the question. That'd be too easy, wouldn't it?

"So, Cyrus, what's the card and where'd you get it? I mean, with Cosetta breathing down own necks last time I'm sure [Character]Character/Self's summary was lacking if not outright fabricated. No offence, [Character]Character/Self." Avgust asks.

"None taken."

"I don't really know what the card is, but I got it from Cosetta. She apparently got it from some older students, somehow. I don't know who or how, and getting an honest answer from her just isn't going to happen no matter who is or isn't around. Believe me, I've tried and [Character]Character/Self tried, and we've both got nothing. In any case, she handed it to me for tonight's brainstorming session, so this is our chance to use it without her breathing down our necks like last time."

You catch yourself glancing at Olivia when he mentions that last bit, but thankfully you manage to correct yourself before she notices. "A-anyway, that's what lead us to that building we checked out the other day. So we've confirmed that it's the right building, but when does this event happen? Either of you have an idea?"

Olivia looks curiously at you, and for a moment you think she did actually see you, but thankfully you're wrong. "More to the point, what is going to happen? Heck, why should we even care? Cosetta already said it didn't really involve Avila's boys, right? I'm pretty sure I remember that right."

"You do, but..." Cyrus says, "Well, check the back of the card. College Avila is definitely involved somehow, and I think Cosetta knows how. Only thing is, she refused to tell me."

"Why?" Avgust asks, either missing or choosing to ignore Olivia's painful glare that she's throwing Cyrus' way.

Cyrus shrugs, seeming pretty pleased with himself for some reason. "That's the question, isn't it? I think she overheard it from those older students, but I don't know who those are. Although even if I did, I doubt they'd be willing to tell any of us. Asking around on Cosetta's behalf isn't going to earn us any friends with anyone, either."

"So...why should we care?" Olivia asks.

"Because the person who's sitting next to you does?" Avgust says a bit dismissively. "As for myself, I'm always looking for a good story to tell, and this sounds like it could be interesting."

A pity that won't help you, you think to yourself. Avgust, meanwhile, turns to look at Cyrus and asks why he's interested. Cyrus casts a covert glance at Olivia, carefully considers his answer, and finally says, "At first is was just because Cosetta asked me for a map of the docks and I was curious why she needed it. She showed me the card and, well, I guess you can say I'm still curious. Particularly with how the back of the card shares the images of the crest of College Avila. Seems like something we should know about, shouldn't it?"

That's another mystery to add to the pile. What does this card and whatever it's about have to do with Avila? Cosetta might know...but if she does she's not told Cyrus...or you, or Olivia, or Avgust, or...actually...

"Wasn't Aaran meant to be part of this group? What happened to him?" you ask Cyrus.

Cyrus shrugs. "I asked, and he said that Cosetta didn't tell him anything. He's also too busy figuring out the 'number of the docks', as he put it, to help us, so...yeah. Something Numerology related, I'm not entirely sure. You rarely can be with him."

"So how are we going to find out what this card is about, when the event happens, and what to do with that information? Cosetta won't talk, the older students likely won't talk, and I doubt we could get anyone at the docks to admit they know about it, let stand tell any of us. So where are we going to get information? We can't exactly have one of us watch the warehouse every night..."

The group, in response to the question, collectively shrugs and look at you. Looks like you'll be in charge here with Cosetta out of action...

Gossip. Carefully ask around and see what you can dig up. (Charm/v5)

After giving it some thought and confirming that, yes, no one else has a good idea, you propose your own. "Alright, so we can't ask the older students that [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re stole the card from, for obvious reasons (not the least of which because out of the hundred-plus students that can be described as such we don't know exactly who they are). However, they must have gotten that card from someone or somewhere, right? And if they knew when the event took place they must have learned that somewhere. So if we can find their source, we can get our information. I doubt those older students told no one about it, especially after Cosetta outright stole the card from them."

"Speaking of that, why do you think those two didn't steal that card right back? It's not like they don't know who took it, what with Cosetta showing it to all of us in the Common Room and all." [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets asks.

"I suspect Regent [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble is the reason for that." Cyrus says. "Either that or they just didn't care, or they were done with the card and figured it wasn't worth bothering with, does it matter? We have it, they don't, and they don't seem to care about getting it back."

"I find it strange that they didn't even try to, unless they didn't care about the card to begin with. But then, why would they have it in the first place?"

"Sounds like it's time to start asking questions about that, [Character]Character/Self." [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari says, and you nod in agreement. "Yeah, it's time to start asking questions. Everyone, split up and start gossiping, we'll meet back here in an hour."

As ordered everyone stands up, Cyrus taking the card and map along with him, splits up (some sooner rather than later) and goes in their own directions. You figure that one of those three will be going to the Great Hall, so you decide to go elsewhere. But where? You don't know who'd know about the card and who'd be willing to tell you. Someone must know, but...hm...maybe if you start by asking questions about the warehouse, you might get a hint as to who'd choose to investigate such things? You don't have a better idea, so with that in mind you decide to start walking around at random and questioning everyone you run into. Most people don't know anything and don't care, so they're quick to dismiss you, but walking through the Garden Gallery you eventually run into [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Gwendy Zuyder, who actually seems to know what you're talking about.

"I heard of that office building recently, actually. [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Oriabel Sidot apparently caught wind that there's semi-visible ghosts haunting the place or some such rot, and asked me for help tracking them down. Since apparently ghosts leave tracks now. I don't know. I told her it's just a prank or something, but of course she didn't listen and go hunting for invisible things anyway. Or half-invisible things, I don't know. Who's ever heard of a half-visible ghost, anyhow? I've seen...eh, I mean I've heard of fully invisible ones and I've heard of semi-transparent ones, but half-invisible? What does that even mean?"

"I assume that's Oriabel's way of saying 'semi-transparent', she might not-"

"Know the proper term to describe the common state of being that's believe to be true for at least the vast majority of ghosts, spectres and all other such creatures?"

"...I'll admit that theory was kind of a stretch, yes. So what's up with-actually, I think I'll just ask Oriabel about that directly. Do you know where she is?"

Gwendy shrugs "In the infirmary, as far as I know. Something about a cold going around that she caught from...I think Cosetta Re? No clue why she'd want to hang around with her, but apparently it's either Cosetta or Aaran and I wouldn't even know why she's talk to the latter."

"Probably something ghost related. I mean if anyone would somehow know about ghosts and why they'd haunt that office building it'd be Aaran, right?"

Gwendy nods. "I suppose you're right. Anyway if you're going to talk to her keep your distance, you wouldn't want to be next let me tell you."

You nod and make your way to the infirmary. Fortunately it's not difficult to talk your way into getting to visit her, since apparently she's no longer contagious...although you keep your distance all the same, because you knew how that worked out for Cosetta and Cyrus...presumably. "Eh, hi there [Character]Character/Self. Good...afternoon? Evening? Sorry, I've been asleep for most of the day, so I've lost track of time a bit." Oriabel says, sounding like she definitely hasn't fully recovered yet.

"Afternoon, and don't worry, I won't keep you long. I've heard that you were sniffing around the FASSS warehouse lately? The, eh, 'haunted' office building in the docks? You remember, right?"

Oriabel actually looks mad for a second. "Yeah, yeah, I do. Stupid place, not haunted at all. Just the local sailors not knowing what an incredibly obvious Glamour looks like."

"Do you know who was casting those Glamours?"

Oriabel actually looks confused at you. "Don't you? I thought that Cosetta brought you into her little card-looking-into-deal...group...thing. Sorry, my brain's a bit fried right now..."

"No...problem, but...you know about that card? The one Cosetta showed me, about Fisher and Sons...something company?"

Oriabel nods, looking like she's close to nodding off. "Yeah, that one. The one the guys fake-haunting that place gave to me. You don't know them?"

Your turn to look confused as you resist the urge to bang your head against a wall. Of course Oriabel knew all along, but you didn't know that she knew, so...sadness. "Never met them. Did they tell you anything when they gave you that card? We know where they're based but we don't know when they're active, so we're kinda stuck."

Oriabel tilts her head a bit, although it takes you a second to realize she'd not doing that because she fell asleep. "But...doesn't it say right on the card? Full moon, midnight? What, did you think those were Fisher and Sons' usual office hours?"

And now you're pitying yourself. This is wonderful. "I...kinda assumed that with the ridiculously convoluted puzzle we had to solve to find out where that office building actually is it wouldn't be any more forthcoming with it's opening hours. It really is just like it says on the back? Every full moon night at midnight?"

Suddenly Oriabel looks like something hit her...figuratively speaking, that is. "Ah, right, you're right, the card is a puzzle, eh...oh, what did that...man tell me again? Right, 'I want you to meet our boss' or something, something about it being important to College Avila and...I don't remember. I was still peeved about the hauntings being faked, so I wasn't really paying too much attention. I just handed the card off to whoever looked like they'd care and forgot about it. Oh, right, when they're active? I, eh...I think their shop opens like, once a week or so on a specific day, at midnight? I think they'll actually open today, but...what day is it, again?"

"I-well, today-I mean, what? You seriously-why'd you just hand that card to someone and leave it at that? Who told you to just ignore important-sounding stuff like that?"

"My mother? I mean she never directly told me not to trust suspicious-looking and more suspiciously-acting strangers that prattled on about how they wanted me to meet their boss during their midnight maybe-criminal activities and that it'd be important to the College, but I'm sure she implied it at one point."

You know what? At this point you're just going to magic Oriabel to sleep, hope she'll wake up assuming that this conversation was just a dream and give the rest of your crew a slightly edited version of these past few minutes, because this is just getting embarrassing. Fortunately Oriabel is so drowsy that she doesn't even notice you pulling out your wand and casting a spell on her, so with that taken care of you go back to the common room and wait for the rest to arrive. Before the hour is over, they all do. Once again, Avgust is the last to arrive.

"So, I've dug up a whole lot of absolutely nothing. How'd the rest of you do?"

"Nothing as well," Cyrus says.

"Something about the guy who once owned that office building going missing at some point, but nothing recent or relevant." Olivia says under her breath.

"Well, I've got some fantastic information," you say, only lying through your teeth a little bit. "Turns out that event? It's said to happen tonight, at midnight, and with Cosetta out of our hair for today I think that means that today's the best chance to look through that place. So, is everyone going?"

"You bet," Avgust says far too quickly for comfort.

"I...do I have to? I mean midnight is way past our curfew, isn't it?" Cyrus asks.

"So? Since when are Avila's boys in their dorms at night?" Avgust asks, and Cyrus actually turns to look at Olivia. A grave mistake, one that he realises a second too late. "Oh, my prince charming isn't afraid of getting detention, is he?"

"No, I'm afraid of getting stuck in detention with you..." Cyrus mumbles under his breath.

"Sorry, what was that, Cyrus? I didn't hear you..."

Cyrus suddenly perks up, which looks exactly as fake as you'd think. Painfully so, in fact. "Oh, I said I'm afraid of getting stuck in detention. Like, if we're out in Mineta way past curfew and get caught we'll be in more trouble than we'd be if we were just caught looking for a midnight snack, right?" It's clear that no one buys Cyrus' act, but if only for the sake of getting the conversation moving no one calls him out on it.

"So, we're leaving tonight?" Avgust asks you.

You nod and look at Cyrus, who, after carefully considering his options (which is to say staring at Olivia's unamused glare), nods as well. Olivia follows soon after that. "Alright, than we'll see each other after dark. If there's something illegal going on that dirties the name of College Avila we'll put an end to it, and if there isn't, well, we'll see where we go from there. Does that sound like a plan to you guys?"

Nods all around, despite Avgust's quip that it sounds more like an invitation to start winging it at a later point than a "plan". And that's good enough for you. Tonight will be the night...
--- +1 Social Skills, +1 Logic ---

 

After giving it some thought and confirming that, yes, no one else has a good idea, you propose your own. "Alright, so we can't ask the older students that [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re stole the card from, for obvious reasons (not the least of which because out of the hundred-plus students that can be described as such we don't know exactly who they are). However, they must have gotten that card from someone or somewhere, right? And if they knew when the event took place they must have learned that somewhere. So if we can find their source, we can get our information. I doubt those older students told no one about it, especially after Cosetta outright stole the card from them."

"Speaking of that, why do you think those two didn't steal that card right back? It's not like they don't know who took it, what with Cosetta showing it to all of us in the Common Room and all." [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets asks.

"I suspect Regent [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble is the reason for that." Cyrus says. "Either that or they just didn't care, or they were done with the card and figured it wasn't worth bothering with, does it matter? We have it, they don't, and they don't seem to care about getting it back."

"I find it strange that they didn't even try to, unless they didn't care about the card to begin with. But then, why would they have it in the first place?"

"Sounds like it's time to start asking questions about that, [Character]Character/Self." [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari says, and you nod in agreement. "Yeah, it's time to start asking questions. Everyone, split up and start gossiping, we'll meet back here in an hour."

As ordered everyone stands up, Cyrus taking the card and map along with him, splits up (some sooner rather than later) and goes in their own directions. You figure that one of those three will be going to the Great Hall, so you decide to go elsewhere, like...eh...hm. There's not too many students who you'd think would hang around the docks for...some reason, let stand a place where they'd generally meet. Of all the things that the Academagia teaches hauling around cargo isn't one of them. So...maybe Alicia's Tavern? Plenty of people visit that, and you'll at least have confirmation that they're not dangerously allergic to going outside. The other three likely won't leave the Academagia either (not that Alicia's Tavern is that far out). "As good idea as any", you think to yourself, and you walk off.

Alicia's Tavern isn't quite packed, but there's a decent number of people here who are at least willing to hear you out. Unfortunately no one here knows about the FASSS warehouse, and an hour later you've gathered absolutely nothing...other than a quick slice of pie, but you're not going to mention that. Well, nothing more to do than to go back and hope someone else found something. Unsurprisingly you're the last one to make it back, and from everyone's gloomy expressions you can see that this wasn't a success story for anyone involved. "Nothing, huh?" you say as you sit down.

"I turned up nothing." Avgust says.

"Same here. No one knew anything, even the older students." Olivia says.

"Are you sure they didn't just lie about that and didn't want to admit anything?"

"If that were the case I imagine that they'd say as much rather than 'sorry, I don't make a habit of keeping up with the gossip around the docks'. It's hard to find anyone who'd have a reason to visit the docks, you know?"

You look at Cyrus, just hoping that he found something. He then immediately kicks that hope into the dirt by shaking his head. "Sorry, same here. Though, I did find out one thing."

"Oh?" three different people ask at once.

"Those two older students that Cosetta stole that card from? Apparently she got them from the notorious prankster duo that the Avila boys know as V&J, although that might have just been someone trying to pull the wool over my eyes since I accidentally mentioned Cosetta's name. So if any of your robes suddenly sprout wings and fly off towards the sunset within the next few days, well, at least you'll know why."

Avgust tries, several times, to respond to that, but every time he apparently fails to find the right words. You and Olivia just stare at each other confused, although you do manage to catch the duo's names - Vigore and Jarl. After the seventh failed attempt Avgust gives up and just...points to Cyrus menacingly? You're not too sure. Whatever that was meant to be, Cyrus apparently understands. "You don't have to worry about them, they're not bullies or anything, just...maybe we should lay low for a bit. Just in case."

You stare at Cyrus as questioningly as you ever have, but all he does is shrug. "That's all I know. So, shall we call it a day here and try again later?" Avgust doesn't wait for an answer, he just gets up and runs off.

"Okay, Cyrus, what's this all about? I've never heard of those two, have you?" Olivia asks, looking at you. All you do, however, is shrug - you've never heard of those two.

"Eh, okay, do you know [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Rui da Casga?"

"We'd have to be dead not to," Olivia says a bit more dramatically than she probably needs to.

"Picture an older, more art-inspired Rui da Casga and his long lost twin brother - that's V&J in a nutshell. Just stay out of their way and you're fine. Speaking of, is it time to split up yet?"

"Oh...fine, you can go." Olivia says as she apparently dismisses Cyrus, who stands up and runs off. You stare at Olivia, still confused, and she shrugs. "Don't look at me, I don't live in the boy's dorm. Anyway, same time tomorrow or do you have plans?"

"I'm...not sure yet, I'll have to check. We'll meet up again at a later point regardless. Hopefully in one piece..."
--- +1 Stress ---

 

Etiquette. Ask Professor Badcrumble about it. (Charm/v8)

"Crazy as this might sound, I actually think we should ask Professor [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble about this. [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re mentioned that she told her about it, but she didn't believe it. So I'm sure she knows, because Cosetta would have told her in order to convince her. Anyone have a problem with that?"

"For starters," [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets says right before [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes or [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari could open their mouths, "I don't think that's a great plan. Whatever this event is, if we want to do anything with or to it we're going to have to do it...quietly. Without anyone knowing. Heck, we might want to try something later today or even tonight, seeing as how we can be sure that Cosetta isn't going to notice and complain about it."

"But she'll know, and isn't that enough?" Olivia asks. Avgust turns to look at Olivia and shrugs, afterwards hanging his head in defeat. Clearly that idea has gone flying out a window. "I think we just need to spin it the right way. Like, 'Cosetta is sick and we don't wish to disturb her, but we need her input on something that we happen to know she talked with you about earlier, so could you please help us?' Do you think that'll work, [Character]Character/Self?"

"Not when what she talked about was a potential pirate get-together or Thieves' Guild meeting or Gods knows what happening in the docks, no. Still, there might be a way to spin this."

"We could just tell her we're trying to investigate it. I mean you can see the symbols on the card, it's clearly Avila-related somehow." Avgust notes.

"That'd just bring up the question of why we didn't bring it to her earlier. I mean, we're not exactly guards, we're not really supposed to be doing this. And if our answer to that is 'because you don't believe it's anything noteworthy', well, I don't think she'd help us regardless." You look at Cyrus and Olivia. "You two have any ideas?"

Cyrus nods. "Why not put a positive spin on it? We know something is going on with that building, but we don't know if it's anything illegal. Heck, could just be the hide-out of some secret society-type place. Those do exist, you know, and not all of them are based in the Academagia."

Olivia looks at Cyrus a bit sceptically before turning back to you. "Personally? I don't think 'for all material needs visit FASSS warehouse at midnight during a full moon' sounds like a strictly legal event. I mean, it might be, but...if you're on the up-and-up, why not just open a shop in the Admiratio?"

"Besides which, lying right to the Regent's face? Now there's a great idea, especially if she actually knows bet-" Avgust says while looking around the room. And suddenly, his eyes widen. "Oh-oh, speak of the devil..."

True to Avgust's words Professor Badcrumble walk into the common room. She looks around, sees the four of you sitting around the map and the card on the table, and with a sigh she walks over. There's a weary look on her face, and she talks with a fairly cold tone to her voice. "Didn't I tell you...four that you shouldn't chase wild rumors?" The professor looks at everyone, and actually raises an eyebrow when she fails to find the person she wants to direct her glare at. "Actually, where's Cosetta Re? Isn't she with you?"

"She's in the infirmary." Avgust says, "Apparently she came down with Cyrus' cold."

"Presumably," Olivia quickly corrects, and Cyrus shrugs a bit nervously at the professor. Undoubtedly all too aware of Olivia's glare burying through the side of his neck. The professor lets out a sigh and looks at you. "Either way, could you four clean up here and get back to your regular business? I'd rather not have my students chase wild goose-shaped rumors."

"No," you answer plainly and directly, much to the horror of your fellow classmates. Professor Badcrumble, understandably enough, frown and you and crosses her arms. You recognize that now's the time to explain yourself, so you quickly straighten yourself and meet the professor's gaze. "Professor, we're here because of Cosetta Re. I know you only think it's a wild rumor, but she believes that there's more to this and she's doing what she thinks is best for the college by investigating it. The card clearly ties things together, and she could not stand not knowing who was using it and for what purpose. She even went with us to investigate the location that we thought was the FASSS warehouse even though she knew she was sick, which was admittedly a reckless and less than healthy idea, but it's what she did. And we don't want her to feel bad by thinking that all she was doing was chasing a false rumor."

Professor Badcrumble takes a few long, agonizing seconds to think your argument over, until finally she asks, "Do you really expect me to believe you all would do something for Cosetta Re's sake?"

Cyrus, Olivia and Avgust all look at each other a bit nervously, and slowly they turn to you. "She's...not the easiest student to get along with, but she believes that it's in College Avila's best interest, and for all her faults, we believe her."

Professor Badcrumble frowns, although this time she looks more curious than anything. "And you assume that she would know better than me, the Regent of said college?"

That question is hard enough to answer that you actually need to think it over for a second, but soon enough you say, "In this instance? Yes, that's what we assume."

The rest of the group look like they're ready to throw you off a bridge instead of Cosetta (for once), but Professor Badcrumble actually seems amused by your answer. "Aren't you a little young to have a rebellious streak? No matter. In answer to your question, Cosetta did tell me what she supposedly overheard from the two older students. Namely, that the 'event', whatever it entails, starts exactly when it says it does - midnight. Needless to say that's a bit past your respective curfews..." The professor lets that point hang for a second, probably to see who got her hint. As it turns out Avgust didn't, nor did Cyrus or Olivia...or, for that matter, you. The frown on the professor's face deepens, but at the same time she looks even more amused then before. "As for what the event is, rest assured that if anything noteworthy was happening the guards at the docks would have found out about it already, especially with how it sends out literal business cards. So you four don't have to worry about that. As I told Cosetta, it isn't anything worth looking into. So don't get yourselves caught for violating curfew..." With her piece said Professor Badcrumble walks off, still looking strangely amused. Either that or you've gone mad.

"So, eh, I guess that's that?" Olivia asks.

"Like heck it is." Avgust says before turning to look at Cyrus. "When are the boys of Avila in their dorm at night anyway, right? We can sneak out and take a look tonight while Cosetta isn't going to tattle on us."

"Her feeling sick didn't stop her before..." Cyrus muses, clearly not really approving of where this conversation is going.

"I think we have to go tonight," you suddenly say, much to Cyrus' horror. "Did you see Professor Badcrumble there? Something is fishy about how she was acting. There's more to this and she knows it, so I say that we investigate."

"Investigate and then what?" Olivia asks. "I'm not risking a reprimand just to keep an eye on Cyrus, I can accomplish that without the risk." Cyrus tries to comment on that last part, but his words are most thoroughly ignored.

"If it's something illegal hiding behind College Avila's name, we'll take it down. If it's not, we'll see if it's worth keeping around and go from there. Anyone object to that?"

Avgust quickly shakes his head, Olivia follows suit, and with a sigh Cyrus eventually does the same.
--- +1 Composure ---

 

"Crazy as this might sound, I actually think we should ask Professor [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble about this. [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re mentioned that she told her about it, but she didn't believe it. So I'm sure she knows, because Cosetta would have told her in order to convince her. Anyone have a problem with that?"

"For starters," [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets says right before [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes or [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari could open their mouths, "I don't think that's a great plan. Whatever this event is, if we want to do anything with or to it we're going to have to do it...quietly. Without anyone knowing. Heck, we might want to try something later today or even tonight, seeing as how we can be sure that Cosetta isn't going to notice and complain about it."

"But she'll know, and isn't that enough?" Olivia asks. Avgust turns to look at Olivia and shrugs, afterwards hanging his head in defeat. Clearly that idea has gone flying out a window. "I think we just need to spin it the right way. Like, 'Cosetta is sick and we don't wish to disturb her, but we need her input on something that we happen to know she talked with you about earlier, so could you please help us?' Do you think that'll work, [Character]Character/Self?"

"Not when what she talked about was a potential pirate get-together or Thieves' Guild meeting or Gods knows what happening in the docks, no. Still, there might be a way to spin this."

"We could just tell her we're trying to investigate it. I mean you can see the symbols on the card, it's clearly Avila-related somehow." Avgust notes.

"That'd just bring up the question of why we didn't bring it to her earlier. I mean, we're not exactly guards, we're not really supposed to be doing this. And if our answer to that is 'because you don't believe it's anything noteworthy', well, I don't think she'd help us regardless." You look at Cyrus and Olivia. "You two have any ideas?"

Cyrus nods. "Why not put a positive spin on it? We know something is going on with that building, but we don't know if it's anything illegal. Heck, could just be the hide-out of some secret society-type place. Those do exist, you know, and not all of them are based in the Academagia."

Olivia looks at Cyrus a bit sceptically before turning back to you. "Personally? I don't think 'for all material needs visit FASSS warehouse at midnight during a full moon' sounds like a strictly legal event. I mean, it might be, but...if you're on the up-and-up, why not just open a shop in the Admiratio?"

"Besides which, lying right to the Regent's face? Now there's a great idea, especially if she actually knows better. Oh, and Cyrus, didn't the regent ban secret societies from campus for whatever reason? At least the ones that are Avila-based?" Avgust asks.

"Well...yeah, she did, but even so, asking her about-never mind, that's not going to work."

"No, it won't." Avgust turns to you. "Are you sure this is the best idea? There's just...no way any of us could convince the Regent to tell us anything. There's no way to spin this into something that, to her, wouldn't sound too dangerous or outright illegal for us to mess with. And if she believes it's nothing we couldn't even attempt to shadow her or anything - not that I'd suggest we try, mind!"

You sigh. "I still think that's the best option, unless you want to tangle with talking to random students until one of them happens to know something that Cosetta might or might not have overheard from a pair of older students she subsequently tattled on and robbed, not necessarily in that order."

Avgust frowns, and it only deepens the more you say. By the end of it he's glaring holes through the table in front of him. "Yeah...that's also a long shot, at best. So...I guess we have to figure out how to phrase this? And who'll actually ask the Regent, actually?"

"We'll figure that out this evening and put that plan in action at a later date, that way we've got time to prepare and we won't be asking the regent for an invitation for us to break curfew a few hours before it starts. Does that sound like a good idea?"

Nods all around, so it looks like you've got some planning to do...
--- -1 Social Skills ---

I don't have plans for whether this adventure will require anything beyond being in Avila, but if anything, I'd imagine a (not-so) healthy dose of Curiosity might do the trick.

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Stage 4:

 

As agreed the four of you end up meeting together outside the entrance to Undergate, well after dark and well after any sort of curfew. You'll admit there's a lot of places you'd rather be right now, particularly this late at night, but you all decided that with [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re stuck in the infirmary tonight has to be the night.

Which, of course, makes it that much more embarrassing when the four of you end up running into Cosetta Re on the way anyway.

"What, did you four think you were going to leave me behind?"

You, [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets, [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes and [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari all give Cosetta a questioning look, which she happily returns with a glare of her own. "Just 'cuz I've got a cold doesn't mean I can't go with you, you know." she says even more bitterly than before.

"How'd that work out for you last time?" Avgust asks, sounding perfectly serious despite the question being rhetorical at best.

Cosetta shakes her head and points at Cyrus. "That wasn't my fault, that was his fault."

"No it wasn't." Olivia snarls out, and you step forward before this gets any worse.

"All of you, quiet. Remember that if we make too much noise someone is going to call a guard and then we'll all be escorted back right to Professor [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble's office." It seems like everyone can agree with that, although taking a closer look you don't think Cosetta is going to be of much help in this situation. "Alright than. Olivia, Cyrus, you two are in Glamour so help cover for Avgust and Cosetta, choose whichever partner you want, I'll look after myself. We'll make our way to the docks separately and meet up in front of the FASSS warehouse, wait until five minutes after midnight for the others to arrive before concluding they've been caught and send back. Any questions?"

"Who made you the leader?" Cosetta asks, and with a frown you answer, "You, after you collapsed while we were investigating the warehouse the other day. Now are you going to come along quietly or do I have to call this night a bust and wait for you to actually recover?"

"We might want to do that anyway," Olivia suggests, but Cosetta, predictably, isn't hearing any of it. "NO," she says far too loudly, "I'm fine! Now let's get going." You can't help but rolls your eyes, but knowing Cosetta's stubbornness you can't exactly turn back, either. "Alright, you four split into two pairs and get moving. We'll meet up later." The others nod as you start walking off, quickly coming to a conclusion to pair the boys and the girls together before you get out of earshot. You just hope they don't end up murdering each other before reaching the warehouse. Or afterwards, come to think of it.

Your solo trip to the docks is actually pretty scary. Not that you're scared of walking around Mineta at night, but the knowledge that anyone could call a guard to have you escorted back is quickly getting on your nerves. Not to mention, most people living in Mineta aren't especially fond of Academagia students due to all of the messes they create. And seeing a first year walking around the streets at night, you're sure most people who see you will assume the worst. The fact that you're actively trying to avoid being seen probably doesn't help with that, but as far as you're concerned if people are going to assume you're guilty anyway you might as well be guilty. Which you technically always will be, regardless - you are outside of your dorm tower well after curfew and all.

All that said, you make good time to the docks and manage to arrive without anyone seeing or hearing you. At least anyone that did didn't complain, so there's that. It looks like the others are already here, so you walk up to them. "Did everything go as planned?" you ask.

"We're not alone here," Avgust says while nervously looking around. Taking a look around yourself you definitely get the feeling that you're being watched. And not just from one angle, either. It looks like every direction has eyes on the warehouse and everyone standing around it. Just how many people are here, anyway?

"At least that confirms that we got here on a correct night, but how to catch all of them?" Cosetta wonders out loud. As expected, this earns herself about four pairs of narrows eyes with assorted frowns. "What?" she asks like she doesn't know what she did wrong.

"Would you care to think about what you just said?" Avgust asks, "We're just a group of first years! Who knows who all is watching this place? And how many, for that matter..."

"Yeah, and?" Cosetta asks in response. You try and put a stop to the inevitable argument, which sadly proves to be as inevitable as you thought it would be, at least until Olivia suddenly takes a step towards the warehouse. Everyone's eyes (at least the eyes that you can see) are on her as she slowly turns around. "Everyone?" she quietly says, "I believe it's almost midnight." Right after she says that you all suddenly feel the wind pick up, even though it's been quiet so far. It blows one direction, then suddenly it shifts and blown in another direction, and finally it comes to a stop. As the air around you falls silent you suddenly start to hear voices. Quiet, low whispers from everyone who were also waiting. Slowly they start to step out of their hiding spots, dispelling Glamours they were hiding behind and some even slowly floating off of nearby buildings through either Negation or Incantation (it's difficult to tell at this distance, especially at night). All of them walk towards the abandoned office building, which on the outside doesn't look any different than usual. Well, minus the fact that the front doors aren't boarded up anymore. There's no sign of where the board was nailed to the doors, either...

Everyone in the group shares a nervous look after witnessing the start of a slow, though steady trickle of humanoid-shaped shadows walking into the building. Even Cosetta, who's earlier bravado seems to have left her. "Well, are you all ready to go in?" you ask no one in particular. Another round of nervous looks is shared, but eventually everyone nods.

"So...what are we-I mean, how are we going to enter this building?" Cyrus asks.

"We'll sneak in."

Before anyone else can respond [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re sneezes so loudly that one of the figures actually seems to turn his head to look at you, although he doesn't stay interested for long. The rest of your group looks at Cosetta with a mixture of pity and worry, which she makes clear is not wanted no matter how deserved it might be, and finally Avgust looks at you.

"So, what's plan B?"
--- try again ---

 

"We...maybe should go back and wait for Cosetta to recover, actually."

"Absolutely not!" [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re barks out. "We already came all this way - risking detention every step of the way I might add - and I'm not turning back until I put everyone in chai-hmpf!"

"Thanks, Olivia." you say as Olivia lets go of Cosetta's very big, very wordy mouth.

"Could you keep your big mouth shut before those people over there start asking very unfortunate questions!?" Olivia asks Cosetta, but the latter stubbornly refuses to admit that she did anything wrong.

"Maybe we should just let Cosetta go in first so she can run her mouth and demonstrate for the rest of us how quickly those...what are those, dozens of adult spellcasters could glue us to the nearest wall for a guard to find and pry loose come sunrise?" Avgust suggests, his tone not revealing whether he's serious or joking.

"That's if they're feeling merciful, of course." Cyrus adds, and of course Avgust nods in agreement.

"Oh what are you chickens scared about, a few people with wands? Come on, we've got wands of our own, we ca-hmpf!"

"...That wasn't me." Olivia says, looking around after noticing that Cosetta apparently has been hexed by someone - by a scarf-looking object that's apparently glueing her mouth shut. Not an unwelcome change, all things told.

"Whoever that was, thanks a bunch!" Avgust actually yells in the direction of the group of people. You could almost swear that one of them gives Avgust a thumbs-up, but it's difficult to tell with how they're dressed and it being a few minutes past midnight.

"Well, they didn't kill any of us. That speaks well of our ability to enter that building and walk out with all limbs still intact." Cyrus notes, sounding more like he's trying to convince himself than anyone else.

"Hmpf!"

"Oh, right, sorry I, eh...damn, is anyone here taking Negation?" Olivia asks.

Avgust shakes his head, Cyrus shakes his head, and slowly Cosetta herself shakes her head. Somehow, you get that sinking feeling of having been in this situation before. "Are you guys sure we shouldn't call this a night, if not for Cosetta's sake than for ours? Before she causes us to all be thrown out or worse, I mean?"

"Hmpf!"

You know, you could get used to this.

"I think if we just wait out of sight for a few minutes we'll be fine, so long as Cosetta doesn't open her big mouth again."

"HMPF!"

Really could get used to this...

"And in the mean time we'll try to pry that scarf loose?" Olivia asks, seriously not sure whether not not she should advocate, let alone try, doing that. Cosetta, for her part, just glares now that she's realized that speaking isn't going to work no matter how hard she tries.

"If we have to..." you say without any measure of enthusiasm. Naturally this earns you a glare from Cosetta, but especially right now you're not intimidated. Either way the group does exactly that, figuring out that the hex on Cosetta isn't something to complex or powerful that the four of you can't remove it. Cosetta, for her part, seems even more vengeful than before...although she definitely looks like she's been put in her place, whatever that means.

"Alright, so, ready to try this again?" Avgust asks, pointing towards the warehouse...office building...whichever.
--- try again ---

 

"Through the front door, same as everyone else."

The group looks sceptical, but eventually they all nod and follow you to the front door. As you get close to the shadow-shaped humanoids it's clear that they are all hiding their identities. Some are wearing custom-tailored black robes that cover everything from their fingers to their face, some have Glamours cast on them, and at least one you're pretty sure has changed his (her?) appearance through Revision very thoroughly. At least, the one fay-looking creature among a group of humans all hiding their identities looks a little out of place. All things told there's a disturbing amount of spellcasters here. If Cosetta still had any dreams of rounding all these people up and parading them to a guard office while they're in chains that just flew right out the window (more so than it was already in the process of taking off, anyway).

When the five of you reach the front door you see that in the inside of the office building there's a pair of bouncers, apparently checking people's "invitations". Turning to Cyrus you ask if he's carrying the card. "Sure do," he says, and he takes it out of a pocket to show it to you. You nod and take the card from him, pointing to the bouncers up ahead. Cyrus winces a little when he sees them. "Even [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Philippe Marchant couldn't take those guys out..." he quietly says.

"Are we sure that this is a good idea?" Olivia asks, but despite that she seems content to keep walking. Probably because despite Cyrus' earlier observation he doesn't seem compelled to stop, either.

"The five of us together should be able to get out of trouble if it's necessary, just..." you say as you turn to look at Cosetta, "Please, for all of our sakes, just quietly smile and nod, would you?" Cosetta frowns, but looking at the bouncers you see her confidence waver. Turning back to you she puts on the proudest face she can and says "If I must."

When it's finally you guy's turn to show your invitation to the bouncers you step forward and present the card that Cosetta got from the older students. One of the bouncers, a burly individual who has clearly magically enhanced his...everything to the gills, takes the card, casts a quick spell on it, nods to himself and hands it back. "Go through," he says as his partner steps aside, and you walk past him with the rest of the group following. They're clearly scared and nervous, but they keep walking all the same. Following the person in front of you leads you through a few doors and into a (presumably secret) basement through a hidden door. Past a short set of stairs you all enter into a make-shift marketplace. Stalls, tables and hawkers peddling their wares are set up like you've stepped into a midnight sale at the Admiratio. The ceiling has been Glamoured to look like the night sky, complete with helpful markers for when a given hour has passed based on the position of the moon, the walls are either painted or Glamoured to look like...well, practically any given street in the docks, really. Just warehouses and alleys everywhere, along with a ship or two. Most impressive, however, is the market itself. Clearly lit through otherwise dim lights placed on every corner each stall and table has a small circle in front of it, and given the dead silence that's hanging inside this room you can only assume that it's to silence the voices of the hawker and the potential buyer to those outside the circle, providing a measure of privacy. If this is some manner of pirate or Thieves Guild auction it's one heck of a class act.

"I don't know what I was expecting," Cosetta slowly says, "but this wasn't it."

"Same here," Avgust says, looking even more in awe than Cosetta, and Cyrus and Olivia nod in agreement as well. Olivia especially looks enchanted by what must look like a fairly romantic sight, but you're not distracted enough to forgot about what this place likely is. Dragging your companions along you all enter the marketplace, and sticking together you all start looking around a bit. A quick run-through of the market confirms that this place is selling quality equipment usually used by individual of...less than legal professions, and it carries an appropriately high cost. The least impressive item you saw, looking through the stalls once, was a complete set of expertly crafted steel lockpicks priced a little under 1000 Pims. Beyond that there's all manner of items both enchanted and not - everything from specialized clothes and potions to more exotic items like lockpicks and blackjacks. It's a pretty impressive selection, all things told.

Eventually Cosetta tugs your robe and whispers in your ear, "This place is clearly dirty no matter how pretty it looks, so what do we do?"

In response you just glare at her and simply say, "Cosetta? Quiet, smile, nod. Remember that." Naturally Cosetta doesn't look too pleased with that, but she reluctantly lets her question drop (and thank the Gods that she does). Of course, the rest of your group doesn't.

"She has a point," Olivia quietly whispers. "I mean I'm not rich enough to shop here and we're clearly outmatched a dozen times over, so...should we just leave?"

"No," Avgust answers, but when asked about what the group should do he doesn't have an answer ready. You, however, do.

"We're going to meet the leader."

There's a number of questions coming from your group regarding how and why you're planning on doing that, but you simply point to one of the guard-looking individuals walking around. "He's kept an eye on us since we walked in here, I think he wants an explanation."

There's a few questions about that, but like clockwork the guard in question walks up to you. As you expected he's as much a walking kitchen sink of protective and empowering magic as the bouncer up above, so he's probably heard you guys whisper to each other. Not to mention you five are literally the only ones here that don't look like you just came from a midnight clearance sale at Black Cloth &Leather Emporium, and the only ones who are teenagers at best. "I take it you...five? Are Professor [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble's latest group of students who don't respect curfew?"

"Hey, I don't mind breaking a few rules if it's for the greater good." Cosetta suddenly blurts out, and while the rest of your group "quiets her down", to put it politely, you're left to carry a conversation with the guard. "You could say that," you say a bit hesitantly as you stare at Cosetta being "handled" a bit more roughly than she's probably like. "Do you or your, eh, employer have a problem with us walking around here? I mean, Cosetta's...well, you can see what kind of state she's in, but she was too stubborn to stay behind."

The guard looks over Cosetta questioningly, and lets out a sigh. "I...suppose sometime you need all the help you can get. Regardless, no, so long as you respect the other customers I don't have a problem with you five, but if you're done browsing my 'employer', as you called him, is ready to speak with you and your friends." You're not sure if you should be scared right now, but given who all is in this room escape is clearly well past the point of impossible anyway, so with a somewhat jerky nod (blame the nerves) you say you're ready to meet with him. The guard, still staring a bit questioningly at your group, nevertheless nods and leads everyone past the market, and through a door into a hidden office...
--- proceed with stage 5 ---

The investigations here are just to show that, no, you really don't have a choice in the matter. Choo-choo noises should be saved for the next stage as that one has some very visible plot rails. My apologies for those, but...yeah. Really out of patience with this adventure, unfortunately.

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Stage 5:

 

The guard ushers you all inside the office before closing the door behind him, and after you hear the handle click into place what little sound was coming through from the market dies down. Apparently it, too, has a Glamour cast on it. "Sir, your guests have arrived," the guard says to the man sitting behind the desk, and half-heartedly that man dismisses the guard with a simple hand gesture. He nods and steps out, again closing the door behind him. "So," the man sitting behind the desk says with a calm, quiet voice as he looks up from behind a stack of papers, "you're the newest group of...five that Professor [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble ordered not to come here, as it would violate curfew?"

To be perfectly honest you're not sure who you were expecting, but whoever it was, this wasn't it. A young man who looks like he's barely past twenty, if he is, with well-kept hair, a clean shaven face and, as far as you can see, alumni robe of College Avila. His voice is calm to the point of sounding cold, but his large brown eyes and overall relaxed expression shows that he's calm and collected, not callous. Even when his eyes are narrowed at each of you you can't help but get the feeling that he'd sooner be worried about you if you're not the individuals he was expecting, rather than angry or upset. At least, you very sincerely hope that's the case...

"G-guilty as charged..." [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re slowly says, sounding like she's out of breath for some reason.

"Oh for Queen Avila's sake, Cosetta, really? I know he's really pretty but he's a bit old for you, don't you think?" [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari whispers to Cosetta so loudly that everyone else in the room can clearly hear it. You're not sure if Olivia did that intentionally or if she simply underestimated how powerful her voice sounds when she's in an otherwise magically sound-proofed room...

"I think that's her cold acting up again, Olivia, not her crushing on pretty boy over there..." [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets muses while lazily pointing in the vague direction of the man sitting behind the desk. Sure enough, Cosetta seems a little unstable on her feet now that you look at her. Remembering his manners Avgust turns to face said person and says "No offence, eh...?"

"Who, me?" [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes jovially asks with a huge grin. Which quickly goes away when Olivia turns to glare at him.

"Guys, please?" you ask, and each of them turn to nod at you and take a step back. You take a step forward and face the man behind the desk, who's now staring at you all with an amused grin on his face.

"With friends like these, who needs enemies...am I right?" he calmly says with a superior smirk. You turn around and look at your "friends", Cosetta in particular, and after turning back you just shrug. "I guess you could say that. In order that's Olivia Solari, Cyrus Dawes, Avgust Kostrodyrets, and Cosetta Re. Cosetta should be in the infirmary recovering from a bad cold, but, well, she's nothing if not determined to put it nicely. I'm [Character]Character/Self, who are you?"

The man graciously bows, as much as he can while sitting in front of a desk. "Names are a bit of a liability in my business, but my moniker is Successhands. You five, I imagine, are not quite the students I was expecting?" You shake your head, and Successhands lets out a small sigh. "I thought as much. That said I see you're all Avila students, and I imagine that if you followed one of my invitations all the way to me you probably are either a bit too curious for your own good or care about the integrity of the college more so than most do. Either way, I believe that the..." Successhands pauses as he looks over Cosetta, who's decided to lean against a wall for support. "...Some...of you will nevertheless be able to assist me with a rather...gray area problem, if you're interested." Successhands doesn't elaborate straight away, giving your group a chance to think and talk it over. It's an opportunity you think you should make use of. Turning around to face the group you ask "It's not exactly why we came here, but, does anyone have any opinions?"

Avgust frowns. "Why are you asking that now? Shouldn't we first hear what he needs help with?"

"If it's illegal business we might be better off not knowing." Cyrus notes. He then turns to look at Cosetta. "Especially because tattletale over here would never allow us - or anyone else - to forget it."

Olivia rolls her eyes. "She's right there, Cyrus, I think she's heard enough to make us never forget it already...right, Cosetta?" Contrary to expectations, there's no response. "...Cosetta? Can you hear me?" Olivia walks over to Cosetta, who's now sitting on the ground and leaning against the wall, not moving and breathing a bit heavily. Despite Olivia shaking her a bit she doesn't respond beyond some weak mumbling that's too quiet to hear. For some reason you get the impression that you've been in this situation before.

"So I guess count her out..." Avgust says while shaking his head, and turning back to you he says "I say we at least hear him out. If it's something we don't want to do, well, we just won't do it. I mean we can all keep a secret, right?" There's a few sceptical looks being thrown Avgust's way, probably because he's quite the tattletale himself in some respects, but he doesn't say anything in response.

"I didn't come all this way just to risk a reprimand for the sake of it. And hey, if it's in College Avila's best interest, why not?" Olivia says for her part.

Cyrus ends up staring at Successhands pretty hard before voicing his opinion. "I...I'm not sure how I feel about this. He's another guy who is...well, was in College Avila. I feel like we should have things in common. Like we can trust him."

Avgust is about to make a comment about Cyrus actually feeling a connection because they're both excessively pretty, but an elbow to the side courtesy of both Cyrus and Olivia shuts him up. You let out another sigh and turn back to Successhands. "That part about friends and enemies? Yeah. As for your problem I can't promise anything, but we're interested in hearing it. Especially if it's indeed in our College's best interest."

Successhand nods and puts his papers aside. "To keep it brief, as I imagine you five are going to have quite an interesting time carrying your friend back without anyone asking undue questions, the issue is my business. As great as it is here, I'm afraid it can't stay here. The Thieves Guild incorrectly, though good luck convincing them thereof, believes that I've stepped into their territory, and they want me to pay them for the 'damage' I caused. I told them I wouldn't on the pain of a fiery death, and, well, their last correspondence was a self-immolating letter that said 'terms accepted'. As such, I've decided to relocate. However, one question keeps coming up and I don't know how to answer it. Strictly speaking, what I'm doing here is against city law. I'm not licensed to sell merchandise, I don't have the required Guild memberships or pay heed to their various rules or patents or price fixings or what have you, nor do I pay the necessary dues or taxes, simply because...they don't need it. I don't need it." Successhands stares you each right in the eyes before continuing, and especially Cyrus and Avgust seem unsure about how to respond to it.

"For all the bad things living in Dorm Tower Eight has done for me, it has given me a different perspective. That there's issues that, as an Avila graduate, me and my friends have to address, even if we'll never see students like you hanging around in the common room, or taking a meal in the Great Hall and things like that. As such, we came together and started this business on the down low, so that instead of guild dues or city taxes the proceeds could be send to Dorm Tower Eight. I know you must think that it's accomplished nothing so far, but rest assured that the more money Professor [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble gets from less traditional-minded sources the more she can actually acknowledge that Dorm Tower Eight exists. The question, then, is whether I should stay underground, and technically illegal, or whether I should open a legitimate business, with the knowledge that our bottom line is going to be sucked dry by practically every last person in Mineta. The help I want from you...four, five if your friend will recover in time, is to make sure the transition is as smooth as possible, and yes, I have a reason to ask for outside help to make sure of that. But...more importantly, as students of College Avila, I want to hear your opinions. Should I stay in the shadows, or close up shop and open an actual business in the Admiratio? What do you think would be best for your -our, even - College?"

Legalize the business. It's not just money, it's the honor of College Avila that's at stake here.

"The reason Professor [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble doesn't acknowledge your existence and doesn't do what she can to help Dorm Tower Eight is because she can't risk people asking where she's getting the money from. If anyone ever figures out that the boys get support from an honest-to-goodness criminal everyone will be a whole lot more than just embarrassed! If you think the Guilds and the city council take too much of your bottom line you should step up and tell them that instead of hiding in the shadows and conducting business - literally and figuratively - underground." You stop to catch your breath, and look back towards your companions. "Do you guys have anything to add?" [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets, [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes and [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari all just shake their head. For as nervous and confused as they were earlier, they at least seem to agree with you on this point. You nod to them, and turn back to Successhands. "Sorry if I got carried away there, but that's my opinion. And if you want help dragging this business to the Admiratio and probably covering your less-then-glamorous tracks, I'd be willing to help. I'm sure the rest feel that way, too."

There's several sounds of agreement coming from your companions, along with some incoherent mumbling from [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re. She's apparently fallen asleep completely, which will make dragging her back to the Academagia that much more fun...

"Very well, than that's what we'll do." Successhands says without any hint of hesitation or regret. "You five, for now, go back to the Academagia and see to it that your friend gets some much-needed rest. I'll contact you and give you your orders at a later point. Once everything is said and done we'll talk in person again."

You nod, and turn around to face your companions. "Alright, so...how are we going to drag Cosetta's body all the way back to the Academagia without anyone asking unnecessary questions?"

There's a few seconds of silence until Cyrus, finally, pipes up with an answer. "Very carefully." he says a bit too happily for your taste...

--- pause adventure ---

As stated this is where the adventure would have split into three paths - the one which you see above, a "stay independent" path and a "join the Thieves Guild" path - but after scratching two other versions of this adventure I don't have the patience to make all that work. Suffice to say that from this point forwards the train is going to torpedo itself off the rails and straight into space at least every other stage, so rest assured that making it all work wouldn't be as simple as task as it might seem anyway...but you'll figure that out in due time.

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Stage 6:

 

Another quiet day in the Avila common room, another day you're sharing a corner with [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes, [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari, [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re and [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets. Cosetta has fully recovered from her cold (or so she claims), but even so she's the last one to arrive.

"Sorry I'm late, the infirmary nurses just don't know when to quit sometimes. So, what's the situation?"

"What, you don't remember what happened last time?" Avgust sarcastically asks.

"No," Cosetta answers with a frown. "I passed out during the middle of it, in case you forgot. So what happened with...that guy, Successfeet or something? Did you guys end up putting him in chains and parading him and his little smuggler's crew to the nearest guardhouse or what?"

"Are you sure you're better, Cosetta, or is that just your incredibly imaginative wishful thinking talking?" you ask, seriously unsure of which possibility is correct.

Cosetta, in turn, pouts a bit. "I said I'm better...but I kinda, vaguely sorta remember you guys bringing that guy to the guards and they all threw a party at the Academagia in m-I mean our honor and everything. And, eh, I was hoping that wasn't just a fever dream." No one is really sure what to say in response to that, and soon Cosetta just lets out a sight. "Fine, fine. I thought that was too much to hope for. So what happened and what are we doing?"

You take out a small parcel and drop in on the table in front of you. "Successhands, not Successfeet, Cosetta, send me this early this morning. It's got our task, although I haven't read it yet since I knew everyone else would want to hear it. Cyrus, would you do the honors?" Cyrus seems unsure why you chose him to read the letter (whim, mostly), but he dutifully takes out the letter and reads it out loud.

Dear Group,

I gathered my crew together and discussed the matter of where we go from here. Fortunately, the vast majority agrees with your assessment - if we go above ground and establish a fully legal business it'll do College Avila greater good in the end, even if we don't end up with as much money to donate to Dorm Tower Eight. Not to offend or underestimate any of you, but I doubt that any of you could fully grasp how significant it was that you five, all students of College Avila, all honest-to-goodness individuals that our actions are supposed to be helping, all agreed on that point (not that Cosetta ever said as much, but my guard assured me that if she wasn't leaning half-dead against my office at the time she'd agree as well).

"Okay, seriously, how much did I miss?" Cosetta asks, but she's simply motioned back to silence as Cyrus continues.

I've researched the possibilities of where a theoretical legal version of our business can go and how it might end up looking, and I have pieced together an idea that I'm sure will maintain both the quality of our merchandise as well as all the important aspects of our customer service - the latter of which we take as seriously as the former, if not more so. Something that I'm sure you all noticed when you visited. Unfortunately it seems like the Thieves Guild heard and they are now convinced that, seeing as how we're trying to turn over a new leaf, we're concerned enough about our reputation that they can blackmail us and demand even greater "compensation" for the "damage to their business" that we've caused. I've already performed several divinations and determined that these threats are most likely empty - they're coming from a man named Gaerheart Vassen, who oversees the part of the docks where I (soon used to) operate on behalf of the Thieves Guild. He works out of a tavern called The Loaded Dice in the Lower City, where he gets most of his money by hosting illegal gambling events as well as getting a cut from what his men manage to smuggle or steal out of the docks and later fence. There were some other things that my divinations revealed, but I didn't manage to interpret them.

The first task I ask of you five is to both confirm what my divinations told me, as well as fill in the blank spots - most notably whether he actually has anything to back up his blackmail, which is something that my divinations were uncomfortably unclear on. Yes, I know, they were not clear enough. Give it a few years and you'll understand what I'm talking about. Regardless I can't say what the best (or safest) way to approach him would be, particularly because Academagia students don't tend to visit bars located in the Lower City, though I'm sure that the less he knows about you and your activities, the better. If it turns out that he does have something on me he'll naturally have to be dealt with, and it's possible that I will leave that up to you five, depending on what that situation ends up being. I'll inform you of those details as soon as I can after you accomplish this task and send word of your success. Good luck, everyone.

- Successhands.


There a bit of awkward silence hanging in the air as Cyrus tosses the letter on the table, everyone looking somewhere between nervous and scared. "I...seriously. What did I all miss?" Cosetta asks again.

"I'm sure you've managed to piece most of it together already." Avgust says. "So...how are we going to confirm that these divinations of his are accurate? I mean, that Gaerheart guy's an honest-to-goodness criminal, isn't he?"

"Apparently." Cyrus says, to the visible relief of absolutely no one. "I think the biggest problem will be not standing out like a sore thumb when we reach the Lower City. 'Beautiful' students like us don't really belong there..."

You're not sure whether Cyrus was speaking purely about himself (and maybe Olivia) or making a comment about how, relative to most living in the Lower City, all of your respective ability to comb your hair would make any of you stand out. Unable to decide you just let the point drop. "Our own divinations aren't going to be worth anything if an Avila graduate has already tried the same, so we're going to have to actually go out there and look through this tavern. Maybe even shadow the guy to his home, in case he's keeping any dirt on Successhands there. All things told I do agree with Successhands - the less aware that Gaerheart is of us, the better."

"In which case, it's probably best if just one or two of us go and check out this place instead of all of us - we'd only stand out that much more otherwise." Olivia says with a very significant grin on her face.

"I'd be willing to shadow him," Cosetta confidently says while staring at you, but whatever else she was about to say gets lost when she sees your frown. "What? Do you have a problem with that?"

You turn to look at Cyrus. "Just checking, but does the name Gaerheart Vassen sound familiar to you, too?"

Cyrus actually nods. "He, or at least that name, is the legal owner of the privately owned office building under which Successhands conducts his business. I doubt that they're really the same person, if that information is even still accurate since my map of the docks is a bit old, but that might be something worth looking into all the same."

"That's something the rest of us can do while Cosetta shadows the man, maybe." Avgust says, "Look through city records and see what all this Gaerheart bought and used for what purpose. If we can give Successhands better blackmail on him than he has on Successhands I think that'll accomplish this task."

You turn to look at Olivia, who seems much less afraid of that idea. "I know a thing or two about getting City Hall clerks to actually help you," she says with a very, very untrustworthy grin.

"I'm sure I'd be of more use talking to City Hall clerks than I would shadowing a criminal." Cyrus adds, looking as if he saw a choice between going with Olivia or Cosetta, and ultimately choosing Olivia. For once.

"I know a thing or two about looking through records and finding what you need, so I can help with that." Avgust notes.

"Well I'm sure that good information means stalking this Gaerheart and that's what I'll be doing." Cosetta says like she's not putting herself at risk. "[Character]Character/Self, what are you going to do?"

Law. Look for any and all suspicious records on Gaerheart that you can find. (Luck/v6)

"I can understand that the three of you would rather look through City Hall than shadow an actual criminal, and I can likewise understand that you two think you can talk your way into looking through those records while you're confident that you can actually look through them, although by my count that does leave one rather important point - do any of you understand law enough to know what to look for?"

As expected there's no response from either [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari, [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes or [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets. [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re, however, feels like she can open her mouth. "So I take it you know?"

"Well, let me put it this way: If you guys find separate records that the office building is owned by Gaerheart personally and used by a company called Fisher and Sons, is that something to take note of?"

Avgust frowns. "Does it matter? It's Gaerheart's building, isn't it? Who he rents it out to doesn't matter."

Cyrus looks sceptically at Avgust, obviously suspecting that you're trying to trip the three of them up, and asks, "Question, but do we know whether or not Gaerheart actually owns Fisher and Sons in this example?"

"Let's say you do, and assume no, he doesn't own it."

"What if he's a co-owner? Like, he's the Son and his father's the Fisher, or the other way around?"

"Same difference - he doesn't own it, in part or in all."

"Ah, but what if he's an employee? Does that matter?" Avgust, smugly, asks.

"The fact that you three can't answer that question yourselves seems to answer the whole argument as far as I can see." Cosetta says. And after a moment the three seem to realize that, as blunt as Cosetta puts it, she's right.

"Fine, but just to clarify - would that be something to take note of?" Olivia asks.

"No." you answer. "There are, of course, a number of details and conditions placed on such rentals, but as a general rule if that office building is his private property than he can rent it out to a company as he pleases. So it looks like I'll be joining the City Hall group, but...Cosetta, are you really sure about shadowing Gaerheart alone? I don't know what could happen if none of us are there to back you up, so maybe one of us should-"

Cosetta rolls her eyes. "[Character]Character/Self, please, you'll just get in my way. Besides, you guys need to remember that while Gaerheart might be a criminal he's only a thief who probably cheats at gambling. He's not a bloodthirsty pirate lord who could make our professors flee in terror. Worst comes to worst he'll just drag me to a guard and have me reprimanded for suspicious behaviour, maybe steal my lunch money first if he's good at picking pockets. Either way he's not going to be the end of me. Really."

Cosetta looks confident, although the other three still look sceptical. "Just...let her do what she believes is best..." you say while staring at Cosetta not concerned at all...though for, perhaps, not the best of reasons. "The rest of us will head off to City Hall and see about digging up information. Does that sound like a plan?"

Nods all around, though some are less confident than others. All the same the five of you stand up and head off into Mineta, Cosetta eventually breaking off as the four of you head off towards City Hall. No one looks happy, excited, or really anything other than worried and maybe dreadful. You ask if it's because they're worried about Cosetta or whether they're not looking forwards to tangling with City Hall, but all the answers you get are vague, at best. So, filled with dread and barely any concern for Cosetta's sake, the four of you enter City Hall. It actually is fairly quiet today. Not many people walking around or waiting for their turn, most of the clerks even seem to be in a good mood. Although they generally are when there's no work for them to do other than sip drinks and talk to their co-workers. Cyrus and Olivia motion to you and Avgust to wait while they talk to the clerks, and while they do Avgust suddenly looks at you a little funny.

"So, something I forgot to ask: People's personal records aren't public, right?"

"Personal records, no. That's kinda why they're called 'personal records' rather than 'public records'. The latter does exist, mind, though I don't think they'd be too helpful in this situation." you answer.

"So how are those two planning to get us permission to look through the important stuff?"

"They said they could, so I figure tha-oh, back already? How'd it go?"

"I have good news, and I have bad news." Cyrus says. Avgust quips about there never being just good news, and you ask what the bad news is.

"According to that clerk, Gaerheart doesn't exist. Like, at all. There's no record of any citizen living in Mineta by his name now or during the past decade or so."

"Huh, well-informed for a clerk. And the good news?"

"Our merry band of Astrologers, who totally forsaw that problem written in the stars, just got permission to look into it. To an extend, but it's more than most people could get without being employed in the Minetan Guard."

"...I suppose someone's visions did technically lead us here. So, did you get a pass or what?"

Cyrus holds up a pass you didn't see earlier, and points to one of the doors. "Through there is the records room. Somewhere, I'm not entirely sure. Either way we've got a lot of stuff to look through, so let's go." Following Olivia's directions, because she was apparently actually paying attention to the clerk earlier, the five of you end up in some manner of record room. Just stacks and stacks of drawers with equal stacks of files. It's a good thing you don't intend to look through everything, because that'd take forever.

"I have to say, this is the easiest and most expedient trip through City Hall I've ever experienced." Avgust notes as he stares, slightly in awe, at all the drawers.

"You can say that once we've left, Avgust. These are public records on the city's citizens and which Guilds or other businesses claim to have them in their employ, so it won't be easy to find someone specific here. So start looking."

True to Avgust's earlier word he actually does have an idea about where to look, enough to also give the rest of you vague directions. Ultimately they're all for nothing, though, because no matter what you look through you don't find Gaerheart's name anywhere. Employment records, tax records, population records, emigration and immigration records, Academagia student records, nothing. Gaerheart's name is nowhere to be found. Eventually the four of you give up and head back to the Academagia to wait for Cosetta's rapport, although while waiting you're actually approached by an older Avila student - one you don't know by name, but you've seen her in the Common Room before.

"You four, you're Cosetta's friends, right?" she asks with a curious frown on her face.

"Mutual acquaintances, miss, not friends." Cyrus says with a completely serious expression...somehow. Even Olivia can't seem to get offended by that, although the half-disgusted expression on the older girl probably has something to do with that.

"Yeah, sure thing, pretty boy. Anyway, she's in detention right now because she was caught skulking around in the Lower City - don't ask me why she was there, I don't know - and she asked me to tell you four that she's already relayed her findings. To who, seeing as how she apparently needed me to tell you four about this I likewise don't know, but I imagine that the four or you understand. And if not, well, tough luck. I'm not expending any more effort than necessary on pleasing Cosetta Re, of all people, so you'll just have to ask you herself."

"I take it you only did this much for her because you were in detention as well and she offered to tattle on someone else in your stead?" Avgust asks as casually as most would ask for the time. He's really been hanging out with Cosetta too much, you think. The older girl, for her part, shrugs. "Pretty much." she half-heartedly says as she dismisses herself and walks off, sitting down in the common room not too far away from you four.

"So...we're going to have to wait for Cosetta to get out of detention?" Olivia asks.

"Looks like it." Cyrus notes while looking so blissfully happy that you have to wonder what's on his mind right now - the older girl's back or the fact that Cosetta is in detention. Well, Olivia is right there next to him, so you'd have to put good money is on the latter.

Avgust just lets out a long, drawn-out sigh. "Well, at least she's not dead, but I imagine that Regent [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble will keep her locked up for a while for supposedly risking it anyway. So...nothing to do but wait..."

Indeed. If Cosetta indeed already informed Successhands, which you assume is what the older girl meant, there's nothing left to do but to wait...
--- +1 Filing, +1 Bureaucracy ---

 

"I can understand that the three of you would rather look through City Hall than shadow an actual criminal, and I can likewise understand that you two think you can talk your way into looking through those records while you're confident that you can actually look through them, although by my count that does leave one rather important point - do any of you understand law enough to know what to look for?"

As expected there's no response from either [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari, [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes or [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets. [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re, however, feels like she can open her mouth. "So I take it you know?"

"I'm pretty sure I do, yes." you answer. "So I'll be joining the City Hall group, but...Cosetta, are you really sure about shadowing Gaerheart alone? I don't know what could happen if none of us are there to back you up, so maybe one of us should-"

Cosetta rolls her eyes. "[Character]Character/Self, please, you'll just get in my way. Besides, you guys need to remember that while Gaerheart might be a criminal he's only a thief who probably cheats at gambling. He's not a bloodthirsty pirate lord who could make our professors flee in terror. Worst comes to worst he'll just drag me to a guard and have me reprimanded for suspicious behaviour, maybe steal my lunch money first if he's good at picking pockets. Either way he's not going to be the end of me. Really."

Cosetta looks confident, although the other three still look sceptical. "Just...let her do what she believes is best..." you say while staring at Cosetta not concerned at all...though for, perhaps, not the best of reasons. "The rest of us will head off to City Hall and see about digging up information. Does that sound like a plan?"

Nods all around, though some are less confident than others. All the same the five of you stand up and head off into Mineta, Cosetta eventually breaking off as the four of you head off towards City Hall. No one looks happy, excited, or really anything other than worried and maybe dreadful. You ask if it's because they're worried about Cosetta or whether they're not looking forwards to tangling with City Hall, but all the answers you get are vague, at best. So, filled with dread and barely any concern for Cosetta's sake, the four of you enter City Hall. It actually is fairly quiet today. Not many people walking around or waiting for their turn, most of the clerks even seem to be in a good mood. Although they generally are when there's no work for them to do other than sip drinks and talk to their co-workers. Cyrus and Olivia motion to you and Avgust to wait while they talk to the clerks, and while they do Avgust suddenly looks at you a little funny.

"So, something I forgot to ask: People's personal records aren't public, right?"

"I assume so." you answer.

"So how are those two planning to get us permission to look through the important stuff?"

"They said they could, so I figure that they'll know how to-oh, back already? How'd it go?"

"I have good news, and I have bad news." Cyrus says. Avgust quips about there never being just good news, and you ask what the bad news is.

"According to that clerk, Gaerheart doesn't exist. Like, at all. There's no record of any citizen living in Mineta by his name now or during the past decade or so."

"I...see. And the good news?"

"Some public records are just that - public - so if we want to look through them we're welcome to. 'If you've nothing better to do with your time', as the clerk put it."

"Let's just take what we can get and get out of here before anyone gets the bright idea that our professors don't give out enough homework." Avgust quickly says while casting a suspicious glance over at the clerks. Looking at them...they seem to be talking about you guys. "Where's the records...room...whatever?"

"Through that door," Cyrus says, pointing at a door. "Beyond that, eh, I wasn't really paying attention, so...follow Olivia?"

Olivia rolls her eyes and leads the three of you to a relatively small room where copies of outstanding arrest warrants are kept. Looking through a pile at random you don't recognize any of the names. "So...this is it." Cyrus says as Avgust starts looking through the room. "This is pretty much all we're getting access to without something like permission from a professor. Alternatively, a better argument."

"Or a brick of gold if any of you guys are feeling brave." Avgust jokes while he's sifting through a stack of records.

"Would you like to add your name to the pile here, Avgust?" Olivia jokingly asks.

"No, although that's just about the only thing we can do as far as I can see." Avgust puts his stack back where he found it and walks to the three of you. "No mention of Gaerheart, or anyone remotely similar in terms of what we've been told he does. So...now what?"

You shake your head slowly. "If we can't get access to the records that we need we'll...ah, I think we'll have to wait for Cosetta. Hopefully she'll have a lead for us." The rest of your group obviously isn't too pleased with this news, but they don't have anything better to suggest either, so you four return to the Academagia in shame and wait for Cosetta. Only a half-hour later she walks in, complaining that The Loaded Dice is apparently closed for repairs today - something about a brawl that happened the other day. Seems like you'll all have to try again another day.
--- +1 Stress ---

 

Spy. Shadow Gaerheart to his house and "investigate" it. (Luck/v8)

"I'll be shadowing Gaerheart," you confidently say, to the surprise and shock of...almost everyone else.

"Did you forget what [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari just said?" [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re asks. "The more people we have shadowing Gaerheart the more likely he is to notice. I don't need you to get in my way, I can handle that myself." she adds, in a way answering her own question before you got the chance to.

"In case you forgot, Cosetta, we have two locations to look through - that tavern and the man's house, and I intend to shadow him to the latter. You should stick to hiding in the tavern and eavesdropping as best you can, unless you think you could break into his house and pick the locks on whatever container he's keeping his important stuff in, not to mention disable all the traps."

"...Fine," Cosetta, eventually, says reluctantly. "But on your head be it. I'm not going to shadow someone that I know is either being shadowed or shadowing someone in turn, that's just asking for people to get suspicious and spotted. If you want to follow him to his house, you're on your own."

"No problem, I can handle myself," you confidently state, completely unsure if you really could handle yourself if it came down to it.

"In that case I guess the three of us will be stopping by City Hall," [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes says with limited amounts of enthusiasm, lazily pointing to [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari and [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets. They, in turn, both nod, no more enthused about what they'll be doing than Cyrus is(n't).

"Alright than, let's go." Cosetta says, and everyone stands up. Cyrus, Olivia and Avgust eventually split off and head for City Hall, as planned, leaving you walking towards the Lower City with Cosetta. For better or worse she's not in a chatty mood, so it's a long and somewhat awkward walk to The Loaded Dice. After stopping to ask a few bystanders directions because, as it turns out, neither of you were clever enough to figure out where the place is located beforehand. A slight miscalculation, one that Gaerheart himself probably will not be making himself when he decides to go home. It's not until The Loaded Dice comes into view that Cosetta finally starts talking to you. "So how are you going to follow the guy to his house? I mean, I don't know his schedule, he might be there right now or he might only go to the tavern well after midnight and leave once the sun rises. I don't think I could chase him out of the tavern without revealing myself, and I don't know any spells that would convince him to go to his home as opposed to anywhere else even if I could quietly chase him out, anyway. So what's the plan?"

You mentally note that it would probably have been helpful to have this conversation before walking all the way to the tavern, but for some reason Cosetta thought that leaving you alone, in silence, was the better idea. Maybe it's all part of her grand scheme...or maybe she's getting cold feet. You don't know, and at this point, you don't have the time to care. "We can't be sure either way, so we've got to get in there and listen to what's going on. And if and when he leaves, shadow him to his home. Now just move in - the longer we stay here standing around the more suspicious everyone living along this street and than some will be." With that you give Cosetta a "gentle" push towards the tavern, cast a spell on yourself to make you look like you're just part of the Lower City scenery and start waiting outside the tavern for someone to come out. You figure that Cosetta will give you a signal or some sort, and if not...well, you can blame the poor planning on her.

Three minutes later and a walking bear of a man - large, burly, tattooed and even scarred in a few places with enough hair and a large enough beard to support a hornet's nest - walks out dragging poor Cosetta by her collar, apparently looking for a guard to hand her off to. You didn't figure that she'd last long, although you expected her to last longer than that. Well, she's sure to run her mouth all the way from here to the Academagia, so you covertly follow the man and Cosetta (which are...very difficult to miss) and listen in. Indeed, Cosetta is rambling her mouth off about how she say someone cheating at cards, and how another was picking someone's pocket, and all the noise she's making quickly attracts the attention of a guard, who asks Bear (a fitting nickname) what the noise is all about. Bear just shoves Cosetta at the guard and says she was sneaking around in the tavern, which Cosetta, in her infinite wisdom, immediately admits to by listing everything she saw and heard in the three minutes she was in there. Again. The guard, who seems familiar enough with Bear that you're sure they're on a first-name basis, calmly nods and says he'll bring the student before her Regent for a proper lecture, demerits and reprimand. In response Cosetta starts running her mouth even further, going to far as to mention Gaerheart by name. Not the sharpest tool in the drawer, that one. Bear, however, is fed up enough with her that he actually let's slip something interesting.

"Gods' sakes, girl, one-armed Gaer's wasn't even there. If ye didn't see that ye clearly don't even know him! So why sneak around our place, than!?"

The guard steps in and calms Bear down, mostly by bringing up Regent [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble and assuring Bear that he'll make sure that Cosetta will be questioned at length about that (which you're sure is going to be a problem in the near future, but one possibly burning bridge at a time), and again the familiarity between these two shows as Bear simply nods to the guard and even gives him a thumbs-up. Cosetta starts making up for the silent treatment she gave you earlier (if in the wrong way and to the wrong person), leaving you alone to track down Gaerheart and look through his stuff. And if Bear was right about Gaerheart only having one arm, well, that narrows your search down considerably. Indeed, although it takes longer than you'd like to admit, it's child's play to walk around these streets and periodically look into The Loaded Dice without attracting undue attention until, hidden in a dark ally, you see a one-armed man quietly whisper to someone who you'd guess is a sailor...but you don't care enough to get closer and check. No guarantee that you've found the one-armed man you're looking for, of course, but you'd like to believe that you're lucky. When he leaves you quietly shadow him until he walks into a run-down home, and an hour later he leaves, going in the direction of The Loaded Dice, while he's casually inspecting a pair of dice with his one hand

Pretty dexterous man, juggling two dice with one hand, you think, but that's not important. What's important is that he's left his house, there's no one around to see you break into it, and you've got your set of lockpicks on you. Picking the lock of the front door is surprisingly difficult, definitely made of stronger stuff than the door itself, but you can manage to pick it open all the same. Once inside the house you don't waste time looking for the man's bedroom, assuming that that's where he'd keep his important stuff - close by. And indeed, one very nice-looking and triple-locked chest is hidden under the man's bed, definitely kept safe by the series of locks more so than it's entirely unnecessary hiding place. Picking all three locks at once in a way that isn't going to set off any potential traps is easier said than done, even for someone with twice the amount of opposable thumbs as Gaerheart, but with a fair bit of juggling needles and some really acrobatic manoeuvres with your toes later you manage to get the chest open. And inside is an extensive record of everyone who's ever attended Successhands' auctions. Names, ages, purchases, preferred disguises, even leads to locate their direct family. Looks like Gaerheart is every bit the class act that Successhands is, and if this information is brought to the guards than Successhands will be completely ruined. You quickly make a copy of enough information to make your point to Successhands clear and than start covering your tracks. Thankfully, magic is quiet useful for that purpose. You imagine that once Successhands gets back to you he's going to ask you to deal with Gaerheart, since if he has some way to getting this information he's clearly got great ways to get dirt to hold over Successhands' head, and he'll need someone to take care of that quietly. You just hope that you'll be able to do so...
--- +1 Acrobatics, +1 Pure Luck ---

 

"I'll be shadowing Gaerheart," you confidently say, to the surprise and shock of...almost everyone else.

"Did you forget what [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari just said?" [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re asks. "The more people we have shadowing Gaerheart the more likely he is to notice. I don't need you to get in my way, I can handle that myself." she adds, in a way answering her own question before you got the chance to.

"In case you forgot, Cosetta, we have two locations to look through - that tavern and the man's house, and I intend to shadow him to the latter. You should stick to hiding in the tavern and eavesdropping as best you can, unless you think you could break into his house and pick the locks on whatever container he's keeping his important stuff in, not to mention disable all the traps."

"...Fine," Cosetta, eventually, says reluctantly. "But on your head be it. I'm not going to shadow someone that I know is either being shadowed or shadowing someone in turn, that's just asking for people to get suspicious and spotted. If you want to follow him to his house, you're on your own."

"No problem, I can handle myself," you confidently state, completely unsure if you really could handle yourself if it came down to it.

"In that case I guess the three of us will be stopping by City Hall," [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes says with limited amounts of enthusiasm, lazily pointing to [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari and [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets. They, in turn, both nod, no more enthused about what they'll be doing than Cyrus is(n't).

"Alright than, let's go." Cosetta says, and everyone stands up. Cyrus, Olivia and Avgust eventually split off and head for City Hall, and you and Cosetta start making your way to the Lower City separately. "To avoid throwing any more suspicion on ourselves", as Cosetta so feebly tried to justify it. Why she can't just say that she doesn't trust you as far as she could throw you you're not sure. Well, no matter, you'll do a better job of it on your own anyway. At least that's what you tell yourself as you walk, alone, all the way into the Lower City. It's at that point that you realize that you don't actually know where The Loaded Dice is. So short of walking around randomly you're going to have to ask people for directions. People that are staring at you very curiously given that your Avila uniform kinda stands out like a sore thumb here.

...Maybe discretion is the better part of valor, at this point. You seem to have attracted enough attention without asking for directions to a specific seedy bar and illegal gambling hub. And with that guard walking over there looking at you like he wants to ask-yep, time to leave. Right now. You cast a quick Glamour on yourself, turn tail and run. That guard definitely would have blown what little cover you had left. Either that or he had to sneeze, you're not placing bets on which.

You make your way back to the Academagia, where Avgust, Olivia and Cyrus are waiting for you in the Avila common room. They, unfortunately, found nothing of note. A half-hour later Cosetta walks in, looking like someone kicked a puppy in front of her.

"Unbelievable. The Loaded Dice is closed today, apparently it had to be repaired after a 'disagreement' turned into a 'gentlemanly duel' or some such rubbish. DRUNKEN. BRAWL. Is that so hard to say!?"

"...Welcome back to you too, Cosetta. So...who did you...even...?" Avgust can't even finish the sentence.

Cosetta waves the question off. "Doesn't matter. So did you four...?"

Everyone shakes their head. Cosetta, in turn, sighs.

"Great. Well, I guess that means we'll try again later. Unless one of you thinks of a better plan."
--- +1 Stress ---

I think I forgot how to be succinct between the last time I did this and now (Spoiler: That's a lie - I've never known how to be succinct :rolleyes:).

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Stage 7:

 

Once again you're sharing a corner of the Avila common room with your "crew", gathered together today because you've received Successhands' response to your completion of his first task. You nervously drop the letter in front of [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes and ask him to do the honors again. Again he seems confused as to why you're asking him, but he reads the letter out loud all the same.

Dear Group,

Thank you very much for confirming what my divinations could not and proving, without a doubt, that Gaerheart is not someone to be taken lightly. The news that he has somehow managed to get detailed information about all my customers, up to and including their extended families, is very worrying indeed. The good news is that his immense confidence in the quality of his blackmail has apparently made him rather lax with regards to when I intend to send him his bribe. The bad news is that Gaerheart's entirely justified confidence in his blackmail is, quite literally, the only good news.

Needless to say that this is a problem that is going to have to be dealt with before we make the switch from our current business model to the new one. Regrettably the obvious solution isn't possible - we simply don't have the money on hand to pay Gaerheart's outrageous bribe, and it'd take longer for us to generate that money then he's likely willing to wait (if he doesn't decide to demand an even more outrageous sum at that point). Removing him from the equation directly is likewise not going to work, as the problem is his source of information just as much as it is the information itself. I'm sure you've all suspected at least once that one of my crew is working for Gaerheart, but I assure you that this isn't the case - I personally checked everyone and I still believe all the people who I have long called friends. Even so, I've decided to keep this matter to myself. No need to cause unnecessary panic, as that will only result in someone getting cold feet and making...unfortunate decisions.

As for you five, I do believe I'll be making good on my earlier promise - Gaerheart is most certainly going to see me coming, especially if he knows that I've learned about the extend of his grip over me, which means that you five are my best (only, really) chance of ensuring my reputation. How you go about not just removing Gaerheart, but also plugging whatever source of information he has, I cannot say. My divinations have revealed nothing that I could even attempt to interpret. The eternal problem with Astrology, I'm afraid. All the same, I believe my earlier advice still holds true - the less Gaerheart knows about you five, the better. Good luck, everyone. Once Gaerheart is out of my hair it should be relatively smooth sailing to transfer our business to the Admiratio. Not that I expect that dealing with City Hall clerks will be significantly easier, but at least they shouldn't have me hunted down by several dozen highly skilled and well-equipped individuals who'd probably want my head for betraying them - and I would know, seeing as how I'm the one who supplied them. All the same I've made sure to give my desk a few hard knocks. You can never be too sure.

-Successhands.


"That's...that's certainly something." Cyrus says as he drops the letter on the table. "And that rambling at the end there? I think Successhands himself is close to getting cold feet. We'd better get this done quickly."

[Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets lets out a chuckle, either out of nerves or a bad sense of humor. "Oh please, how are we supposed to deal with a man like Gaerheart? if Successhands can't solve that problem I don't see how any of we could..."

"Does that mean you're giving up?" [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re asks.

"It's less about giving up and more about realizing that there's just not a whole lot we can do. Besides which, shouldn't you still be in detention, Cosetta?" [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari asks, jovially staring at Cosetta near the end there.

"No." she answers, either ignoring or missing Olivia's undisguised enjoyment of the idea of Cosetta getting reprimanded herself for once. "And we can't give up without even giving it any thought! Yes, Gaerheart is clearly a skilled man with some manner of contacts or something like that, but he's not omnipotent and he's not going to see us coming. We have our wands, we have all of us here, all we need is a good plan to carry out."

"Did that work out for you last time?" Avgust asks Cosetta with all the sincerity that you'd expect, and Cosetta apparently refuses to dignify that question with an answer. Upon realizing that Avgust shrugs and says, "Well, in that case, how about you practice what you preach? What's your plan for dealing with this, Cosetta?"

"I don't know, I'm thinking!" she barks out. Clearly this isn't going to go anywhere at this rate, so it looks like you'll need to act as the group leader again.

"Both of you, calm down. Cosetta, what all do you know about Gaerheart?"

Frowning and trying a bit too hard to seem and sound important, Cosetta answers, "How he looks, where he lives, a place he frequents, and that he's a criminal who knows far more about Successhands' buisiness than he should, even considering the fact that he apparently owns the building where Successhands has his business. The most important of which is actually how he looks. I don't know how or why but he only has one arm, so he's a difficult person to miss. Shouldn't be too good in a fight against multiple opponents, either..."

You nod, hopefully putting an end to Cosetta's dangerous line of thinking there, and turn to Avgust. "And what have you three found out about him?"

He shrugs. "Nothing. That guy doesn't exist on any record anywhere or anything like it. Seriously, we went up and down City Hall twice and even visited the administrative record buildings of the docks. There's no mention of 'Gaerheart Vassen' anywhere. Even that warehouse-office building, whichever, is legally owned by a shipping company called Fisher and Sons, or at least it was until it went bankrupt a while back, and it's not listed as having a previous owner. And no, Gaerheart doesn't show up on any employment records that Fisher and Sons used to have. We checked. Twice. I imagine that's why Successhands uses Fisher and Sons as a front, although I don't know why no one bought that warehouse since then. Astrology magic, I'd guess."

You frown and look at Cyrus, remembering his map of the docks, which had that building listed as being owned by Gaerheart. Cyrus, with an understanding look, nods and lazily points to where he keeps his map. "It's an old map, but as often as buildings change hands they're rarely torn down so it's not like I really need a new one."

You frown. "So...a legal ghost once owned an office building, which was somehow acquired by an unrelated shipping company that quickly went under, and it hasn't found new hands since?"

"That's the long and short of it, at least until Successhands moved in." Avgust says, sounding a bit disinterested.

"Avgust? Cyrus? Olivia? How, exactly, did Gaerheart legally disappear? If he once owned that building there must be records of that, and even if he faked his death at some point afterwards - like when he lost his arm, for instance - I'd expect there to be a record of that, as well. So why couldn't you find anything about him?"

All three shrug at the same time, and you turn to look at Cosetta, who's frown now matches yours. "I don't suppose you know?"

Cosetta slowly shakes her head. "No, but I do smell a rat. Something is really strange about that Gaerheart person, and I say we figure out what. The more information we have, the better."

You look at the rest of your companions, and they all nod in agreement. It may only be because you have found something familiar and safe, if not necessarily enjoyable, for them to do, but they suddenly seem ready and willing to do something. "So...City Hall was a bust, I don't think it's safe or possible to shadow him after someone tipped off Professor [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble a while back..." Cosetta, naturally, pretends like that last bit doesn't refer to her. "So...how are we going to figure out who Gaerheart really is?"

No ideas, not even from Cosetta, even though she seems deep in thought about something. So it looks like you get to suggest something first, again. But how are you going to find out information about someone who legally doesn't exist, who already has an Avila graduate on his celestial case, and who you can't feasibly shadow without a professor grabbing you by the neck?

Dialectic. Help draw some ideas from your friends - they seem more nervous than ignorant right now. (Insight/v8)

You patiently wait, giving everyone a minute or two to think about what's occupying their mind, but sadly no one seems willing to address the (evidently less than apparent) elephant in the room. Cosetta seems the most invested and the most concerned, so you'll start with her. "Cosetta, is there something you'd like to share with all of us?"

Cosetta looks at you curiously, not really expecting the "you can tell me everything" treatment, and shrugs. "N-no, not really, why?"

You can't help but let out a sigh. "[Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re, [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari, [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes, [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets..." you begin, staring everyone in the eyes as you say their name, "I can see that something is bothering all of you. It's clear as day, and for whatever reason you're all unwilling to talk about it. I hate to have to remind you all, but as severe as this situation sounds we're all in it and we're all in it together, and we're going to have to work together to get ourselves out of it. Yes, we're dealing with someone who might be a dangerous individual and it'd be foolhardy to act overtly against him - which is why we're not going to - but we're going to have to act somehow. All of you, what is so apparent that I'm apparently missing?"

You would have figured that re-assurance that you don't plan on directly confronting Gaerheart in any way would alleviate at least some concern, but your companions don't look any different. Well, in the sense that they all still look nervous. They do, thankfully, seem like they're considering whether or not to share their feelings...and it seems like they will.

"[Character]Character/Self..." Olivia starts, "I mean, how can you be so calm about this? We're all here, taking order from a criminal - one who intends to reform, sure, but a criminal all the same - to take down another criminal who, somehow, managed to get detailed information on all of Successhands' customers. Of course we're all worried! If Regent [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble finds out we could be expelled, if Gaerheart finds out who knows what he'd do to us, and if we fail Successhands either way it's going to end up causing harm to both College Avila and Dorm Tower Eight especially. I don't want Cyrus to leave the Academagia..." Olivia actually looks like she might start crying, but Avgust, Cosetta and Cyrus aren't particularly moved. That last one does, thankfully, decides to sacrifice himself and throw an arm around Olivia, which she...well, suffice to say she won't be attracting any undue attention by crying in the corner of the common room. Though Cyrus might regret his decision later anyway (or even right now, if his facial expression is any indication).

"For me it's not really the questionable nature or the fact that we could get expelled for it." Avgust says after making a quick motion of poking his eyes out, looking at how Olivia, eh, fawns over poor Cyrus. "Or Gaerheart's wrath, really. I don't think he'd go so far as to tie us all up in bags and toss us off the island even if he caught us, it's the thought that we'd end up accomplishing absolutely nothing and people would only remember us as the group who gave everyone the impression that the only ones who actually supported Avila's boys were a group of thieves."

"Tax evaders," you correct. For what little it's worth.

Avgust looks at impressed as you'd think. "Fine. A group of tax evaders. Because that's an incredible step up from thieves."

You sigh and look at Cyrus. Who, as far as you can tell, is considering where his current position ranks among all of the nightmare scenarios that he's heard so far. "Well," he starts slowly, somewhat more preoccupied with somehow trying to worm away from Olivia's very tight and...personal grasp, "I'm...kinda with...Olivia...on this." It's almost painful, hearing how much effort he has to put into forcing himself to admit that he agrees with Olivia in this instance. "I mean, when we were pondering the mystery of the card and looking at the FASSS...building, place, whatever it is, we didn't know what it was all about. Sure, it didn't take a genius to figure out it wasn't a picnic, but still, we didn't know the size or scope of it. Now, though...I guess we all kinda realized it after last time, especially with Cosetta getting caught and reprimanded. Well, maybe you didn't, [Character]Character/Self, but we're all nervous about this."

"Speak for yourself." Cosetta says, rather rudely. "Successhands deserves all that's coming to him just as much as Gaerheart does, and if I thought I could get away with it then after we take care of Gaerheart it'd take care of Successhands myself. Tax evasion may have been his greatest crime, but it's one that he has to answer for all the same."

"Are you dense, Cosetta? Do you have any idea what'd that to to Dorm Tower Eight?" Avgust "politely" asks, and you quickly step in before things escalate. Again.

"Alright, it's all understandable that you all have the concerns that you do-"

"Or don't," Cosetta interrupts, which you proceed to try your damndest to ignore.

"...but that just makes it that much more important that we do what we have to do and do it successfully. It's true that even if we try our best it may not be enough, but that's all we can do regardless, so that's what we should do. Now, does anyone have any ideas?"

A bit of silence that briefly makes you worried that was all for nothing, but then Olivia (to Cyrus' relief) turns to face you and says, "I do have one idea - we could try to approach it from a different angle."

"You look like you've got all your desired angles covered already, Olivia." Avgust somehow manages to say out loud while sounding completely serious. Even Cosetta has to try to keep a straight face after that one, but everyone manages...some with less effort than others. Olivia, for her part, just tosses a flirty look at the clearly uninterested Cyrus and throws a covert winks at Avgust afterwards. You don't know why and you don't wish to find out.

"So, eh, Olivia, you mentioned...angles?" you say, hoping to get the discussion back on track.

"Yeah." Olivia says like she forgot to draw a breath first. You don't even know anymore. "My idea, or, maybe question is: If Gaerheart isn't who he seems to be, than who is he? Who could he be, even? He's kept an Avila graduate guessing as to who he really is and what he does, so what's his secret? And how does he keep that secret?"

"Some manner of undead, maybe? I think I recall hearing that the state of undeath can throw off Astrology, given how someone - Gaerheart, in this case - would be both alive and dead simultaneously." Avgust asks no one in particular.

"No." Cyrus answers seconds before Cosetta. "There's ways to detect undead, with or without Astrology, and if he was a vampire or something than someone would have found out at some point. If not the guards or Successhands than I imagine the Thieves Guild itself. They don't like the unliving any more than the guards do. Heck, isn't 'don't trade in blood' one of their rules?"

"The point is, Gaerheart is likely not undead." you say before this discussion gets any closer to nowhere. "Which leaves the question of 'what is he', or perhaps more appropriately, 'what could he be'. Anyone?"

"What has he accomplished, and was he successful?" Olivia asks a bit randomly. You ask what she's talking about, and suddenly Olivia seems much more lively. "It's something that Professor Sido taught in Dialectic. When you don't know what a person's goals are think about what he's doing, what he's accomplished and whether he was successful. People generally do things for a reason, and questioning their accomplishments, both good and bad, can give you an idea about that." That sounds like a decent idea, so you look around at Cosetta, who's also taking Dialectic. "Well..." she starts, "He's certainly got Successhands on the ropes and pretty much tied by the ankles to said rope, but...didn't Successhands say that he's pretty lax about actually getting his money? I mean I'd certainly call his blackmail efforts a grand success, so...does he know Successhands can't pay him? Does he just enjoy basking in Successhands' misery?"

Avgust shakes his head. "If he knew Successhands couldn't pay him he'd just demand part of his inventory or a cut of his profits or something. With that much dirt he could ask for practically anything, so I assume he doesn't know. As for him being a sadist or whatever the proper term is, I don't think the Thieves Guild tends to keep those guys around. Greedy people, sure, but people who enjoy suffering for the sake of it doesn't earn anyone any money."

You shake your head in turn, staring at Avgust questioningly. "Actually, I doubt that. He's got far too much information on Successhands' customers to not be able to figure out his financial situation. I mean heck, even we know that much, I'm sure Gaerheart could figure it out. And speaking of, where did he get all that information anyway? You saw how much everyone disguised their identities, and I'm sure that Successhands protected his market from divinations, so...how did he know?" Cyrus casually suggests that there is, in fact, a mole in Successhands' crew, but you're not so sure about that. "You read Successhands' letter, they're not a large-ish group of people all working for a single individual or for their own reasons, they're a group of friends working together for a goal they all believe in. I don't think one of them would turn against that, and even if one did, I don't think one person could look past all the Glamours and Revisions and everything else and pass along enough information to Gaerheart so that he could figure out everything up to and including every customers' extended family. There's a much larger group at work here that Gaerheart must be a part of, and they're better trained and organized than Successhands' crew at investigating people."

"You mean the Thieves Guild?" Cyrus asks, looking at you questioningly.

You shake your head. "I...no. The Thieves Guild doesn't tolerate competition. If they knew they'd have tipped off the guard and have Successhands arrested already. And if they wanted to keep him around to profit from his business, they wouldn't stand by and wait for Gaerheart to eventually get send that bribe that they likely know he can't afford. Competition is a big deal for them, especially when that competition is magic-trained." Everyone stares at each other, confused, having apparently lost their grasp of the situation's size and scope just as quickly as they initially gained it. Until Cosetta's eyes suddenly widen.

"Oh, by Queen Avila...I think I've got it." Everyone turns to look at Cosetta, not sure whether to be afraid or something else. Mostly, they're afraid. "Think about it. Who could get all the information on Successhands' customers that Gaerheart could ever want, make him disappear from any and all public records to the point where only Cyrus' old docks map tells us that that office building used to-heck that he even existed, let alone used to own that office, and probably keep the Thieves Guild in the dark about Successhands' activities or at least convince them that keeping him around for a bit longer is going to be more beneficial in the long run? Most importantly, who stands to benefit from a Thieves Guild pawn fooling around and letting competition go about it's business uncontested?"

"Vampires?" Cyrus randomly blurts out, clearly at his wits end.

Cosetta shakes her head. "No. The guards themselves. Gaerheart is working for the guards!" Needless to say, that revelation is met with a healthy supply of shock and confusion.

"That's even less...well, no, it's not less likely than the vampire theory but really, Cosetta!? You think that Gaerheart is an undercover guard, of all things!?"

"Well what else fits?! Only the guards could get so much information on all the customers so quickly, only they'd be able to dive into every last City Hall record and remove Gaerheart from legal existence, they're the ones who could reasonably cover up Successhands' activities without standing out and more to the point, who else would benefit from when the Thieves Guild inevitably sends one of it's big shots to visit Gaerheart and demand an explanation about why he's dragging his ass when it comes to dealing with Successhands? I don't know who else it could be."

"When I mentioned what I learned in Dialectic I wasn't really talking about...this..." Olivia says, clearly lost.

"What else fits?" Cosetta asks for the third time in what feels like as many seconds. "Gaerheart has Successhands right where he wants him - he can just say the magic word and Successhands has to do it, he's completely beyond any point of refusal. And we personally even made sure that he knows it! If he's in that position and if Gaerheart clearly has both the skill and the manpower to accomplish that, why would he spend it on sitting on his blackmail if not to wait for a bigger fish to show up? He's clearly not interested in Successhands, so who else would he be?"

Cyrus, finally free of Olivia, quickly shuffles away from her and asks Cosetta "Why would the guards go to such lengths? Sure, Successhands is evading taxes, but that's hardly reason to get dirt on everyone. The fine they'd pay wouldn't even cover the cost of all the manpower necessary to get all that dirt in the first place, much less drag everyone through court and have them all convicted..."

"Because the guards themselves benefit from knowing who bought an invisibility potion the other night. Or a new set of lockpicks, or a black robe that has an affinity for silencing spells, or any manner of things that one would normally use for illegal business. The Thieves Guild would benefit too, but they wouldn't stand by and watch potential competition set up, they'd nip that in the bud before it'd have a chance to get anywhere. The guards couldn't do that even if they wanted to - just buying that stuff isn't illegal, so they don't have a reason to perform a raid. Especially against a small army of what definitely looked like trained spellcasters."

"This is insane..." Avgust says almost absent-mindedly, and after Cosetta asks if he's got a better idea he shakes his head. "I mean, it's crazy. Really crazy, but...it almost sounds...like there might be something to it. I mean, any other ideas? Anyone? Not even any more votes for the 'Gaerheart is a vampire' theory?" No one offers anything, and Cosetta glares at Avgust, asking what part of her explanation sounds wrong. "How about 'everything'? That's way more effort than the guards would care to put into keeping tabs on people evading taxes. Sure, those people might use those lockpicks to break into places, or they might melt the door off it's hinges with their magic. They might use an invisibility potion to, I don't know, sneak around somewhere they shouldn't be, or they could just cast the same spell on themselves that they did when buying the dang thing and not be spotted anyway! I haven't heard about a sudden wave of spellcasters being caught doing illegal things with recently purchased items, so...the guards didn't keep tabs on them. That's how that goes, right Olivia?"

"Kinda?" she answers...or maybe asks, it's hard to tell.

"I'm sure Successhands had a, well, successful hand in that." Cosetta says to the sound of everyone else groaning. "Sorry. Anyway, remember that that auction was by invitation-only? I'm sure Successhands checks his customers, to make sure they won't do anything...too bad with the stuff he sells them. And the guards would still want to keep tabs on them. Even if they didn't buy the lockpicks for themselves they did still buy them. People wouldn't buy that stuff unless they or someone they knew intended to use them."

"What would a guy who can melt doors want with a set of lockpicks?" Cyrus asks. Apparently the fact that Cosetta outright stole "her" invitation, rendering a part of her earlier argument rather moot, slipped his mind, but you're feeling too tired to even say anything at this point.

"As a present for a locksmith cousin? I don't know! Point is they didn't buy it for themselves or they didn't immediate use it or they weren't caught doing so or...whatever. They didn't cause a noticeable string of arrests and they wouldn't want to do that anyway because if the guards are planning on using Successhands as bait they'd make sure that the guards didn't draw any unnecessary attention to him. See? It fits!"

"I...think we might want to send Successhands a letter with...some of our suspicions and see if that helps him understand his divinations better." Avgust says, clearly tired of the discussion. "Not like we'll get anything else done to..." Avgust trails off as he looks out a window. "...night. Already? Man..."

"Great idea!" Cosetta says, completely ignoring Avgust's resulting expression of...you're not quite sure, actually, but "frustrated" is at least part of it. "I'll write it, does anyone have spare parchment?"

"Here..." Cyrus says, clearly tired, confused, lost and still weary of Olivia sitting next to him. "Try to...oh, heck, just ask [Character]Character/Self to write it, [Character]Character/Self's...technically who Successhands assumes is the leader of this group. Since, you know, you spend the night we met him on the floor and all."

"You don't need to remind me." Cosetta notes. "But I'm fine with that. [Character]Character/Self, what do you think of this as the opening sentence?"

"That we're going to need more parchment, for starters."

Cosetta frowns, and you spend the next hour trying to help Cosetta write a good letter. You succeed...somewhat. Well enough. Hopefully...
--- +1 Character Study, +1 Listen ---

 

You patiently wait, giving everyone a minute or two to think about what's occupying their mind, but sadly no one seems willing to address the (evidently less than apparent) elephant in the room. Cosetta seems the most invested and the most concerned, so you'll start with her. "Cosetta, is there something you'd like to share with all of us?"

Cosetta looks at you curiously, not really expecting the "you can tell me everything" treatment, and shrugs. "N-no, not really, why?"

You can't help but let out a sigh. "[Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re, [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari, [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes, [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets..." you begin, staring everyone in the eyes as you say their name, "I can see that something is bothering all of you. It's clear as day, and for whatever reason you're all unwilling to talk about it. I hate to have to remind you all, but as severe as this situation sounds we're all in it and we're all in it together, and we're going to have to work together to get ourselves out of it. Yes, we're dealing with someone who might be a dangerous individual and it'd be foolhardy to act overtly against him - which is why we're not going to - but we're going to have to act somehow. All of you, what is so apparent that I'm apparently missing?"

You would have figured that re-assurance that you don't plan on directly confronting Gaerheart in any way would alleviate at least some concern, but your companions don't look any different. Well, in the sense that they all still look nervous. They do, thankfully, seem like they're considering whether or not to share their feelings...and it seems like they will.

"[Character]Character/Self..." Olivia starts, "I mean, how can you be so calm about this? We're all here, taking order from a criminal - one who intends to reform, sure, but a criminal all the same - to take down another criminal who, somehow, managed to get detailed information on all of Successhands' customers. Of course we're all worried! If Regent [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble finds out we could be expelled, if Gaerheart finds out who knows what he'd do to us, and if we fail Successhands either way it's going to end up causing harm to both College Avila and Dorm Tower Eight especially. I don't want Cyrus to leave the Academagia..." Olivia actually looks like she might start crying, but Avgust, Cosetta and Cyrus aren't particularly moved. That last one does, thankfully, decides to sacrifice himself and throw an arm around Olivia, which she...well, suffice to say she won't be attracting any undue attention by crying in the corner of the common room. Though Cyrus might regret his decision later anyway (or even right now, if his facial expression is any indication).

"For me it's not really the questionable nature or the fact that we could get expelled for it." Avgust says after making a quick motion of poking his eyes out, looking at how Olivia, eh, fawns over poor Cyrus. "Or Gaerheart's wrath, really. I don't think he'd go so far as to tie us all up in bags and toss us off the island even if he caught us, it's the thought that we'd end up accomplishing absolutely nothing and people would only remember us as the group who gave everyone the impression that the only ones who actually supported Avila's boys were a group of thieves."

"Tax evaders," you correct. For what little it's worth.

Avgust looks at impressed as you'd think. "Fine. A group of tax evaders. Because that's an incredible step up from thieves."

You sigh and look at Cyrus. Who, as far as you can tell, is considering where his current position ranks among all of the nightmare scenarios that he's heard so far. "Well," he starts slowly, somewhat more preoccupied with somehow trying to worm away from Olivia's very tight and...personal grasp, "I'm...kinda with...Olivia...on this." It's almost painful, hearing how much effort he has to put into forcing himself to admit that he agrees with Olivia in this instance. "I mean, when we were pondering the mystery of the card and looking at the FASSS...building, place, whatever it is, we didn't know what it was all about. Sure, it didn't take a genius to figure out it wasn't a picnic, but still, we didn't know the size or scope of it. Now, though...I guess we all kinda realized it after last time, especially with Cosetta getting caught and reprimanded. Well, maybe you didn't, [Character]Character/Self, but we're all nervous about this."

"Speak for yourself." Cosetta says, rather rudely. "Successhands deserves all that's coming to him just as much as Gaerheart does, and if I thought I could get away with it then after we take care of Gaerheart it'd take care of Successhands myself. Tax evasion may have been his greatest crime, but it's one that he has to answer for all the same."

"Are you dense, Cosetta? Do you have any idea what'd that to to Dorm Tower Eight?" Avgust "politely" asks, and you quickly step in before things escalate. Again.

"Alright, it's all understandable that you all have the concerns that you do-"

"Or don't," Cosetta interrupts, which you proceed to try your damndest to ignore.

"...but that just makes it that much more important that we do what we have to do and do it successfully. It's true that even if we try our best it may not be enough, but that's all we can do regardless, so that's what we should do. Now, does anyone have any ideas?"

Three minutes of awkward silence later you repeat your question, but you get the same answer as before. Which is to say, none at all.

"So I take it you four don't know where to go from here? At all?" A series of shaking heads answers your question, and you can't help but let out a sigh. "Oh...fine. I suppose maybe waiting a day to let this sink in and give us all a chance to think things over wouldn't be a bad idea."

"It wouldn't." Olivia says, and the rest quickly nod in agreement. Well, at least the group seems to be on the same page, despite everything, so that's good news. There's just the problem of no one knowing where to go from here...you'll have to give it some thought, as well.
--- +1 Stress ---

 

Befriend. The fact that you're being watched doesn't mean everyone is. (Charm/v8)

"Seeing as how we're completely stuck here, I can think of only one thing, and that's to recruit outside help. Regent [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble is no doubt keeping tabs on all of us thanks to a certain someone blabbing her big mouth off, but that doesn't mean that she's watching everyone." Your idea isn't exactly well-received, but it's not like anyone else has anything better to suggest.

"Who'd we ask and what would we even tell this hypothetical individual to look for?" [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets almost sarcastically asks.

You point to where Cyrus keeps his old map of the docks. "What happened to the guy who used to own that office building. We know where he is and all that, but we don't really know what happened to him, do we? How he lost his arm, for instance? There might be some information there that we can put to use." [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari and [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes simultaneously ask what you're talking about, and shaking your head a bit you explain. "Look, for everything that Cosetta mentioned earlier we don't really know anything about Gaerheart, do we? Where and how he lost an arm, why he used to own an office building, whether he's always been with the Thieves Guild or whether he fell in with them at some point, we don't know any of that, right? And neither does Successhands. So, we recruit outside help that does some detective work for us, finds out that information, and then we use it. If Gaerheart has old enemies we can try to direct his attention away from Successhands by sparking some trouble, if he's got old friends who probably helped him get his blackmail we can address that problem, and if we end up finding out something completely insane than that'd probably help Successhands with his divinations. Don't forget, Successhands can't do this sort of stuff himself, that's why he asked us. And we've already shown that his divinations aren't fool-proof."

The rest of the group lazily look amongst each other, not showing much of anything in terms of a reaction, and [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re casually asks, "Well, I guess the more information we have the better, and it's not like our Regent doesn't already know about what we're doing, but...who'd you ask? I'm not coughing up Pims to have someone do a job I could do myself just as easily."

"Neither am I," Avgust notes, and naturally Olivia and Cyrus quickly follow suit.

"I was thinking about [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Tacito Viadana. He's in College Hedi, so he might not attract too much attention given how this is pretty much a matter for College Avila, and he does occasionally do work for little or no pay. We could try to convince him to lend us a hand. For free, if you cheapskates want to go that far."

"You're more than welcome to pay him off yourself, [Character]Character/Self." Cosetta says, followed right afterwards by the other three.

"You know what? We'll try to convince him to help us on the cheap first, and if that doesn't work I'll start opening my poor coin purse."

"That's an acceptable plan," Cosetta says with a very smug grin. The rest aren't smiling so much, as they're still aware (and weary) of the idea about bringing in outside help. Nevertheless the entire group follows you to the Great Hall, where four of you pass the time with small talk until Cyrus finds and brings back Tacito. Thankfully, that doesn't take too long. And given the knowing look on Tacito's face as he approaches you, you're guessing he's heard at least a little about what you five are doing.

"So, you five have finally reached an impasse?" Tacito plainly asks. He's never been good with small talk, unfortunately.

"You could say that," Cosetta says while looking a bit away from Tacito. If you'd have to guess, she's at least partially blaming herself for the situation you five are in, although of course she'd never admit to it. "Have you heard about what we five are, eh, doing during our spare time?"

Tacito confidently nods. "[Character]Character/Female/Selection/Oriabel Sidot recently asked me to look into an abandoned office building in the docks that is reported to be haunted. From what I've gathered she actually looked into it before, but apparently the rumors recently changed and she asked me to look more into it while she was recovering from a bad cold. I actually thought about asking you five about your own findings, as you've apparently been looking into that office building yourselves, but Oriabel mentioned that she already did so...though that could have been a fever-induced dream. Either way I decided not to in the end, as you five certainly weren't hunting ghosts from what I've gathered, so I didn't think you'd have any useful information for me."

Cosetta nods and looks at you, obviously expecting you to take the lead in this conversation. You step forwards, feeling nervous for reasons that will forever be your own. Hopefully. "That's all true, we have been looking into where the rumors of those hauntings came from, but we've kinda gotten stuck. Do you think you could help us, Tacito? I'm sure that the sooner we can completely disprove those ghost rumors the sooner that Oriabel can stop obsessing over it."

Tacito nods. He looks at you like he's seen right through your pitiful attempt at a ruse and already knows more than you ever will, but all the same, he nods. It's making you nervous. "I'll admit that the origin of these supposed hauntings have piqued my curiosity. Though I must point out, I find it hard to believe that disproving the rumor is what you five are and have been working towards."

"So do I..." Avgust, unhelpfully, adds.

"I'll admit that's not exactly what we're after." you say as you gently jab Avgust in his ribs. "But at this point it's kind of a necessary step, and if that indirectly helps you or Oriabel, well, all the better, right?"

Again Tacito glares at you like he's not fooled by your honeyed words at all, but all he does is nod. "Yes, I'm willing to believe that. That said, do you five have any leads for me that could help disprove those rumors?"

"Well, here's a question, actually: Who's ghost or ghosts are said to haunt the office building?"

Without any hesitation Tacito answers "The ghost or ghosts - I'm not sure which - of the person or people that used to own the office building prior to the Fisher and Sons Shipping Company. Unfortunately records of this previous owner or owners has since been lost, so I cannot say who he, she or they was or were. Do you five know?"

With a grin you poke Cyrus, who takes his old map out of his robe and shows it to Tacito. The latter studies it, and nods to himself. "Gaerheart Vassen, huh? That's a good lead, information about this individual is near impossible to find otherwise. In fact, this is the first time I've seen an actual name. If you five have no objections I'd like to start investigating this right away. Do you mind if I borrow this map for the next few hours?"

Cyrus shrugs. "Go nuts."

"In return, could you share with us what you find out later, Tacito? I'd help our investigation to know what happened to Gaerheart after, or even before he owned the warehouse. We tried to find that stuff ourselves before, but - and pardon the pun - the guy's practically a ghost."

Tacito smiles as he rolls up the map and tucks it away in his robe. "Deal, I'll meet you in the Avila common room later today then."

With that Tacito walks off, and the rest of the group looks at you. You shrug and start walking back to the common room, not really feeling like it's time to celebrate before you hear back from Tacito. Thankfully Tacito keeps his word, poking his head into the common room a few hours later as promised. You five quickly clear some space on the table, which is now filled to the brim with textbooks and various homework assignments, and Tacito drops a small bundle in front of all of you. "As promised, everything I could find out about Gaerheart. It's not much, but it did confirm that his ghost most certainly cannot be haunting his former office building, seeing as how he's somewhat too alive to actually do so." The group thanks him and Tacito walks off.

"So, who gets the honors?" Olivia asks, looking between the bundle and everyone else.

"That's my job, apparently, so allow me..." Cyrus says as he unpacks the bundle. All it contains are two rolls of parchment, but that's at least something. Cyrus takes one, starts reading it and his eyes quickly widen. "Holy..."

"What, what?" Olivia says as she violates Cyrus' personal space. Strangely, the latter doesn't appear to notice.

"Hey, Cyrus, how about you actually do 'the honors' or whatever? What's it say?" Avgust asks, impatiently.

"Well, it's a collection of interviews and copies of records that Tacito dug up."

"Classy, but what does it say?" Cosetta asks.

"Well, that Gaerheart actually inherited the deed to the office building from someone - it doesn't say who - and he sold it to Fisher and Sons pretty much right afterwards because he had no use for it. And he didn't because he already had a full-time job...acting as a patrol officer at the docks for the Minetan Guard."

"Wait, what!?"

"Seriously, apparently he joined the Minetan Guard before he inherited the warehouse, and he continued working for them until an attempt to arrest a suspected smuggler went wrong and he lost his arm in the process. After that he fell into obscurity, supposedly going so far as to fake his death because...apparently people think he was ashamed of what he thought he had become. He didn't lose his sword-arm, so he could still fight for the most part, but his injury supposedly changed him all the same."

"That's nuts." you say, not really sure what else could be said about it.

"Nuts and full of holes." Cosetta says. "Though in a way, it all makes sense. Gaerheart working for the guards...if he still does that than that explains everything. How he got so much dirt so quickly, why he's not acting against Successhands, everything. I think we should send him this information, see what it clears up in terms of his divinations."

There's a few questions raised about Cosetta's theory, but ultimately, you can't think of anything better. You agree to inform Successhands and see where things end up.
--- +1 Intrigue, +1 Manipulation ---

 

"Seeing as how we're completely stuck here, I can think of only one thing, and that's to recruit outside help. Regent [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble is no doubt keeping tabs on all of us thanks to a certain someone blabbing her big mouth off, but that doesn't mean that she's watching everyone." Your idea isn't exactly well-received, but it's not like anyone else has anything better to suggest.

"Who'd we ask and what would we even tell this hypothetical individual to look for?" [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets almost sarcastically asks.

You point to where Cyrus keeps his old map of the docks. "What happened to the guy who used to own that office building. We know where he is and all that, but we don't really know what happened to him, do we? How he lost his arm, for instance? There might be some information there that we can put to use." [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari and [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes simultaneously ask what you're talking about, and shaking your head a bit you explain. "Look, for everything that Cosetta mentioned earlier we don't really know anything about Gaerheart, do we? Where and how he lost an arm, why he used to own an office building, whether he's always been with the Thieves Guild or whether he fell in with them at some point, we don't know any of that, right? And neither does Successhands. So, we recruit outside help that does some detective work for us, finds out that information, and then we use it. If Gaerheart has old enemies we can try to direct his attention away from Successhands by sparking some trouble, if he's got old friends who probably helped him get his blackmail we can address that problem, and if we end up finding out something completely insane than that'd probably help Successhands with his divinations. Don't forget, Successhands can't do this sort of stuff himself, that's why he asked us. And we've already shown that his divinations aren't fool-proof."

The rest of the group lazily look amongst each other, not showing much of anything in terms of a reaction, and [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re casually asks, "Well, I guess the more information we have the better, and it's not like our Regent doesn't already know about what we're doing, but...who'd you ask? I'm not coughing up Pims to have someone do a job I could do myself just as easily."

"Neither am I," Avgust notes, and naturally Olivia and Cyrus quickly follow suit.

"I was thinking about [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Tacito Viadana. He's in College Hedi, so he might not attract too much attention given how this is pretty much a matter for College Avila, and he does occasionally do work for little or no pay. We could try to convince him to lend us a hand. For free, if you cheapskates want to go that far."

"You're more than welcome to pay him off yourself, [Character]Character/Self." Cosetta says, followed right afterwards by the other three.

"You know what? We'll try to convince him to help us on the cheap first, and if that doesn't work I'll start opening my poor coin purse."

"That's an acceptable plan," Cosetta says with a very smug grin. The rest aren't smiling so much, as they're still aware (and weary) of the idea about bringing in outside help. Nevertheless the entire group follows you to the Great Hall, where four of you pass the time with small talk until Cosetta comes back with Tacito. No one really decided to send her, she just sort of did and no one told her otherwise. Though perhaps someone should have, because a very long hour later Cosetta finally comes back with her head hanging low.

"Okay, so...there might be a small problem with-"

"What did you do, Cosetta?" you ask, not even waiting for Cosetta to finish her sentence.

Cosetta glares, like she's trying to be offended that you'd assume she did something, but seeing as how she clearly did and she knows that she did...it doesn't really work. "I-I didn't mean to, okay? I just found him somewhere where students like him shouldn't be and...there just happened to be a professor around, so..."

"You...you tattled on him, Cosetta!?"

"...I might have."

It seems that you're the only one who's even surprised, let alone shocked by this. Cyrus, Olivia and Avgust are just standing around stone-faced, like they were fully expecting this. "Why'd you even look from him where students aren't supposed to-why did that professor think you were there anyway!?"

"...Reasons." Cosetta says in an attempt to dodge the question, but you're not letting her go that easily.

"That's not a reason, Cosetta!"

"W-will you stop yelling? I just...kinda caught him loitering around one of the girl's restrooms and...have him send to detention for it, is all."

You want to say something. You try, repeatedly, to say something, but nothing intelligible comes out of your mouth.

"A boy loitering around a girl's restroom isn't reprimand-worthy, Cosetta." Olivia notes.

"...Okay, less 'around' and more 'inside'. Can you drop this now?"

"No." Cyrus says with a very large grin. "For starters why was...I mean why would he...?"

Cosetta shrugs. "I don't know the details! Just that...the professor talked to him about it for a few minutes and then let him go. So I didn't have him dragged to detention at all! Just..."

"You just very nearly did and, at bare minimum, put him into a situation that he probably didn't want to have to explain to a professor?"

Cosetta nods her head like she has anything to be proud of. "That's the long and short of it, yes."

"So...we probably shouldn't approach him for the next few days, at least, until he's had time to cool down because...you're an idiot." Avgust says.

"I am not an idiot. Merely insufficiently clairvoyant to know when someone is actually innocent even when they look guilty."

"Coming from someone in College Avila those two aren't as different as you'd like, Cosetta."

"Oh...forget it. Point is Tacito probably isn't approachable by any of us for the next few days, at least. So...is it time to do some snooping of our own, until then?"

"With someone having made sure that Professor Badcrumble is breathing down our necks? No, it is not."

Cosetta frowns, but she can't think of a retort. You just shrug and resign yourself to the fact that this is going to take longer than was strictly necessary.
--- -1 Character Study ---

That figure in the sky is the plot flying off into space, BTW.

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Stage 8:

 

Another quiet evening spend sitting in a corner of the Avila Common Room. You've received another letter from Successhands, and as is now tradition, you drop it on the table and slide it over to [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes so he can read it out loud. Cyrus looks just as nervous as you feel, and the feeling is mutual. Cyrus' voice breaks a bit reading the first few sentences, but he corrects himself quickly enough.

Dear group,

I've taken the information you've given me into consideration and have adjusted my divinations accordingly, in the hopes that I would be able to learn more about...everything. For better or worse, I honestly cannot say at this point, I must confess that I've come to the conclusion that your theory - however outlandish it seemed at first - is actually correct: Gaerheart Vassen is (or perhaps was) a member of the Minetan Guard who used to be stationed at the docks...but it now working as a double-agent, posing as an organizer inside the Thieves Guild. Incidentally, do you all recall me mentioning off-hand that my response to Gaerheart's initial demand that I pack up my business and leave was "not even on the pain of fiery death", to which his response was a self-immolating letter that read "terms accepted"? I have kept the ashes of that letter, but I never managed to figure out who send or created it because I simply could not interpret the confusing and conflicting visions it gave me. But now? Well, one of my old classmates who graduated from College Durand joined the Minetan Guard right after graduating. I remember him as being a real suck-up to rules and authority, though at the same time incredibly gifted when it came to pranks, and with an impeccable sense of dramatic irony. Care to guess what his favorite, or at least most commonly used phrase was when dealing with people's threats to prank him? Yeah. I should have realized it earlier.

All that said, this still leaves me in a rather awkward position. I don't dare act against a double-agent of the Minetan guard, particularly if he's the one holding the actual Thieves Guild at bay for me (if only coincidentally). Yet until the threat of his blackmail is dealt with I don't feel safe moving from my current position, either. The privacy of my customers (not to mention their extended family) is very important to us, and not because we made them a promise if you get my meaning. As such...as such I'm completely lost as to what to even ask of you five. I don't think sending you to act against a double-agent of the guard, especially one who is currently doing me a very big favor by keeping a tight noose around my neck (now there's a sentence I never thought I'd write), is a good idea. Likewise, I doubt you five could assist him in any constructive manner, as he certainly seems to have everything under controll. If nothing else I'm sure that if he need help of the magic variety than the Durand kid (forgot his name...) certainly could provide it. Preventing the guards from learning about my, eh, crimes is also a lost cause seeing as how they have a better record of it than I do at this point.

So...wait until further orders, I suppose? I don't know what the double-agent is thinking and what he's waiting for, but I imagine that if I suddenly skip town it's only going to delay him at worst, and if the guards get the idea that I'm no longer useful to them I don't want to think about what they'd do to me and everyone else. Sure, we only evaded taxes, but...we kind of evaded a lot of them. Repeatedly. Speaking of which, what you told me about Gaerheart being the owner of this office? I haven't been able to piece the whole story together, but I'm convinced that Gaerheart, the "Fisher and Sons Shipping Company" and the fact that this office building is supposedly haunted (which is a reputation it had before I moved in, though I've certainly done my part to all but confirm it to the local sailors) are all related somehow. I'll try to gather more information as quietly as I can and contact you should anything come up. Unless you five know something I don't I suggest that, at most, you do the same for the time being.

-Successhands


"Well, that was a whole lot of nothing." [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes says as he tosses the letter on the table.

Ignoring [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re's massive grin, everyone is looking tired and defeated already. Not that anyone has any reason to look differently after that letter.

"I see that you all haven't yet learned your lesson about making baseless assumptions?" Turning around you see Regent [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble, suddenly standing in front of everyone. She looks tired as well, although more frustrated than weary. "So, have you five finally figured it out?" she asks, almost rhetorically.

"No. We have not found diddly-freaking-squad." [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets says as he just falls backwards on his chair and apparently clocks out for the day. All things told, you can't blame him.

"That's a double negative..." [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari notes, although Avgust doesn't respond to that observation.

"Professor?" you say as you turn to face her, "Did...no. How much did you know about...all of this?"

The professor sighs, and looks at each of you. Despite the tone in her voice it's not a look of anger or frustration. It's disappointment. "From where, do you guys think, did that merry band of selfish idealistic idiots learn the magic they cast? Francis - or Successhands, as you know him - as well as most of his entire "crew" used to be my students just like all of you are now, you know. I knew about his intentions as he was still piecing it together, about the group he was gathering under his banner during his last two years here, and what they all wanted to accomplish. What they all thought they might accomplish, anyway. I tried to stop him, tried to convince him that two wrongs won't make anything right. But he was too stubborn to listen. Like another student or five I know."

You can feel the sting of Regent Badcrumble's jab on every one of your companions' faces. And your own, if you had a mirror on you...

"That said, you five certainly managed to steer him in a better direction that he could probably ever find on his own. Francis is too preoccupied by everything he does and wants to do to pay attention to how the people around him might feel about his actions, and while you might think that makes him a poor leader it so happens that his friends are mostly on the same page. I won't even go into the discussion about whether that makes him a bad person, if one with otherwise good intention."

That sounds a bit harsh, but you're not really in a good position to say otherwise...

"That said, what do you five intend to do? I already know everything - the fact that Successhands thinks that using his Familiar to deliver messages is certain not to be traced back to him is another one of many instances of him not stopping to think about the people around him, and what they would all know and remember. Or who his Familiar might feel and remember, even, but I suppose that's yet another story. So...where will you five go from here?"

You don't really have an answer to that question ready, so you slowly turn to look at your companions, one by one.

"I...there's no way we can act against a freaking double-agent of the Minetan guard or whatever, we clearly are in no position to help him even if he needed it, and Successhands' dubiously-successful hands are firmly tied to the guard or the Thieves Guild either which way when they're both poised to bite the hands that feed them. I think I'm done." Avgust answers.

"I...I can't think of anything I could do at this point. Like Avgust says, we're just pawns stuck on the wrong side of the chessboard at this point. We can't take down the Thieves Guild, we can't help the guards, so...yeah." Olivia says.

"Same here, pretty much." Cyrus lazily says while he, too, decides to get comfortable.

"I don't know why all of you are throwing in the towel because I'm still planning on making sure that Successhands gets what's coming to him...although with a double-agent of the guard holding an amount of blackmail over him that the man himself describes as a 'tight noose', well...it's not like I can do anything that'd top that. Besides, I don't know who'd I turn him into other than the guards, and they already...well, you guys know."

Regent Badcrumble stares at bit curiously at Cosetta before turning to you, expecting to hear your answer.

 

"Pretty much the same as everyone else. Stick a fork in me, I'm done."

Regent [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble shakes her head. "Then, in the future, try to better judge when you all should involve yourself with someone who you neither can nor should assist with his delusions." With her piece said the regent turns around and walks off, not looking back at your group once.

"We...we really messed up, didn't we?" [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes asks.

"Does it matter? The question is, what do we tell Successhands? Do we tell him, even? I'm not sure..." [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari says while looking at Cyrus. Not with adoration this time, but a more "please notice me look". You have, in fact, been around the two long enough to tell the difference.

"Something tells me he'll hear about our decision second-hand, so, no. I don't think we need to inform him." Avgust says, staring at where Regent Badcrumble stepped out of the common room.

"From who? The regent?" Cosetta asks.

Avgust rolls his eyes. "Just think about it. The guards might have Gaerheart on their side, but that doesn't give them an invitation into Successhands' little auction, now does it? So who managed to gather all that juicy blackmail, you think?"

"Wait...you think the Regent...?"

Avgust shrugs. "She'd have a good motive to bring Successhands down, but beyond that I'm not sure. It doesn't really matter anymore, either. They can handle themselves, we shouldn't get in their way."

You let out a sigh and shake your head. To have come so far, only to end up stuck in everyone else's schemes...next time you need to make sure that you're informed of all the strings before agreeing to be someone's puppet.
--- +1 Temperance Skill Level, -5 Confidence Skill Steps, +1 Insight, END ADVENTURE ---

 

Planning. Hmm... (Intelligence/v15)

"Are you guys...absolutely sure that there's nothing we can do?"

Regent [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble is the only one that doesn't bury you with a flood of questions. No, not questions. Doubts. Everyone has given up, it seems like. And truth be told...you can't really blame them. "Look, guys, I'm just asking...what happens now? We know that the Thieves Guild is going to poke a head out of their hideout sooner or later, and that the guards will be ready and waiting to chop that head off, by using Successhands as bait. Who can't refuse that role no matter what. Is there really nothing we can do?"

"It sure sounds like it!" [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets says. Followed by a series of nods from everyone else. You even turn to look at Regent Badcrumble, but she just silently nods as well. Although...you've seen that expression on her face before. Disappointment. You, your group, Successhands and his group...none of her students have managed to accomplish anything she can be proud of. And although she doesn't see any way for you to correct that, it almost looks like she wants you to. And you do. You've all come so far, there has to be something! But what...

"Don't assume..." you mutter, just loud enough for everyone else to hear.

"Oh you have got to be kidding, [Character]Character/Self." Avgust blurts out, his (below average) patience clearly being strained to it's breaking point.

"...Professor, could Successhands really keep his business a secret from the Thieves Guild?"

Regent Badcrumble stares at you for what feels like forever, before finally answering "There are many things that an Academagia graduate can keep secret, if he's clever enough. And for all of Francis' faults, he always had something of a talent to make the unbelievable seem real, or make the truth seem like an impossible dream. Certainly, many of the students now working for him would never have dreamed that they'd one day be running an underground auction or whatever. Nor did I, until his first 'donation' was delivered to me." Regent Badcrumble shakes her head sadly as she remembers that. "Add the fact that Gaerheart isn't as loyal to the Thieves Guild as they believe, and I would say that Francis could keep it secret."

"So there's no reason why the Thieves Guild would suspect that Gaerheart covered for Successhands, because that's something he could feasibly do on his own?"

Regent Badcrumble narrows her eyes as she continues to carefully study you, but answers your question all the same. "I cannot say for certain what the Thieves Guild does and doesn't think is possible, but I would certainly hope that an Academagia graduate could keep himself hidden, if he chose to. Particularly because if he couldn't the guards would most certainly have arrested him at some point prior. Francis might have only evaded taxes, but there's a lot more harm that someone in his position could have chosen to do."

"So when the Thieves Guild sends someone to fix Gaerheart's 'mistake', and then the guards swoop in at just the right moment to capture that individual...who are they going to blame for that? Successhands?"

"Duh?" Avgust says, looking at you like you're crazy. "They'll probably assume that Successhands got cold feet and decided to turn to the guards rather than fall victim to them. I mean he is only a tax evader, that's not that bad in the grand scheme of things. Besides, that spat would have been Gaerheart against, what, a dozen or so Academagia graduates? Do you think anyone would expect him to be able to deal with that himself in the first place?"

"No," you slowly answer, "and that's exactly the problem. Gaerheart shouldn't have tried to deal with that. They wouldn't assume that he could. So they're going to ask questions about why he dragged his feel about informing them, and-"

"No, no, no, no, [Character]Character/Self. They're going to assume that Gaerheart did a fantastic job gathering his blackmail so that he could deal with them, then he tipped his superiors off so they could make sure that blackmail would stick, and-"

"No," [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re suddenly interrupts. "he wouldn't have to call his superiors for that. Gathering blackmail is something he'd do so that he wouldn't have to, so they wouldn't have to reveal themselves where the guards might be looking. His superiors aren't going to get involved unless they think they absolutely have to, like to deal with a dozen spellcasters that a random pawn of theirs isn't remotely able to handle. If they know about the blackmail the guards couldn't use Successhands as bait anymore because they'll assume that Gaerheart-"

"Speaking of the guards, isn't it more likely that the Thieves Guild would just tip them off if they learned about Successhands? I mean coming from them or not it'd still be a valid tip, right? One that the guards would act on? That'd be a way to get rid of Successhands without having to tangle with a dozen spellcasters or gathering blackmail, right?" [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari asks.

"As I recall the Thieves Guild isn't above tipping off the guards if that gets rid of their competition, although they prefer not to. People might ask questions, after all. That said if a dozen Academagia graduates are causing trouble the guards would certainly know which professor could deal with them." Cyrus notes.

"Okay, so, wait..." Avgust says while looking around for a few seconds. "So...as far as the Thieves Guild knows, Gaerheart was just slow on the draw about noticing a dozen capable and secretive spellcasters. They don't know about him being a double-agent and sitting on enough blackmail to make Successhands climb up a table and dance for his amusement, so they're going to send a big shot to deal with Successhands, who, they assume, will end up getting cold feet at the last minute and run to the guards like a coward? Did I miss something there?"

"One thing. I can't...we've all been making one rather large assumption, I just realized." you say.

"Another one?" Avgust asks, exasperated.

"Yes. Who said that the Thieves Guild is going to 'deal' with Successhands by way of forcing him to close up shop?"

"Successhands himself! Don't you remember? Heck, here," Avgust says as he grabs Successhands' latest letter off the table, "it says so right here, the person that said that was...was..."

"Yes, Avgust?" you ask, trying your best not to sound smug. Considering the fatigue, the nerves, the regent standing right next to you and everything else, it's one of the simplest things you've ever done.

"...Gaerheart. The person who said that to Successhands was Gaerheart, through that self-immolating letter. Or the one that ended with that self-immolating letter, whichever, point is that he's the one who told Successhands that. And if he's a double-agent working for the guards, than..."

"Than the Thieves Guild doesn't know that, necessarily. In fact, if they trust Gaerheart they might believe anything he tells them. Like, say, that Successhands is getting cold feet about not making enough profit and seeking a way to get his very capable and profitable foot in the criminal underworld's door. And that's what's going to lure out the big shot. Because only a Thieves Guild big shot could recruit a future Thieves Guild big shot. Even if that would normally require a middle-man, Gaerheart is playing both sides. He could tell either side either story and they'd never be the wiser."

"That's insane..." Olivia says. Cyrus, Cosetta and Avgust quickly nod in agreement. Regent Badcrumble is the only one that doesn't, but that's because she's too busy looking curiously at you.

"An interesting theory, [Character]Character/Self. I'll admit that it makes some degree of sense, even if you have nothing to show for it other than a small cart worth of assumptions and perhaps a few more assumptions on top of that. Still, my question remains - what do you intend to do?"

"Make sure that Gaerheart's cover doesn't get blown by this. Someone important within the Thieves Guild wouldn't come out of hiding if he or she wasn't told that Successhands doesn't have any doubts, and whatever Gaerheart might have said to make it sound like he doesn't we've got the best reason for why he'd have a change of heart - ourselves. Successhands said it himself, in his first letter, remember? He doubted that we could understand how important our opinions were to him with swaying the rest of his crew, so if we're there than whatever plan Gaerheart laid out can completely fall to pieces through no fault of his own. Even he doesn't know about our connection to Successhands-"

"Despite Cosetta Re's best efforts, I might add." Regent Badcrumble interjects. To Cosetta's visible annoyance.

"...Despite that, yes. Either way we might not be able to keep our promise to Successhands, but we can keep it for Gaerheart. Completely unintentionally and coincidentally, not to mention unknowingly, but whatever! We can, and we will! Is everyone else with me!?"

"So your plan, which I'd like to add you just suggested right next to Regent Badcrumble, of all people, is for the five of us to crash a meeting between Successhands and some big, important guy of the Thieves Guild, which we all know is going to be crashed already by a team of Mineta's guards?" Avgust asks. You'll admit, when he puts it that way it sounds significantly crazier than it did in your head. All the same, you answer doesn't change.

"Yes, that is my plan. Are you all with me?"

Everyone looks at you wearily, and slowly Cosetta, after snapping her fingers to get your attention, says, "[Character]Character/Self, that is the stupidest, most reckless and wildly irresponsible idea that I have ever heard. As someone who's sworn to make sure that the rules are upheld I cannot help but think that I should chain you to your own bed, for your own safety, until someone's managed to Negate the crazy that's crept into your head."

"But?" you ask, knowing that there's more to come.

"I'd be disappointing myself if I didn't see to it that the Thieves Guild big shot was captured and Gaerheart escaped with his widely-undeserved reputation as a loyal pawn of the Thieves Guild intact. However you intend to accomplish that, assuming it's within reason, count me in."

"Like heck I'm not going to watch you two crash that party," Cyrus says.

"I feel the same about watching Cyrus, honestly..." Olivia says as she casts a look at Cyrus which is, to put it nicely, not returned.

Avgust stares at Regent Badcrumble, who's still well within everyone's earshot and has been this entire time, and then turns to stare at the you. "You're crazy," he simply says.

"Crazy enough to follow? I know you wouldn't want to miss how this story will end, Avgust."

"Well, no, but what good would that do me if I'm too busy being in detention forever to tell it to anyone!? Or worse, I mean-"

"If I wasn't here you'd agree without any measure of doubt or regret?" Regent Badcrumble asks.

"...Yeah, that, but...oh, you know what? I'm with you guys. We all started this, we all have to see it through to the end. I don't want it to just end here. Not this close to the end when there's something we could still do."

"Could do. We haven't accomplished anything else yet." Cyrus says.

"All the more reason to stick to it." Avgust answers. Regent Badcrumble, for her part, gives you all one last studious look before shrugging and walking off. You're not sure how she feels about this, especially given how personally involved she is, but you can't let that cloud your judgement. You have to succeed, so she, if not you, can look at yourself in the mirror tomorrow without feeling like you completely, utterly failed. The only question is...

"So, how are we going to do this? I mean we don't even know when Gaerheart and the Thieves Guild is going to make their move."

"Leave that to me," Cosetta says. "You four, think of the best, grandest plan and make sure it'll work. If this doesn't end up working out in someone's favor then I'll be forever embarrassed to be seen with any of you."

"Duly noted," you say, as the rest start brainstorming ideas...
--- +2 Dedication ---

 

"Are you guys...absolutely sure that there's nothing we can do?"

Regent [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble is the only one that doesn't bury you with a flood of questions. No, not questions. Doubts. Everyone has given up, it seems like. And truth be told...you can't really blame them. "Look, guys, I'm just asking...what happens now? We know that the Thieves Guild is going to poke a head out of their hideout sooner or later, and that the guards will be ready and waiting to chop that head off, by using Successhands as bait. Who can't refuse that role no matter what. Is there really nothing we can do?"

"It sure sounds like it!" [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets says. Followed by a series of nods from everyone else. You even turn to look at Regent Badcrumble, but she just silently nods as well. Although...you've seen that expression on her face before. Disappointment. You, your group, Successhands and his group...none of her students have managed to accomplish anything she can be proud of. And although she doesn't see any way for you to correct that, it almost looks like she wants you to. And you do. You've all come so far, there has to be something! But what...

You give it several minutes, time that Regent Badcrumble spends patiently waiting for you, but in the end you can't do anything but shrug. "I don't know. I don't want this to end here and I know there has to be something we can do, still, but.."

"There's a difference between pride and stubbornness, [Character]Character/Self."

You look at Regent Badcrumble and nod, but you're still not giving up. Not until you manage to accomplish something useful.
--- -1 Coordination ---

There's not a lot of times where the PC can accomplish an ordinarily impossible goal not despite being a nosy teen who doesn't know when to quit, but precisely because s/he's a nosy teen who doesn't know when to quit. This, however, would be one of those times.

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Stage 9:

 

"Alright everyone, roll call. [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Cosetta Re?"

"Present."

"[Character]Character/Male/Selection/Cyrus Dawes?"

"Here and ready."

"[Character]Character/Female/Selection/Olivia Solari?"

"Right where I should be."

"[Character]Character/Male/Selection/Avgust Kostrodyrets?"

"Right here! Don't you have eyes, [Character]Character/Self?"

You glare at the direction where Avgust's voice came from, and you hear Cyrus chuckle nearby. "Hey, Avgust, do you have eyes?"

"What kinda stupid question is-wait, what? Where's my-did someone cast a Glamour on me? I can't see myself!"

"Stay still, I'm still working on that." Olivia says from the direction where you can hear Cyrus. That's been one constant that, invisible or not, you can always rely on (much to Cyrus' chagrin). "This way no one is going to notice us sneak into Successhands' warehouse and set up. And we're going to have to not be seen, because I'll bet that someone is watching it."

"For what? And aren't our flickering selves going to stand out?" Avgust asks.

"I suspect someone just bought a local sailor to watch the building, cheaper and less out of place, and they tend to be superstitious. Add that the warehouse is supposedly haunted and there you go, instant guard removal. And if that fails I've got a March of Terror ready to make him remove himself. If he actually exists."

You can feel Avgust's glare, even though you presently can't see him. "Okay, what did Regent [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble say about making assumptions, again?"

"Better safe than sorry if that's what it comes down to, Avgust. It never hurts to be prepared. Now, is everyone ready?" You get three confirmations and one half-hearted vague agreement of sorts. Good enough. "Alright, in that case, everyone, go. You know the time and place to meet. Don't get caught, don't be late."

You don't see or hear any reaction from any of your companions, but you can tell that they heard and listened. Running off yourself towards the docks this night, well past any sort of curfew (again), you can't help but compare this trip to the previous one. So much you didn't know and understand back then about everything that was going on, and you were so nervous about someone catching you and having you dragged back to the Academagia. Right now, though? You're not even worried. Detention Smetention, you've got a job to do and you're going to do it. And either because of that confidence or the fact that you aren't especially careful you make it to the docks in record time. Yet again you're the last one to arrive. Do the other four know of some secret super-special shortcut or-actually, Cosetta and Cyrus were the ones who would always loom over Cyrus' map of the docks, aren't they? Maybe that's why...well, no matter. That's not important right now. You're all standing within view of the warehouse and you do see someone, a sailor by the looks of it, loitering in front of the (not boarded up) front doors, fiddling with some manner of..doohicky you can't see from here. A metal clasp or something, you're not sure.

"Is he trying to figure out how a rope hook works at this hour, just randomly outside that warehouse? That's...I don't believe this. He doesn't look nearly intoxicated enough." Cosetta whispers to you while she likely points to the man with her wand. You're going to have to assume that last bit, as you still can't see her.

"I actually think that rope hook might act as an improvised weapon of some sort, but no matter. All the better if we don't find out." With that you take out your wand and make good on your earlier promise - a quick March of Terror to make the sailor nice and afraid, followed by some spooky noises to make him run away in fear. Not a great guard, all things told. As for questioning yourself on committing morally questionable acts, eh, not the time or place for that. You're got a job to do.

"Okay, that takes care of the guard. Now what?" Avgust asks. Right, the key to this plan is...

Plot. Presentation is everything. (Intelligence/v12)

"We do everything exactly according to plan. No one messes with five organized and well-trained spellcasters whether we're first years or not, so don't fall behind. We're going to have to make a show of it without making a show of it, so do your best and succeed. Understood?"

...You're starting to suspect that these invisibility spells are a bigger hassle than they're worth, because you don't see anyone's reactions. Thankfully the rest realizes this, and so the sudden silence is replaced with spoken nods. This might be harder than you had anticipated, but no matter. You're all here, you're going to do something right. For once. "Alright, everyone. You all should remember the path, so follow closely behind me and don't bump into each other." Some more spoken nods later and you walk up to the front door of the warehouse. Office building, actually. You always forget that. It just looks so warehouse-y on the outside...

Dealing with the lock on the front door isn't a problem, mostly because it isn't locked at all. So you quietly open the door, slip inside the building, and sneak towards where the hidden door to the basement is. And it, too, is open. Looks like you guys might actually be a bit late to the party. Well, you've planned ahead for this possibility, so better later than never. Walking down the stairs you quickly realize that you might be late to the party, but by a measure of seconds. You can hear people walking down the staircase ahead of you. Several people, and they seem to be taking their sweet time. Quietly you go down a bit faster to take a look, and upon reaching the underground market (which looks at pretty as it did before, though fairly desolate without any people to man the stalls and buy stuff off of them) you see Successhands and the two bouncers from before flanking him, staring wearily at a man wearing high class, custom-tailored clothes. That man is flanked by no less than four people, each one looking as dangerous as Successhands' bouncers, except that one of them is missing an arm. All things considered that must be Gaerheart, and he look perfectly straight. No nerves, no shifting his eyes, nothing. He's just starting at Successhands with what you imagine is, or is at least meant to look like, contempt. You, however, know better. Because looking around the market you can, in fact, make out figures in the dim light. Humanoid shapes huddled behind stalls, hiding behind random boxes which don't look out of place at all, you even see one above you hanging against the wall with apparently nothing but gloves and shoes. Could that be Successhands' classmate, the Durand graduate he mentioned? He must be using some kind of magic to hang against the wall like that.

"An honor to finally meet you in person, Successhands. I take it you'll want to know my name?"

The voice of the wealthy-looking man breaks the eerie silence that hangs in the air, and you know that it's now or never. Quietly tapping your foot against the floor you signal your friends to take positions, and you watch as they all sneak towards the market and start surrounding the wealthy man and his entourage. You make your own way into the market, being very careful to skirt around Successhands' magically souped-up bouncers. They can't see you for this to work, and your position is behind them. Tricky, but you manage.

"Names are a liability in our business. Though if you're willing to afford me the convenience for this conversation, I would like to know your moniker." Successhands says. Somehow, he actually sounds like he means it. Looks like Regent [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble wasn't lying about his (implied) acting skills. Really, you're just glad that apparently these guys don't have anything else to do tonight, because with how slow this conversation is going they're not going to be done come daybreak.

"Ha-ha, yes, I suppose that is fair enough. And besides, if all goes well, you'll be sure to use it many more times. My moniker is Shark, you may refer to me as such." The man's laugh, if you could call it that, sounds artificial. Broken, maybe. You're not sure why, but it really doesn't help give you the impression that this is a friendly or trustworthy man. Of course given the circumstances a smidge of bias is to be expected. Ironic that he'd name himself after a fish, all things told, as well. At least you think that a shark is a kind of fish. Because if everything goes as planned he'll soon be robbed of a significant amount of relevance.

"Very well, Shark, I'll be sure to commit it to memory. Now, not to skip the small talk, but your contact," Successhands says as he motions weakly to Gaerheart, "mentioned an equal share?"

Shark's smile curls up into something that you'll trust as soon as you see an actual shark fly. At least you're reasonably certain that sharks ordinarily cannot fly. Not through the air without magical aid, anyway.

"Yes, he did mention that. And while we normally don't extend such generous offers I see that your business still has much growing to do. Call it an investment, you're sure to come far if you more wisely spend your earnings."

You're not sure if you trust that advice coming from someone who's clothes alone could probably feed a small family. Really, you're just getting more and more anxious with waiting. Come on, all you need is an opening...

Successhands sighs. "I've never believed that I spend my earning incorrectly," he says, sounding a bit like his confidence is wavering. That sounds like an opening, you just need...

"Really?" Shark asks with a predatory grin. "From what I've gathered you donated most of your earnings to the Academagia. The...College Avila boy's dorm, is that correct? I suppose a level of attachment is to be expected, but pray tell, what manner of return were you expecting to get from that?"

"This one," you say as you dispel your invisibility and step forwards, past Successhands' bouncers and right before Shark. Yes, he's a very intimidating man, but you've got aces up your sleeves too.

Shark's men, clearly not stupid, reach for their respective swords and glare at you only for a moment, shifting their eyes around to make sure that no one else is going to jump from the shadows. The only one who ends up hesitating even a little is Gaerheart, and not because he's only got one arm to work with because he draws his blade with greater speed and grace than the other three combined. The men seem conflicted between wanting to stay close to Shark and actually spreading out to search for additional surprises, and thankfully they get stuck on the former. Shark himself just stares at you with a bemused grin, apparently trying to read your expression but not really caring enough about you to put any effort into it. "You look rather too old to be Successhands' child." he slowly says as he slowly draws a wand. You'll admit, that makes you flinch a little. "So who are you, than? His apprentice, or just a student who doesn't know when not to play hero? You're not the only one with a wand, here, child. Though even if you were, rest assured, that would not prove as great an advantage as you might think. Ask him, if you've any doubt about that." Shark says, pointing to Gaerheart. It certainly looks intimidating, but you're not frightened. Well, you are, but more importantly you know you're not alone.

"I'm not going to raise my wand against you," you say to Shark, trying your damnedest not to come across as scared or intimidated (which, rest assured, you are).

Shark seems pleased with himself, although neither he or any of his cronies put away their weapon. "A wise answer, though that does beg a question: If not me, who are you planning to raise a wand against?"

"Tyranny," you answer, which causes Shark to raise an eyebrow. Of course that's your cue to your friends, who all dispel their respective Glamours and take a step forwards, wands drawn.

"We've been had!" one of Shark's cronies shouts, but Shark doesn't seem alarmed in the slightest. In fact he even motions to the guy to stay calm and close, which is a decision he's going to regret in short order. "Fantastic," he says, likely lying through his teeth. "A brilliant show, I'll admit, but, one thing - do you...five, it looks like, really expect to be able to take on me and my men...and leave this room alive?"

"Oh, shut your trap and get this party started already." Cosetta suddenly blurts out. She than jumps back and throws a spell at one of the hidden guards. "Get him!" Cosetta shouts, pointing at Shark, and at once all the guards jump from their hiding places and rush Shark and his men. Your friends, wisely, stand back and stick to casting some buffing spells from a safe distance, but even with a magical edge Shark's men seem to be able to hold their own. Even Gaerheart, although you suspect that the two guards fighting him might not be trying as hard as they could - it's hard to tell. And Shark himself seems to have taken your intervention personally, and even though Successhands' bouncers step in front of you Shark doesn't seem to be even slightly concerned by this turn of events. "You, child, will suffer for thinking you could capture me this easily!"

"The feeling is mutual." you say as you grab the bouncers by their robes and try to drag them back. They seem confused and Successhands definitely has lost any and all grasp of the rapidly escalating situation, but you happen to know of a certain Durand graduate that's hanging against wall with clear view of Shark, he just needs some room to cast his spell. And he does. Just as suddenly as the eerily quiet meeting turned into a chaotic mess of clashing swords and wooded stalls being kicked over the chaos reaches a new level of crazy as a quick chain of explosions suddenly rocks the room, stalls breaking into pieces as small boulders falling from the ceiling smash into what remains of them and crush everything to splinters under their weight. You and your friends quickly jump out of the way of the destruction and mayhem while the melee between the guards and Shark's men continues like nothing happened, although a series of smaller rocks falling on top of said individuals brings a quick end to that melee. As for Shark he's quick enough to jump out of the way when he sees a slab of rock falling towards him, but he botches his landing and isn't able to get back up quickly enough. Another slab lands right on top of his arm, breaking his bones with a sickening sound that's only drowned out by Shark's own pained screams and the general mayhem. With Shark down and the melee clearly not going their way Shark's men - the two of them that are still left standing, Gaerheart and one other - decide to try and book it instead. And it's only through a combination of the explosions rocking the building and rocks falling that they're able to get away, even the Durand graduate trying to jump down on one of them fails when an ill-timed rock causes him to have to dodge out of the way instead, and that rocks lands in front of the staircase, delaying the graduate long enough to allow those two to run out of sight. Not that the graduate doesn't chase after them anyway, but you imagine that he's not going to catch both of them if they do the smart thing and split up as soon as they're out the door.

"What the hell was that all about!?" Successhands yells once the commotion dies down, looking around at the splintered mess that was once his underground market. His question is answered, somewhat unintentionally, by the sight of the Durand graduate walking down the stairs, kicking himself all the way. "Those last two got away. I gave chase but the one I chased managed to slip through me. Dammit!"

"Mind your language, Mark." a female voice suddenly says. One you recognize all too well. Regent Badcrumble, as you expected, walks down into the chaotic mess, flanked by two older students. "The he-I mean, professor? What are you doing here? Looking for your students?" Mark says, pointing at you and your group.

"You could say that," she quietly answers. Slowly she walks through the devastation towards you, although surprisingly she actually passes by you and stops before Successhands. "So, Francis, have you finally learned your lesson?"

Successhands takes another look around the room, at the guards putting Shark in chains, and looks bewildered at his former regent. "There's no kill like overkill?" he says, clearly in a daze.

Regent Badcrumble shakes her head. "Two wrongs don't make anything right. Although I suppose an argument could be made for your interpretation, if you think you're brave enough."

Successhands doesn't have a response to that. Neither do either of his bouncers, they just look at their former teacher, completely lost and confused. And than one of the guards walks up to the professor, Shark in tow behind him. "My compliments on a job well done, professor, but please don't take it the wrong way when I say that I'd very much like to never work with you or any of your students ever again."

"The impulsive ones tend to cause more trouble than they solve, I'll admit." she says, looking at you just as much as Successhands. She then turns to face Shark. "Still, I think I've made my point clear. Next time, try following your own advice and leaving wayward students to their professors. Particularly if you can't keep your own wand arm intact."

Shark smiles, and for once, it seems completely genuine. Half-crazed and malicious to a fault, but...genuine. "Don't think you've seen or heard the last of me, 'professor'. I'll admit you and your students got me this time - with style, at that - but my friends will not forgive and forget any more than you seem to do. 'Wayward students' indeed..."

"Duly noted," Regent Badcrumble says without a hint of fear or remorse, and she nods to the guards, who begin escorting Shark and the two men they captured out. Although Mark stays behind for a second and walks up to all of you. "I told you crime doesn't pay, Francis...so, are you finally going to do what you should have done in the first place?" Mark hold out a hand, like he's trying to reach out to an old friend.

"At this point I don't have a choice..." Successhands says, sadly, taking Mark's hand only reluctantly. Although with his business so thoroughly destroyed, you suppose that his moniker no longer hold any meaning.

"Good." Mark answers, almost looking relieved. "Time for you to start over again."

Regent Badcrumble looks at the two of them conversing and lets out a sigh. "Looks like they'll be able to fix this mess, whatever can be fixed of it at least." she slowly says, almost to herself, before turning to look at you and your group, looking none the worse for wear. Minus all the dust and splinters that got everywhere. You all are going to have a lot of washing to do after this. "I sincerely hope this is the last time I'll see you five outside your dorm rooms past curfew. Now is there anything you have left to say, or can we go back to the Academagia?"

Everyone shakes their head and starts slowly following behind the regent. Although you look around one more time and notice something hidden in all the devastation. A wand? Shark's wand? It does look like it but...he did drop it when he broke his arm, now that you think about it. And with Successhands and his bouncers talking to Mark and the regent not looking at you...hmm...

"Are you coming, [Character]Character/Self?" Cosetta asks, looking back before walking up the stairs back to the surface.

"Yeah, I'm coming," you say as you run towards her. She looks you over curiously and asks what was holding you up. "Wondering whether I should say goodbye. But Successhands seems like he's in good hands, so..." You trail off and Cosetta shrugs, not questioning you further. You suppose you maybe should have said goodbye, you're not likely to run into Successhands again after all, but...you're still feeling a bit disappointed that you couldn't keep your promise to him. You failed to do that in the most spectacular fashion possible, but at least something good came out of it. Gaerheart got away while Shark got captured, and through no fault of his own. Maybe you'll see him again? You're not sure. Either way you know that if you ever do...you'll know what ace you have up your sleeve.
--- +1 Charm, +1 Leadership SL, +2 Relationship with Badcrumble, +3 relationship with Avgust/Cosetta/Cyrus/Olivia ---

 

"We do everything exactly according to plan. No one messes with five organized and well-trained spellcasters whether we're first years or not, so don't fall behind. We're going to have to make a show of it without making a show of it, so do your best and succeed. Understood?"

...You're starting to suspect that these invisibility spells are a bigger hassle than they're worth, because you don't see anyone's reactions. Thankfully the rest realizes this, and so the sudden silence is replaced with spoken nods. This might be harder than you had anticipated, but no matter. You're all here, you're going to do something right. For once. "Alright, everyone. You all should remember the path, so follow closely behind me and don't bump into each other." Some more spoken nods later and you walk up to the front door of the warehouse. Office building, actually. You always forget that. It just looks so warehouse-y on the outside...

Dealing with the lock on the front door isn't a problem, mostly because it isn't locked at all. So you quietly open the door, slip inside the building, and sneak towards where the hidden door to the basement is. And it, too, is open. Looks like you guys might actually be a bit late to the party. Well, you've planned ahead for this possibility, so better later than never. Walking down the stairs you quickly realize that you might be late to the party, but by a measure of seconds. You can hear people walking down the staircase ahead of you. Several people, and they seem to be taking their sweet time. Quietly you go down a bit faster to take a look, and upon reaching the underground market (which looks at pretty as it did before, though fairly desolate without any people to man the stalls and buy stuff off of them) you see Successhands and the two bouncers from before flanking him, staring wearily at a man wearing high class, custom-tailored clothes. That man is flanked by no less than four people, each one looking as dangerous as Successhands' bouncers, except that one of them is missing an arm. All things considered that must be Gaerheart, and he look perfectly straight. No nerves, no shifting his eyes, nothing. He's just starting at Successhands with what you imagine is, or is at least meant to look like, contempt. You, however, know better. Because looking around the market you can, in fact, make out figures in the dim light. Humanoid shapes huddled behind stalls, hiding behind random boxes which don't look out of place at all, you even see one above you hanging against the wall with apparently nothing but gloves and shoes. Could that be Successhands' classmate, the Durand graduate he mentioned? He must be using some kind of magic to hang against the wall like that.

"An honor to finally meet you in person, Successhands. I take it you'll want to know my name?"

The voice of the wealthy-looking man breaks the eerie silence that hangs in the air, and you know that it's now or never. Quietly tapping your foot against the floor you signal your friends to take positions, and you watch as they all sneak towards the market and start surrounding the wealthy man and his entourage. You make your own way into the market, being very careful to skirt around Successhands' magically souped-up bouncers. They can't see you for this to work, and your position is behind them. Tricky, but you manage.

"Names are a liability in our business. Though if you're willing to afford me the convenience for this conversation, I would like to know your moniker." Successhands says. Somehow, he actually sounds like he means it. Looks like Regent [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble wasn't lying about his (implied) acting skills. Really, you're just glad that apparently these guys don't have anything else to do tonight, because with how slow this conversation is going they're not going to be done come daybreak.

"Ha-ha, yes, I suppose that is fair enough. And besides, if all goes well, you'll be sure to use it many more times. My moniker is Shark, you may refer to me as such." The man's laugh, if you could call it that, sounds artificial. Broken, maybe. You're not sure why, but it really doesn't help give you the impression that this is a friendly or trustworthy man. Of course given the circumstances a smidge of bias is to be expected. Ironic that he'd name himself after a fish, all things told, as well. At least you think that a shark is a kind of fish. Because if everything goes as planned he'll soon be robbed of a significant amount of relevance.

"Very well, Shark, I'll be sure to commit it to memory. Now, not to skip the small talk, but your contact," Successhands says as he motions weakly to Gaerheart, "mentioned an equal share?"

Shark's smile curls up into something that you'll trust as soon as you see an actual shark fly. At least you're reasonably certain that sharks ordinarily cannot fly. Not through the air without magical aid, anyway.

"Yes, he did mention that. And while we normally don't extend such generous offers I see that your business still has much growing to do. Call it an investment, you're sure to come far if you more wisely spend your earnings."

You're not sure if you trust that advice coming from someone who's clothes alone could probably feed a small family. Really, you're just getting more and more anxious with waiting. Come on, all you need is an opening...

Successhands sighs. "I've never believed that I spend my earning incorrectly," he says, sounding a bit like his confidence is wavering. That sounds like an opening, you just need...

"Really?" Shark asks with a predatory grin. "From what I've gathered you donated most of your earnings to the Academagia. The...College Avila boy's dorm, is that correct? I suppose a level of attachment is to be expected, but pray tell, what manner of return were you expecting to get from that?"

"This one," you say as you dispel your invisibility and step forwards, past Successhands' bouncers and right before Shark. Yes, he's a very intimidating man, but you've got aces up your sleeves too.

Shark's men, clearly not stupid, reach for their respective swords and glare at you only for a moment, shifting their eyes around to make sure that no one else is going to jump from the shadows. The only one who ends up hesitating even a little is Gaerheart, and not because he's only got one arm to work with because he draws his blade with greater speed and grace than the other three combined. The men seem conflicted between wanting to stay close to Shark and actually spreading out to search for additional surprises, and thankfully they get stuck on the former. Shark himself just stares at you with a bemused grin, apparently trying to read your expression but not really caring enough about you to put any effort into it. "You look rather too old to be Successhands' child." he slowly says as he slowly draws a wand. You'll admit, that makes you flinch a little. "So who are you, than? His apprentice, or just a student who doesn't know when not to play hero? You're not the only one with a wand, here, child. Though even if you were, rest assured, that would not prove as great an advantage as you might think. Ask him, if you've any doubt about that." Shark says, pointing to Gaerheart. It certainly looks intimidating, but you're not frightened. Well, you are, but more importantly you know you're not alone.

"I'm not going to raise my wand against you," you say to Shark, trying your damnedest not to come across as scared or intimidated (which, rest assured, you are).

Shark seems pleased with himself, although neither he or any of his cronies put away their weapon. "A wise answer, though that does beg a question: If not me, who are you planning to raise a wand against?"

"Tyranny," you answer, which causes Shark to raise an eyebrow. Of course that's your cue to your friends, who all dispel their respective Glamours and take a step forwards, wands drawn.

"We've been had!" one of Shark's cronies shouts, but Shark doesn't seem alarmed in the slightest. In fact he even motions to the guy to stay calm and close, which is a decision he's going to regret in short order. "Fantastic," he says, likely lying through his teeth. "A brilliant show, I'll admit, but, one thing - do you...five, it looks like, really expect to be able to take on me and my men...and leave this room alive?"

"Oh, shut your trap and get this party started already." Cosetta suddenly blurts out. She than jumps back and throws a spell at one of the hidden guards. "Get him!" Cosetta shouts, pointing at Shark, and at once all the guards jump from their hiding places and rush Shark and his men. Your friends, wisely, stand back and stick to casting some buffing spells from a safe distance, but even with a magical edge Shark's men seem to be able to hold their own. Even Gaerheart, although you suspect that the two guards fighting him might not be trying as hard as they could - it's hard to tell. And Shark himself seems to have taken your intervention personally, and even though Successhands' bouncers step in front of you Shark doesn't seem to be even slightly concerned by this turn of events. "You, child, will suffer for thinking you could capture me this easily!"

"The feeling is mutual." you say as you grab the bouncers by their robes and try to drag them back. They seem confused and Successhands definitely has lost any and all grasp of the rapidly escalating situation, but you happen to know of a certain Durand graduate that's hanging against wall with clear view of Shark, he just needs some room to cast his spell. And he does. Just as suddenly as the eerily quiet meeting turned into a chaotic mess of clashing swords and wooded stalls being kicked over the chaos reaches a new level of crazy as a quick chain of explosions suddenly rocks the room, stalls breaking into pieces as small boulders falling from the ceiling smash into what remains of them and crush everything to splinters under their weight. Your friends quickly jump out of the way of the destruction and mayhem while the melee between the guards and Shark's men continues like nothing happened, although a series of smaller rocks falling on top of said individuals brings a quick end to that melee. Shark is quick enough to jump out of the way when he sees a slab of rock falling towards him, but he botches his landing and isn't able to get back up quickly enough. Another slab lands right on top of his arm, breaking his bones with a sickening sound that's only drowned out by Shark's own pained screams and the general mayhem. Regrettably for you you're unable to coax the bounces away quickly enough, and despite one of the attempting to shield you a rock falls down over you and smacks you right upside the head. It hits you hard enough to knock you out, and the last thing you hear is Shark's pained scream growing hoarse as his voice gives out at the same rate your conscious does. You'd call that poetic, but you're pretty sure you've got nothing in common with the man...other than getting blindsighted by falling masonry, anyway.

You wake up some time later in the infirmary with a splitting headache and a few bandages wrapped around your head. You're guessing you were out for the rest of the night, since everyone is here. Even Regent Badcrumble.

"My apologies, [Character]Character/Self, that one was meant for Francis..." the regent says, not really sounding like she's regretful at all. It could be that she's being sarcastic, but you're not in any position to really tell.

"What happened? Is everyone...?"

"Everyone, except for you and Shark, managed to get through that night without severe injuries, and you're much better off than he is I assure you. Speaking of Shark, he and two of his cronies have been captured and are currently being held on suspicion for numerous crimes. As for the two that got away, one of them was Gaerheart, the other I'm not sure. And as to your 'performance', the guards have 'missed' a secret correspondence that Shark had his advocate pass along to his peers. No mention of Gaerheart, other than that he managed to escape. So it seems that you did, in fact, managed to accomplish something in the end."

You look at the rest of the group, and while some seem concerned about you most of them look somewhat proud of themselves. Even Cosetta has that malicious grin on her face that she gets whenever she tattles on someone...which might not be a good thing, come to think of it...

"If you're well enough to go to classes, they're due to start in about seven minutes, so you'd best get ready."

"Yeah, I'll get back to you on that..."

Regent Badcrumble nods, turns around and walks out, leaving you with your group.

"If it makes you feel any better, [Character]Character/Self, I think part of the reason why Shark bought the act was because it didn't end well for you. Like, that slab that landed right on your head and knocked you clean out, that was just too good to be an act." Avgust says in an attempt to make you feel better, but you're not sure if it's really working.

"I'm sure that Shark was enthralled by my little non-performance while he was screaming in pain about his broken arm, yes." you note, with all the sarcasm attached that one would expect.

"We should all get moving, class is going to start soon." Cosetta, of course, says.

"Just to clarify, I've only been out for that night? Like, it's morning now?"

The group nods.

"Alright, you guys go ahead and head to class, I'll follow behind if I can think this headache isn't going to keep me here..."

The group nods again and walks out, one by one. Even though that didn't exactly go according to plan you have to say...sometimes it just feels good to be alive.
--- +1 Fitness, -5 Vitality, +2 relationship with Av/Co/Cy/Ol ---

 

Bully. Looking bigger than any of you really are. (Strength/v12)

"We do everything exactly according to plan. No one messes with five organized and well-trained spellcasters whether we're first years or not, so don't fall behind. We're going to have to make a show of it without making a show of it, so do your best and succeed. Understood?"

...You're starting to suspect that these invisibility spells are a bigger hassle than they're worth, because you don't see anyone's reactions. Thankfully the rest realizes this, and so the sudden silence is replaced with spoken nods. This might be harder than you had anticipated, but no matter. You're all here, you're going to do something right. For once. "Alright, everyone. You all should remember the path, so follow closely behind me and don't bump into each other." Some more spoken nods later and you walk up to the front door of the warehouse. Office building, actually. You always forget that. It just looks so warehouse-y on the outside...

Dealing with the lock on the front door isn't a problem, mostly because it isn't locked at all. So you quietly open the door, slip inside the building, and sneak towards where the hidden door to the basement is. And it, too, is open. Looks like you guys might actually be a bit late to the party. Well, you've planned ahead for this possibility, so better later than never. Walking down the stairs you quickly realize that you might be late to the party, but by a measure of seconds. You can hear people walking down the staircase ahead of you. Several people, and they seem to be taking their sweet time. Quietly you go down a bit faster to take a look, and upon reaching the underground market (which looks at pretty as it did before, though fairly desolate without any people to man the stalls and buy stuff off of them) you see Successhands and the two bouncers from before flanking him, staring wearily at a man wearing high class, custom-tailored clothes. That man is flanked by no less than four people, each one looking as dangerous as Successhands' bouncers, except that one of them is missing an arm. All things considered that must be Gaerheart, and he look perfectly straight. No nerves, no shifting his eyes, nothing. He's just starting at Successhands with what you imagine is, or is at least meant to look like, contempt. You, however, know better. Because looking around the market you can, in fact, make out figures in the dim light. Humanoid shapes huddled behind stalls, hiding behind random boxes which don't look out of place at all, you even see one above you hanging against the wall with apparently nothing but gloves and shoes. Could that be Successhands' classmate, the Durand graduate he mentioned? He must be using some kind of magic to hang against the wall like that.

"An honor to finally meet you in person, Successhands. I take it you'll want to know my name?"

The voice of the wealthy-looking man breaks the eerie silence that hangs in the air, and you know that it's now or never. Quietly tapping your foot against the floor you signal your friends to keep moving, and you yourself carefully lead them around Successhands' bouncers and right behind the man himself. You're all going to have to stand together if you want to look bigger and more imposing than you five actually are and act as a group, so you're sticking together no matter how risky it might be.

"Names are a liability in our business. Though if you're willing to afford me the convenience for this conversation, I would like to know your moniker." Successhands says. Somehow, he actually sounds like he means it. Looks like Regent [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble wasn't lying about his (implied) acting skills. Really, you're just glad that apparently these guys don't have anything else to do tonight, because with how slow this conversation is going they're not going to be done come daybreak.

"Ha-ha, yes, I suppose that is fair enough. And besides, if all goes well, you'll be sure to use it many more times. My moniker is Shark, you may refer to me as such." The man's laugh, if you could call it that, sounds artificial. Broken, maybe. You're not sure why, but it really doesn't help give you the impression that this is a friendly or trustworthy man. Of course given the circumstances a smidge of bias is to be expected. Ironic that he'd name himself after a fish, all things told, as well. At least you think that a shark is a kind of fish. Because if everything goes as planned he'll soon be robbed of a significant amount of relevance.

"Very well, Shark, I'll be sure to commit it to memory. Now, not to skip the small talk, but your contact," Successhands says as he motions weakly to Gaerheart, "mentioned an equal share?"

Shark's smile curls up into something that you'll trust as soon as you see an actual shark fly. At least you're reasonably certain that sharks ordinarily cannot fly. Not through the air without magical aid, anyway.

"Yes, he did mention that. And while we normally don't extend such generous offers I see that your business still has much growing to do. Call it an investment, you're sure to come far if you more wisely spend your earnings."

You're not sure if you trust that advice coming from someone who's clothes alone could probably feed a small family. Really, you're just getting more and more anxious with waiting. Come on, all you need is an opening...

Successhands sighs. "I've never believed that I spend my earning incorrectly," he says, sounding a bit like his confidence is wavering. That sounds like an opening, you just need...

"Really?" Shark asks with a predatory grin. "From what I've gathered you donated most of your earnings to the Academagia. The...College Avila boy's dorm, is that correct? I suppose a level of attachment is to be expected, but pray tell, what manner of return were you expecting to get from that?"

"This one," you say as you dispel you and your friends' invisibility spells and step forwards as one group, past Successhands' bouncers and right before Shark. Yes, he's a very intimidating man, but you've got just as many allies on your side as he does. Not that Cyrus or Avgust look particularly threatening, but every group needs someone more inclined with conversation or books, so they don't stand out. Cosetta, of course, has the smuggest grin on her face that you've ever seen on her, and Olivia is throwing around murderous glares with the best of them. Apparently she sees Shark or his men as being a threat to Cyrus and, well, criminal mastermind or not she's not letting anyone mess with her (imagined, hoped, not actually...) boyfriend.

Shark's men, clearly not stupid, reach for their respective swords and glare at you five only for a moment, shifting their eyes around to make sure that no one else is going to jump from the shadows. The only one who ends up hesitating even a little is Gaerheart, and not because he's only got one arm to work with because he draws his blade with greater speed and grace than the other three combined. The men seem conflicted between wanting to stay close to Shark and actually spreading out to search for additional surprises, and thankfully they get stuck on the former. Shark himself just stares at you all with a bemused grin, apparently trying to read your expressions but not really caring enough about you to put any effort into it. "And who might you be, Successhands' personal group of enforcers?" he jokingly says as he slowly draws a wand. You'll admit that makes most of your friends flinch a bit, but they don't step back. Shark points with his wand at you and says "So who are you, than? Successhands' personal apprentice? You don't appear young enough to be his child. Or...are you just a student who doesn't know when not to play hero? You're not the only ones with a wand, here, children. Though even if you were, rest assured, that would not prove as great an advantage as you might think. Ask him, if you've any doubt about that." Shark says, pointing to Gaerheart. It certainly looks intimidating, but you're not frightened. Well, you are, and so is everyone else, but with everyone still here you can keep the group together.

"We're not going to raise our wands against you," you say to Shark, trying your damnedest not to come across as scared or intimidated (which, rest assured, you are).

Shark seems pleased with himself, although neither he or any of his cronies put away their weapon. "A wise answer, though that does beg a question: If not me, who are you planning to raise a wand against?"

"Tyranny," you answer, and you look at Cosetta. She steps forward, smug grin replaced with immeasurable amounts of disgust, and barks out "Here's for thinking your wand will amount to anything more than ours." She than jumps back and throws a spell at one of the hidden guards, revealing him. "Get him!" Cosetta shouts, pointing at Shark, and at once all the guards jump from their hiding places and rush Shark and his men. One of them yells something about being had as they spread out to protect Shark. You give your friends a signal to run to the back of the room and stick to casting some buffing spells from a safe distance, and they follow orders perfectly, but even with a magical edge Shark's men seem to be able to hold their own. Even Gaerheart, although you suspect that the two guards fighting him might not be trying as hard as they could - it's hard to tell. You, wand drawn and pointed at Shark, stay behind to face the man himself, and he seems to have taken your intervention personally. Even though Successhands' bouncers step in front of you (which you were kinda expecting) Shark doesn't seem to be even slightly concerned by this turn of events...or you, for that matter. "You, child, will suffer for thinking you could capture me this easily!"

"The feeling is mutual." you say as you grab the bouncers by their robes and try to drag them back. They seem confused and Successhands definitely has lost any and all grasp of the rapidly escalating situation, but you happen to know of a certain Durand graduate that's hanging against wall with clear view of Shark, he just needs some room to cast his spell. And he does. Just as suddenly as the eerily quiet meeting turned into a chaotic mess of clashing swords and wooded stalls being kicked over the chaos reaches a new level of crazy as a quick chain of explosions suddenly rocks the room, stalls breaking into pieces as small boulders falling from the ceiling smash into what remains of them and crush everything to splinters under their weight. Your friends continue to assist the guards despite the destruction and mayhem while the melee between the guards and Shark's men continues like nothing happened, although a series of smaller rocks falling on top of the latter group brings a quick end to that melee. As for Shark he's quick enough to jump out of the way when he sees a slab of rock falling towards him, but he botches his landing and isn't able to get back up quickly enough. Another slab lands right on top of his arm, breaking his bones with a sickening sound that's only drowned out by Shark's own pained screams and the general mayhem. With Shark down and the melee clearly not going their way Shark's men - the two of them that are still left standing, Gaerheart and one other - decide to try and book it instead. And it's only through a combination of the explosions rocking the building and rocks falling that they're able to get away, even the Durand graduate trying to jump down on one of them fails when an ill-timed rock causes him to have to dodge out of the way instead, and that rocks lands in front of the staircase, delaying the graduate long enough to allow those two to run out of sight. Not that the graduate doesn't chase after them anyway, but you imagine that he's not going to catch both of them if they do the smart thing and split up as soon as they're out the door.

"What the hell was that all about!?" Successhands yells once the commotion dies down, looking around at the splintered mess that was once his underground market. His question is answered, somewhat unintentionally, by the sight of the Durand graduate walking down the stairs, kicking himself all the way. "Those last two got away. I gave chase but the one I chased managed to slip through me. Dammit!"

"Mind your language, Mark." a female voice suddenly says. One you recognize all too well. Regent Badcrumble, as you expected, walks down into the chaotic mess, flanked by two older students. "The he-I mean, professor? What are you doing here? Looking for your students?" Mark says, pointing at you and your group.

"You could say that," she quietly answers. Slowly she walks through the devastation towards you, although surprisingly she actually passes by you and stops before Successhands. "So, Francis, have you finally learned your lesson?"

Successhands takes another look around the room, at the guards putting Shark in chains, and looks bewildered at his former regent. "There's no kill like overkill?" he says, clearly in a daze.

Regent Badcrumble shakes her head. "Two wrongs don't make anything right. Although I suppose an argument could be made for your interpretation, if you think you're brave enough."

Successhands doesn't have a response to that. Neither do either of his bouncers, they just look at their former teacher, completely lost and confused. And than one of the guards walks up to the professor, Shark in tow behind him. "My compliments on a job well done, professor, but please don't take it the wrong way when I say that I'd very much like to never work with you or any of your students ever again."

"The impulsive ones tend to cause more trouble than they solve, I'll admit." she says, looking at you just as much as Successhands. She then turns to face Shark. "Still, I think I've made my point clear. Next time, try following your own advice and leaving wayward students to their professors. Particularly if you can't keep your own wand arm intact."

Shark smiles, and for once, it seems completely genuine. Half-crazed and malicious to a fault, but...genuine. "Don't think you've seen or heard the last of me, 'professor'. I'll admit you and your students got me this time - with style, at that - but my friends will not forgive and forget any more than you seem to do. 'Wayward students' indeed..."

"Duly noted," Regent Badcrumble says without a hint of fear or remorse, and she nods to the guards, who begin escorting Shark and the two men they captured out. Although Mark stays behind for a second and walks up to all of you. "I told you crime doesn't pay, Francis...so, are you finally going to do what you should have done in the first place?" Mark hold out a hand, like he's trying to reach out to an old friend.

"At this point I don't have a choice..." Successhands says, sadly, taking Mark's hand only reluctantly. Although with his business so thoroughly destroyed, you suppose that his moniker no longer hold any meaning.

"Good." Mark answers, almost looking relieved. "Time for you to start over again."

Regent Badcrumble looks at the two of them conversing and lets out a sigh. "Looks like they'll be able to fix this mess, whatever can be fixed of it at least." she slowly says, almost to herself, before turning to look at you and your group, looking none the worse for wear. Well, the other four don't, being so far away from the action. You look like a complete mess covered with dust and splinters that got everywhere. You're going to have a lot of washing to do after this. "I sincerely hope this is the last time I'll see you five outside your dorm rooms past curfew. Now is there anything you have left to say, or can we go back to the Academagia?"

Everyone shakes their head and starts slowly following behind the regent. Although you look around one more time and notice something hidden in all the devastation. A wand? Shark's wand? It does look like it but...he did drop it when he broke his arm, now that you think about it. And with Successhands and his bouncers talking to Mark and the regent not looking at you...hmm...

"Are you coming, [Character]Character/Self?" Cosetta asks, looking back before walking up the stairs back to the surface.

"Yeah, I'm coming," you say as you run towards her. She looks you over curiously and asks what was holding you up. "Wondering whether I should say goodbye. But Successhands seems like he's in good hands, so..." You trail off and Cosetta shrugs, not questioning you further. You suppose you maybe should have said goodbye, you're not likely to run into Successhands again after all, but...you're still feeling a bit disappointed that you couldn't keep your promise to him. You failed to do that in the most spectacular fashion possible, but at least something good came out of it. Gaerheart got away while Shark got captured, and through no fault of his own. Maybe you'll see him again? You're not sure. Either way you know that if you ever do...you'll know what ace you have up your sleeve.
--- +1 Strength, +1 Leadership SL, +2 relationship with Badcrumble, +3 relationship with Av/Co/Cy/Ol ---

 

"We do everything exactly according to plan. No one messes with five organized and well-trained spellcasters whether we're first years or not, so don't fall behind. We're going to have to make a show of it without making a show of it, so do your best and succeed. Understood?"

...You're starting to suspect that these invisibility spells are a bigger hassle than they're worth, because you don't see anyone's reactions. Thankfully the rest realizes this, and so the sudden silence is replaced with spoken nods. This might be harder than you had anticipated, but no matter. You're all here, you're going to do something right. For once. "Alright, everyone. You all should remember the path, so follow closely behind me and don't bump into each other." Some more spoken nods later and you walk up to the front door of the warehouse. Office building, actually. You always forget that. It just looks so warehouse-y on the outside...

Dealing with the lock on the front door isn't a problem, mostly because it isn't locked at all. So you quietly open the door, slip inside the building, and sneak towards where the hidden door to the basement is. And it, too, is open. Looks like you guys might actually be a bit late to the party. Well, you've planned ahead for this possibility, so better later than never. Walking down the stairs you quickly realize that you might be late to the party, but by a measure of seconds. You can hear people walking down the staircase ahead of you. Several people, and they seem to be taking their sweet time. Quietly you go down a bit faster to take a look, and upon reaching the underground market (which looks at pretty as it did before, though fairly desolate without any people to man the stalls and buy stuff off of them) you see Successhands and the two bouncers from before flanking him, staring wearily at a man wearing high class, custom-tailored clothes. That man is flanked by no less than four people, each one looking as dangerous as Successhands' bouncers, except that one of them is missing an arm. All things considered that must be Gaerheart, and he look perfectly straight. No nerves, no shifting his eyes, nothing. He's just starting at Successhands with what you imagine is, or is at least meant to look like, contempt. You, however, know better. Because looking around the market you can, in fact, make out figures in the dim light. Humanoid shapes huddled behind stalls, hiding behind random boxes which don't look out of place at all, you even see one above you hanging against the wall with apparently nothing but gloves and shoes. Could that be Successhands' classmate, the Durand graduate he mentioned? He must be using some kind of magic to hang against the wall like that.

"An honor to finally meet you in person, Successhands. I take it you'll want to know my name?"

The voice of the wealthy-looking man breaks the eerie silence that hangs in the air, and you know that it's now or never. Quietly tapping your foot against the floor you signal your friends to keep moving, and you yourself carefully lead them around Successhands' bouncers and right behind the man himself. You're all going to have to stand together if you want to look bigger and more imposing than you five actually are and act as a group, so you're sticking together no matter how risky it might be.

"Names are a liability in our business. Though if you're willing to afford me the convenience for this conversation, I would like to know your moniker." Successhands says. Somehow, he actually sounds like he means it. Looks like Regent [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Kate Badcrumble wasn't lying about his (implied) acting skills. Really, you're just glad that apparently these guys don't have anything else to do tonight, because with how slow this conversation is going they're not going to be done come daybreak.

"Ha-ha, yes, I suppose that is fair enough. And besides, if all goes well, you'll be sure to use it many more times. My moniker is Shark, you may refer to me as such." The man's laugh, if you could call it that, sounds artificial. Broken, maybe. You're not sure why, but it really doesn't help give you the impression that this is a friendly or trustworthy man. Of course given the circumstances a smidge of bias is to be expected. Ironic that he'd name himself after a fish, all things told, as well. At least you think that a shark is a kind of fish. Because if everything goes as planned he'll soon be robbed of a significant amount of relevance.

"Very well, Shark, I'll be sure to commit it to memory. Now, not to skip the small talk, but your contact," Successhands says as he motions weakly to Gaerheart, "mentioned an equal share?"

Shark's smile curls up into something that you'll trust as soon as you see an actual shark fly. At least you're reasonably certain that sharks ordinarily cannot fly. Not through the air without magical aid, anyway.

"Yes, he did mention that. And while we normally don't extend such generous offers I see that your business still has much growing to do. Call it an investment, you're sure to come far if you more wisely spend your earnings."

You're not sure if you trust that advice coming from someone who's clothes alone could probably feed a small family. Really, you're just getting more and more anxious with waiting. Come on, all you need is an opening...

Successhands sighs. "I've never believed that I spend my earning incorrectly," he says, sounding a bit like his confidence is wavering. That sounds like an opening, you just need...

"Really?" Shark asks with a predatory grin. "From what I've gathered you donated most of your earnings to the Academagia. The...College Avila boy's dorm, is that correct? I suppose a level of attachment is to be expected, but pray tell, what manner of return were you expecting to get from that?"

"This one," you say as you dispel you and your friends' invisibility spells and step forwards as one group, past Successhands' bouncers and right before Shark. Yes, he's a very intimidating man, but you've got just as many allies on your side as he does. Not that Cyrus or Avgust look particularly threatening, but every group needs someone more inclined with converstation or books, so they don't stand out. Cosetta, of course, has the smuggest grin on her face that you've ever seen on her, and Olivia is throwing around murderous glares with the best of them. Apparently she sees Shark or his men as being a threat to Cyrus and, well, criminal mastermind or not she's not letting anyone mess with her (imagined, hoped, not actually...) boyfriend.

Shark's men, clearly not stupid, reach for their respective swords and glare at you five only for a moment, shifting their eyes around to make sure that no one else is going to jump from the shadows. The only one who ends up hesitating even a little is Gaerheart, and not because he's only got one arm to work with because he draws his blade with greater speed and grace than the other three combined. The men seem conflicted between wanting to stay close to Shark and actually spreading out to search for additional surprises, and thankfully they get stuck on the former. Shark himself just stares at you all with a bemused grin, apparently trying to read your expressions but not really caring enough about you to put any effort into it. "And who might you be, Successhands' personal group of enforcers?" he jokingly says as he slowly draws a wand. You'll admit that makes most of your friends flinch a bit, but they don't step back. Shark points with his wand at you and says "So who are you, than? Successhands' personal apprentice? You don't appear young enough to be his child. Or...are you just a student who doesn't know when not to play hero? You're not the only ones with a wand, here, children. Though even if you were, rest assured, that would not prove as great an advantage as you might think. Ask him, if you've any doubt about that." Shark says, pointing to Gaerheart. It certainly looks intimidating, but you're not frightened. Well, you are, and so is everyone else, but with everyone still here you can keep the group together.

"We're not going to raise our wands against you," you say to Shark, trying your damnedest not to come across as scared or intimidated (which, rest assured, you are).

Shark seems pleased with himself, although neither he or any of his cronies put away their weapon. "A wise answer, though that does beg a question: If not me, who are you planning to raise a wand against?"

"Tyranny," you answer, and you look at Cosetta. She steps forward, smug grin replaced with immeasurable amounts of disgust, and barks out "Here's for thinking your wand will amount to anything more than ours." She than jumps back and throws a spell at one of the hidden guards, revealing him. "Get him!" Cosetta shouts, pointing at Shark, and at once all the guards jump from their hiding places and rush Shark and his men. One of them yells something about being had as they spread out to protect Shark. You give your friends a signal to run to the back of the room and stick to casting some buffing spells from a safe distance, and they follow orders perfectly, but even with a magical edge Shark's men seem to be able to hold their own. Even Gaerheart, although you suspect that the two guards fighting him might not be trying as hard as they could - it's hard to tell. You, wand drawn and pointed at Shark, stay behind to face the man himself, and he seems to have taken your intervention personally. Even though Successhands' bouncers step in front of you (which you were kinda expecting) Shark doesn't seem to be even slightly concerned by this turn of events...or you, for that matter. "You, child, will suffer for thinking you could capture me this easily!"

"The feeling is mutual." you say as you grab the bouncers by their robes and try to drag them back. They seem confused and Successhands definitely has lost any and all grasp of the rapidly escalating situation, but you happen to know of a certain Durand graduate that's hanging against wall with clear view of Shark, he just needs some room to cast his spell. And he does. Just as suddenly as the eerily quiet meeting turned into a chaotic mess of clashing swords and wooded stalls being kicked over the chaos reaches a new level of crazy as a quick chain of explosions suddenly rocks the room, stalls breaking into pieces as small boulders falling from the ceiling smash into what remains of them and crush everything to splinters under their weight. Your friends continue to assist the guards despite the destruction and mayhem while the melee between the guards and Shark's men continues like nothing happened, although a series of smaller rocks falling on top of the latter group brings a quick end to that melee. As for Shark he's quick enough to jump out of the way when he sees a slab of rock falling towards him, but he botches his landing and isn't able to get back up quickly enough. Another slab lands right on top of his arm, breaking his bones with a sickening sound that's only drowned out by Shark's own pained screams and the general mayhem. Regrettably for you you're unable to coax the bounces away quickly enough, and despite one of the attempting to shield you a rock falls down over you and smacks you right upside the head. It hits you hard enough to knock you out, and the last thing you hear is Shark's pained scream growing hoarse as his voice gives out at the same rate your conscious does. You'd call that poetic, but you're pretty sure you've got nothing in common with the man...other than getting blindsighted by falling masonry, but that's purely coincidental.

You wake up some time later in the infirmary with a splitting headache and a few bandages wrapped around your head. You're guessing you were out for the rest of the night, since everyone is here. Even Regent Badcrumble.

"My apologies, [Character]Character/Self, that one was meant for Francis..." the regent says, not really sounding like she's regretful at all. It could be that she's being sarcastic, but you're not in any position to really tell.

"What happened? Is everyone...?"

"Everyone, except for you and Shark, managed to get through that night without severe injuries, and you're much better off than he is I assure you. Speaking of Shark, he and two of his cronies have been captured and are currently being held on suspicion for numerous crimes. As for the two that got away, one of them was Gaerheart, the other I'm not sure. And as to your 'performance', the guards have 'missed' a secret correspondence that Shark had his advocate pass along to his peers. No mention of Gaerheart, other than that he managed to escape. So it seems that you did, in fact, managed to accomplish something in the end."

You look at the rest of the group, and while some seem concerned about you most of them look somewhat proud of themselves. Even Cosetta has that malicious grin on her face that she gets whenever she tattles on someone...which might not be a good thing, come to think of it...

"If you're well enough to go to classes, they're due to start in about seven minutes, so you'd best get ready."

"Yeah, I'll get back to you on that..."

Regent Badcrumble nods, turns around and walks out, leaving you with your group.

"If it makes you feel any better, [Character]Character/Self, I think part of the reason why Shark bought the act was because it didn't end well for you. Like, that slab that landed right on your head and knocked you clean out, that was just too good to be an act." Avgust says in an attempt to make you feel better, but you're not sure if it's really working.

"I'm sure that Shark was enthralled by my little non-performance while he was screaming in pain about his broken arm, yes." you note, with all the sarcasm attached that one would expect.

"We should all get moving, class is going to start soon." Cosetta, of course, says.

"Just to clarify, I've only been out for that night? Like, it's morning now?"

The group nods.

"Alright, you guys go ahead and head to class, I'll follow behind if I can think this headache isn't going to keep me here..."

The group nods again and walks out, one by one. Even though that didn't exactly go according to plan you have to say...sometimes it just feels good to be alive.
--- +1 Fitness, -5 Vitality, +2 relationship with Av/Co/Cy/Ol ---

Apologies for the wholesale cut-and-pasting there, but...like I said, my patience was just at it's end with this adventure. Still, it's finally finished, so it's time to move to...actually, to less green pastures since Avila should have enough adventures by now and Morvidus was never missing any, so...yeah. Yay Avila, may you enjoy the adventure pack that DLC 17 will hopefully be for you.

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Cursed Lab Adventure (A Dance in the Dark), stage 0:

 

You're in the Aranaz common room, quietly reading a book. Hushed voices, quills scratching against parchment, the soft steps of students walking in and out, to and from the dorm? They don't bother you. You need to focus. You need to read. You need to get through this book or Professor [instructor]Instructor/Selection of Instructor/Errus Viada is going to have your hide. His first year's class, that you coincidentally happen to be a part of, recently made a complete fool of most of it's collective self. You excluded, of course, but even [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Basia Rydz could not salvage that situation when it got out of hand. You didn't assist, you'll admit, but you didn't know that "discussions" about exactly when the Early Empire ended and the Middle Empire started could become so...lively. So, everyone was assigned extra homework - a book rapport, to be specific - and you've decided to indulge yourself with a good, if slightly old-fashioned story about futility. Not quite the bedtime story you're used to, but a surprisingly enlightening read all the same. And you're just about to get to the point where to protagonist (some historical "figure" that, honestly, you've never heard of before and couldn't say actually existed) realizes that he just completely failed to cast a spell properly when you're suddenly interrupted.

"Hey, [Character]Character/Self, what are you reading?"

The voice, belonging to [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Vrenelle Bonvin if you're not mistaken, sounds like thunder compared to the hushed silence you were enjoying earlier. Also if you're not mistaken, she's not especially skilled with picking up clues as to when people don't wish to be bothered. Case in point: This very second. With a sigh you drop your book and look up, seeing the face of Vrenelle as you expected. She's covered in sweat, has no less than four lines of dirt on her face that she tried, and failed, to wipe off at some point, and her robes look like she just ran a marathon through a forest that ended with a mudslide. Apparently she at least had the bright idea of jumping into a lake afterwards so that she's not bringing a trail worth of mud indoors. Regardless, it's a less than tasteful sight.

"Homework. Perhaps you recall that extra History assignment that we've all been given?" You don't know why Vrenelle is bothering you, so you don't really feel a great need to be especially polite. Despite that Vrenelle's lips curl up into a very big, very untrustworthy smile. Clearly she's planning something, and for better or worse, you either can become or are part of it.

"Forget homework, you'll have time to read later. Haven't you heard the news?" Per usual Vrenelle is having trouble not jumping up and down while trying to have a conversation. It's something that's surprisingly easy to get used to, you must admit.

"If your 'news' does not involve great acts of wanton destruction happening within view of one of these windows, than no, I've not heard of it. Why? What's happening and, perhaps more importantly, why is it important?"

Vrenelle can't resist jumping, although for what reason you're not sure. Most people would only jump for joy, but with Vrenelle that can never assumed to be the case. Her facial expression doesn't change, at least. "[Character]Character/Male/Selection/Courtenay de Surval and [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Malacresta Vercesi got into an argument about whether...eh, about something Astrology related - sorry, I couldn't really follow them even though I'm taking that class - and apparently to prove their respective points they've both done divinations. And guess what? They both suggest that someone will uncover something glorious in pursuit of that precious History homework of yours. Aren't you excited?"

Perhaps it's the sharp contrast between Vrenelle's excitement and your increasingly declining interest in anything she has to say, but you can't help but notice that for all her excitement about this great news or whatever...you haven't even bothered to close your book.

"I don't suppose either were specific about who would uncover what? Or even what qualifies as 'glorious' and what doesn't?"

Vrenelle glares at you, but her grin doesn't waver even slightly. "So you're on Courtenay's side, than? Anyway, forget your book, this is your time to go outside and discover something big. Don't you want to go for a walk and possibly stumble into something that'll write history rather than just reading about it?"

"If this is an elaborate ploy to get me to spend more time outside it's not going to work, Vrenelle. In fact, you look like you've poked your head into everything that's not literally located on the other side of a mountain already. I take it that you're on Malacresta's 'go out there and find whatever I've foreseen that there is to find' side?"

Vrenelle shakes her head. "No, I'm actually more leaning towards Courtenay's argument. But that's no excuse to not go outside and look! Two great seers have predicted that glorious things are waiting somewhere and will soon be found, surely you can take a break from just sitting in the common room and reading a boring old book, right?"

"This book isn't that boring, actually."

And now [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Vrenelle Bonvin's expression changes to a disapproving frown. "Are you really that determined to be lazy? Go outside! Get some exercise! There's a good chance of uncovering something glorious and you're going to spend that time sitting in the common room?"

"I can promise to go for a walk after I'm done with this homework assignment, if that makes you feel better. In fact, if you haven't read your book yet I'd suggest you do the same."

Vrenelle shrugs. "Like I could sit still long enough to read it, I read books while I run. So, yes, I have actually read it...mostly."

You're hoping those are her books and not the library's books that she's torturing. Not your problem, though. "Than perhaps you should go and read the rest of it. That rapport isn't due soon, but it will be before you know it if you keep wasting time."

"Oh...fine, spoilsport." Vrenelle says as she turns around and runs off, finally leaving you in peace again. Astrological debates, divinations, "someone" finding "something glorious" "somewhere"? You don't know how she can get so excited over such vague details. You certainly can't. Well, back to reading. You've still got a long way to go, after all...
--- -1 curiosity, +1 Concentration, stop adventure ---

 

"I suppose I can do with a short break."

"Excellent! Have fun out there!" Before [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Vrenelle Bonvin runs out the common room you ask if she's not coming along, and while she does hear you and answer your question she runs off too quickly for you to hear it. Questioning what you just got yourself into you grab a bookmarker, mark the page you were on and close your book. It's at that point that a good idea hits you. Why not take it with you? All the peace and quiet needed for reading, admittedly none of the comfort of a lazy chair to sit in but none of the people to interrupt that reading, either. Hmm...

You drop the book in your knapsack and stand up. A nice place to sit on a hill with a great view of the surrounding area, a snack you can snag from the Great Hall before leaving...yeah, you can see the benefit of this idea.
--- proceed with stage 1 ---

So, this adventure. This, eh, this adventure :unsure:. I...I don't even know where to begin with this adventure. It know it only starts with the PC being the least twelve year old of all twelve year olds, which is intentional because of the college this adventure is specific to, but, eh, well, remember how I said during A Dance With The Boys that the plot violently detaches itself from the rails and flies off into space? This plot is a spaceship, stationed on rails mostly just to invoke nostalgia so people feel better, aimed right at the sun which may or may not get blindsighted by a sudden black hole. Because as everyone knows black holes are space's ninjas and incredibly skilled at blindsighting stuff. Well, rest assured, they're going to be.

 

Honestly if any adventure of mine gets rejected for bad lore it's this one, but, eh...well, let's just say I've tried to account for that a bit, which may or may not pay off, but as per usual I promise nothing.

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Stage 1:

 

Ah, now this is what life should be like. Beautiful view of the Academagia, a comfortable enough slab of rock thanks to some well-applied magic, a few windbreakers to make sure the wind isn't going to bother you this high up, and some food and drink packed safely in your knapsack that you fetched from the Great Hall. Sure, walking up this hill was a tiring affair, but a little bit of effort can be expended if it results in moments like these. No one to bother you, no one to interrupt you, and yet just about all the luxuries you could ever need to read a good book. Until the weather turns bad and it starts raining, but you have it on good authority that there won't be any rain today. And even if there is, well, you've got magic for that too. Sometimes, it's just awesome to be you. Satisfied with your work you sit down and start reading, and you make considerable progress. True, at times you mind will wander as you look down the hill and at the Academagia, thinking about all that's happened and all that's yet to happen, but you don't lose focus too often. Only when the book hits a low point. Sadly for all the interesting moments there's an equal number of uninteresting moments, but you'll have to read it all.

It's during one of those uninteresting moments when your attention is grabbed by nearby rumbling sound, as well as the sight of a small creature - a squirrel you'd guess, you didn't get a good look at it - quickly rushing up a nearby tree like it's life depends on it. You distinctly remember asking if there would be bad weather today and being told there would be "no rain", so you're pretty sure that if a thunderstorm was expected you'd have been told about it. More to the point, there's not a cloud in the sky. Where's that noise coming from?

You put your book away and stand up, taking a look at your surroundings. You see the squirrel hiding up on a tree branch, looking around frantically for some reason, but nothing that could be the source of this rumbling sound. You walk over to the tree and look in the direction that the squirrel came from, being careful to keep your knapsack close in case the critter gets any funny ideas, and just as suddenly as before the noise returns. A low rumbling sound, and it seems to be coming from further ahead. An islequake? No, it'd be a bit more noticeable if it was an islequake. You're not sure. It doesn't look like there's anyone or anything here - that's kinda the reason you came here in the first place. Well, you're in an adventuresome mood, apparently, so you decide to walk towards the noise and investigate.

You quickly come to regret that decision as the ground suddenly starts to give way beneath you! Rock breaking into pieces with sharp, jagged edges start to tumble down some manner of hole right where you're standing on it!

Negation. Negate gravity for a second. (Fitness/v4)

This is what you study magic for, isn't it? Admittedly Negating gravity completely is a little beyond your means, but if you can slow your descent down enough to not fall face-first on a floor of sharp rocks that'll do, won't it? With that in mind you quickly reach for your wand and, as fast as you ever have, rapidly slash out a spell to lessen gravity's grip on you. It's nerves-wrecking, but you manage to get the spell off in time and what would have been a nasty fall is reduced to a gently descent down into a small hole. A very even and perfectly circular hole that hasn't quite had it's walls smoothed, but this definitely is a trap of some sort. You just hope that you can get out of it, because it takes a solid minute before your feet finally touch down on the ground again. Landing on a pile of rubble you quickly clear some space to stand properly and look up. There's no way you're going to climb out of this, it's too far to jump even with magic, you don't see anything at the top that you could, say, magic a rope to...and of course you're so far away from the Academagia that you can't really send a signal for help, either. Interesting predicament. Especially because, as you examine the bottom of this pit, you notice that it apparently dropped you off in the middle of a tunnel. And conjuring a quick light to see further into it, you notice support beams lining the walls on both sides. A mine? Well, that's good news, because if this is a mine it stands to reason that it has a proper exit.

You look up again and consider your options. Going back up is just not an option. The walls are too smooth, it's too far, and there's nothing at the top that you could grip onto. Huh...looks like trying to navigate the mine is actually your best bet. Well, that shouldn't be too difficult. Unlike a certain other place you can name mines tend to have signs pointing to various locations, like for instance, the exit. And even if it doesn't, it's a general rule that mines dig down, not up. Too much risk of a catastrophe if and when a cave-in occurs otherwise. So if you find a path that goes up you should be back outside before you know it.

With a sigh you resign yourself to it and start walking into one of the tunnels, being careful to keep your light spell active and your wand close.
--- +1 Negation Methods, +1 Reason, proceed with stage 2 ---

 

This is what you study magic for, isn't it? Admittedly Negating gravity completely is a little beyond your means, but if you can slow your descent down enough to not fall face-first on a floor of sharp rocks that'll do, won't it? With that in mind you quickly reach for your wand and, as fast as you ever have, rapidly slash out a spell to lessen gravity's grip on you. It's nerves-wrecking, and while you manage to get the spell off in time it doesn't slow you down as much as you hoped. So for a tense fifteen seconds you helplessly fall down a very even and perfectly circular hole that hasn't quite had it's walls smoothed, but this definitely is a trap of some sort. You just hope that you can get out of it, because this is going to be a slightly rough landing. And it is. Thankfully all the sharp, pointy rocks managed to fall down before you did and you're able to push yourself off the wall so that you'll land on a flat piece of stone rather than get impaled, but it's still a rough landing. Not enough to break or even strain anything, but, well, you're going to feel that later. And now, if that sharp pain in your leg is any indication. Setting that aside for now you sit down and look up the hole you just fell down. There's no way you're going to climb out of this, it's too far to jump even with magic and two good legs, you don't see anything at the top that you could, say, magic a rope to...and of course you're so far away from the Academagia that you can't really send a signal for help, either. Interesting predicament. Especially because, as you examine the bottom of this pit, you notice that it apparently dropped you off in the middle of a tunnel. And conjuring a quick light to see further into it, you notice support beams lining the walls on both sides. A mine? Well, that's good news, because if this is a mine it stands to reason that it has a proper exit.

You look up again and consider your options. Going back up is just not an option. The walls are too smooth, it's too far, there's nothing at the top that you could grip onto, and you don't know if your leg will hold out. You've been injured before so you know that merely walking around is one thing, but climbing up what's effectively a sheer cliff? That's quite another. So...it looks like trying to navigate the mine is actually your best bet. Well, that shouldn't be too difficult. Unlike a certain other place you can name mines tend to have signs pointing to various locations, like for instance, the exit. And even if it doesn't, it's a general rule that mines dig down, not up. Too much risk of a catastrophe if and when a cave-in occurs otherwise. So if you find a path that goes up you should be back outside before you know it.

With a sigh you resign yourself to it and start slightly limping into one of the tunnels, being careful to keep your light spell active and your wand close.
--- +1 Acrobatics, -3 Vitality, proceed with stage 2 ---

 

Revision. Revise the inevitable bottom of this hole to be as soft as a pillow. (Intelligence/v4)

It's a bit tricky to cast a spell on something suddenly, especially when you want to it cast on something you can't clearly see, but thankfully in this instance there's one very clear direction in which you want your spell to go, and only one very clear direction in which you want your spell to go. Namely, down. Quickly drawing your wand and stringing the Phemes together while you still have some manner of ground to stand on you complete the spell, and once the ground gives way and you start falling down you point your wand down and let the spell fly. The unfortunate thing is that the spell misses the bottom of this pit, but the fortune thing is that you don't end up hitting it anyway. Instead the rocks falling down this pit more swiftly than you get hit by the spell, and while that does change them as you intended it doesn't change their weight, so they keep falling down faster than you, and by the time you reach the bottom you land in a somewhat scatterbrained bed of rocky pillows. Not quite the end result you were expecting, but sure, any landing you wan walk away from and all that.

After picking yourself back up you look up. The pit is much deeper than you though, too high up to jump up even with magical aid. Further, it looks like the walls of the pit are relatively smooth. There's barely any footing that would allow you to climb up. And there's nothing overlooking the pit, either, so you couldn't try and send a rope up for you to climb, either. Contemplating your options you decide to look around the bottom of the pit, and are surprised to see that you've actually landed in some sort of...mine, by the looks of it. Two tunnels are accessible from the pit, and both are periodically lined with support beams. They don't look like much, but at least it confirms that this cave you've landed in isn't natural. Seeing that, there might be a way out through this mine. Mines, as a general rule, dig down, as digging up is too risky with regards to sudden flooding or cave-ins. So if you follow the tunnels up, it should eventually lead you back outside. Not to mention that mines also tend to have signs pointing to the exit, and you've got a wand to provide light too.

You start to tap a finger on the rock you're sitting on and once again look up. The pit is just too deep. Too high to jump, too smooth to climb, and nothing at the top to make use of. You're a bit weary of walking into the tunnels, but it seems to be your best shot. Well, nothing you can do about that. With some reluctance you get off the surprisingly comfortable rock (should have done that when reading your book earlier, really) and start walking, light spell active and wand kept close.
--- +1 Revision Methods, +1 Pure Luck, proceed with stage 2 ---

 

It's a bit tricky to cast a spell on something suddenly, especially when you want to it cast on something you can't clearly see, but thankfully in this instance there's one very clear direction in which you want your spell to go, and only one very clear direction in which you want your spell to go. Namely, down. Quickly drawing your wand and stringing the Phemes together while you still have some manner of ground to stand on you complete the spell, and once the ground gives way and you start falling down you point your wand down and let the spell fly. The fortune thing is that your spell goes off perfectly and it manages to hit the bottom of the pit. The unfortunate thing is that the rocks, being heavier than you, fall faster than you do and end up covering the now-soft bottom with still hard and, at times, pointy rocks. In the split second you have you can't do anything more than fling yourself to one side using the pit's wall so that you only suffer a rough landing, rather than impalement. Well, at least you've proven that you can cast Revision spells well enough...even if you need to work on your aim at times...so your various bruised and battered limbs don't stay that way for long.

You're still sore after fixing everything up as best you can, but at least you should be able to walk around like this. So while you wait for the pain to pass you look up. The pit is much deeper than you though, too high up to jump up even with magical aid and without a number of injuries. Further, it looks like the walls of the pit are relatively smooth. There's barely any footing that would allow you to climb up, if your legs would even hold out that long. At least, considering that you'd also have the, what, half-hour walk down a hill afterwards before you'd be back at the Academagia? Yeah. There's nothing overlooking the pit, either, so you couldn't try and send a rope up for you to lift yourself up, either. Contemplating your options you decide to look around the bottom of the pit, and are surprised to see that you've actually landed in some sort of...mine, by the looks of it. Two tunnels are accessible from the pit, and both are periodically lined with support beams. They don't look like much, but at least it confirms that this cave you've landed in isn't natural. Seeing that, there might be a way out through this mine. Mines, as a general rule, dig down, as digging up is too risky with regards to sudden flooding or cave-ins. So if you follow the tunnels up, it should eventually lead you back outside. Not to mention that mines also tend to have signs pointing to the exit, and you've got a wand to provide light too. As for your injuries, walking is less of a strain than magically jumping several stories up or climbing what's effectively a sheer cliff, and you know a spell or two that makes walking simpler. Not that you ever thought you'd need them unless you got really, really lazy, but eh, you've been wrong before. Of course for all that there's no guarantee how deep down this mine goes and how deep you're in it...

You start to tap a finger on the rock you're sitting on and once again look up. The pit is just too deep. Too high to jump, too smooth to climb, and nothing at the top to make use of. You're a bit weary of walking into the tunnels, but it seems to be your best shot. Well, nothing you can do about that. With some reluctance you get off the thankfully flat rock you crash-landed on and start walking, light spell active and wand kept close.
--- +1 Endurance, -3 Vitality, proceed with stage 2 ---

One of those steps where success is technically optional...but highly recommended.

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Stage 2:

 

You've been following your own advice regarding mines digging down for a solid half hour now, but no matter how many steps you take it seems like you're just not getting anywhere. Did you happen to land in the complete other side of a mine or what? And where is everything? You've seen nothing in terms of signs, minecart tracks, prospecting shafts, wall fixtures for lanterns, nothing. There's the support beams, but that appears to be it. Just where did you end up, anyway?

Finally, after far too long, you reach something that you could conceivably call the main entrance and exit. Only...there isn't one. The place is completely devoid of any doors, windows, exits, or anything of the sort. Why? There's clearly light coming from...that...crystal looking thing? Which is pointed at the ground below it, which has apparently been dug out some and filled with dirt. You don't see any water around, but several small sluices carved into the stone separating the patches of dirt would indicate that water did once run through here. What is this, an underground farm? Who would use that? Or build it, even? Officially curious you walk around this room, whatever it is, and you note quite a few indicators that someone used to live here. There's what look like the remains of a bed, a kitchen area with several pots and cooking utensils covered with rust and dust still hanging against the wall, a small fire pit build into the wall with several holes in the ceiling that don't go anywhere you can see, though they're covered in soot. Soot that apparently washed down them and over the fire pit, so you'd guess those holes lead back outside. Now if only you could actually fit through any of them.

Looking around more there's what looks to be some manner of a small religious shrine, although you can't tell who it used to be dedicated to as most of it has crumbled into dust. Next to it is a large bookcase carved out of stone, full of books that you don't dare touch because they're covered in dirt, dust and...something else. Some sort of crust that you can't identify. Your best guess would be rust, but the books aren't made of metal. Following the bookcase further into the room you find something akin to a secret passage, one that's obvious when you look at it from this angle but rather well hidden when looked at from the entrance of the room. It's completely dark inside, but you've got a wand to provide light, so with some reservations you slowly creep into the room and look around.

You immediately wish you hadn't. The secret passage leads into a study area and possible experimentation room of sorts. Desks filled with dirt and dust-covered flasks and books flank both sides of the walls while the centre of the room is dominated by some manner of spell circle. It's broken and inactive, so you can't guess what it used to do, but inside it stands a large cauldron, filled with...a dark-ish liquid that doesn't seem appetizing in the slightest. You don't dare touch it, even indirectly, so you can't comment on whether it's actually liquid or not. The cauldron is slightly lifted above the floor by a crudely-crafted metal holder, and below the cauldron is the remains of a fire pit that's seen much use. Unlike the fire pit in the kitchen, though, you don't see any vents to deal with smoke in this room. In the back of the room, however, is the most startling sight yet. Human remains, decayed and rotted to the bone, left half-sitting in a large chair and half fallen over, laying in a heap on the ground below it. Approaching carefully you see that these remains probably only belonged to a single individual. At least, you only see one skull and pelvis among the remains, so that's what you assume. No personal possessions in, eh, either pile that you can see, though. Looking at the desk in front of the chair you notice a book, still open and covered in as much dirt and dust as everything else. You'd expect that the page in question would have rotted away by now, but while it definitely looks like it's seen better days you think you could still read it. If the, eh, skeleton over here wasn't already doing so...one of his (her?) boney fingers actually pointing at a particular section, like this person suddenly died reading this book. You'd like to check, but...no. You're weirded out enough, you want to leave.

As you turn around and start to leave, however, you pass by the cauldron in the centre again. The liquid looks disgusting, but...what is it? Turning around to look at the skeleton you wonder who that was. You can't help but stand around and ponder this strange situation. And, not incidentally, whether you could somehow use it to your advantage...

Suddenly you hear a set of soft footsteps from the main room, and as soon as you turn around someone has already entered the room you're standing in. As the figure walks into the room a series of...glass-looking spheres hung along the edge of the walls suddenly start to emit some dim light, enough for you to see the man who just sneaked up on you...and for him to see you. With a soft voice he says, "It's been a long time, Master. Are you ready to perform the experiment?"

Mentally kicking yourself for somehow ending up in this situation you let your eyes adjust for a second and look over this mysterious individual. And, indeed, he is mysterious. He's clad in a thick, plain-looking black robe that covers everything from his feet to his neck. He keeps one of his hands hidden behind his back, something you don't trust at all, although the other doesn't have anything special or noteworthy about it that you can see. His face is entirely covered by a white mask that looks like a regular human face, except much too flat. Also, you notice, it lacks eye holes, so you're not sure how this person is able to see his surroundings if not through magic. Finally, his hair is an unkempt patch of dark-brown that's kept in shape solely by the power of gravity. No style, no cut, nothing.

"I take that is a no? Very well than, I'll leave you to your studies."

The man casually walks past you and stops next to the chair with the remains in it. He doesn't do anything, he just looks at the remains as if it's going to tell him what to do. All things considered, though, that might just be the case. Looking at the man's back doesn't reveal much, though it does show you two rather important things. First, that the hand he perpetually keeps behind his back is actually empty. Second, that his mask is apparently kept against his face by magic, because you don't see any straps, lines or metal contraptions that would keep it in place. Well, unless the mask is glued to his face, but that'd be a completely different problem.

So...what to do. On one side there might be something delicious and useful around here that you could use, and that man could probably be manipulated into giving it to you. On the other side, you don't know him. Who he is, what he is, even, what he wants and how he thinks...and if there's anything you should have learned in College Aranaz it's that the one thing more foolish than not bewaring courtesy is assuming that others would make the second-stupidest mistake they could. Messing with him could be as dangerous as it could be interesting and profitable...so, what to do?

"Eh, sorry to bother you, but...where's the nearest exit back to the surface, if I may ask?"

The mysterious man turns his head to look at you, which looks significantly creepier than it should. "The vents in the kitchen, of course. Do you need my help to open them?"

Okay, if the underground farm with the artificial sun didn't already than that confirms that whoever lived here is some manner of mage, because those vents are not large enough to allow a rat to squeeze through much less a full-grown person. Seeing that you're going to need some magic to turn them into a front door, and you...have no idea if you can manage that. You have no idea how deep down this room is, after all, and if your spell gives out before you make it to the surface, well, suffice to say you're going to be in a bit of trouble. As such, you nod, and the mysterious man does as well. Without a word said he walks past you, with you following behind him slowly, and upon reaching the "kitchen" he takes out a wand and directs a spell at the vents. One of them suddenly widens considerably, until it forms a tunnel that goes all the way back to the surface. Incidentally, yeah, you'd be hard-pressed to do that yourself. The mysterious turns towards you and nods, wand still in hand, and before you come to regret anything more here you decide to run through the tunnel and towards the light. Actual light, this time, not some sort of underground farm crystal thing.

Only a few seconds after you step into fresh air does the tunnel behind you revert to it's normal form, and you bend down to look for the vents. Yeah, there's no way you'd find those without knowing exactly where to look. And you're not going to need to, because that spell? Yeah. You're not risking yourself like that...although you suppose in some respects you just did. Bah, details. You're out, you're safe, and from here you can see where you were reading your book earlier, so you're even aware of where you are. Roughly, but roughly is good enough right now.

Time to go back to the Academagia and make a note to never follow Vrenelle's advice again. Up until you develop enough of a curiosity to go all the way back and ask the masked man about stuff, but you know what? You've suffered enough for one day. Time to go back to reading and very carefully consider whether you ever want to go back there.
--- Stop adventure ---

 

Manipulation. "Your master would like some questions answered." (Intelligence/v6)

The mysterious man turns around and stares at you intently. Of course with that mask of his it's impossible to tell what he's thinking, so this is going to be hard. You'll have to judge his words based on just words alone, and that's not something that you're good at. Not without having at least some facial expressions to read. "Are you ever going to ask those questions, Master?" the mysterious man asks.

Oh, duh. You're already off to a great start. "First off, who's...corpse is that? I know I don't have the strictest of cleaning regiments but an entire skeleton sitting in one of my chairs is just silly."

The mysterious man tilts his head just a little, but you just can't determine why. Is he seeing right through you? Does he believe you? Is he going to toy with you? You don't know. He's just standing there, possible even in indecision. "First or Second? I'm afraid I haven't yet found any identifying features, 'master'."

Okay, his tone definitely changed there. Mask or not you definitely heard that. Which may not be a good thing, but you'll keep going until...well, no, you'll probably quit some time before it kills you, but either way the time to quit is not now. And as much as you'd like to ask what first or second this corpse is or isn't, that'd probably give you away, so...yeah. This is not working out as well as you'd hope. "Have you double-checked the stuff he had on him?"

"Indeed I have. Nothing but the few possessions you gave him, 'master'."

Okay, forget it. This guy is clearly toying with you the way he's half-heartedly referring to you as his master. Strange, because he sounded perfectly genuine the first time he said it. "Why did you tone change? You referred to me as your master perfectly find and convincingly before."

"Because at that point the act was." Lee says perfectly straight no matter how much sarcasm your mind attributes to his words. It's odd, but it doesn't sound off.

"What 'act'? Am I your master or aren't I?"

Lee points to the skeleton he's still standing next to for some Gods-forsaken reason. "He was my Master. 'Is', perhaps. Despite his current state of being he is still active."

You take another look at the clearly decayed bones and say "I don't mean to offend, but I'm pretty sure he's dead, actually."

Lee lets out a low chuckle, which really doesn't help make him look or sound any less creepy. "One would assume so, but no. My Master is still active. He cannot rest until he's completed his work."

If there's a ghost in this room, you don't see him. What you do see, however, is an opening. "Do you want your master to complete his work and rest? If so, I might be able to help."

You're pretty sure the mysterious man has a reaction to that offer, but you don't see it. Needless to say that this is starting to get annoying, especially because the mysterious man needs to give your offer some thought. And you have no idea why. "Interesting, though I do not believe that someone from outside our circle could complete his work. As...a test subject, perhaps you could, but not as one of us." The man looks at the cauldron of goop next to you when he mentions a "test subject", but afterwards he goes back to staring right at you. Of course there'd be a catch.

"I can't promise that, but if you're willing to explain what those tests would entail I'd be willing to hear your out, if nothing else."

Again you can't see the man's reaction. Though without pause he answers "Very well."
--- +1 Conversation, proceed with stage 3 ---

 

The mysterious man turns around and stares at you intently. Of course with that mask of his it's impossible to tell what he's thinking, so this is going to be hard. You'll have to judge his words based on just words alone, and that's not something that you're good at. Not without having at least some facial expressions to read. "Are you ever going to ask those questions, Master?" the mysterious man asks.

Oh, duh. You're already off to a great start. "First off, who's...corpse is that? I know I don't have the strictest of cleaning regiments but a decayed skeleton sitting in one of my chairs is just silly."

The mysterious man tilts his head just a little, but you just can't determine why. Is he seeing right through you? Does he believe you? Is he going to toy with you? You don't know. He's just standing there, possible even in indecision. "First or Second? I'm afraid I haven't yet found any identifying features, 'master'."

Okay, his tone definitely changed there. Mask or not you definitely heard that. Which may not be a good thing, but you'll keep going until...well, no, you'll probably quit some time before it kills you, but either way the time to quit is not now. And as much as you'd like to ask what first or second this corpse is or isn't, that'd probably give you away, so...yeah. This is not working out as well as you'd hope. "Have you double-checked the stuff he had on him?"

"Indeed I have. Nothing but the few possessions you gave him, 'master'."

A part of you thinks this guy's tone might have changed, but he's still calling you his master, so whatever. "Well, regardless of who he was, don't you think, I'unno, you ought to carry him out? This place is flagrantly ignoring enough health and sanitary standards as is."

"You should know as well as I do that I cannot leave this hideout, 'master'. Are you suffering from memory loss again?"

Okay, this is clearly not working out, so time to bail. "Eh...yeah, apparently. Anyway, if you've no objection I'll just leave-to find a secure place to bury him, of course, and then...return to pick up the corpse..." You can't help but shudder at the thought no matter how much you're lying through your teeth. Although the fact that you are lying through your teeth probably isn't helping, either.

The mysterious man shrugs and nods. "If that's what you believe is best. Do you remember how to open the front door?"

You step out of the experiment room for a second and look around the first room again. "I don't see anything resembling a door in here." The mysterious man walks into the main room, brushing past you casually, and draws a wand with which he points to the vents in the kitchen. You tilt your head in confusion. "That doesn't look like a door to me."

The mysterious man, in response, casts some manner of Revision spell that turns one of the vents into a person-sized tunnel, and it looks like it leads right outside! "Combining form and function never was your specialty, 'master'. No offence, of course."

"None taken," you say as you quickly run outside. The tunnel closes behind you soon after you step out, and as far as you care, that's it for today. You're done. Finished. You can see your reading spot from here so time to walk back and start forgetting this ever happened. Or otherwise maybe making sure you find an out-of-the-way dead end in the mine before going back...
--- -1 Confidence, stop adventure ---

 

Conversation. "I'm not your master, eh...sir, but I'd like to know why you think I am." (Charm/v6)

Rule number one when meeting new people: Always be polite. Best case scenario, you avoid making an unnecessary enemy. Worst case scenario, you make your enemy seem like an uncultured rube for not extending your gracious courtesy. At least you think that's how that went. Maybe you've been reading that book of yours too much recently. The man slowly turns around and looks straight at you. Combine the fact that his mask makes it impossible to see his face, the hand he always keeps behind his back and the fact that he can see exactly where you are right through his mask, and you have one very creepy, very unnerving sight.

"Your robe."

You raise an eyebrow, look your robe over (yep, still the same robe you always wear), and look at the man. You shrug and ask "You mean my Academagia robe?"

The man nods. "The robe of College Aranaz, to be more specific."

Your already raised eyebrow rises even higher. "So, wait...every Aranaz student is your master? Or even every person who wears the uniform? I don't understand."

You don't see the man's expression and whether it changed, thanks to the mask. "The former. As for your second, unspoken question: It is because that is my Master's wish."

"You mean...him? Or her? I'm not sure." you say while pointing at the pile of bones in and around the chair.

"Yes, him."

"I hate to break it to you, but...I don't think he's going to be doing a whole lot of wishing anymore."

The mysterious man lets out a low chuckle, which is the first display of actual emotion you've seen or heard from him. This does not make him any less creepy, for the record. "One would assume so, but no. My Master is still active. He cannot rest until he's completed his work."

If there's a ghost in this room, you don't see him. What you do see, however, is an opening. "Do you want your master to complete his work and rest? If so, I might be able to help."

You're pretty sure the mysterious man has a reaction to that offer, but you don't see it. Needless to say that this is starting to get annoying, especially because the mysterious man needs to give your offer some thought. And you have no idea why. "Interesting, though I do not believe that someone from outside our circle could complete his work. As...a test subject, perhaps you could, but not as one of us." The man looks at the cauldron of goop next to you when he mentions a "test subject", but afterwards he goes back to staring right at you. Of course there'd be a catch.

"I can't promise that, but if you're willing to explain what those tests would entail I'd be willing to hear your out, if nothing else."

Again you can't see the man's reaction. Though without pause he answers "Very well."
--- +1 Social Skills, proceed with stage 3 ---

 

The man slowly turns around and looks straight at you. Combine the fact that his mask makes it impossible to see his face, the hand he always keeps behind his back and the fact that he can see exactly where you are right through his mask, and you have one very creepy, very unnerving sight. It's enough to make you shudder. The mysterious man, for his part, looks at you for a second and tilts his head curiously. "Do you really want to know?" he asks with an empty, almost hollow tone that gives you the impression that this person has seen and done things unspeakable. Really not making you feel any more comfortable here...

"N-no I don't need to know if you don't want to say I was just wondering through where's the exit?" The words cascade from your mouth like a torrent, but there's little you can do when you're freaking out.

The mysterious man, for as frightening and unpredictable as he looks and sounds, simply shrugs and points back to the main room. "Through the vents in the kitchen. Do you need my help with opening them?"

You nod before you even register what the mysterious man said, and he walks past you into the main room. After catching your breath you follow him and see him standing in the kitchen, with a wand drawn, pointed at one of the vents. Without saying a word the mysterious man weaves some manner of spell, and the middle vent suddenly grows until it's big enough for an adult. More importantly you can see the sun - the actual sun - shining outside! Freedom at last! You turn to the mysterious man and try to thank him before running off into safety and familiar territory, but you're pretty sure you were mumbling too quietly for him to hear. Regardless you're able to run through the tunnel and back outside, right within view of where you were reading your book earlier.

Lesson learned. When going outside bring ropes and hooks.
--- -1 Courage, stop adventure ---

I tried to justify the College-exclusivity, but honestly, this really only hints at it. It'll get more clear as time goes on, though.

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Stage 3:

 

The mysterious man actually walks over to one of the nearby (dust and dirt-covered) chairs that's...not occupied, let's say, and sits down. He offers you another chair, but you decide against sitting down on it. You've got enough cleaning ahead of you as is. "I take it that you will want to hear of my Master's intentions, not just what you'll be required to do as a test subject?"

You nod.

The mysterious man lets out a low chuckle. "Naturally, though I'm afraid that information must come at a price. A price that you can surely guess, and are surely reluctant to pay. As such I will explain the details of an experiment you will be taking part in beforehand. Though regardless, your payment must come after. Is that agreeable?"

You can't help but frown, especially because you're really not feeling like willingly subjecting yourself to mysterious experiments as perform by a mysterious man who's taking orders from a corpse in a secret hideout hidden inside a mountain. Like, if you were kidnapped and forced to take part that'd be a different story, but going along with that willingly would just make you seem stupid. "I can't promise anything. But if all you can tell me is the nature of the first experiment, I'll accept that."

The mysterious man nods, stands up and walks over to you. You instinctively take a few steps to the side, outside the broken magic circle beneath you actually, and watch as the mysterious man casually inspects the goop that's still inside the cauldron. "Still preserved and useful, as I expected. All it will take is a bit of heat, and that is not difficult." The mysterious man turns his head to look at you, and you can't help but shudder a bit as this blank mask suddenly turns around and glares at you. That mask is way creepier than it should be, probably because it's mostly still shaped like a human face. It doesn't look completely weird, it just looks wrong. "The first experiment I'd like to run is how well this concoction works on someone who's not yet grown to full emotional maturity. It was designed to affect all ages equally without regard for personal irregularities or one's stage of emotional growth, but it's only been tested on adults. As such, for the first experiment, you would have to drink a cup of it and see how, if at all, it affects you. The effects are, of course, not permanent - the laws of Negation still apply - and the concoction doesn't taste as bad as it looks. If I recall my Master's stories of the Academagia's chefs correctly, you have probably drank worse."

There's a sign hanging above the man's head right now that says "this is a bad idea" that you could see from the freaking moon, even while he's standing within the entirely underground room. Still, your curiosity is nothing if not excessive. "And what does it do? What is it supposed to do, rather?"

"Disconnect someone. Isolate them from all others, on a mental level. In theory this should include deafening oneself to his or her Familiar, but the concoction was never so refined...and a Familiar's Bond is difficult to manipulate, anyway. I can test it's effects on you without having to send you back to the Academagia or some other populated location, where people might ask questions...but you would have to drink it."

On the one side, this can lead to the kind of information that's juicy, interesting and potentially useful on many levels. On the other side this is, quite possibly, the stupidest thing that anyone has ever asked you to do since the invention of stupid. So...

"Yeah, thanks but no thanks. Do you know where the nearest exit is?"

You don't see the mysterious man's reaction, but if he's at all surprised he's clearly been cooped up in here for a bit too long. "In that case, the exit is in the kitchen. You may have noticed the smoke vents above the fire pit? That is the way out."

"I'd say that a rat would have a hard time crawling through that, but I assume that you know something to fix that?"

The mysterious man draws a wand. "You could say that. I can open the path, if you can't do so yourself."

You can't, at least you're not confident whether or not you can because you really don't know how deep within the hill you are at this point, so you take the mysterious man up on his offer. As promised he "opens" the vent and it leads right outside, leaving you standing within view of your earlier reading spot only a little worse for wear. Now you would go right to a professor and blow the lid off of this little hideout, but you feel compelled to just think of all the potential. A secret hideout inside a hill that's only accessible through magic (or at least that was, up until very recently) populated by no one other than one mysterious man who's so self-sufficient he's got his own little magical garden? Clearly there are great secrets you can learn from this person, you only have to...well, to be blunt, do a lot of studying on brews and potions, so you can check to make sure that brew is actually safe to drink. That's...that is the plan, right? Eh...yeah, of course that's the plan. Time to go back to the Academagia and crack open some books.

Actually, you might wish to read your history book a bit more first...ah, whatever, you'll figure it out.
--- Stop adventure ---

 

Brew. Is this stuff safe to drink? (Intelligence/v4)

"Do you mind if I inspect the, eh...'concoction' first? I'd like to know if it's actually safe to drink."

The mysterious man shrugs. "There's plenty, so go right ahead."

You look at the cauldron and can't help but wonder what the heck you're even doing. Well, if nothing else it should be safe to check, so a bit reluctantly you step into the circle and take a sample of the red goop in a spare vial you have on you. As you feared, it's more like syrup than water. Not so thick that you couldn't drink it, but getting it down might still be a problem. As for it's content, well, that's what magic is for. And according to your analysing spells this stuff contains a very high concentration of...strawberry juice. Huh. Also a somewhat unnecessarily high amount of sugar, what once was pure water, preservatives and faint traces of stuff you can't clearly identify. It's just drowned out by all the flavoring. Really, it feels like someone was trying to make a brew, got tired ten minutes in and resorted to just throwing strawberries at the problem until said person got bored with it. You're not sure what you were expecting, but Strawberry Syrup Surprise was not it. Unless you're horribly misjudging the possible effects of the few ingredients that actually do something the worst this potion is going to do is rot your teeth. The magic contained within this brew isn't that strong, anyway.

"So, are you satisfied that it's safe to drink?"

You can't be sure that it is, but the mysterious man was right on at least one point. At least taste-wise, you have, in fact, drank worse.
--- Temp +4 Endurance, try again ---

 

A cup of red goop that's been sitting for goodness knows how long in a dirt-covered cave as brewed by someone who was researching goodness-knows-what? You can't even entertain the idea that this might be anything other than the complete opposite of safe, sanitary or, for that matter, sane.

--- Try again ---

 

Endurance. Bottom's up! (Fitness v8)

While the better half of your mind seriously questions why you're doing this you grab a cup from one of the nearby desks, use your wand to thoroughly clean it, and give it to the mysterious man. "This isn't going to kill me, is it?" you ask as he takes the cup and fills it with red goop.

"Although I suppose that technically would accomplish the concoction's objectives, it would not in a meaningful manner. As such, no." The man holds out the cup to you, and hesitantly you take it. It...actually smells good. More apatizing than most of the stuff the Academagia cooks, eh, cook up. Unfortunately it's as thick as syrup, so this won't be especially easy to drink. Not impossible, though. You take a deep breath, raise the cup to your lips and start working the brew down. It's frankly ridiculous how much effort it takes to drink this, but thanks to the rich, almost overpowering presence of strawberry flavor it's manageable. You'll admit, if nothing else it does at least taste good. A bit over the top, sure, but good. After you get it all down you hand the cup back, and look around the room in a slight daze. The brew is definitely doing something, but you're not sure what.

"So, it is taking effect?"

You look at the mysterious man, still in that daze, but for whatever reason you don't answer his question. You know how, you're pretty sure you can still talk, but somehow there's no words coming out. The mysterious man studies you...you think...while you stay where you are, standing around confused, waiting for him to say or do something.

"Interesting...", the mysterious man says as he takes a step closer and observes you more carefully. You're pretty sure you should feel some manner of unnerved right now, maybe even take a step back, but...nothing. The feeling is there, you can tell, but it's distant.

"Can you explain how you feel different?"

You look at the mysterious man, noticing that you're not as freaked out by his creepy mask as before, and you mentally go over everything that you've noticed already. Only when trying to put that into words you run into the same problem as before - for whatever reason your just won't speak, even though you're pretty sure that your voice still works. You try just saying something, even mutter something to yourself to check, but you can't bring yourself to say anything at all. It's really strange, and while you should probably feel even more unnerved because of that...what you feel just doesn't work, in some way. You're not sure. In the end, in order to actually answer the mysterious man's question, you shake your head. In a sense, it is the truth - you can't explain how you feel different, after all. In all likelihood that's intentional wording on his part, come to think of it.

"I see. And you're unable to bring yourself to speak at all?"

You nod, pondering the curiosity that while you can't bring yourself to talk nodding and shaking your head apparently isn't a problem. Or at least not as big a problem, it's a bit difficult to tell. You're not sure how you'd feel about writing your thoughts down (if only because that's not something you normally do, so you wouldn't really have a point of reference), but you'd guess that you wouldn't be able to do that right now either.

The mysterious man tilts his head, although that doesn't really tell you anything. Not with you being unable to see his face. "Interesting, so it would appear that Second's theory might have been correct. If only the Master had known that...although I shudder to think what he would have done, if he did."

Your attempt to ask for some actual context, because you understood like none of that, is thwarted by the brew still working it's magic on you. Although as a result you notice another change - your facial expression is lagging behind your voice (or your current lack of one), in addition to the dulled feelings effect. You're not sure if one is the result of the other or if they're both completely separate, though. The mysterious man, for his part, stops tilting his head. "As you have fulfilled your part of the bargain I will honor mine, although I believe that I will have to dispel the concoction's effects, first. You'd not be able to ask a question, otherwise."

You nod, and watch as the mysterious man pulls a wand out of his robe. He then looks down at the magic circle beneath his feet. "I'll have to look into repairing this thing soon, if I am to continue these experiments. For now, though, I believe this will suffice." The mysterious man casually dances through a number of Negation Phemes, chains them together into a spell and directs it at you. You'll admit that you can't help but flinch a little, even in the state that you are in, but thankfully the spell does nothing out of the ordinary. In fact it actually seems to work exactly as advertised - the daze you're in slowly lessens, and you can feel what you lost coming back to you. You stutter a little before you regain full control of your voice, but that doesn't last long.

"So, what do you wish to know?" the Mysterious man asks while casually cleaning up the cup. As if that even matters, given the state of this room. As for his question, it's a tricky one. You're curious as to who his master was, why he thinks said master is still active when the man's decayed skeleton is right there, who "Second" is or was and how he managed to offend his parents enough to be given such a silly name, who else was all working here before the place got abandoned, just where you are anyway, what exactly that brew did and why it was made...so many questions, and you only get one answer. Still, the best starting point seems rather straightforward.

"Who was your master?" If you know that, you'll have a good lead to start doing some research of your own. Research that doesn't involve being a test subject.

"An Academagia student in College Aranaz, Silfus Koweb. He dabbled in all pillars of magic, some more so than others, but his true interest was the forbidden school of Mastery. As you've no doubt surmised, that brew was not enchanted with a Glamour."

You're not sure how you feel when he says that, and you're sure that's not because of lingering potion effects. You also find it odd that the man refers to his master with past tense when he apparently believes he's still active...though you suppose that doesn't necessarily pre-exclude him being dead? Or maybe the mysterious man is a bit nuts. Either way those are not questions you're going to ask and have answered in return for having drank that goop. "Why Mastery?"

"In short, he sought perfection, and he came to the conclusion that Mastery was the pillar that would bring him to his goal. As I've stated he's dabbled in all other pillars, even Gates to some extent, so you can be assured that it was an informed opinion."

You look around the room, taking in all the rust, neglect and dirt-covered everything, and turn back to the mysterious man. "Perfection in what sense? I don't think Mastery would help much in keeping this, eh...house? Hideout? Whichever he called it clean."

"Perfection in general. He sought perfection in all things, in all topics, in every way. Everything from history and zoology to rhetoric and magic. If he could grasp it he could find flaws in it, and so he had to discover a way for it to achieve perfection." You don't see the mysterious man's reaction to your (admittedly somewhat exaggerated) confused expression, because that sounds like more than just an unreachable goal. That just sounds excessive. The mysterious man briefly turns to look at the skeleton, and shrugs. "His outlook on life was quite unique, I'll admit. To put it as simply as I can, I believe that he reached some manner of understanding that all of life's aspects held one thing in common - they could all be grasped, in one manner or another, by living beings. Scenery can be painted, magic can be practised, the weather can be predicted (when it's not being controlled, but that's another matter), even things like discussions between other living beings could be heard, observed, followed and so forth. Thus, he came to the conclusion that in order to achieve absolute and overall perfection, oneself must be perfect. The world around us does not change, only our perception of it...or so he believed. That lead him to seek perfection of himself, and that lead him to focus on Mastery"

"So if I get struck by lightning that's a matter of where I happened to be looking, or...what's that supposed to mean?"

The mysterious man shrugs. "He had an explanation for that, though I doubt you're old enough to really understand it. Just as well, mind. His outlook was incredibly nihilistic. Fatalistic, one might even say, though not to the point where he saw no purpose to anything."

"...Sure, did that work out for him?"

The mysterious man casually looks around the room, pausing only to stare at the pile of bones, turns back to you, and shrugs. "That depends on how you see thing...though I imagine that most would think not."

Good to know this mysterious man is at least a little self-aware. "Yeah, probably. So what happened to him?"

"I'll say that after he left the Academagia he went into hiding here, in part because his practising of the illegal arts was getting increasingly more difficult to hide and in part because of his growing weariness and paranoia about everyone around him. But as to what he did after he started to live here, I believe I'll save that for after the next experiment." Of course. Still, that's a good block of information for you to look up in the library later. "In any event, will that be all?"

"That depends, can you perform the next experiment now or will I have to wait?"

The mysterious man looks over the magic circle and taps a finger on the edge of the cauldron. "I believe it would be best to wait. In part to make sure that the effects of the last experiment truly went away, in part to give me time to clean up and repair this old circle. Negating or fully controlling the effects of the more complex experiments is tricky to do without. This brew, though, is something I've worked with so often that I know how to cast a proper counter-spell on my own. It's not a particularly complex experiment, either."

And that'll give you time to do some research in the meantime. Perfect. "Okay, in that case, I've got two questions - first off, how the heck do you get out of this cave...mine...thing, whatever it is? I've been walking around for like a half-hour and I've still gotten nowhere!"

The mysterious man tilts his head. "Through the vents in the kitchen. Yes, they're too small for any human to crawl through, but that is what magic is for. I'm honestly not sure how you could enter this place otherwise. As I'm bound to this home, I cannot go out and explore."

Fair enough, you think you can work that. "Okay. Then second, do you have a name? I mean, it's getting a bit tiring to have nothing to call you but the 'mysterious man'. You must have a nickname, if nothing else..."

The mysterious man shrugs. "I don't have a name, not as you do. Though you may refer to my as Lee, if you wish." Finally, a name to match to the...freaky mask thing. That is just not going to stop bothering you, isn't it? In any case you nod, say goodbye and walk over to the kitchen. So...how will you go about turning these tiny hole into something that you can walk through? You don't know how long they are, so you might not be able to maintain your spell long enough for you to get through, or it might not reach far enough, or...

"If you're having concerns about being able to exit through the vents, I can open them myself, if you wish."

You turn around and look at Lee, who's apparently managed to sneak up to you a second time now despite having to walk over a stone floor in a cave to do it. It's weird. All the same you're not going to turn down his help, and with practised ease Lee manages to Revise one of the vents into an adult-sized tunnel. For someone who apparently can't leave this room he sure knows how to do it. Well, no matter. You're going back to the Academagia and diving straight into some much-needed research.
--- -3 Diction, -3 Passion, +2 Dispassion (coded as Patience because Dispassion is a DLC skill), add Cowardice emotion, proceed with stage 4 ---

 

Hesitating so much you're shaking you try to grab a cup from one of the desks nearby, but it's clear that it's a futile effort. No matter how much the air starts to smell like sugar after the goop starts heating up you just can't bring yourself to try it. The mysterious man notices, but if he has a reaction to it you can't see it.

"Feeling a bit too skittish?"

You try to say something that'll leave you with some dignity, but nothing comes to mind. Instead of saying anything you just nod, silently.

"It's fair enough that you'd be hesitant. Though, if you wish to try again at a later date, you can always return here. Until than I'll just show you what passes for a front door around here."

The mysterious man does just that, using a wand to widen one of the vents in the kitchen until even an adult could walk through it and into the outside world. You feel like you failed there, no matter how much it may have been for the best, but you're set to try again.
--- -1 Curiosity ---

And so the parade of blunders begins...

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Stage 4:

 

After a bit of a harrowing trip through the magic-made tunnel you end up back outside, finally, within sight of the place where you sat down to read a book all those minutes ago. It figures, but that does tell you where you are in relation to the Academagia, so you're not going to complain. It's a relatively quick trip back to the Academagia, back down the hill and through the fields for a bit, and you don't waste any time walking to the Venalicium. Or you wouldn't, but there's apparently some sort of commotion in the hallway leading to it. A quick look confirms that [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Vrenelle Bonvin is part of the crowd, so you reluctantly walk up to her and tap her on the shoulder. "So what's going on here?" you ask, surprising yourself with how disinterested you sound. Vrenelle, though, either doesn't care or notice.

"Remember what I said? [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Basia Rydz apparently found something of historical value, but [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Malthezar Mhadi claims that he found it first seeing as how it's related to, eh, Alesfa, was it? Anyway we're waiting on word from Aranaz' two seers, since they correctly predicted this happening and all so we're all interested in knowing who they'll say discovered it first."

"And until then...?"

"[Character]Character/Female/Selection/Basia Rydz claiming to have accomplished something important related to Alesfa not just instead of but in front of [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Malthezar Mhadi. Take a guess. They haven't started brawling yet, but if they do there's a pool going on who'll win. Current money is on Malthezar, so if you're willing to bet on Basia you could get 3:1 odds."

"...I see. Well, you all have fun with that, I'm afraid I've got some work to do."

You try to walk past Vrenelle, but she actually stops you by tugging your robe. "Hey, don't go telling any professors, alright? I put good money on Basia and I'm not having a professor ruin that well-earned pocket change."

You frown, throwing Vrenelle your most uninterested, bored and uncaring look, and gently loosen her hand from your robe. "Duly noted. Now if you'll excuse me..."

Vrenelle nods like you didn't just glare the heck out of her, and goes back to trying to worm her way through the crowd to get a better look. It's at this point that you're starting to question whether that potion is still doing something other than making you worry about your general health, but you can deal with that later by dropping by the infirmary. With how excellent the chefs are in this school they'd probably not question you too much if you just leave out enough details. Well, fine, a lot of details, same difference. It's time for research.

Stepping into the Venalicium it's as quiet as ever, not a whole lot of students here right now despite the mob outside. Or perhaps "because" of said mob. Either way you've got a quiet and sparsely-populated library available to you for all your research needs, so this should be simple enough. In fact, maybe you should make this harder on yourself...okay, no, that sounded wrong even in your head. The point is that you're sure you're not going to have trouble with finding information about Silfus, you can do that easily enough. But you are also feeling a bit uncertain about whether Lee's Negation really completely removed the effects of that brew. Maybe he just temporarily suppressed the effects and they'll slowly come back, maybe he couldn't Negate it completely, you're not sure. And you'd like to be sure. So perhaps rather than just hitting the books you should try and test yourself a bit by asking around for information rather than just hitting the books and calling it a day. It'd be a way to get more information, and more information is always good, but if someone asks the wrong questions and you suddenly can't answer them...choices, choices. What would be the better approach here?

Just wait a day.

Than again you are pretty tired from walking down the hill, and whatever problem you're likely worrying about needlessly might actually exist it'll probably just go away after a day or so if you don't push yourself.

So, change of plans. Relaxation in the common room now, research later.
--- Stop adventure ---

 

Research. No need to complicate matters. (Intelligence/v6)

You could risk revealing your secrets needlessly, or you could not do that and just stop by the infirmary after you're done here regardless. Really, you're a student in the Academagia. That might not sound like it should make it easy to explain why you got a bizarre magical curse on you because you drank a cup of strawberry juice, but it does. That's the safer plan, so that's what you do. Now, finding information about Silfus...he used to be an Academagia student, so you know where to go.

In two minutes you've determined the exact years when Silfus was a student, and less than five minutes after that you're carrying a stack of books to one of the study cubicles where you can do some quiet (and private) reading. Really, it's amazing how smoothly this stuff goes when you actually know where to go and where to look. All that time spend in the Venalicium just paid for itself, and you're sure it'll continue doing so. Now, the books are put down, the chair has been commandeered and the door is closed. Where to begin? You decide to look through the records of old professor reports first. Silfus really didn't sound like a social butterfly, to put it nicely, so you figure that his professors actually probably knew him best. Well, "better", perhaps. If they knew him that well Silfus would have died a lot earlier, after all.

You absent-mindedly read through records one by one for what feels like seconds, unfortunately with nothing to show for it, and looking at the stack of stuff you've already check you know that it must have taken minutes to read through all of that. It's odd, but you're able to focus a lot better than usual. Not that that's especially unusual when you're in a study cubicle, but even taking that into consideration it feels like too much. That infirmary visit is definitely happening as soon as you're done here, but for now there's a lot of stuff left to check. The professors unfortunately had either a very incomplete or incorrect view of Silfus, so that was a bust. So, next up you're going to look through old student newspapers and other assorted stuff. It's generally not the most trustworthy of sources, since students like to gossip and gossip is often exaggerated to say the least, but it'd be better than nothing. And besides which, based on what you know of Silfus it might not be so exaggerated anyway.

So the routine continues, if with a different flavor, and your unusual focus returns with it. You'll not deny, unusual as it feels it's rather helpful right now. Unfortunately it seems as if this angle is also a bust. The old school newspapers have quite a lot of silly little "news" rapports and claims that range from spiteful to just silly, but unfortunately none of them seem to involve Silfus. Honestly, it's a bit strange. Did he manage to completely keep his head down during the entire time he was a student here? It's not impossible, but it just seems so unlikely. Even if he was never guilty of anything - which is most certainly not the truth - he must have accidentally run into the wrong situation at the wrong time at some point...did he just make everyone forget? He was studying Mastery, so...no, that'd be too risky, wouldn't it? You're not sure anymore. With a sigh you drop the last school newspaper on the stack of things you've checked and take a look at the other stack. There's still a few things left to go through, but you're not sure what would be most worth looking through at this point. You eye the detention records and ponder if that would be worth it...

"Don't bother, if Silfus was the kind of troublemaker that often got caught he wouldn't have been able to keep his hobbies a secret. You should just look for stuff like what classes he took, at least that'd tell you something."

You thank yourself for the advice and start picking out the right book from the pile. Though before you take it you stop and consider what you just did. "Thank yourself"? Huh?

"W-what? Do you disagree?"

You turn around to look, but no, you don't see anyone else inside this room. You check the ceiling, but that's clear too. Casting a quick spell also confirms that you don't appear to have any spells cast on you...although that diagnosis is probably less than accurate, all things told. You're not sure why you bothered checking, in hindsight.

"H-hey, you didn't answer my question! And...I know I already know it, but it's...only polite! Right?"

Assessing yourself you're not really surprised that you got a random voice stuck in your head, only that it took this long to show up. "Okay, who are you?" you ask the air around you.

"...Oh, you mean me? Eh, don't you know?"

You shake your head. The voice is silent for a bit, although you can swear that while it thinks you can feel...maybe "hear" a wind lightly breezing through your head. It's a somewhat odd feeling, needless to say.

"I...guess you really didn't expect this...did you?"

"I can't say that I expected to be talking to myself today, no. In fact I don't think that myself talking back to me when I talk to myself wasn't on the afternoon schedule either, and I'm pretty sure I'd remember if it was."

You can feel the voice roll it's eyes...or do the disembodied voice equivalent thereof, at least. You're not sure, you don't want to think about it too much because that'll just hurt your brain even more than it already does (or will within the very near future). "F-fine, I guess. So...do you want to know who I am?"

"So long as it doesn't involve me being a test subject for some shady experiment that I will never mention to anyone ever because Gods does it paint me as an idiot..."

"Eh, yeah, I...guess you kinda deserve it. And to answer your question...I'm actually not sure."

"...You're not sure. A random voice in my head offers to tell me who [Character]Character/Self is and you're not sure?"

"Really, I'm not. A part of me feels like I know things I shouldn't - like why that brew kinda messed you up even more than Lee thought it would - so I don't want to say I'm simply another you...but at the same time I don't know who else I could be. Unless Lee's master was stark-raving mad and secretly designed the potion to infect everyone who drinks it with himself, or something, but I'm pretty sure that's not possible. And even if it is I don't feel like I'm him anyway."

Well, this day certainly went from bad to weird in a hurry. "Okay, I think I understood that. So what went wrong with that brew?"

"Well, I...don't know what went wrong, I just know that I was born then. Or maybe 'woke up'. I don't know. Either way that time feels very familiar to me, so...I just feel like I know it better than I should, alright?"

"...You don't say! You, being the result of that brew!? What a plot twist! I though you were that random squirrel: Secret Mastery Mage Extraordinary!"

"Y-you don't have to be so mean! And you probably don't want to say stuff like that out loud anyway." As much as you want to bang your head against a table right now, you have to concede that point. "So...what are you going to do? With me, I mean?"

"Grab these books, put them back and march right to the infirmary? Like, what else-didn't you say you could read my mind or whatever, actually?"

"Huh? Oh, right, I kinda...eh, no, I can't, just...I wanted to get your attention, is all."

"Well you certainly have it. So did you have something to say about that infirmary visit or what?"

"I, eh, yeah, about...could you please...not...kill me?" You don't know how to react to that statement, other than noting that that table is looking so incredibly tempting right now. "Like, I mean it! I feel like I woke up and now I'm here with you! And I mean, I feel! Like you do, only separately from you! So if you go to the infirmary and the nurses Negate me than...what happens to me?"

"You...you can't be serious."

"Of course I am! You've seen what kind of crazy stuff even first year students can do with their feelings, haven't you? So imagine what an older student who studied Mastery can do. I don't want to disappear..." You think about it, and in response to your silence the voice continues. "I-I'm only a voice in your head that only you can hear! And while I can't read them I can hear your thoughts so that's not going to be difficult to keep secret, right?"

"...You did not just say that."

"...Okay, so that sounded better in my head. Your head, or...my head, in your...anyway, really, it won't be so bad. Please, don't just go to the infirmary. I don't want to disappear, and maybe Lee can help me with that."

"Why? Why do you think Lee can help you, I mean?"

"Well, remember how he said that he can't leave his home? Do you think he's just afraid? Or how he managed to sneak up on you - twice, at that - while walking over a stone floor, in a cave? Or how he's able to see perfectly fine through that mask of his, even though it has no eye-holes? I'm just...he might be able to help."

"...I'll consider it. Now, please, can you stay quiet while I put these books back? I'd rather people not ask questions."

As commanded the voice goes silent, and for what feels like the first time in a long time the study cubicle is completely quiet. Thankfully no one seems to have heard your little outburst, so you're in the clear. Still, thinking things over...keeping that voice around is a stupid idea no matter how you cut it, but you could maybe squeeze another question out of Lee by bringing this information to him. That's a tempting offer, especially because your efforts to find out more about Silfus the simple way hasn't yielded any fruit. Yeah, you'll wait on that infirmary visit (or at least the mentioning of it) until after giving Lee another visit. You'd like some answers from him...
--- +1 Filing, +1 Decipher Handwriting, pause adventure ---

 

You could risk revealing your secrets needlessly, or you could not do that and just stop by the infirmary after you're done here regardless. Really, you're a student in the Academagia. That might not sound like it should make it easy to explain why you got a bizarre magical curse on you because you drank a cup of strawberry juice, but it does. That's the safer plan, so that's what you do. Now, finding information about Silfus...he used to be an Academagia student, so you're looking for...what section are you looking for, again? You could have sworn that there was a section devoted to former Academagia students and staff, but it's not where you thought it was. Maybe somewhere else? Well, can't hurt to look...

Roughly an hour and a half of fruitlessly looking for the right section later you decide that clearly you're too nervous to think straight, so the proper course of action is to go to the common room and relax for a bit. You could also drop by the infirmary, but...nah, that's way the heck out of your way from here. And the nurses will probably just tell you to go to bed early anyway unless you explain why you think you're especially nervous, and, well...yeah. Relaxing time. Finally.
--- -1 Filing, stop adventure ---

 

Befriend. Double-check yourself. (Charm/v6)

It may be a bit risky, but considering the fact that the library is relatively empty and the rather severe effects that the potion would have on pretty much any social situation you decide that it's worthwhile to double-check. Worst case scenario you've already got a story thought up in your mind to explain away any potential detail you could run into, plus a few fall-back options. The problem is that you're not sure how to explain away that you're looking for this student at all. Given what little you know of him he probably was neither the most public or celebrated member of College Aranaz, so...ah, hang on, maybe the book you're supposed to read for History class? Every history buff would know...actually they'd probably also question why you know someone's name, but not why you'd actually look him up. You thought that Silfus and the protagonist from that book might have things in common, so...yeah, you can't really explain how you couldn't be sure of that but know Silfus' name. Maybe you ought to try and trick someone? Look for a reasonably clever, but socially manipulatable individual that you can goat into looking up this information for you without question? Hmm...no, taking a look around you don't see anyone who matches that description. Maybe one of the librarians? Eh...no. Let's not involve any more adults than is absolutely necessary. They seem on edge due to the commotion going on right outside the library, anyway.

As your mind continues to spin it's gears you have to wonder whether you really could still be effected by the potion if you can still think like this. You're pretty sure that you couldn't before, so...maybe that's all the proof you need? Maybe, but you'd like to test it anyway. Okay, different strategy - who is here that you could ask this stuff about? Maybe once you know that you can work backwards and think of a custom-tailored story for them. Let's see, [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Basia Rydz and [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Malthezar Mhadi are obviously not here because of their spat outside, [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Durand de Thiomines might be here but you wouldn't know how to convince him to help you look into an old Aranaz student without asking any questions, [Character]Character/Female/Selection/Zoe Melis is...here, actually, reading from her textbooks as she's want to do. She's shy and probably won't care to question you too much, most Hedi students tend not to in your experience, but how to convince her to actually help? Ah, you could probably just walk up and ask, really. You don't know of anything better to try, so let's.

You walk up to Zoe and quietly whisper, "Hey, Zoe, could you please give me a hand with some research?"

Zoe's eyes nervously dart in your direction, but seeing you stand a bit away from her completely calm and collected seems to calm her down a bit in turn. "C-can't you find what you need yourself?"

From most people that'd be an invitation to either explain why they should care or to leave, but you know that Zoe is just not the best talker. Seeing that, you shake your head and say, "I'm looking for records of an old Aranaz student, do you know where I could find that?"

Zoe meekly points to the right section and says, "There, if you're looking for former students."

You know that that's as much as you can reasonably expect from Zoe when she's busy with her own studies, so you politely nod, thank her and walk off towards the area she indicated.

"So...does that mean you're fine?"

Browsing the shelves, looking for the right books, you nod and quietly whisper that it does...only to suddenly come to a stop. Who said that? You look next to you, you turn around and look behind you, you even duck your head into nearby aisle, but there doesn't appear to be anyone around. At least, no one within whisper distance. Who just spoke to you? Is someone casting Glamours on you?

"Eh...is something wrong?"

Again. You're definitely hearing something, but you can't see where it's coming from. Just in case you decide to grab a random book off the nearest shelf and duck off into a study cubicle. Not the safest place in the world, but at least you can draw your wand here without being drawn and quartered.

"So you're not fine?"

You whip your head around trying to find the source of this voice, but...nothing. You're alone in a study cubicle, and the section you were in was empty anyway. Heck, most of the library was empty. What's going on?

"Hey, can't you hear me? Or...can't you talk to me?"

Plugging your ears has definitely confirmed it - this voice is coming from you. From your own head, to be specific. Well, no finessing this situation. "I...can hear you?" you say, confused, to the air around you.

"Oh, thank you, I was worried you wouldn't talk to me."

...There's a voice in your head that's talking to you when you talk to it. Why? Not in the sense of "why did this happen", because that should be fairly obvious, but "why did this happen", because of all things...this doesn't seem like it was intended. Or maybe the mysterious man wasn't actually trustworthy and you're a complete idiot for going along with his plan. You choose to believe the former.

"...You're going to talk to me, aren't you? I-I don't want to feel lonely..."

Your brain attempts to process that series of words, but somewhere along the line it feels like your brain rejected the entire idea. And yet, here you are. Well, you've got a voice in your head to talk to. Might as well make use of those rare opportunities you gain access to as a wizard, right? "I...I mean...how...who are you?" Of course holding a conversation while your brain is convulsing from equal parts stupidity and disbelief is slightly difficult.

"M-me? You...want to know who me is? Who I am, I mean?"

"It's...rude to converse with people who don't introduce themselves?" Yeah, mark it down for the history books, your brain just got fried and is currently running on auto-pilot. Hey, maybe your brain did turn into an enchanted airship while you weren't looking. It'd sure explain a thing or two.

The voice doesn't immediately respond for reasons you can't claim to grasp, but a few seconds later it pipes up and says "I, eh...I don't know."

"You...you don't know. There's a random voice in my head that doesn't know who [Character]Character/Self is?"

You think you feel the voice nod, somehow, but at this point it's impossible to tell whether that's just you going even more crazy. "Yeah. I mean, I'm sure that brew was what...was what...I don't know how to say this, but, ever since that brew, I've been here. That's...what I'm trying to say."

Of course that would come back to bite you. You're just surprised it did so earlier rather than later. No, not ever that. You're surprised it did so this early. "Eh, yeah, I kind of figured it be the brew and not the squirrel secretly being a Mastery mage. So, what's your opinions on infirmaries? Because I think I'll be visiting one around oh, say, now."

"W-wait, don't! I mean, don't go. I...I don't want you to go there."

"Why? I think I've clearly demonstrated that I'm well past the point where I ought to have visited it."

"No, I mean...yes but please listen to me! I don't...want to disappear."

Before you can catch yourself you let your head drop to the side in complete disbelief. "You don't...what? I mean what does that even...?"

"I-listen, please, wait, just...can't you visit Lee first? I'm sure he could help us. With how he's able to sneak up on you and see through his mask and open his front door while he can't leave and...eh, well, I just think he can help."

"I fail to see a single reason as to why that would suggest that he could help 'us', but sure, it if means you can stay quiet I'll consider it."

Per your order the voice suddenly goes silent, and you're once again left alone in the quiet study cubicle to contemplate all the bad decisions you've made that has lead you to this point. Truly, you've made some fantastic blunders in the recent past, but you'll see about correcting those. And as for Lee, well, you've got a reason to demand some answers from him. Especially because, as it turns out, there's practically no information to be found on Silfus that you didn't already know. All that effort...
--- +1 Conversation, +1 Temperance, pause adventure ---

 

It may be a bit risky, but considering the fact that the library is relatively empty and the rather severe effects that the potion would have on pretty much any social situation you decide that it's worthwhile to double-check. Unfortunately a second look around the library confirms the presence of a small kink in your plan - namely, the library is too empty. You don't see any first years here at all, at least that you'd trust enough to use as unwitting test subjects. Actually that's incorrect, you're the test subject, so...what would they be? Examiners? Props? Controls? You don't know. What you do know is that the last thing you want is to do anything suspicious in an area where you're likely to be seen by [Character]Character/Male/Selection/Reitz von Lutersee of all students, so change of plan. Common room relaxation now, something your legs have definitely earned, and potentially incriminating experiments later. When they're more approachable and less gossip-y students around that you can at least put a name to.

--- -1 Social Skills, stop adventure ---

I imagine that my concerns for this adventure being bad lore-wise are apparent enough, given this stage. All things considered my catch-all counterpoint will likewise be apparent...as soon as it shows up around stage, what, 11 or so. Yeah, this is going to be a long one, as one should expect.

Edited by Metis

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Stage 2:

 

Manipulation. "Your master would like some questions answered." (Intelligence/v6)

The mysterious man turns around and stares at you intently. Of course with that mask of his it's impossible to tell what he's thinking, so this is going to be hard. You'll have to judge his words based on just words alone, and that's not something that you're good at. Not without having at least some facial expressions to read. "Are you ever going to ask those questions, Master?" the mysterious man asks.

 

Oh, duh. You're already off to a great start. "First off, who's...corpse is that? I know I don't have the strictest of cleaning regiments but an entire skeleton sitting in one of my chairs is just silly."

 

The mysterious man tilts his head just a little, but you just can't determine why. Is he seeing right through you? Does he believe you? Is he going to toy with you? You don't know. He's just standing there, possible even in indecision. "First or Second? I'm afraid I haven't yet found any identifying features, 'master'."

 

Okay, his tone definitely changed there. Mask or not you definitely heard that. Which may not be a good thing, but you'll keep going until...well, no, you'll probably quit some time before it kills you, but either way the time to quit is not now. And as much as you'd like to ask what first or second this corpse is or isn't, that'd probably give you away, so...yeah. This is not working out as well as you'd hope. "Have you double-checked the stuff he had on him?"

 

"Indeed I have. Nothing but the few possessions you gave him, 'master'."

 

Okay, forget it. This guy is clearly toying with you the way he's half-heartedly referring to you as his master. Strange, because he sounded perfectly genuine the first time he said it. "Why did you tone change? You referred to me as your master perfectly find and convincingly before."

 

"Because at that point the act was." Lee says perfectly straight no matter how much sarcasm your mind attributes to his words. It's odd, but it doesn't sound off.

 

"What 'act'? Am I your master or aren't I?"

 

Lee points to the skeleton he's still standing next to for some Gods-forsaken reason. "He was my Master. 'Is', perhaps. Despite his current state of being he is still active."

 

You take another look at the clearly decayed bones and say "I don't mean to offend, but I'm pretty sure he's dead, actually."

 

Lee lets out a low chuckle, which really doesn't help make him look or sound any less creepy. "One would assume so, but no. My Master is still active. He cannot rest until he's completed his work."

 

If there's a ghost in this room, you don't see him. What you do see, however, is an opening. "Do you want your master to complete his work and rest? If so, I might be able to help."

 

You're pretty sure the mysterious man has a reaction to that offer, but you don't see it. Needless to say that this is starting to get annoying, especially because the mysterious man needs to give your offer some thought. And you have no idea why. "Interesting, though I do not believe that someone from outside our circle could complete his work. As...a test subject, perhaps you could, but not as one of us." The man looks at the cauldron of goop next to you when he mentions a "test subject", but afterwards he goes back to staring right at you. Of course there'd be a catch.

 

"I can't promise that, but if you're willing to explain what those tests would entail I'd be willing to hear your out, if nothing else."

 

Again you can't see the man's reaction. Though without pause he answers "Very well."

--- +1 Conversation, proceed with stage 3 ---

 

Hi Metis.

 

Enjoying it, but a minor point for Stage 2, the manipulation exit:

 

"Okay, forget it. This guy is clearly toying with you the way he's half-heartedly referring to you as his master. Strange, because he sounded perfectly genuine the first time he said it. "Why did you tone change? You referred to me as your master perfectly find and convincingly before."

 

"Because at that point the act was." Lee says perfectly straight no matter how much sarcasm your mind attributes to his words. It's odd, but it doesn't sound off."

 

You have a typo (find not fine), and introduce the name 'Lee' without explanation.

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Corrected, as well as the three or four follow-up errors of using Lee's name before he introduces himself. And to clarify I tend to do adventures haphazardly - finish one exit for one stage, go to the next stage, and later go back and fill in all the blanks. On one side it makes it easier to be foreshadow-y, since I actually know what the end result will be (both seemingly and actually), on the other side it makes it hard to remember what information was introduced at what point. But that's what proofreaders are for :). Oh yeah, the guy's name is Lee, by the by. He'll mention it soon enough, so this probably won't be a problem again. Hopefully.

 

Incidentally I just caught the cold that's been quite literally hanging around every other member of the household - cat included - so if updates slow down that'd be why.

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Stage 5:

 

The second trip to Lee's hideout feels simultaneously longer and shorter. Shorter because you know exactly where to go, and you can manage to make better time climbing up the hill then you did previously. Longer because the ongoing (and never-ending...) conversation with the voice keeps you distracted. Since your little incident in the Venalicium the voice has done a remarkably good job of keeping quiet...at first. But you soon came to the realization that the voice really does have a personality of sorts. An annoying one. Well, perhaps "personality" isn't the right word. "Age", maybe. The voice, you've noticed, mostly seems to act like a shy child. [Character]Character/Self's quick to demand attention from you, though never from anyone else. [Character]Character/Self tries to be helpful by way of giving advice, and you'll admit [Character]Character/Self's offered some interesting insight on one or two occasions, but never more often than that. Primarily [Character]Character/Self just asks a whole lot of questions when you're really not in a good situation to be talking to a voice in your head. Of course despite that you often seem to find points where your patience sort of gives out and you tell [Character]Character/Self on no uncertain terms to "be quiet", as it's more politely phrased, anyway...which usually results in [Character]Character/Self crying. Really, you have just been on a roll with discovering entirely new levels of awkward lately. A pity that isn't going to make you famous, huh?

"Oh, careful. There's the hole."

Ah, seems like you've arrived. Really it's just a good thing this hole is still here, because finding those kitchen vents or whatever they were from the outside would be completely impossible. It's one of few things that give away the hideout, and as such the hermit who used to live in said hideout made extra sure to hide them as well as he could. He succeeded, in this regard. If only he had become a stone mason and not a stark-raving mad Mastery mage hermit, it'd have saved so many people (read: you) so much trouble. As for the tip to the hideout itself through the mine tunnels (you're still not sure whether this is an real mine, actually) it takes a little longer, seeing as how you don't remember the path, but you manage to find the hideout before the voice manages to drive you mad by constantly asking how far it is and trying to offer advice on which turns you've already tried. Stepping into the hideout it actually looks significantly cleaner than before. Lee really did a good job in that regard, you'll admit. Now if only he could clean your head...

"Returned already? I'm afraid that I've yet to repair the circle. It's more damaged than I thought and I'm not exactly trained to do this, so it'll take me a while longer still."

"The circle can blow a hole through the ceiling and fly off into space for all I care, you've got a few things to answer for."

Lee doesn't show any visible reactions because he's still wearing the mask, though you can imagine he's a little taken aback by that. "Touchy today? Did something go awry?"

"That'd be one way to put it. That brew of yours? I've discovered another symptom, after you Negated it - a freaking voice in my head! What the heck is that all about!?" You'd be more patient, but really, you've already expended all your patience on the voice.

Lee tilts his head. "A voice? You mean...an actual voice? Not just an echo of your own thoughts, but a voice that talks back, on it's own terms, when spoken to?"

"Yes, that kind of voice. What the heck, Lee!? I don't recall that being one of the potential side-effects!"

"I don't remember you ever asking about that, actually..." the voice says.

"QUIET!" you yell in the direction of...the kitchen. You really haven't gotten used to this "voice in your head" thing yet, and honestly, you never want to. It's just a good thing you've managed to maintain your composure whenever you wanted to yell at the voice in the Great Hall.

When you turn back to Lee, he seems to be studying you. "That is...not too unexpected, I suppose, but one dose shouldn't have been enough to cause such an effect. And you didn't develop any mental echoes at all?" You shake your head. "That is...odd indeed. Not only have you developed advanced symptoms of the brew's effects, skipping intermediate symptoms entirely, but you did after only one dose. I honestly cannot say why that is. The only factor I can think of is your age - you're the only child the brew has been tested on - but I can't be sure whether it's only because of that, if it even is. I would very much like to study you further, if you don't mind."

"After what happened last time I think I'll pass, but there's one thing the voice wants to ask you, actually: Can you, eh...I'm not sure how to explain this, but...separate [Character]Character/Self from me? Like, I was planning to go to the infirmary and have this nonsense Negated, but the voice thinks that [Character]Character/Self's alive and that Negating that brew's lingering effects will make [Character]Character/Self 'disappear', to put it politely, and [Character]Character/Self thinks you can help with that."

Lee studies you for what feels like a long time, until he suddenly turns around. "Follow me, please." You do, and Lee takes you into the study-slash-laboratory room. It's been cleaned up considerably, and the skeleton has been removed. The cauldron is still here and filled with red goop, though it looks like the outside of the cauldron has been cleaned. "It's true that there is something that can be done, but I'm afraid that only my Master had the knowledge and possibly the skill to do so. I'm especially not sure if I could replicate his more complex experiments, though I am sure that without his notes I cannot even try."

Yeah, you were afraid of that. The voice, for the record, is as well and in fact is getting close to panicking. Lovely. "So, Infirmary?" you ask Lee.

Lee answers, but you can't hear him over the sound of the voice breaking down and crying. Thankfully you've learned how to tune [Character]Character/Self out when [Character]Character/Self's not actively talking to you. You ask Lee to repeat what he just said, and you notice that his expression seems to change. You can't see it, but it looks like it changed. "I said that that is an option, but not necessarily a safe one."

Oh, bother, of course it couldn't be so easy. "As sure as I am that I'll regret asking this, why is that?"

"Outside of the fact that you did what you did and suffered the effects that you did, as unexpected as they were, if the voice you hear is truly what I believe it is than simply 'Negating' it is not necessarily a safe idea. If my Master's theory is correct than the voice is a part of you, given intelligence and reason. So long as the voice remains a part of you you'll not lose what it is, even if the voice seems to change, but if you Negate the voice you'll not necessarily get that part of you back. Or get it back intact. And the voices are something that my Master studied thoroughly, so I've no reason to disbelieve his theory."

It takes you a few seconds to figure out how to respond to that. The voice still sobbing and crying in your head doesn't help. "Why? Not just 'why did that happen', but 'why would anyone want to do that'? How could that ever be useful to anyone?"

"I don't know if it was meant to be. My Master didn't intend for the voices to be an effect of the brew, it was merely a side-effect that we thought came from relatively long-term exposure to it. I cannot say why it effected you the way it did, but I'd be very interested in finding out."

"I'm not, sorry, I'm just wondering if you can make the screaming stop it will you quiet down already for Octavius' sake!?"

Thankfully, Lee seems to know which parts of that statement are relevant to him. "How would you react if you were faced with someone who intends to make you to disappear?"

"With more dignity, I would hope."

Lee doesn't seem impressed, although you probably couldn't tell even if he was. "I meant that more in the sense of 'what would you do'."

You actually have to give this some thought, and whether you meant to or not you actually end up asking the voice what [Character]Character/Self'd do. [Character]Character/Self doesn't respond, but you can't say you didn't try. "Honestly, I'm not sure. What could I-what can the voice do, rather? So far [Character]Character/Self's just kept quiet and cried a lot."

"Given a sufficiently stronger will and motivation, time, or outside interference, the voice could eventually become hostile and attack you. Given enough such attacks and hostilities, it could even end up completely devouring you." Lee pauses for a second to admire your blank stare, or perhaps "stares" because even the voice doesn't know what to say to that one. "I mean it. My Master may have started out as an ordinary student, but he certainly wasn't by the end. I'm sure that your 'condition' can be undone without undue harm to you or the voice, though I will need your help to verify the details of this and eventually make it happen. So, again, will you allow me to study you?"

You take a deep breath and consider your options. On the one hand you don't think the voice is powerful enough to really hurt you, but your track record for being right (not to mention avoiding questionable decisions) has been kinda rotten recently. On the other hand there's still a lot of things that Lee can tell you, and if the voice's theory on who and what Lee is is correct you can be reasonably certain that he's genuine in his desire to help you. And even if the voice can't hurt you [Character]Character/Self can certainly make it unnecessarily difficult to explain to the infirmary nurses why you're complaining about a voice crying in your head about how [Character]Character/Self's afraid to die. Which, you must admit, is a human enough emotion. Now that you think about it, how does [Character]Character/Self feel anyway? Can [Character]Character/Self feel anything other than you talking to [Character]Character/Self? If you break an arm, will [Character]Character/Self scream in pain as well? You can't say you've had the opportunity (or desire, really) to check. They're interesting questions, you'll admit, but are the answers worth going even further down this mad rabbit hole?

"I don't know, alright? How can I make a decision without knowing?"

Listening to your concerns Lee just politely nods. "Understandable, all things considered, though I should remind you that you're not going to find anyone else who'll be both willing and capable of helping you without question. My Master's research wasn't exactly on the legal side of things, after all."

The concept of you trying to find either a Mastery mage and not only convince him or her to admit that fact, but also to help you without screwing you over somehow, or otherwise finding some manner of inquisitor who doesn't ask questions is so far-fetched that it probably would be hilarious, but you're not in the mood for humor right now. You'll just have to either wait until you're desperate enough to try anything or find some reason to trust him because right now...you're not feeling it.
--- Stop adventure ---

 

Befriend. How does the voice feel, anyway? (Charm/v8)

You tap your own head a few times in the hopes that it'll get he voice's attention, but sadly [Character]Character/Self seems compelled to keep sobbing. It's fairly annoying. "Oh for...will you please just calm down already? I...fine, I'm sorry that I suggested the Infirmary, okay? Just quiet down already." You can tell that the voice quiets down a little, but not enough to converse. What a bother.

"If I may ask, how old would you say this voice is, based on it's behaviour?"

You look at Lee and shrug. "I don't know, I couldn't tell whether [Character]Character/Self's seven or seventeen. Or behaves like someone who is, at any rate."

"I suppose not, although if what you told me before is-"

"Cut the rambling and just get to the point already, will you!? I'm not in a very patient mood right now."

Lee looks you over after that little outburst, and shrugs. "Such voices usually start out at around three or four years of apparent age. However, they will rapidly mature until their apparent age roughly matches the age of the host. For yours to have matured as much as it did in so short a time is unusual."

You briefly recall the maddening amount of crying, sobbing and yelling the voice has done over the past minutes, and stare at Lee a bit dubiously. "How can you tell that [Character]Character/Self matured at all? Because it sure doesn't sound like [Character]Character/Self did to me."

"Simple. Voices tend to start out too young to understand the concept of disappearing. For yours to fear that signifies that it has matured enough to not only grasp what it means, but to have also developed a sense of identity coherent enough to understand - and fear - the consequences to itself upon being made to disappear."

"...What?"

"Did you think that being a part of you means anything to the voice other than that it is bound to you? It has no body of it's own to move, no heart to allow it to feel, no parents that supported it after being 'born'. Those voices develop identities, grasps of abstract concepts and even an idea of a 'heart' to manage feelings entirely on their own, aided by no one but their host. Yours should be no different, other than it's rapid growth. And as much as you seem to think otherwise once it develops full independence (or the illusion thereof, anyway) it'll behave like any of your peers. And it will not have forgotten how you've treated it in the past. Given enough such treatment it will become hostile towards you, and being bound does nothing but change and even the playing field. As well as change the consequences of such attrition, but that is something that someone as young as you better not ponder."

"...Okay, seriously, what?"

Lee shrugs. "You asked me to get to the point, and as I've said my Master wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer when it came to expressing himself. He had a reason to do what he did (or maybe 'try' would be the better term), but as I've said before, that information must come at a price. And right now...you'd be wise to pay it."

"You're not really selling me on the idea that continued messing about here is going to make my situation any better than what it currently is. That sure as heck wasn't the case before, in any event."

Again Lee shrugs. "That was then, this is now. The situation has changed, and your priorities should have changed with it."

Perhaps it's just your imagination, but you could swear that Lee's demeanour changed there. You don't recall him being so forceful before. His mask, as always, prevents you from reading his facial expression, but...you definitely think he's reacting to your questions about the voice. Was the voice right about him?

"That all said, do you have an answer for me? Whether you'll agree to being studied?"
--- Temp +10 Character Study, try again ---

 

Why did you think that? Why did you just entertain that thought? How a voice inside your head-clearly you must be going mad. Obviously, that's the only explanation...

--- try again ---

 

Character Study. Can you trust Lee after the last experiment went belly-up? (Insight/v10)

"Before I answer that question, I just want to know: Who or what are you, Lee? Your last experiment messed me up severely and I'm not really convinced that you're someone I can trust at this point, but...the voice brought something to my attention earlier, concerns and questions - theories, even - about you...and I want to know whether those are true."

Lee studies you for a second, revealing no expressions that you can read, and tilts his head. "What do you - or your voice - suspect of me?"

"Eh, well..." you say as you try to remember everything the voice brought up. Unfortunately a few details escape you, so you ask the voice for a recap. Thankfully [Character]Character/Self's actually calmed down by now (and thank the Gods for that). "Why he can't leave his home even though he clearly knows how to leave, how he can sneak up on you despite the stone floor, and how he can see despite his mask covering his eyes." [Character]Character/Self repeats. You turn to Lee, shrug and say "That, pretty much."

"You are aware that I'm not privy to your internal conversations, right? I didn't hear a word of, what I assume, your voice just said."

...This is officially getting complicated, if not silly. Or both, really. "Okay, fine. [Character]Character/Self's curious why you can't leave your home, how you managed to sneak up on me - twice - despite the conditions here not being ideal for sneaking, and how you're able to see despite your mask. It...kinda doesn't have eye-holes, as far as I can see."

"Those are concerns, though not a theory about who or what I am." Lee points out.

You let out a sigh, knowing full well that if this isn't going to sound ridiculous it's going to be given an answer you're not waiting for. "The voice, and myself for that matter...we suspect that you, yourself, are or at least once were a 'voice' yourself. If one that, somehow, managed to...develop a body, or whatever."

Lee doesn't visibly react as far as you can see, in fact he seems to take the accusation pretty nonchalantly. "If I may ask, what will you gain from knowing whether or not your theory is correct?"

"A measure of trust. If you once were a voice yourself I don't think you'd do anything to harm mine. Or myself, seeing as how that'd put the voice at risk as well. Really, if my theory is true I know I couldn't even begin to guess your motives, but...I expect you to at least care for those like you. All humans, whether they're ordinary or not, have a tendency to do so."

Lee tilts his head for a second as he looks you over, studying you until he finally nods. "Fair enough. And to answer your question...your theory is correct." You're not sure if you should be happy, sad, scared or something else entirely. Mostly, you're just getting that urge to find a table and bang your head against it again. "I was one of the shards that my Master managed to grow and extract before his untimely end. The last one, both numerically and in the sense that I'm the last one remaining."

The voice mutters something so quietly even you can't hear it. Right now you're not really interested. "So...there's more of-well, there were more of you at some point?"

Lee nods. "Correct, but for those details...I believe I've volunteered enough information."

You sigh. "Fine, fine, what does the next experiment entail?"

"You'll go along with it, than?"

"Maybe, I just want to hear about it if nothing else."

Lee shrugs, although you can tell that he's feeling smug behind that mask of his. You can't see his face at all, but you just know.
--- +1 Patience, proceed with stage 6 ---

 

To put it simply, no, you can't. You tell Lee as much, but he just politely nods. "Understandable, all things considered, though I should remind you that you're not going to find anyone else who'll be both willing and capable of helping you without question. My Master's research wasn't exactly on the legal side of things, after all."

The concept of you trying to find either a Mastery mage and not only convince him or her to admit that fact, but also to help you without screwing you over somehow, or otherwise finding some manner of inquisitor who doesn't ask questions is so far-fetched that it probably would be hilarious, but you're not in the mood for humor right now. You'll just have to either wait until you're desperate enough to try anything or find some reason to trust him because right now...you're not feeling it.
--- +1 Stress, stop adventure ---

And that's why I'm not sure if this adventure will work lore-wise. As I've said, though, I've made sure to (try to) prepare (as best I can).

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Stage 6:

 

"Seeing your condition and your lack of patience with it I believe it would be best to...oh, where did he leave it." Lee walks over to the bookcare next to the broken shrine. You'll admit, as fragile and useless as those books seemed at first he's done a great job with fixing and cleaning them. Slowly tracing a finger along the various spines he ultimately decides on a book and takes it out. You walk up to Lee so you can at least read the title, but the book doesn't have one. As far as you can see both the front and back cover are completely blank. "Curious as to what this tome contains, child?"

"Teenager, and my name is [Character]Character/Self. And yeah, of course I'm curious." Come to think of it you never did properly introduce yourself to Lee, did you? You don't think you've told him your name before.

Lee shakes his head. "It's been too long since I heard someone say that. As for this book it's one of the Master's diaries, where he recorded all his observations, rituals and experiments. I'd advise you not to read it, or any of the others. Even discounting the myriad of illegal magic he practiced one might say that he practiced them poorly. And yes, he was poor at orginizing as well. One of his lesser flaws, as I recall."

"Again, you don't say? Or...did I say that to you before or to my voice? I'm losing track..."

"The latter, and you losing memories is nothing you should be overly worried-ah, here it is. This is the experiment that I should perform right now." Taking the book with him Lee walks to the study, and of course you're close on his heels.

"What experiment and what was that about me losing memories? That's kinda something I should be worried about I'm pretty sure!"

"Some voices have displayed the ability to devour the memories of their host, either absorbing them or removing them. Or merely displacing them, I'm not sure. Those who've shown that ability were the least stable of them all, as I recall, and from the sound of it your voice is not. Hence, you need not worry overly much. As for this experiment, it'll involve me casting a number of high-powered, though short-lived spells on you that'll temporarily increase your - and your voice's - reach of understanding to inhuman levels. That should allow your voice to...well, considering it's already rapid growth and your relative youth that should allow it to mature to your age pretty much immediately. It's an experiment my Master designed when he realized that it would take his voices years to 'grow up' on their own, and he did not have the patience to wait for that long."

"Okay, first off, why would I want that? Wouldn't that just make that voice even more dangerous or whatever?"

"Possibly. If the experiment is a success your voice should reach a point where it is able to achieve independence and possibly defy you. But, on the flip side, a voice that hasn't reached independence cannot be safely extracted. Or so my Master discovered during his research. And as I've stated, I've no reason to disbelieve his findings."

"With how stark-raving mad he must have been I'm amazed he could even notice it when he became even more crazy. Whatever, just...is that safe? Actually safe, not 'I wasn't expecting that' safe?"

Lee shakes his head. "Being able to grasp greater concepts and not going insane from doing so are two completely separate things. And my Master only had the magical skill to accomplish one of those. I was never taught the other, and that's because My Master didn't think it was overly important."

"Wonderful. So how badly is this going to hurt?"

"Shouldn't be worse than a severe headache. You also shouldn't lose any sanity unless the experiment goes on for too long, but I know those limits fairly well, so no need to worry about that. Mind, that voice isn't going to be able to do all the work by itself. You will have to assist it with reaching maturity - to the extend that it can, at least - and you can be sure that how you do so will determine how it'll react and respond to you ultimately. If you don't want it to end up hating you, I would suggest not giving it any more reason to."

It's at this point that you realize that the voice has been very quiet during all of this. You don't know why, and you're not in the mood to ask, either. Every moment of silence you can enjoy right now is a good moment. "How am I supposed to do that, just...talk to [Character]Character/Self? There's not a whole lot else I can do, at least as far as I know."

"In essence, yes..." Lee says while flipping through pages of his master's diary again. "My Master describes the process as the voice suddenly 'waking up' to the world around them, even more so than they do when they first reach the stage where they begin to understand and start to fear death. The voice will be curious, if in their own way, and will want to know about everything they suddenly realize they're ignorant of. It's up to the host to answer all their questions both adequately and quickly enough for the experiment to succeed. If it does the voice will retain some or all the knowledge even after the magic wears off, and will rapidly grow 'back' to the point that it was during the experiment from that point forwards. Failure means the voice will be unable to connect all the dots and spend it's time attempting to piece them all together, which takes time...and that's all it says. Evidently the voice is to be considered a failure if it cannot pass through this experiment successfully and achieve rapid maturation, even though some have been apathetic towards their ignorance of the world around them." Lee closes the book and turns to look at you. "So, are you ready?"

Whether you're ready is of course one point, though another is how you're going to approach this problem. You don't feel comfortable with this whole idea at all. Heck, you'll just admit it, you've been rather bully-ish towards the voice so far, seeing as how you weren't exactly in a very patient or forgiving mood, and you're kinda nervous about how [Character]Character/Self'll react to you after...after whatever Lee talked about has happened. You'll further admit that you caught maybe half of all he said, but you did clearly catch something about this being one step on the way to getting rid of the voice without that process going south or a professor asking very unfortunate questions about how you ended up in this situation in the first place, so you're willing to go along with it. Only...you don't want the voice to hold a grudge, that's just not going to work out no matter what, so...how should you do this, if you're going to do it right now at all?

You're not ready to do this right now.

You tell Lee that you're not ready right now and he nods, telling you to come back whenever you are. And you will, there just...some preparations you need to see to first.
--- stop adventure ---

 

Dialectic. Try to explain that you were really in a bad spot. (Intelligence/v12)

You shake your head slowly and let out a sigh, knowing full well that this isn't going to be pleasant no matter what. "I'm ready, so how is this going to work?"

Lee takes out his wand again. "It's little different than how you have undoubtedly cast a spell or two on yourself before to augment whatever ability you found lacking, only a bit beyond what you're used to. It'll end up straining your mind, particularly when your voice notices and awakens, but you should be able to sleep that off. Incidentally I'd recommend you find a chair to sit in, because this will be very distracting."

You shrug, find the nearest chair and sit down. "Ready when you are." Lee nods and starts casting his spells. They don't seem overly complicated, but for all that you can definitely notice their effects, and they're a step above what you're used to. Only a step, though. With every spell that takes hold you can feel yourself change a little. You start to notice details of this room you didn't before, you feel like you're better able to judge Lee's expression (what you can see of it), but the most noticeable thing is the half-repaired magic circle. Whereas before it was a collection of vaguely circle-ish line and mud you now see patterns. An outer ring, two inner rings that are being kept apart by two distinct lines, all the little spaces in between...the random mess has become a complete, if still broken whole that you can easily separate into it's individual parts. And as you let your mind wander a bit you notice that the same seems to be true for whatever you happen to remember at this point. So many pieces to make everything run and turn as they do, all separate yet interconnected. You're not feeling any desire to pick up a random nest of eggs and declare them to be the divine sign pointing to the dawn of a new era, yet, but you suspect that a lengthy exposure to this might lead to "grand revelations" of that nature. You're starting to get a headache already, in fact.

"I-what-so why-but I thought-no, but this can't-how?" The voice is taking it less lightly, to put it one way.

"Don't let it bother you," you tell the voice. You're honestly not sure if you're saying it in a way that would allow Lee to hear it as well, whatever magic he's casting on you is that taxing, but you're not concerned about him hearing you anyway.

"How am I supposed to not let this bother me!? This-all of this, I-"

"Don't. See each piece and each whole they make what they are and let that be it. If you wish to understand it more, question it, and if you can't question it yourself than question others about it. Some might not wish to talk about it, and others might not listen if you speak to them, but don't be afraid. As vast as everything is, you can face it." You're honestly not sure where those words are coming from. Or what you expect them to accomplish. You seem to just kinda find them. Nothing to do but trust them, you suppose.

"Don't? Vast...ask, speak...face?" You're not sure if the voice is getting more or less unhinged as this goes on, it slowly repeating your words in a daze doesn't fill you with confidence in any respect, but you'll find out soon enough. "Listen...wait...what about you? Did you not ask? Did I not listen?"

"Other way around - you asked, but...I didn't listen. I didn't want to face the fact that I'd gotten myself into such a situation, and I took that out on you. I should have been more considerate of how you felt, especially given your situation, but I wasn't. I just wanted everything to go back to normal as quickly as possible and forget about the rest. I still do, I'll admit, but even so...I'm sorry. I'm sorry for how I treated you."

"You're...really?" You're not sure if the tone in the voice's...voice is surprise or doubt. Sad to say they're both deserved.

"Really. I mean don't get me wrong, I still want to get this mess cleaned up and forget it ever happened as quickly as possible, but that's just me being selfish. I'm putting my needs in front of yours in that regard, but that's because I simply don't know what to do with you."

It actually takes a few second before the voice responds, which isn't really appreciated right now because that headache of yours isn't getting any better. "Do you still not know?"

"Of course I don't. Heck, I'm still half-hoping that this has all just been the longest and weirdest daydream I've ever had."

"Then why don't you just go to the infirmary? You believe that they'll be able to wake you up, right? You have to."

"Yeah, I do, and a large part of me keeps saying I should, but that would involve me explaining what happened and...that wouldn't be pretty. Besides, I do trust Lee's words, that you could be dangerous if I just attempt to cast you aside."

"Is that the only reason? Because you're afraid of others? Afraid of me, even? And you want to tell me not to be afraid!?"

"I have a very good reason to be scared, but regardless, it's not my only reason. I'm also curious. Who Lee's master was, what all happened to him and his research and everything...more to the point, I'm curious about you. I've never had a voice in my head talk back to me before of it's own accord. Of course I've heard all sorts of bad things about voices in your head and talking to yourself but...that's to yourself. You're not me looking into a mirror or some manner of oursider who's speaking into my mind. You're like me, but at the same time you're distinctly someone else."

"Someone else? Like who?"

"That's something I've often wondered about, but I've never found an answer, and I suspect that's because there was no answer to find. Now, though, you should know enough to make that decision. So who do you want to be?"

The voice sputters out some incoherent babble before finally saying "I can't just choose that, can I? I mean..."

"Why not? You're here, you haven't decided yet, and you have all the information you need to make that decision. So, choose. Who do you want to be?" The voice contemplates while your minds starts to wonder about what it would be like if the Academagia was invaded by an army of blueberry pies. This conversation had better end soon, or else.

"I want to be someone else. Somebody not like you. All the times you've told me to be quiet, told me to stay quiet and every time you ignored me! I want to be someone else! Someone who actually speaks. Someone who actually listens. And, eh, not to offend you or anything, but...someone who's less prone to making questionable decisions. I think that'd be a good goal to strive for."

"You will." you say while once again basking in the joy of wanting to punch yourself. With a blueberry pie instead of a table this time, but close enough. "And that's what you can do. And don't worry about me. I trust Lee to find some way to separate us, some way to solve my problems without dissolving you in the process. He's said himself that he's living proof that it's possible and he's clearly got some skill with a wand, so he'll find a way. Maybe with a hand from us...probably with a hand from us, actually, but he'll find a way. We'll all find a way."

There's a brief moment of blissful silence in your mind before you hear the voice say, "Alright. I trust you. I don't know when I'll forgive you, but I trust you. And, [Character]Character/Self? You can signal to Lee to stop the experiment. I...I think I've got it. And I'll do what I can to keep it."

You waste no time sending that signal, which admittedly involves flailing about like a drunk fish because you've completely lost track of where your body is among the mess of trying to discern weather patterns, blueberry pie invasion tactics, something about the practical applications of magic in creating abstract paintings and maybe sitting in a room in a cave somewhere or something. One of those. Thankfully the grating vision that's gripped your mind quickly lessens to more reasonable levels, and you find yourself lying on the floor in an unceremonious heap. Lee is helpful enough to pick you off the floor and put you back on the chair, while you stare around in a daze and with a throbbing headache. "So, did the experiment succeed?" Lee asks as he seems to grab a chair for himself to sit in.

"I, eh, I think so? There's some manner of sandpaper scraping against my skull and it's not helping my ability to think."

"What did the voice say?"

You stare at Lee a bit confused for a few seconds before you remember. The voice, incidentally, is as quiet as [Character]Character/Self's ever been. "Eh...yeah, [Character]Character/Self said that [Character]Character/Self understood. That [Character]Character/Self got it, and that [Character]Character/Self'd try to keep it. I don't know...or remember...what [Character]Character/Self was talking about, but I think the experiment worked."

"Excellent." Lee says as he stands up from his chair. "Now I do believe that I owe you some information, but I take it you'd rather have that discussion another day?"

"Like heck I'm letting you go that easily, just...give me a few minutes to rub my head. How long is this headache-actually, how long before the voice is done with...whatever is supposed to happen now?"

Lee shrugs. "My guess would be a matter of days, at most, but no shorter than that. In other words you'll have to wait longer than a few minutes before I can determine the state of the voice and where to proceed from there...so you might as well excuse yourself and get some much-needed rest yourself. I'm not going anywhere, I assure you. I couldn't leave even if I wanted to, after all."

You frown, carefully consider the situation, and slowly stand up. "Fine, I suppose if I have to wait I might as well. But I'll be back soon, so whatever it is you need to do, get ready to do it."

Lee nods, and you drag yourself out of the room and get started on the long trip back to the Academagia. The voice is quiet throughout, but you're sure you'll hear [Character]Character/Self again soon.
--- +3 Stress, +1 Anthropology, +1 Temperance, pause adventure ---

 

You signal Lee that you're ready and he starts the experiment, but early on you can already tell that it's going awry. The sudden barrage of spells that each seem to want to pull your mind right out of your skull and take it places where it's never gone before quickly overwhelms you, and before the effect could even reach the voice (or so you think) your mind suddenly blanks out. A few minutes later you shake out of it with a twitchy eye and a surprisingly strong headache.

"So I take it that didn't succeed?" Lee asks.

You just slowly shake your head and look around in a slight daze, noticing that your vision appears to be a bit blurry.

"I thought as much, hence why I decided to put a stop to the experiment early. Well, beyond the inevitable headache, are you alright?"

"Eh...is there an invasion army of blueberry pies waiting for me in the other room?"

Yet another moment where you wish Lee didn't always wear that mask of his, because once again you can't see his reaction. "Not...that I recall, no. Regardless, I think a few hours of sleep might be in order for you."

After realizing that your mind somehow jumped from...wherever it started to being afraid of a blueberry pie invasion you can't really disagree with Lee's suggestion here. As such you excuse yourself and spend the next few hours trying to nurse your headache...
--- stop adventure, +3 stress ---

 

Rhetoric. Convince the voice your behaviour was justified...if not necessarily right. (Insight/v12)

You shake your head slowly and let out a sigh, knowing full well that this isn't going to be pleasant no matter what. "I'm ready, so how is this going to work?"

Lee takes out his wand again. "It's little different than how you have undoubtedly cast a spell or two on yourself before to augment whatever ability you found lacking, only a bit beyond what you're used to. It'll end up straining your mind, particularly when your voice notices and awakens, but you should be able to sleep that off. Incidentally I'd recommend you find a chair to sit in, because this will be very distracting."

You shrug, find the nearest chair and sit down. "Ready when you are." Lee nods and starts casting his spells. They don't seem overly complicated, but for all that you can definitely notice their effects, and they're a step above what you're used to. Only a step, though. With every spell that takes hold you can feel yourself change a little. You start to notice details of this room you didn't before, you feel like you're better able to judge Lee's expression (what you can see of it), but the most noticeable thing is the half-repaired magic circle. Whereas before it was a collection of vaguely circle-ish line and mud you now see patterns. An outer ring, two inner rings that are being kept apart by two distinct lines, all the little spaces in between...the random mess has become a complete, if still broken whole that you can easily separate into it's individual parts. And as you let your mind wander a bit you notice that the same seems to be true for whatever you happen to remember at this point. So many pieces to make everything run and turn as they do, all separate yet interconnected. You're not feeling any desire to pick up a random nest of eggs and declare them to be the divine sign pointing to the dawn of a new era, yet, but you suspect that a lengthy exposure to this might lead to "grand revelations" of that nature. You're starting to get a headache already, in fact.

"I-what-so why-but I thought-no, but this can't-how?" The voice is taking it less lightly, to put it one way.

"That's what I've been slowly mulling over for the past half-decade or so." To be honest you can't quite trace where these words are even coming from, but you can tell that they're yours and so you're going to have to trust them. "You're not the first who's gone through this, if in a different way, so don't worry. You'll be fine."

"F-fine? Me-this, all of this-how can you say I'll be fine? I mean...what is all of this!?"

"Everything that you weren't aware of every time you asked me some inane question during some situation where I asked you to be quiet. Now are you beginning to understand why I didn't want you to play twenty questions with me every five minutes?" The voice actually doesn't respond to that, leaving it up to you to keep the conversation - or whatever you'd call this - going. "It doesn't help that I just plain don't have all the answers, either, or too many answers in some cases and yes that is actually a very important distinction. It's why I always wanted to be so careful." So quietly that you can only barely hear it over your own thoughts the voice apologises, leaving you with a tough decision to make and not much time to think it over. And with the precious seconds you have you decide that, frustrating as it is, this might be a situation where it's better to swallow your pride than try and keep it intact. What's left of it after you realize you're entirely to blame for ending up in this mess in the first place.

"Don't." you say so suddenly that it feels like being hit in the back of the head by a wayward blueberry pie. Incidentally, this little debate had better end soon if that's any indication of how long you'll last before this headache ends up forcibly cutting the experiment short. "I'm the one who should apologize for not talking with you about it sooner, when we were both somewhere where we could safely talk. I may not have been able to convince you or show you anything worthwhile, but that doesn't excuse me from not trying and that's what I did. What I didn't, rather. I just wanted to forget about the most recent blunder that only complicated the already downright incomprehensible matters further, with no regard for how you might have felt. I hope you can now understand why I wanted to keep things simple, but even so I was wrong for not trying to reach out to you."

"If you want things to stay simple why get yourself into this mess in the first place?"

"At first because I wanted more information, now because I need more information. Lee has told us already that he's living proof that this situation can be resolved without either of us ending up worse for it, which he'll probably need more help with but who doesn't, and he's clearly got some skill with waving his wand around, so I'm sure he can help us. That is, if you want him to help us."

It takes a tense few seconds before the voice replies, and it's noticeable that the voice's...well, voice sounds a bit different. You're not sure exactly why, mostly because that one wayward blueberry pie has become an entire invasion army tactical debriefing that your mind, for some reason, feels compelled to consider. It's a bit distracting. "I...I do want him to help us. Like him I want to help you. I...can't say I'm ready to forgive you for all the times you've yelled at me, but I can definitely understand why you did. [Character]Character/Self? Tell Lee to end the experiment. I think I got it, and I'll do my best to keep it."

You waste no time sending that signal, which admittedly involves flailing about like a drunk fish because you've completely lost track of where your body is among the mess of trying to discern weather patterns, blueberry pie invasion tactics, something about the practical applications of magic in creating abstract paintings and maybe sitting in a room in a cave somewhere or something. One of those. Thankfully the grating vision that's gripped your mind quickly lessens to more reasonable levels, and you find yourself lying on the floor in an unceremonious heap. Lee is helpful enough to pick you off the floor and put you back on the chair, while you stare around in a daze and with a throbbing headache. "So, did the experiment succeed?" Lee asks as he seems to grab a chair for himself to sit in.

"I, eh, I think so? There's some manner of sandpaper scraping against my skull and it's not helping my ability to think."

"What did the voice say?"

You stare at Lee a bit confused for a few seconds before you remember. The voice, incidentally, is as quiet as [Character]Character/Self's ever been. "Eh...yeah, [Character]Character/Self said that [Character]Character/Self understood. That [Character]Character/Self got it, and that [Character]Character/Self'd try to keep it. I don't know...or remember...what [Character]Character/Self was talking about, but I think the experiment worked."

"Excellent." Lee says as he stands up from his chair. "Now I do believe that I owe you some information, but I take it you'd rather have that discussion another day?"

"Like heck I'm letting you go that easily, just...give me a few minutes to rub my head. How long is this headache-actually, how long before the voice is done with...whatever is supposed to happen now?"

Lee shrugs. "My guess would be a matter of days, at most, but no shorter than that. In other words you'll have to wait longer than a few minutes before I can determine the state of the voice and where to proceed from there...so you might as well excuse yourself and get some much-needed rest yourself. I'm not going anywhere, I assure you. I couldn't leave even if I wanted to, after all."

You frown, carefully consider the situation, and slowly stand up. "Fine, I suppose if I have to wait I might as well. But I'll be back soon, so whatever it is you need to do, get ready to do it."

Lee nods, and you drag yourself out of the room and get started on the long trip back to the Academagia. The voice is quiet throughout, but you're sure you'll hear [Character]Character/Self again soon.
--- +1 Dedication, +1 Reason, +3 Stress, pause adventure ---

 

(Rhetoric failure is exactly the same as Dialectic failure, so I won't repeat that here)

I'll admit, this adventure has kind of a side-plot regarding Pheme-based buffing and why it does and doesn't work in some situations, and this would be the first time it's seen. It's not going to actually come up for real until later (and that's only if it does, even), but here is confirmation that Lee can stack Phemes until he reaches the sky.

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Stage 7:

 

Familiar with the path as you are you waste no time in travelling to Lee's hideout. You do waste time running in circle through the mines for about ten minutes more than was necessary, but that hill you climbed never knew what hit it. "Back so soon?" Lee says as you enter the study without so much as a knock...although than again it's not like this place has any conventional doors on which you could knock.

"Told you. Now I believe you owe me an explanation."

Lee shakes his head a bit. "That I do, but before that, what of your voice? Has it matured and reached independence?"

You nod. "As far as I can tell, yes. So, explanation?"

Lee lets out a sigh as he walks over to a book on a nearby desks and opens it. Once again, no printed title on the front cover as far as you can see. "Very well, what do you wish to ask about?"

"What all happened here? What did your master do, what happened to him? And why did he research any of this nonsense for Octavius' sake? I don't see a connection between hearing voices in your head and perception-based perfection or whatever the heck he believed in, unless he was utterly nuts. So what's the deal?"

Lee stares at you, and despite the mask you can just see that he looks downcast. You can imagine that they're not pleasant memories to him, but at this point you want answers. Hard earned answers. "You recall how I said that my Master sought to achieve perfection, whatever he interpreted that to mean, and tried to use Mastery to accomplish it?" You nod as you find a chair and sit down, sensing that this might take a while. "My Master initially sought to...relieve himself of his emotions. I cannot remember the exact reasons why, his research went off-track fairly quickly after he discovered the side-effects to the brew he had developed, but as I recall he simply saw them as a hindrance. Something that would only cloud his mind and judgement, or render him vulnerable to being controlled by others. Without passion, without hope, without dreams, he thought that he could reach closer to his ideal of perfection."

"He'd have to be passionate to keep pursuing everything he did, he'd likewise have to place his trust in something to believe he could actually succeed and I doubt he'd believe in himself so much if he thought he was so far from his ideals of perfection, and I don't even know how he was supposed to be without dreams. Did he not count everything he was trying to accomplish as a dream? Was that just an extended hobby to him or something?"

Lee doesn't visibly react to your observations, but you feel like he has a sad smile behind his mask. You've just gotten a hang of reading him, you think. "I'm not sure either about what my Master thought and believed at that time. I only heard about that information either second-hand, or from my Master long after he had switched priorities. I know his research started with developing this brew." Lee says while pointing at the cauldron of red goop. "But beyond that, I know little."

"Why? You said that you were one of the Master's voices, the last one, in fact, both left alive and to be created. So what about others? And how did they-how did any of you come to be, anyway?"

Lee points to the cauldron. "My Master had no one to test his brew on other than himself, and as I've stated, long-term exposure to the mixture results in the development of a voice. He grew them and experimented with them like he grew and ate strawberries from that artificial garden of his. Most of the voices were failures, either in some way incomplete, broken, or otherwise unable to achieve independence. I was...I believe the fifth one to do so. And, as I've said, the last. Before my Master's untimely end."

"What did he want to achieve with those voices? Like, what would they...hang on, you said that those voices...did he grow them in the hopes that one of them would be born with no emotions? With no capacity to...learn...how to feel, or...what?"

Lee waves you to silence as you quickly run out of steam even trying to wrap your head around that. "To simplify it, yes. He thought that those voices, born from nothingness, could achieve the perfection that he couldn't. Mind you, voices that displayed such quirks were most often the failed, incomplete ones. It's often said that no one 'is' perfect, but perhaps a more accurate statement would be to say that no one 'can be' perfect. That, after all my time, is something I've come to believe. At least with regards to my Master's idea of perfection."

"Okay, so that idea if not ideal was a demonstrable failure, but some of those voices did manage to become independent, right? What happened to them?"

"The few that did were experimented on the most, but in achieving independence they had or quickly developed a will of their own, and as I recall none of them were happy with the way they were treated. Although one was wasn't against it so much as against the Master's relative restraint. Needless to say, that one wasn't one of the more functional ones either."

"Were there even any functional ones? Well, other than you, I suppose?"

Lee seems to give it some thought, and shakes his head. "Not really, no."

Wonderful. "So what happened to them? You said that your Master separated them from himself, but how did he do that?"

"Through magic that I've been trying to rediscover in one of these notebooks, diaries and whatever else the Master kept scattered about, but so far I've had no luck. As I recall the process involved transferring the voice to an item by placing and trapping it within an Enchantment, though despite my memories thereof I can't find any reference to it in any of these books. The tricky thing was that if the item was suitably prepared and designed, the voice could learn to control the item and use it like a body. You've seen guard golems, right? Something like that, only with greater intelligence."

While your voice off-handedly comments on the fact that [Character]Character/Self really doesn't like where this is going you ask, "Did your master craft golems or golem-like bodies, than, or...what?"

"As I recall the first...one or two were actually transferred into a fresh corpse treated so that it could 'live' again, at least enough to serve as a test subjects for the brew. The voices, however, eventually rebelled and were destroyed by the Master, though I don't recall whether they did because of their mistreatment or because of exposure to the brew slowly turning them increasingly mad. Or whether the treatment of the corpse was somehow lacking and they eventually withered away. It's difficult to say. My Master dabbled in all magic, but dabble was all he did. He was no expert by any stretch of the definition, even his knowledge of Mastery had limits. His works were frequently left incomplete or imperfect as a result, and those corpses were no different."

"Ah...hah..."

"The third was, as I recall, relegated to a life of living as a wand due to his constant correcting and criticism of the Master's methods, though I don't recall my Master still having that wand at the end. The fourth was simply destroyed before even being separated, that's how unstable he was. And I was placed within an item that would allow me to project myself through a Glamour...I think. The Master was not at all specific as to what I would and wouldn't be, or even where he placed the item in question. Only that he wasn't skilled enough to complete the spell, so certain aspects of me don't work, and my movements are limited to this hideout. Incidentally, that's why I wear the mask and aren't bothered by it's lack of eye-holes. I've neither facial expressions or ordinary sight that would benefit from the mask's absence."

"I see..." you say knowing full well that you do not look (or feel!) as if you see.

"I believe that will be enough chatting for now. As for your voice, now that it's achieved independence I assume it wishes to be separated?"

"Yeah, it's told me as much, and I don't really mind that so long as it won't end up messing with me. Although [Character]Character/Self's not into the whole 'golem' idea. [Character]Character/Self's definitely not into the 'fresh corpse' idea, either."

Lee actually lets out a chuckle as he closes the book and walks over into the magic circle, before the cauldron. "I don't know how that process goes and cannot seem to find my Master's notes on it, so that's not an option anyway. Of course, that brings us to the problem that I don't know how to separate you two properly. That's not to say I can't potentially solve this problem another way, but...in a way that your voice might not appreciate. It wouldn't be death, but it wouldn't be a life of it's own either."

While you just shake your head the voice asks if just one or both of you called it, because [Character]Character/Self honestly doesn't remember. As far as you know, the answer is both. "Okay, so what do you want me - us, rather - to do and what is the alternative?"

"I've already read through every single one of the books you see here and in the bookcase by the shrine, and there's no mention of the process with which my Master separated his voices in any of them. If you can find the tome or tomes that I've missed, I must assume in some manner of secret room that my Master has kept hidden even from me, I can study them and see if the process is one I could and should attempt to replicate. In truth I imagine that my Master's notes will contain at least a few holes that you'd have to fill for me first before I could offer even the chance of extracting your voice safely, both for you and for it. And as for the golem body aspect, well, we'll see about crossing that bridge once we can be sure we'll even reach it. Alternatively, reading through all the tomes I have discovered a 're-absorption' ritual that, in theory, should allow for a voice and it's host to merge. All knowledge and memories that were not permanently syphoned off or destroyed should be returned to the host, but the voice could potentially overwrite certain parts of the host's...well, I don't think you'd understand these terms, so to put it more simply...you might end up 'becoming' the voice, in part or in all. However the voice sees, your own perception would be swayed towards it. And that change, from what I'm reading, appears to be permanent. At least as permanent as any given individual is."

"And the latter option...is that full of holes you'll need my help with filling first, or...?"

Lee shakes his head. "Not as much. I've got most of the material here already and it seems to be a fairly straightforward process. Relative to what I'm used to, at least. But there are a few holes that I will need you to first fill. Recall, neither of these processes were ever performed on someone as young as you or on a voice that achieved independence as early as yours did, both in terms of mental age and physical time taken. And if your unusual reaction to the brew is any indication the process would have to be adjusted, otherwise it might not end well. Same for the separation ritual, though I cannot even begin to imagine how much work that will take to correct. More work, I would guess."

"So, eh, how exactly am I supposed to fill these holes? I mean...you're not going to ask me to kidnap one of my classmates, force-feed them some goop and just let you experiment on them until they don't go nuts, right?"

Lee slowly turns to face you, and despite the mask you can just feel him glaring at you. "My Master would certainly consider that an option, but I've a much simpler and, dare I say it, less morally questionable idea if you're willing to try it. Namely, borrowing a certain book from one of your school's libraries. Only not a book that any professor would allow you to check out, and not any library that your professors would want to see you in, either."

"Sorry, but do you really think the Academagia still has books on Mastery lying around? At least books that would be useful for explaining your master's half-cooked insanity?"

Lee, surprisingly, nods. "Where did you think my Master learned his knowledge from, visiting court? The location you'll need to find is called the Library of the Forbidden, which is supposed to contain the book you'll need to bring me for me to properly adjust the ritual to your specifications. I do not know where the book is located exactly within this library, though I do know it's title - Elegy for the Puppetmaster. And as for how I know where it is, that is where my Master hid it. It is the book my Master used for his experiments before he, himself, reached adulthood, so that is what I will need. My Master also mentioned rumors about some 'greater secret' that the library is supposed to contain but..." Lee shrugs. "He's never shared any such secret with me, if he even knew to begin with, so I imagine that's not relevant to your finding that single book."

You nod, carefully taking the information in. "So it's that...or finding this 'supposed' hidden room, and helping you plug the holes of the theories contained therein?"

Lee nods. "You could also simply keep your voice with you, or get a professor to try and aid you with whatever you seek to accomplish, though I'd imagine explaining the situation without shortening your Academic lifespan considerably would be difficult. So I suggest that you ask your voice for it's thoughts on the matter and agree to a decision."

Negation. "I'll try looking for that secret room." (Fitness/v6)

"It's going to be a separation ritual, unless this 'secret room' of yours doesn't actually exist. Now, first off I'd like to ask, have you ever searched for it?"

Lee lightly shakes his head. "Sort of, but the problem is that I don't know any spells that can magically reveal secret rooms, so all I've been able to do is look at the walls. And if you recall what passes for a front door in this hideout you can probably imagine how necessary magic is inevitably going to be to not only find, but also access the secret room."

You draw you wand, intent on using it, though you also stare at Lee a bit questioningly. "Such search spells - at least the best ones I know - are Negations and I've seen you cast a Negation before. Do you really just not know the spells?"

Lee shrugs. "Not well enough, if you recall. Besides, can you cast a spell without first learning how it is cast, as well as the Phemes to cast it? I'm no different."

"Fair enough, so where do you think a secret room would be located?"

Lee looks around the room while giving it some thought, and ends up walking to the main room. You follow, and see Lee look around in the centre. "My Master told me that the device used to project me is somewhere within the ceiling of this room. He also said that it has a circular range, and that I was never to step outside into the caves, as I would quickly disappear if I did." Lee walk over to the broken shrine, which is roughly opposite of the exit into the mine, and stares at the wall. "My assumption is that the secret room, if it exists, is either behind this wall or a bit into the mine, as I don't think the Master would craft a hidden room in his workshop area, and he certainly wouldn't place it where anyone coming in or out would be expected to, quite literally, walk through the wall up to the surface. The question is whether my Master placed it where I could reach it, or where I couldn't reach it. One thing to note, though, is that other than not knowing it's location, I could reach it even if it is behind a solid slab of stone. If you'll recall our first meeting I do know how to open the front door, as it were. So the only question is if it's within range of the device."

You look at the wall Lee is looking at and decide that it's as good a starting point as any. Wand already in hand you cast a spell to detect open areas past solid walls and slowly run your wand along the wall. The spell you cast, being only a first year, is disappointingly short range, but it gets the job done. "So, Lee," you ask while sticking your nose to the wall, "What's the deal with the shrine thing, anyway, if I may ask?"

Lee, who is trying and failing to replicate your spell, shrugs. "As far as I know that shrine has been broken from the start. My Master never came off as the religious sort, though if he actually was I'd be very weary of who he worshipped. I don't know what Gods exist out there, but I would imagine that a deity of fractured personalities, unethical experimentation and stark-raving lunatics wouldn't be the friendliest of them."

You can't help but chuckle at that. "Yeah, probably not. But, if your master wasn't the religious sort why would he..."

"I'm not sure. In truth I suspect the shrine was part of this...cavern structure before my Master moved in. He certainly did not dig out this cave himself, or line the walls with support beams, so if anything I suspect that he was the one that destroyed it. I have no idea who the shrine might have been dedicated...why are you caressing the wall like that?"

"There's something behind here! Can you Revise the wall into a door, say from here to there?"

"That is a spell that I actually can cast, yes. One second." As before Lee dances through a few Phemes and the wall you indicated gets turned into a tunnel. And as your magic pointed out, there is, in fact, a secret room at the other end. Lee, you can tell despite the mask, is surprised when he sees the secret room, more so than you are. "What? I never knew there was a room there. Why did my Master keep it a secret from me?"

You point into the room. "Well you'd better go in there and see if there's anything of value, don't you think? I'd go myself, but honestly I wouldn't put it past your master to have set a trap or two, and my magic isn't that good."

Lee nods as he puts his wand away. "Yes, certainly. You wouldn't wish to read any books hidden away in there anyway. Studying Mastery would be one thing, but studying Mastery from someone like my Master would be something else entirely." Lee walks past you, into the room, and from some invisible source some manner of magical light suddenly turns on. It's fairly dim, but it should be bright enough for Lee to see. Especially with his, eh, "problem" or whatever it was. You wait outside the temporary tunnel, and within a minute Lee walks out with a stack of books. "I'll be studying these to see if they contain the knowledge I need." he says. "You, in the meantime, should return to the Academagia. This is going to take me until tomorrow, at least."

You can't help but feel a bit smug right now. You're one step closer to being free of the voice, and the voice is one step closer to true independence.
--- +1 Architecture, +1 Logic, pause adventure, proceed on adventure path a ---

 

The voice doesn't put up any argument against the idea of the separation ritual, so that's one non-obstacle overcome, unfortunately you're not able to locate the secret room despite a solid hour of searching.

"Are you still sure it's hidden somewhere within the tunnels, [Character]Character/Self?" Lee asks as you poke your head in the hideout to mention that you've leaving for the day.

"If your master wanted you to access it he'd have told you about it, and he didn't, so he clearly doesn't want you to access it. Eh, 'didn't' want you to access it, sorry. And that means he likely either put it where you can't get to it, or he limited your...whatever so that you can't get to it. Besides, if he wanted to hide it, the obvious location would be somewhere in the tunnels."

Lee shrugs as he can't think of anything to counter that argument, and you start trudging back to the Academagia with dreams of one day finding what you need.
--- -1 vitality, stop adventure ---

 

Persuasion. Convince the voice to go with the re-absorption approach. (Charm/v10)

"Alright voice, what's your take on this?"

"I've already said I want to be separated..."

You're about to say something, but hearing the voice trail off there stops you. "Are you sure of that?"

It actually takes a few seconds for the voice to respond. "Well, yeah, I mean...no. No, I'm not sure. I just...I feel like I don't know enough to make a decision. What's going to happen to me if I get separated? I mean, is Lee going to put me into a wand? Will I still be able to feel as I do now if he does? And what if the wand breaks, will I die? What if he crafts a golem of some sort for me to live in. Would that be permanent? What if the body breaks, somehow, would I die? Would I just be stuck there? Would he put me into some sort of 'heart' that you could take out and theoretically slot into whatever could accept it? I don't know...and I'm honestly a little scared that whatever it'll end up being that I either wouldn't be able to change after it's done or that it won't work out, somehow. And even if it does, I mean, for how long will it? I'm supposed to be able to continue to grow so long as you do, right? If I'm separated will I just stop growing entirely? Or-oh, you get the idea by now."

"Yeah, you don't like the potential outcomes of separating, and there's a lot to worry about. And the other idea? The, eh...what did Lee call it, re-absorption ritual or something? What's your opinion on that?"

Again the voice takes a few seconds to respond. "I'm not sure. On one side it sounds like I'd stop being independent, and in turn possibly stop being entirely, but on the other side I wouldn't have to worry about a lot of things that come with being independent. Still, I'm curious as to how you, or...perhaps even we'd end up. Would we just stay like this, sort of, only not so isolated? Would we alternate between being one and being the other? And if neither is the case and we'd really become a singe individual...what'll happen to me? I'm much less than you are so I'm sure that between the two of us I'd be the one left behind, ignored and forgotten. And don't bother saying something like 'I won't forget you', because I'm pretty sure that'd defeat the entire purpose."

You nod and turn to Lee, share the voice's concerns and ask if he can help answer some of the questions that have been brought up. Unfortunately Lee isn't as well-informed as you'd like him to be, but he does bring up two important points. First, if he can figure out how and make sure that it's at least a reasonably safe process, that he does intent to craft a human-like golem body for the voice, which - as far as he can remember - can be designed to work based off a brain-like object which he'd transplant the voice into. As such the voice wouldn't die from physical injuries unless the "brain" was destroyed, and future transfers from the "brain" to whatever else is possible. Not necessarily easily, it'd be well beyond Lee's capabilities, but possible. Alternatively, the re-absorption ritual (which Lee assures will be a much simpler affair) would not make the voice disappear completely, but would rather combine the two of you into one individual. Lee makes it clear that it's an incredibly difficult process to describe, which probably explains why he can't no matter how much he tries, but he makes it equally clear that the voice's independence wouldn't end, nor that it would be ignored and forgotten.

"So," Lee says at the conclusion of his explanation (and lack thereof). "Have you come to a decision?"

You take a deep breath and ask the voice what [Character]Character/Self wants.

"Honestly..." [Character]Character/Self slowly says, "I'd rather stay closer with you."

...Okay. That's not the answer you were expecting to hear, but it's an answer in line with what you wanted to hear, so you'll just accept it and ignore everything else. Such as how creepy that sounded, to name one thing. And in terms of making progress towards finally ending this nonsense that's only the start of it, as Lee is quick to remind you.

"As I've said, the book I need is hidden within the Library of the Forbidden. The issue is that my Master never told me exactly where within the library he hid the book, and he also never told me exactly where the library is located. As such, you'll need to find both. I do know that the library is located somewhere within the Academagia, so if you wish to look for it, limit your searches to that region. Further, I know that the library is not that hard to find. My Master was only a middling explorer, and although he did permit himself the laziness provided by his Private Chariot spell, he only bothered casting it the once. As such, I would recommend that you either study up on exploration as much as you can or seek out the spell - it's an Incantation spell, although I don't know it or what Phemes are necessary to cast it. It might take a long time, but if you're skilled and persistent enough, I'm sure you'll find it."

Just to check, you ask if there's another way you could potentially secure the book. Lee, as expected, shakes his head. "That particular book was, to put it nicely, 'appropriated' by my Master from it's original source, and he's made extensive use of it. You could track down another copy, but that copy would not contain the various notes, comments and papers that my Master kept hidden inside it, and I need those as much as I need the book itself."

"So, find the Library of the Forbidden, find that book, and bring it back here. Anything else?"

Lee shakes his head. "Nothing you don't already know, considering you're still standing here. And by that I mean things such as 'don't get caught'."

"I won't," you say as you turn around and walk off. By the time you finally get back to the Academagia it should be too late to look for the library in question, but at least you know what you need to do. You just hope you won't forget...
--- +1 Listen, pause adventure, proceed with adventure path b ---

 

"Alright voice, what's your take on this?"

"I've already said I want to be separated..."

"...And that's all?"

"Yeah, that's all."

Short and sweet the one time you don't want it to be short and sweet. Of course. Unfortunately as much as you try to argue otherwise it stays...well neither short nor sweet come the end but it does stay straightforward - the voice isn't convinced that anything other than being separated is the better idea. Not "best", mind, "better". You're sure there's more to this, and sooner or later you'll manage to drag it out of [Character]Character/Self.
--- +1 stress, stop adventure ---

And here's where the adventure splits into two paths. One leads to the simple and generic happy ending that'll return the status-quo to normal, the other...well, I'm not going to presume that this adventure will exist in the first place, but if so it'll lead to fun stuff. Maybe. Possibly. It has the theoretical potential to do so.

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...DLC 17 is that close? Eh...okay, I'll step on the gas, though I'd imagine that the team will want to take a really careful look at this adventure regardless, cause, eh...subject matter :unsure:.

 

Stage 8a:

 

You've decided that Lee has had enough time to study the books that his Master hid in the secret room, so it's time to stop by. The trip to the cave is uneventful, even climbing down the hole has become routine by now. You've also remembered the path to the hideout itself, so it takes no more than a few minutes to walk there. When you walk into the...what did Lee call it again, a workshop? Well, when you walk into the room with the magic circle and the cauldron with goop you see Lee sitting by one of the desks, a stack of books on one side and an open book in front of him. He turns to face you when he hears you walk in. "Ah, [Character]Character/Self, perfect timing. I've just got done compiling...absolutely nothing. I'm sure that I made a list. Where did I put that in this mess?"

You shake your head, grab a chair and sit down next to Lee. In the meantime he's found his list, stuck between several books, and he hands it to you. Quickly glancing it over it seems to be a list of book titles, although you recognize none of them. "That's the list of all the books I'll need to not only fill the holes my Master left in his notes with regards to the separation ritual, but also adjust it to your age and to actually construct a proper body for your voice. As crazy as it might sound, but I've found that the latter is actually the bigger problem."

"Really? Is it that hard to-well I suppose it's not easy, but relative to drawing the voice out of me with both my and [Character]Character/Self mind intact?"

Lee nods. "The magic required for that is complex, horrifyingly illegal and, in many ways, ruthlessly unethical and dangerous. But it is also what I'm quite used to dealing with, and my Master has shown me quite a few ways in which that magic can safely be cast. And quite a few more ways in which is can't, but learning from other's mistakes is how you learn to do something right. Constructing a golem, however, is something I have never done before. And the biggest problem comes from the fact that, as per usual, my Master's research is incomplete."

"Wait, your master actually delved into golem construction? I though he just dug up a fresh corpse and called it a day?"

You're not sure how to interpret Lee's response to your questions, though you're fairly confident that it indicates bad news. "He did not and that is why, respectively. The problem is that in order for your voice to properly control the golem's body, it has to...oh, how to explain this. Well, picture your voice as a puppeteer, and the golem it is to control as the puppet. What is missing for one to control the other?"

"Strings?"

Lee nods. "Yes, strings. And these strings can be managed in two ways. Either the voice can be magically provided with these strings, or the golem can provide the strings for the voice. There's pros and cons to both options, but the problem I'm faced with is that my Master's research is incomplete. Fresh corpses already have the required 'strings' build into them, you see, so my Master never bothered with discovering how a voice could be provided with strings magically. And a golem has no strings to provide, unless it is constructed with them. And I do not know how that is done."

"So you not only need me to figure out how to perfect that ritual, but also how to contruct a proper golem?"

"Both of those, and I'm afraid to add, how to construct a golem in general. My Master never researched that, either. Again, the two times that he needed one he just dug up a fresh corpse, so I've no knowledge of how to construct a golem. Mind, if you can provide me with the right textbooks I should be able to use my magic to cover the rest. Though, just to be on the safe side, you might wish to study up on forging and engineering anyway, just in case. Magic can accomplish a lot, but I wouldn't necessary trust someone who's never crafted a clay pot to craft a fully functional body analogue just because of it."

"Okay, so where am I supposed to find all of these books, than? I mean I've never seen these titles before so I'm pretty sure I couldn't borrow them from the Venalicium."

"No, you couldn't. For many reasons. As for getting the books I do have an idea, but...it'll be difficult to manage, and that'll only be the first step. If you want to change your mind about this, now would be the time to do so."

"If you want me to change my mind, just say so. Otherwise at least explain why this is going to be so difficult before asking me whether I want to give up." You'll admit you're starting to get a bit doubtful about this idea, but you're not giving up before even hearing about what (supposedly) should convince you to give up.

Lee nods, and while his mask is still as annoying as ever you can't help but get a sense of...something from him. You're not sure. "Fair enough. First of all then, take a look at this." Lee takes a large book, separate from the giant stack of books, and hands it to you. It's heavy, there's nothing printed on the front cover, and flipping through it a bit all the pages seem to be emtpy. "That is an enchanted copybook that my Master created. Given enough ink and the right incantation, it will copy the pages of a book that is resting on it...too perfectly, actually. It does not account for difference in font, and as such will happily copy a book less than a quarter of it's size perfectly on it's far bigger pages. Further, it copies by page, and will not deviate from that no matter how many of a smaller book's pages could be printed on it's larger pages. It makes reading from it an exersize in moderation as you'll have to avoid straining your eyes, but it gets the job done."

"Nifty, but why do I need this? Can't I just 'borrow' the books you need?"

Lee shakes his head. "Suffice to say that my Master had little respect for the books he 'borrowed', and I'd like for you to not follow his example. Besides which, if you take the books from the library those who come after you will not be able to do the same. Unless you intent to risk getting caught with them a second time simply to return the books once you're done with them."

"Point taken. So...what am I supposed to-well, copy books, obviously, the ones on this list even. But how do I go about doing that?"

"I've taken another look through my Master's old diaries, notebooks and the random bits of information that he stuck in the most random of places. From that I've managed to narrow your search down to three libraries, all located within the Academagia, or at least it's grounds. You'll need to find each library, infiltrate them, and copy one or more books from them without getting caught...although I suppose that if you manage to do so once, you can manage to do so twice. Thrice, even. Although you will need to find all of the libraries."

You shrug and put on your best smug "I got this" smile while the voice quietly places a bet on how long that expression will (not) last. "What's so hard about that? I've sneaked into places before, and with this copybook I won't even have to smuggle anything out that I didn't bring in myself, right?"

Lee nods. "Yes, that's the idea, the issue is finding the libraries. You'll have to actually find them, and I have no idea where within the Academagia they are located. They could be right below the Venalicium, they could be next to the Glamour classroom, they could be above the headmaster's office. Given that there's three to find they could even actually be in all three of those locations. You're going to have to search the Academagia up and down to find them all, and in order to find them you're going to need to know a fair bit about exploration, in addition to a fair bit of luck. Though I can give you two small hints, in this regard."

"You worry too much, exploring isn't hard. Still, I'll not turn down hints."

"At least half of that statement was wise. Regardless, first off, my Master was only a middling explorer, if you'd even go so far as to call him that much. He wasn't skilled enough by himself to have found the second library, but during his Incantation studies he came across a particular spell that helped him - Private Chariot, I believe it was called. I don't know how to cast this spell or what Phemes are necessary to cast it, but my Master wrote in his diary that without he'd never have found the Library of the Forbidden. As such I suggest that you seek this spell out. You will likely need it - or something else to substitute for it - if you're to find the third and last library."

"Okay, and the second hint?"

"Remember that simply exploring isn't the only way to discover locations - everything from the right friends to Gates magic can also provide information, so you might wish to look around for other options before you subject yourself to poking your head around campus randomly and hoping you stick your head into the right door before your stay there is over. If nothing else better knowledge of exploration will eventually teach you the importance of proper mapping, so just walking around randomly should never be your preferred option."

"Alright, I got all that. So what are the libraries I'm looking for and what kind of books do you need copied?"

"The list I gave you has the exact titles, but in short I'll need some materials knowledge and more general forging and metallurgy books that are kept within the Library of the Manetele, sevaral 'unofficial additions' to the Library of the Forbidden that you can thank my Master for, and finally a series of anatomy codices from The Library of Alais. I have no idea where any of those libraries are located, only that they're all within the Academagia. Once you find all three you can start infiltrating them, and once you have all the books copied and brought to me I can study it all and tell you where we need to go from there. Alternatively, if you're rather just limit your search to the Library of the Forbidden and bring back Elegy for the Puppetmaster, that's still an option at this stage."

You tilt your head, silently glare at Lee, and wait for him to speak. Thankfully he gets the hint pretty quickly.

"I remind you because a part of me would indeed prefer you take that route. It'd be easier, safer, simpler, and ultimately better for all of us, or at least both of you. I don't know what you or your voice plans to do if it achieves full independence, but know that it won't be an easy life. Or the illusion thereof. Such creations are forbidden, and while your voice might not be destroyed outright if found out there's still the question of how it came to be and what to do with it. Do you intent to hide it in your room? Rent an inn room for it in Mineta? I've serious questions about whether I could create a golem that is reasonably functional compared to a human. One that could visibly pass for human is another matter entirely, and one who could escape magical detection is simply out of the question. I am not good enough to accomplish that and never will be within your lifetime, I assure you."

"It's what the voice wants," you say, and Lee shakes his head.

"What a voice wants and what is good for it are two different things just as much as that holds true for you. If your voice doesn't understand that it's your responsibility to convince it otherwise. Even if you see it as a separate entity - which is a fair enough idea since it technically is - there's still the fact that it's existence is tied to yours. It's mistake will be yours if you don't step in and prevent it from making them. Just look at my Master. I'm still here when my Master is not, and that's because he made mistakes that I did not. Yes, my lack of a physical body that could die helped me in that regard, my point is that my identity is still stable. Had I followed in my Master's footsteps that would most certainly not be the case."

You silently take in Lee's words and think your plans over. The voice does the same, and seems to agree with Lee.

"If you'll permit me, let me ask you one question, [Character]Character/Self: Why do you wish to separate? Is it really simply because that is what the voice told you it wants?"

The voice is already admitting to doubts that [Character]Character/Self has about this plan, so how are you going to answer Lee's question...if you're going to answer it at all?

"It was, but it seems that the voice's opinion has changed. So re-absorption it is."

"I guess neither of us really thought this plan through, huh?" you ask Lee just as much as the voice. Both respond in the same way - pointing out that, no, (both of) you didn't.

"In any event..." Lee says, "Finding that book within the Library of the Forbidden shouldn't be too difficult. Just find it, bring it here, and after I have a chance to read through it I'll tell you if there's anything more I need to complete the ritual. And if there isn't I can cast it and then you can move on with your life as if nothing happened...hopefully. It probably won't be the strangest story you'll be reluctant to tell your friends before your academic career is over, but it will be one of them, rest assured."

You let out a sigh, and after a quick conversation with the voice you speak both of your minds out to Lee. "We'll hold you to that."
--- pause adventure, proceed with adventure path b (stage 8b to be specific) ---

 

"My reasons are my own."

"Do I ask you about every little detail of your life?"

"Frequently." Lee answers with a smug grin that you can't see, but perfectly imagine nevertheless.

"Fine, do you answer those questions all the time?"

"More often than not, whenever I felt like you've either deserved it or otherwise should know."

Okay, now you're getting irritated. "I...fine, whatever. Point is I've got secrets too and I'd like to keep them, even from you. Now are you going to help me with this or aren't you?"

Lee appears to study you for a second before turning back to his book, although thanks to his mask you, once again, can't see how he actually feels about this. "I said I will and I shall, though keep in mind that if I don't know what your goals are I will not be able to help you with them. Or even avoid accidentally trampling them, should it come to that."

"You just worry about studying up on golem creation and I'll fetch those books of yours, that's all I need you to do. I'll look after myself."

Lee shrugs and you get the sense that you've been dismissed. So, libraries...where to start looking for them?
--- Pause adventure ---

 

"I want to see what all is possible. After that...who knows?"

"You sounded like my Master there..." Lee says while staring at you with that creepy mask of his. You're not sure whether you're missing something because of it, too, but you're used to that by now.

"Maybe so, but still. An intelligent golem that doesn't just know left from right, but that can question right from wrong? I'm not ignorant of the fact of how large a discovery that'd be, no matter how illegal, and I want to see whether it's possible. As for the details you mentioned, well, I'm also interested in testing my own scheming skills. Someone out there can make it all work, and I want to see if I can piece and string it all together. I don't care for the risk. It's too glorious to give up."

Lee shrugs, shakes his head and mutters under his breath, "Yeah, definitely like my Master..."

"Don't worry Lee," you say as you prepare to step out and start on your book hunt. "I'm prepared to take care of my voice, if I have to. I may be like your master, but I promise I won't end up like him. Nor will my voice end up like you."

"Wow, that's such a relief..." the voice chimes in with all the sarcasm [Character]Character/Self could muster.

Lee stares at you for what feels like a long time, contemplating things you can't even begin to comprehend, but in the end he dismisses you with but a simple warning. "I'll hold you to that."
--- Pause Adventure ---

 

"Because I want a sibling who cares about me." (requires Black Sheep background)

Lee stares at you for a bit until he lets his head fall to the side in a rather needlessly dramatic fashion. "Seriously? That's your reason?"

You stare off to the side, unable to face Lee even though you can't see his face because of the mask. "What would you understand about my parents, my family, my...about growing up like I did?"

"[Character]Character/Self, my last 'brother', if you wish to call him that, was so unstable that my Master decided that he would be better off being effectively stillborn. The one before that was turned into a wand because he had a bigger sociopathic ego than my Master, which is saying something, and the two before him were both re-animated corpses that were experimented on ruthlessly until they met some manner of untimely end. If you want me to sympathise with your home situation you're going to have to bring a lot better material than that."

...Okay, so perhaps you sightly underestimated how bad your situation is compared to Lee. Still, this is what you want, and it's what you're going to do. Of course when you tell Lee as much, the voice speaks up. "What about me? Did you ever consider that maybe I don't want to be a part of this?"

You sigh and shake your head. "You are, in the most literal sense of every imaginable term, part of this and part of me. Besides, don't you want to be independent? Isn't that was us separating is all about?"

"Eh, yeah, and just maybe I don't want to hang out with you afterwards? Be 'independent' instead, maybe? I mean you're clearly not a healthy person to hang out with, if this is how you feel about me..."

Not that your voice can really notice, but the expression on your face darkens all the same. "You won't abandon me. I've been toyed with and tossed aside too many times already. You were born from me, and I will not let you abandon me..."

"Sorry to bud into this simply enthralling display of the relatively sane and well-adjusted people's capacity for parenting..." Lee suddenly says, "But if you are your voice are having a spat, I can assist with that."

"How?" both you and the voice ask simultaneously, although of course Lee can only hear you.

"Hypnosis," Lee answers, much to your confusion. "Ease of communication is one of the issues that my Master had to address before he managed to have voices grow to even the second stage of maturity, and being as impatient as he was he's naturally developed a spell and associated technique to attempt to speed that process up. I cannot promise that this will help your voice better read your feelings - it'll still be limited to only hearing your surface thoughts regardless - but by putting you into a trance, [Character]Character/Self, I can make your feelings surface more clearly. More clearly in a way that allows your voice to better understand, I mean."

You scrutinize Lee for a bit as you consider this idea, but of course that mask of his hides any and all facial expression he...actually doesn't have, if you recall what he said earlier. "Will this take much effort?" you ask.

Lee shakes his head. "None at all, this won't take more than a few minutes, and you'll be effectively asleep during that time. Of course as a result I can't really call it a proper experiment, either." That last part annoys you, but if Lee can convince your voice to see things your way that's more than good enough. So without hesitation you nod and tell Lee to give it a shot. Lee nods, draws his wand, and quite quickly puts you into some sort of trance. You don't see or hear anything while under it, at least as far as you remember, so the next thing you see is Lee cancelling his spell. You feel a bit groggy, but nevertheless you ask if it worked. Lee says to ask your voice, and you do just that. It takes a second for [Character]Character/Self to respond, but when [Character]Character/Self does [Character]Character/Self tone is certainly different than before.

"I...may have been a bit too hasty with what I said earlier, I'll admit, but you can understand that when you just suddenly spring that on me that I'm not sure how to respond, right?" You'd feel more upset but really, your voice is entirely right here. You say all is forgiven, and ask just what Lee did earlier anyway. Again the voice seems to need a moment to think before answering the question. "He talked to me, pulled some magic tricks to have you speak truthfully about how you feel, that sort of stuff. I guess you don't remember?"

"No, I don't..." you say as you stare at Lee with an eyebrow raised.

"Don't worry about it." the voice says. "The point is that...I know why you want to do this, and I won't stop you if you want to separate."

You nod to your voice and stare at Lee, suddenly feeling a lot more confident now that your voice isn't questioning your decision. "So am I going to have to convince you, too, or do you already know?"

Lee stares at you for a bit, and shrugs. "If this is what you and your voice truly wish I won't stop you, just...don't say I didn't warn you."

You shake your head and say you won't, turning to leave with the promise of coming back with those books he asked for. Lee continues to stare at you until you step out of view, but you don't care. You're going to get a family member who has a favorable opinion of you even if you have to set [Character]Character/Self up yourself.
--- Pause adventure ---

Roleplay stage where you can't fail any of the options, unless you pick the wrong one I guess, but they all have important information in them. So long as the PC is willing to say something, at least. Also a last chance to switch paths, so I guess you can technically bypass the earlier Persuasion check by passing a Negation check and burning a timeslot, but who'd ever think that's a fair trade?

Edited by Metis

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Stage 8b (which requires you to be Informed of the Library of the Forbidden):

 

It took some doing, but finally you're in front of door leading into the Library of the Forbidden. Ready to go in, take a book and sneak out without ever being seen. In fact, being seen isn't going to be a problem at all. There's practically no on here. No professors, no students, it looks like even the rats have decided that they've got more important business to attend to elsewhere. It's eerily quiet here, a stark contrast to the usual noise you hear whenever you're in, say, the Great Hall, or even just a hallway. Still, you can't let that get to you. "Ready to go in and do some searching around?" the voice asks, and nodding to...not yourself, actually, you press down on the handle, open the door and slide in.

The Library of the Forbidden isn't much of a library, all things told. It's mostly just a memorial to the now-forbidden school of Mastery, devoid of practically any books that actually teach anything about Mastery. Most of the books here are accounts of the people who used to practice it. Their ideas, their outlooks, their justifications and in some cases, their regrets. You're sure that if you spend several hours here you could find some more relevant information on Mastery than the Academagia is probably allowed to legally store here, but that's not where you're here. You're here to look through this place and find one particular book that Lee's master stashed here however long ago - one very stolen and uncared for copy of Elegy for the Puppetmaster. Not a title you've heard of before, but that'll hopefully change soon enough.

"So, any idea on where to start?" You shake your head and ask the voice if [Character]Character/Self has any idea where the book would be. "Nothing too specific, but Lee said that his master 'hid' the book, so wherever it is it's probably not in plain sight. Of course Lee's master was also completely crazy, so who knows. There's just one thing I can't wrap my head around, though."

"Namely?"

"Why Lee's master didn't take the book with him when he left the Academagia. It contains his personal notes and everything, right? So why did he leave it here rather than bringing it along with him to his hideout?"

It's a fair question, really. Your best guess is that Lee's master read through it so often he could just recite the important parts from memory, and so didn't think that risking discovery when he came here to collect it was worth it. Either way you're going to have to find it, the question is where it could be hidden. There's not too many books here, or possible hiding places for that matter, but if it's still here it has to be here somewhere.

"Lee did say that his master was a shoddy explorer and climbing is a part of that, and add the fact that he must have been pretty good with Revision to make that 'front door' of his work do you think that he hid it within the walls somewhere? That'd be a great place to hide it, wouldn't it?"

Ah, the one lingering problem with the voice is that [Character]Character/Self just has way too much time to prattle on about every little thing. Sure, [Character]Character/Self's trying to be helpful (and actually is more often than you'd like to admit), but it can get pretty grating at times. "Unless there's a physical hole in one of these walls that wouldn't work, and I don't think Lee's master dug out a secret compartment himself. Still, it's something to keep in mind, I suppose. All things considered I don't think this place is as well protected against that kind of magic like the Venalicium is. Fewer librarians, for one. Of course if that's the case we'll have to find that compartment first, I can't exactly take down every bit of wall and hope we get lucky."

"Well, you've already shown that you can find secret compartments, the real question is whether you can open them. Alternatively, do you think he could have hid the book in plain sight by just switching the cover? No one actually reads these books here enough to notice that, right?"

"I think someone within the intervening years would have noticed, and unless he actually ripped off the cover off of his book and glued on another that'd be just a temporary measure, anyway. Any other ideas?"

"One, actually - what about the floor? Any loose planks that could be lifted off and hide a secret compartment?"

"The floor? Eh, well...I suppose, but that'd take some clever carpentry to disguise. And someone who actually knew how floors are supposed to look would see where...well, it's not like you run into too many carpenters in the Academagia. Especially carpenters that want to pay their respects to the school of Mastery. I guess that's an option."

"So which will you try first? The floor or the walls?"

Revision. "Let's check the walls first." (Intelligence/v10)

Wand already in hand you start to search the walls for secret compartments, only to run into a very big problem very early. Obviously, even though this isn't a proper library, a lot of wall space is nevertheless taken up by bookshelves. And casting magic on said books, sometimes even bookshelves is something that all students are taught early to be a bad idea. Admittedly that's more refering to the Venalicium, but still, you're weary of messing with the bookshelves regardless. As such you start with what little wall space this place actually has, but you don't find any secret compartments hiding inside the walls. So now you're a bit stuck.

"Oh come on, this isn't the Venalicium. I'm sure you can cast a detection spell through these things."

"You don't know that," you tell the voice as you continue to look around and try to think of something. Not inside the walls, you don't want to touch the bookshelves, so...actually, you have an idea.

"Hey, where are you going?" the voice asks. You don't answer, instead you walk up to one of the many pedestals that prominently display some book or another. "Seriously? You think the shelves are bad news, but these things aren't at all protected?"

"The bases of them usually aren't, at least not as well as the top. And if my suspicion is right...aha! There we go!" With practised ease you revise one side of the pedestal into a cupboard door, open it and take out a book that was hidden inside of it. The cover reads "Elegy for the Puppetmaster", and just from how battered this poor book is you can see that you've got the one you need. You're one step closer to being over this nonsense and at this point you can start to taste it.

"I cannot believe that worked." the voice deadpans.

You shrug, carefully put away the book and get started on the long trek towards the hideout so that Lee can get started with reading through it. Soon...so very soon...you'll finally be free of all this nonsense.
--- Pause adventure, +1 Perception, +1 Pure Luck ---

 

Wand already in hand you start to search the walls for secret compartments, only to run into a very big problem very early. Obviously, even though this isn't a proper library, a lot of wall space is nevertheless taken up by bookshelves. And casting magic on said books, sometimes even bookshelves is something that all students are taught early to be a bad idea. Admittedly that's more refering to the Venalicium, but still, you're weary of messing with the bookshelves regardless. As such you start with what little wall space this place actually has, but you don't find any secret compartments hiding inside the walls. So now you're a bit stuck.

"Oh come on, this isn't the Venalicium. I'm sure you can cast a detection spell through these things."

"You don't know that," you tell the voice as you continue to look around and try to think of something. Unfortunately you don't find whatever you're looking for.

"Seriously [Character]Character/Self, check the bookshelves."

"Never." you defiantly say as you turn around and start to walk out. There's something else than the bookshelves here, you know there is, and one day you'll find it!
--- +1 Stress, stop adventure ---

 

Carpentry. "Let's check the floor first." (Insight/v15)

"I still don't think it's too likely that Lee's master dug a hole in a wall somewhere, so let's start checking the floor for loose planks."

The voice doesn't object, so you start to pace from one end of the library to the other, carefully keeping an eye on the floor and looking where a loose plank might be. It's actually fairly easy to rule out many potential spots because they'd either be too inaccessible thanks to a bookshelf or too out in the open...although the latter point doesn't really matter a whole heck of a lot in this situation, does it? Your search eventually takes you from inside the library to inside the reception and then back into the library, but even after three runs you've yet to spot anything that could possibly be hiding something.

"So I'm thinking that maybe we're on the wrong track, here..." you start to say as you crouch down and get a better look at the floor, hoping that the voice has some wisdom for you.

"Lee's master wasn't that old, so I doubt this place got renovated since he left that book in here. Maybe what we need to do is just magically displace sections of the floor? I mean remember the hideout, Lee's master could certainly do that."

"I suppose so, but no part of the floor sounded hollow when I stepped on it, so there's no cavities underneath it. Unless..." You get back on your knees and look towards a particular section that seemed suspicious to you - a bit of a dead end that's mostly isolated from everywhere else in the library, and there's one short plank that's entirely within that section. One right next to a bookcase, in fact. The only short plank of that kind you've seen in this library, and while it was most thoroughly stuck in the floor, as it should be, it certainly was strange.

You stand up, walk to that area and grab your wand. Very carefully you cast a Sergei's Timely Doorjam on the plank, and while it does not fall into a secret compartment it does reveal one underneath the bookcase. Clever, Silfus, but not clever enough. You grab the book, being surprised how worn out it feels, and take a look at the title. "Elegy for the Puppetmaster". Flipping it open on a random page reveals a number of crude scribbles around the edges, words that are crossed out, and all kinds of other stuff. In fact you think a note just fell out of the book as well.

"That's got to be it." the voice says, and you nod as you carefully place the book in your knapsack. Now it's time to quickly go all the way to Lee's hideout and drop this book off, so that the next time you visit he'll be able to end this nonsense once and for all.

Oh so very soon this'll be all over!
--- +1 Creativity, pause adventure ---

 

"I still don't think it's too likely that Lee's master dug a hole in a wall somewhere, so let's start checking the floor for loose planks."

The voice doesn't object, so you start to pace from one end of the library to the other, carefully keeping an eye on the floor and looking where a loose plank might be. It's actually fairly easy to rule out many potential spots because they'd either be too inaccessible thanks to a bookshelf or too out in the open...although the latter point doesn't really matter a whole heck of a lot in this situation, does it? Your search eventually takes you from inside the library to inside the reception and then back into the library, but even after three runs you've yet to spot anything that could possibly be hiding something.

"So I'm thinking that maybe we're on the wrong track, here..." you start to say as you crouch down and get a better look at the floor, hoping that the voice has some wisdom for you.

"Maybe, but I've got nothing better to suggest. Well, other than trying to search the walls next."

"Let's just call it a day and continue with this later, my feet hurt and I don't want to spend the next hour crawling around this floor."
--- +1 Stress, stop adventure ---

 

Filing. "Actually, I'd like to check the bookcases first." (Intelligence/v15)

"The bookcases?" the voice asks, confused. "Do you think Lee hid it in one of the bookcases?"

"I'm not sure, but...well, the title of the book we're looking for is 'Elegy of the Puppetmaster'. Doesn't that sound like a book which would contain an ode to Mastery, like a book that actually wouldn't be out of place sitting on a shelf in this library?"

If the voice had an eyebrow to raise, it would be raised right now. "Well, I...I guess so. But wouldn't someone notice? I mean...well, no, I guess not a whole lot of people really know about what titles contain actual instructions to for Mastery, huh? It's something you can try, I mean we're going to have to look through this place top to bottom anyway so might as well, right?"

"Agreed," you say as you start walking past the bookshelves, carefully looking at the spine of each book. A disappointing number of them don't have titles printed on the book's spine, so if you want to find a specific book you'll have to check the filing system. With that in mind you eventually head over to where, were this a proper library, the receptionist would be and take a look at the filing system. Or at least you would, only there isn't one. "Seriously? Doesn't anyone keep track of which books come in or out here? You'd think that of all libraries this one would have the strictest filing system, right?"

"Maybe it's just kept in a different place? There's some drawers in the back there, so look through those."

You nod and open one of these drawers at random. As you simultaneously hoped and feared, it contains one part of the library's filing system. The archaic filing system. It looks kind of like the Block Puzzle, only with much smaller pieces. "Okay, seriously? Who ever managed to find anything in here with this?"

"Few enough people to make it no longer used, at most. Can you make sense of it?"

You shrug and give it a good once-over. The drawer is fitted with a number of labelled cylinders, which is each filled with a scroll that has a crudely drawn diagram of which books should be where on the cylinder's associated bookshelf. You imagine that these diagrams were once used by librarians to refill a shelf the exact same way every time. That'd make it easy to notice which books were missing, you suppose, though it'd be a lot of work to put them back each time too. Nowadays you just drop a book in the right section and you're pretty much done, you just have to pay attention to the titles as they're alphabetically sorted. It's curious that in the diagrams the books aren't, really. Maybe they're sorted based on subject? You're not sure, half the titles you don't recognise and the other half you can't read.

"There's got to be a roll which lists all the books by their location," the voice points out, and while you agree that there must be it seems to not be located in this drawer. So close that one and look for an unmarked roll in one of the other drawers. Soon enough you find it, and when you check it you're surprised to see that there actually is a copy of Elegy for the Puppetmaster listed on it.

"You don't think...?"

"Lee did say that his master 'appropriated' that book from it's original source, which is a fancy way of saying he stole it, so it could be. We might as well check, at any rate. This scroll says which shelf it's supposed to be on, so..."

"Okay, let's go."

You nod, put the scroll back in the roll, close the drawer and head off to find the correct shelf. When you do you don't see anything out of the ordinary. Just a shelf. "So which book is it?" the voice asks. You take a close look at each book and see if any of them look more worn and used than the rest. And one of them actually does. It actually requires shoving books aside so you can take a look at the front and back covers, but you do find one battered copy of Elegy for the Puppetmaster right where it should be. "This doesn't seem right." the voice says, but you don't pay [Character]Character/Self any heed as you take the book and open it on a random page. The worn mess of ink stains and shoddy writing on the edges of the page tells you that, yes, this is the book you need.

"This is the one, so let's bring to to Lee. Or do you have a problem with that?"

"Not with you taking the book to Lee, that's why we're here after all, but I'm curious why it's just sitting on the shelf right there. Didn't anyone notice it before?"

"Apparently not," you say as you tug the book in your knapsack and start walking away. Walking away all the way to Lee's hideout, because you don't want to wait on him any longer than you have to. Naturally it's going to take him a bit to read through the book, cross-reference all the information with everything else and determine based on that how to adjust the ritual to your needs, but he can go do that while you do other things. Oh so very soon and you'll finally be rid of this nonsense!
--- +1 Decipher Handwriting, pause adventure ---

 

"The bookcases?" the voice asks, confused. "Do you think Lee hid it in one of the bookcases?"

"I'm not sure, but...well, the title of the book we're looking for is 'Elegy of the Puppetmaster'. Doesn't that sound like a book which would contain an ode to Mastery, like a book that actually wouldn't be out of place sitting on a shelf in this library?"

If the voice had an eyebrow to raise, it would be raised right now. "Well, I...I guess so. But wouldn't someone notice? I mean...well, no, I guess not a whole lot of people really know about what titles contain actual instructions to for Mastery, huh? It's something you can try, I mean we're going to have to look through this place top to bottom anyway so might as well, right?"

"Agreed," you say as you start walking past the bookshelves, carefully looking at the spine of each book. A disappointing number of them don't have titles printed on the book's spine, so if you want to find a specific book you'll have to check the filing system. With that in mind you eventually head over to where, were this a proper library, the receptionist would be and take a look at the filing system. Or at least you would, only there isn't one. "Seriously? Doesn't anyone keep track of which books come in or out here? You'd think that of all libraries this one would have the strictest filing system, right?"

"Maybe it's just kept in a different place? There's some drawers in the back there, so look through those."

You nod and open one of these drawers at random. As you simultaneously hoped and feared, it contains one part of the library's filing system. The archaic filing system. It looks kind of like the Block Puzzle, only with much smaller pieces. "Okay, seriously? Who ever managed to find anything in here with this?"

"Few enough people to make it no longer used, at most. Can you make sense of it?"

You shrug and give it a good once-over. But really, this thing just puts the Block Puzzle to shame. There's scrolls and holders haphazardly strewn about or organized and you can't make sense of this at all. You're honestly not sure if anyone ever could, really.

"So I take it this is a bust?" the voice asks.

"Unless you can piece this together, yeah. I mean I'll look through it, but I don't promise that even if I find the book listed that I'll know where it is."

The voice just wishes you good luck as you look through whatever this mess is completely at random. Naturally you end up finding neither mention or the location of the book you want, so eventually you just give up and decide to try something else at a later time.
--- +1 Stress, stop adventure ---

I'll be posting these stages just in the order that the mod tools list them for sake of ease on my end. Anyway, you need to know where a library is and do something in it. You've been told this before, you should know this. What you don't know mechanically speaking is that the Library of the Forbidden has an ED of 12, which is easy enough to pass with a Luck/Explore roll, so eventually you'll be able to find it if you just keep at it. The Library of Alais, though? ED 30. And you have to find it through exploration, at least as far as I know. I hope you either have a ton of time to spare or like reloading, cause there's no adventure stage that'll reveal those location for you (at least that I've added)!

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Stage 9a (which requires knowing The Library of the Manetele, Library of the Forbidden and The Library of Alais):

 

It took more effort than you'd like to admit, but finally you've found all three of the libraries you were asked to find. As Lee said the Library of Alais was the hardest, and for all the wrong reasons. Who would have guessed that a random, unassuming door in Kazus Hall, of all places, would lead into that last, elusive library? The irony and intrigue as to why is flying through your mind as you walk around the library to lake a look. As you expected there's not a soul here, at least right now, you've pretty much got the entire place to yourself. Smuggling the copybook in and out will not be a problem at all, although using it has been another matter...but you'll get back to that. For now, the library that you're marvelling at. Truly, it's a wonderful collection, and anyone especially interested in anatomy and chirurgery would be remiss not to visit it at least once. You're here with a mission now, though, so you don't have time to browse...although you can't help but wonder why this library is located here, rather than in, say, College Morvidus, or even College Durand. Few of the books discuss non-human anatomy, but this in-depth knowledge of how flesh and bone combines into arms and legs must surely be helpful for some manner of specific self-targeted Revisions, or to give healing Negations some much-needed context...or however that works. Dialectic being considered helpful for the study of Negation is easy enough to remember, but following a discussion as to why it is? Less so. You just can't get it out of your mind. Even if this library was build before the bans...why Kazus Hall, of all places?

Well, you can leave that mystery for another day. Right now, it's copybook time. Lee has showed you how this thing works in detail, and you have, of course, made sure to practice a few times rather than coming here with an entire bottle worth of ink, a wand and no clue about how to use them. Not to say that you don't have the first two anyway, but you do have a clue. The trick to using the book is that in order for it to work, you need to do three things. One, the book that you wish to copy must be placed on top of the copybook. That's the easy part. Second, you have to supply the copybook with ink by literally dropping ink on top of it. Now, the copybook will absorb the ink very quickly, so it's easy not to spill anything. The issue is that the amount of ink you need is proportional to the amount of text in the book to be copied, but Lee's master never bothered to work out the exact formula. And as your tests have showed winging it doesn't produce acceptable results. Third and lastly, you have to cast a spell to actually get the copybook to do it's thing, but it's one of those really weird and confusing spells that are a pain to cast. Because apparently stringing a few Phemes together just wasn't good enough for Lee's master or something. You don't know. After that it's just a matter of leaving, and you don't think that'll pose a problem.

"Hey, there's the books, right? Aren't those the ones we need?"

You look at where the voice is...well, not quite "pointing", but it's equivalent thereof, and you take out your list. Yeah, those are the books you need, and you can see why Lee called them "codices" despite them being perfectly normal leather-bound books. These things are almost bigger then the copybook itself! And according to Lee the copybook is needlessly huge specifically so that it can copy books without having to use Sergei's Timely Doorjam to first shrink them. That sometimes doesn't always work out for various reasons, so that'd be why. Well, anyway, you've found the books, and of course you can't resist taking a peek inside them. For better or worse, though, whatever scandalous and hilarious things you were expecting turn out to just be a long series of incredibly detailed and complex, but for all that pretty mundane and ultimately boring explanations of how various muscles and bones work. And as it turns out, there's a lot of those. Apparently your face alone actually has dozens of muscles, and a good tenth of the book, at least, is dedicated to it. Who knew? Seeing an illustration of how various bones fit into their respective sockets and how that allows or restricts various types of movements is briefly entertaining, but you never really cared overly much about why you don't have especially good control of your two ring fingers compared to the rest. At least it's reasonably easy to see why Lee wants these books for crafting a golem, although that just makes you curious about why, again, are these books kept in Kazus Hall. Even Icanicix would have been a better fit...

Argh, just forget it already. Copybook time. Now, during your test runs with this there was one particular part that you got stuck on more often than all others combined, but you've come prepared and are now ready to try this for real. And that preparation is...

Arithmetic. An actual formula for how much ink you need. (Intelligence/v15)

The biggest problem, by far, was getting the amount of ink right. You really wouldn't think that getting this book to work properly would have required a good bit of knowledge of Arithmetic, but here you are all the same. Score one against all the people who said that you never needed to study it, you suppose, but that doesn't really feel like a victory to you.

Regardless, as you take out the required books, bring them to a table and place the first on top of the copybook you reach into your knapsack and take out your notes on how much ink you'll need. The formula you've devised isn't perfect by any stretch, but it's a whole lot better than just random guesswork at least. Ah, here they are. Right, so the first thing you determined was that, ideally, the copybook is given exactly as much ink as the book to be copied took to write or press. You don't know of any spells that can determine that, nor do you really believe that anyone has ever developed or discovered a spell of that nature because, really, why would you ever need that, but you've figured out a very clever way to roughly accomplish the same thing. And with magic doing most of the work, at that! Yeah, you'll admit you're proud of this one, in part because it's just so simple when you think about it: Color. Use a spell to "count" how far away from an actual layer of ink a given page is, color-wise. From there you can input that number into a formula you devised that, if also given the size of the page (which can also be magically measured, because clearly this just wasn't convenient enough), will tell you how much ink is needed to go from a blank page to what the page actually contains. It's not perfectly accurate and figuring out all the nitty-gritty was a gigantic pain, not to mention a grand waste of perfectly good parchment and ink, but you've got to say that the end result was worth it. Especially since you can, admittedly with some effort, cast the color-counting spell in such a way that it'll automagically run through all the pages of a given book and even add all the numbers together. Cast spell, get result. If this isn't what magic was made for, you don't know. It's just a pity you can't show it off, because if questions were asked about why you tried you'll likely be asked unfortunate questions.

As you take a quick peek at the other codices while the spell is doing it's work you slowly realize that a lot of math will probably go into crafting that golem, too. Hopefully Lee bothered to study up on that, because from the looks of it, he'll need it.

A light ping in your head informs you that your spell finished, and an ethereal voice helpfully announces the amount of ink you need. Unnecessary frills, perhaps, definitely something you added yourself through some careful Pheme shenanigans but you're awesome and even if you're the only person that'll know it you just want to bask in your own glory right now. You deserve it, after all the work it took. Anyway, with the amount of ink you need clearly spelled out for you it's child's play to measure that amount out, carefully poor it on top of the copybook, and than cast the incantation so that the copybook does it's thing. Just give it a minute to work and there you go, one semi-perfectly copied book. It's a good thing you went through the lengths you did with this one, really, because inspecting the copybook's ill-gotten knowledge you see that the images from the book have been copied beautifully. Not perfectly, but they'll be more than serviceable for Lee's needs. Perfect. Now that you know this process works it's just a matter of copying the other codices, probably stopping by the Admiratio to buy another decade's worth of ink because you're going to need it, and then repeating this trick for the other books in the other two libraries. That'll be a lot of work, but it's work that you know you can do.

Likewise you've well proven at this point that you know how to get to Lee's hideout and back, so after all this boring busywork is said and done you'll be able to go back and ask Lee if his magic will really be enough to cover the gaps, or if you'll have to do some extracurricular studies on the side. You likely will, honestly, and you should. This is your project just as much as it is Lee's, after all. And soon, the real work can begin...
--- +2 Creativity, +1 Patience, pause adventure ----

 

The biggest problem, by far, was getting the amount of ink right. You really wouldn't think that getting this book to work properly would have required a good bit of knowledge of Arithmetic, but here you are all the same. Score one against all the people who said that you never needed to study it, you suppose, but that doesn't really feel like a victory to you. But that's why you've come prepared with your brilliant formula - a measuring cup. Haphazard guesswork not entirely removed, but hey, if it works, it works.

Unfortunately, as you find out when you run yourself dry on an entire bottle of ink, it doesn't work. Somehow you manage to consistently underestimate the amount of ink you need until you end up running out completely. That's like at least a month's supply of ink! How much does this damn book need in order to copy just one of these doorstoppers!?

"I take it that's going to come out of your pocket money?" the voice ask as you lament over the empty ink bottle.

"Not. A. Dang. Word, voice."

The voice doesn't comment further while you pack up and prepare to visit the Admiratio with one heck of an excuse as to why you're buying a half-dozen bottles of ink. Some manner of art project, probably...
--- +1 Stress, stop adventure ---

 

Enspell. A wand more suitable for casting the incantation. (Finesse/v15)

The problem...well, in this very rare case the completely coincidental problem with Academagia-issued wands (and palettes, for that matter) is that they're very carefully designed so as to avoid accidents and mishaps. Particularly of the catastrophic variety. Normally that's all fine and well, but in this case the incantation you need to make this book work is, in some ways, practically a disaster, making your basic wand not greatly suited for it. So for this you've brought a Rimbal training wand - slightly more pyrotechnics allowed than your standard training wand, but less of the overall usefulness, and still plain and basic. It's not much, but in this case it might just make the difference.

So, first of all there's placing the books and supplying the ink. The latter is always a bit nerve-wrecking, because you are just paranoid about spilling, but it goes well enough. When you feel like you've supplied enough ink it's time for the incantation, so you grab the scroll that shows how to do it. You're really not sure how this all works, it seems like this entire book is glued together by dreams and hope. Well, for all that at least it works, you suppose. Right, right turn at that point, that always gets you. And from there...okay, time to give this a try. You take a deep breath, carefully draw the necessary Phemes in the necessary places, string them all together carefully, and release their power on the copybook without touching the book that's resting on it. Easier said than done, given the size of this book, but careful managing of your border has carried the day. And now the counter-spell to make the book stop copying everything that's placed on top of it, which takes an entirely different set of Phemes, as well as the final command word that makes the book open to you once it has copied something. This particular aspect you're not entirely sure of the reason for, it's something that could be easily bypassed with a Negation and it's not exactly hard to figure out, but that's how Lee's master enchanted it, so that's how it works.

"Enlighten me."

Although in fairness you had some trouble saying the command word, at first. It has to be said properly, truthfully and forcefully, but you just kept getting caught up with sounding sarcastic and laughing at how silly it all was. Maybe that was Silfus' reason? Who knows. The book accepted your command and it looks like everything got copied as well as you could manage, so there's that. Now to do that several more times, in at least two other libraries, bring all that information to Lee and wait for him to finish studying it.

You're making progress, you can feel it. It's only a matter of time, now...
--- +2 Theory of Enchantment, +1 Composure, pause adventure ---

 

The problem...well, in this very rare case the completely coincidental problem with Academagia-issued wands (and palettes, for that matter) is that they're very carefully designed so as to avoid accidents and mishaps. Particularly of the catastrophic variety. Normally that's all fine and well, but in this case the incantation you need to make this book work is, in some ways, practically a disaster, making your basic wand not greatly suited for it. So for this you've brought a basic, run-of-the-mill polished stick that's got enough enchantments on it to work as a wand, but nothing that'll prevent you from any sort of spellcasting disasters.

"What did your professors say about casting with improvised equipment? You're going to get yourself and everything else on fire, doing this." the voice quips.

"I've told you a thousand times-you know what? Fine. I'll show you the greatness of this stick!" With that you quickly cast a spell that's supposed to change your hair color, but instead it sets it on fire.

"Called it." the voice calmly says as you panic and start flailing around like a headless chicken before you realize, far later than you'd like to admit, that the fire is just a Glamour. Okay, clearly a new plan is needed, so let's go back to the drawing board and work on that...
--- +1 Stress, stop adventure ---

 

Sleight-of-Hand. A bag in which to hide the copybook. (Luck/v15)

Surprisingly enough, the biggest problem has actually been not drawing attention to yourself while carrying the book around. It's easy to underestimate it's bulk, and how suspicious people get when they see you struggling to carry the weight. And your knapsack? Not designed to casually carry around enormous book-shaped wagons like the copybook is. But you're come prepared this time with a simple and elegant solution - a bag. Yes, that's it, a bag. Something that's actually suited to the bulk of the copybook isn't going to make you look as out of place, but if anyone does ask questions, you of course have excuses ready. So, first of all you're going to have to use the copybook, which is simple enough. You're a bit nervous about spilling ink and the incantation to make the book work isn't easy to cast, and doing that correctly three times in a row isn't easy either, but on the whole, it's easy. You're alone, it's quiet, you can focus, and if worst comes to worst you can just come back later and try again. If a professor sees you carting around a copybook that might not be the case.

Anyway, after some minor adjustments and a few attempts you've managed to copy the required books, so onto the bag. You open it, pull out two or three articles of clothing that you've stuffed in it, and hide the book in a ball of cloth. Simple, so simple some might question it's effectiveness, but compared to having a book-shaped knapsack dangling on your back, this is actually significantly better. Now all that's left is to bring it all the way to the Hideout without attracting any sort of attention...or at least enough attention that either want to follow you or, ironically enough, help you. You never thought that helpful students would ever become an obstacle, though you suppose you've seen worse. Fortunately you don't run into any on your way to the Academagia Grounds, and from there the hideout, but you do run into a professor. Not one of yours, or one of any of the first years actually. You don't recognize him, but he seems to be wearing a Godina professor's uniform. He questions you about why you're carrying a random bag around, but you're able to convince him it's part of a muscle-building exercise. Yes, that sounds silly, but when you're able to both avoid having the professor see the book inside the bag and able to show some muscles that you've "obviously" gotten this way, it suddenly seems far less silly. Not that you'd ever expect any member of the Rimbal Team to every carry any of their own gear around at any point, but details.

The professor concedes, lets you go and you encounter no further problems on the way to Lee's hideout. Just goes to show, no matter how abandoned a place is that you're breaking into, the road between it and wherever you need to go next won't necessarily be the same case. With just your knapsack that wouldn't have ended well, but it did. So time to do that for the other two libraries, drop off the books, and see what Lee has to say about all that you've brought him...
--- +2 Acting, +1 Deceit, pause adventure ---

 

Surprisingly enough, the biggest problem has actually been not drawing attention to yourself while carrying the book around. It's easy to underestimate it's bulk, and how suspicious people get when they see you struggling to carry the weight. And your knapsack? Not designed to casually carry around enormous book-shaped wagons like the copybook is. But you're come prepared this time with a simple and elegant solution - a coat. Yes, that's all, a coat. Stuff the book under there and you're golden, no book-shaped knapsack to ruin your day.

"Eh, [Character]Character/Self?"

You still have a voice that can ruin your day, but you're working towards fixing that problem, as well. "Yeah?"

"About your brilliant 'coat' solution, I believe I've found a problem."

"Oh? And that is?"

"For starters, it's not raining. And you shouldn't be wearing a coat inside, anyway."

"That's...it's not? I was specifically told that it'd be-why didn't you mention this before!?"

"I figured that you noticed it earlier yourself, honestly."

Argh, one of the frustrating things about having a voice that constantly comments on every little detail - you eventually get used it it! Curses! Your grand plan is now in ruins!

...In hindsight this coat wouldn't have perfectly concealed the book anyway, but you take care not to let the voice know that.
--- +1 Stress, stop adventure ---

Once you can access the stage it's not that big a deal. Maybe not the perfect roll options for most people, but eh, that's hardly new.

 

For the record, 10a is Adventure End for the a path, and b goes up to 11b, so the plot has lowered the wheels to start landing...be that on Cyve or Mars...

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Stage 9b:

 

Lee has had enough time to read books, you think, so it's time to see if he's up to upholding his end of the bargain. Of course walking all the way to the hideout takes a few minutes, but it's so routine by now that you barely even notice your legs ache after marching up the hill. When you enter the hideout you don't see Lee, but stepping into the study you do see him mulling over the book. He turns to look at you as you approach him, and he says, "Good day, [Character]Character/Self. Are you ready for the, I imagine, last experiment?"

"Ready as I'll ever be, I've even got my question for afterwards prepared. Since you asked I assume you've managed to adjust the ritual?"

"Difficult as it was to compile all the relevant information and extrapolate the relevant conclusions from them, yes. With the adjustments I've made the re-absorption ritual should work for you as well as it did for my Master, which is to say without permanent mental scarring, memory loss, various forms of insanity, or worse. And if it doesn't work I've adjusted it so that failure would only waste time, not your sanity. Rest assured that if nothing else, my Master absolutely perfected the latter aspect."

"That's some pretty impressive work, all things told. I was expecting you'd need me to, I don't know, at least undergo another experiment or two to see exactly how my voice or myself would react to something or another."

Lee shrugs. "Ordinarily that'd be the case, but after what happened with the brew I think that the less you're experimented on, the better. More to the point, it seems that back in his early days my Master was far more on-point with writing down important details clearly and going into the theory behind why something would and wouldn't work, as opposed to merely cryptically hint at his observations. It's almost a shame to see how far my Master has fallen over the years. But I suppose that was inevitable, given his chosen occupation."

You'd feel sad, but seriously, after what happened Lee's master can fall of a cliff for all you care. "So, if you're ready, what do you need me to do?"

Lee points to the spell circle, which actually seems to have been repaired. The cauldron of goop has been moved to the side as well, presumably to make space. "Stand in that, I'll work the necessary invocations to activate the circle, and...honestly, I'm not sure what comes after that. My Master tried to describe it, but even his early observations of it are just incoherent. I suppose that's something you will have to tell me afterwards."

You walk into the spell circle, not as hesitant as you thought you would be, and turn to face Lee. "Should you, I don't know, grab a chair or something? I mean remember what happened with that 'awakening' experiment or what it was?"

Lee shakes his head as he draws his wand. "That won't be necessary, if I'm correct. Now, are you ready?"

You can see that Lee is waiting to activate the spell circle, and you're more than ready to finally be done with this nonsense and not have to worry about anyone asking questions about why you're talking to yourself or whatever, but...it'd be easier to convince yourself that you're ready if you actually knew what was going to happen. And you're not the only one who's getting cold feet, either...

Confidence. "I've said it once before, don't make me say it twice." (Insight/v15)

Lee nods and traces Phemes in the air while pointing at the spell circle. Bit by bit it starts to light up as it seems to "trap" the Phemes that Lee draws over it, until you're standing in the middle of a sea of Phemes. This isn't helping your nerves at all, but you're not backing down. When everything is finally in place Lee casts an actual spell on the centre of the circle, and the entire thing lights up as once, every trapped Pheme burning up like phosphorous. It's enough to blind you, although that's not a problem for long because before you can even close your eye you end up losing consciousness completely. If this was intended you're not sure what that says about Lee's statement of you not needing a chair for this. At least you don't feel your head hitting the ground, although you just know you will later.

Strangely enough, though, a wave of cold blackness doesn't take you. Instead the bright phosphorous-like light that's still shining in your eyes becomes more uniform, more tolerable, and eventually a bit distant. When you feel safe enough to open your eyes again you're not really sure what to make of what you see. You're apparently at the Academagia, somewhere in the Garden Gallery by the looks of it, but while everything looks alive and normal it's completely desolate. No people, no Familiars, no birds in the sky or insects crawling over leaves, nothing. Except when you turn around you do see someone, in the distance. A crude copy of yourself, sitting downcast on a stone unicorn's back. The area around [Character]Character/Self looks messed up. Stone paths suddenly jut out of the ground like gravity is playing favorites, the plants look excessively edged and overgrown, and the stonework on both the overhanging arches as well as the path, and the unicorn now that you look at it, look fundamentally different. Not that they're not arches, paths or a unicorn, but they look different than they do elsewhere (or, in the unicorn's case, how you remember it). You walk up to your copy, trying your best not to trip over yourself, and ask "So this is your 'space' that you took from my mind? That you were born from, rather?"

The voice, silent to the point of not breathing, nods. It's a bit unnerving.

You take another look at the abstract art that is this corner of this mental image of the Garden Gallery. "Why is everything so messed up? I get that you don't want to be me, but is this...who you want to be?"

The voice lightly shakes [Character]Character/Self head. "This is all I could do. This is all that I wanted to do. If I grew up more, if I actually hated you, I'm sure that I could take more and corrupt it further. Until it was really mine, and not just my take on what's yours. But I didn't. You haven't always been good to me, but...you've changed. I've seen it, to. These walls used to try and close in on me, but now they don't."

"All things considered I'm surprised you could see that much. I thought that you couldn't read my mind, only my surface thoughts."

"You're not even aware of how often you wished you could just kill me, are you?"

You try to look at innocent as possible, but it doesn't really work. "I can't say that I recall anything of the sort, no."

The voice shakes [Character]Character/Self head as [Character]Character/Self downcast look slowly makes way for a cold stare. "A part of me soon wished that I could break you. That I could put you in chains and wish for your death. But...I couldn't. I didn't have enough control. Had I gained independence in that state I'm afraid of what I would have done to you, but then...you apologized. It's taken a long time...but I think I'm ready to forgive you." You'd say something in response to that, but considering how thoroughly this entire mess was entirely your fault you decide to stay quiet and let the voice say [Character]Character/Self piece. "The thing I'm uncertain about...is if you're able to fogive me."

You're honestly confused by that. "What have you done that I should apologize for? I was the one that treated you like dirt! You had every reason to hate me!"

"Forgive me for what I'm about to do, I mean." Well that didn't sound ominous at all. The voice stands up and reaches out a hand, gently placing it on your cheek. It's not something that no one has ever done before, so you should be used to it, but when this shoddy copy of yourself is the one doing it it's certainly not something you're at all used to. And while you're staring in equal parts surprise and horror at the voice [Character]Character/Self other hand reaches out and holds one of yours. "I...I won't disappear." the voice says. And despite how a part of you feels like that should have sounded cold, the voice's...voice sounds just like how [Character]Character/Self hands feel - warm. Alive, you might say. There's a definite undertone of fear to the voice's tone. Not because of what [Character]Character/Self feels [Character]Character/Self has to do, but because [Character]Character/Self is alive enough to be afraid. To be afraid of death, and to be afraid of what [Character]Character/Self might become.

"I'll forgive you," you say to the voice as calmly as you can. You don't sound as calm as you'd like and with you nearly shaking from stress and fear you wouldn't look calm even if you did, but it's the attempt that matters...or something.

The voice slowly closes [Character]Character/Self eyes and lets out a small sigh. "I'm not going to say you owe me that much. I'm going to say...thank you, [Character]Character/Self." With that the voice suddenly draws closer, but right before you think [Character]Character/Self might end up kissing you (intentionally or otherwise) the two of you literally seem to fall through each other, as if one or both of you suddenly turned into ghosts. Briefly your perception is warped by the presence of two different sets of eyes, but before you can register this oddity the illusion of the Garden Gallery breaks apart and you start falling into blackness. Looking up you can see that the corrupted pieces don't return to their original state, which worries you, until you suddenly find yourself standing on solid ground. Still within infinite blackness, but solid infinite blackness. You try to think, try to access the part of your mind that the voice occupied, and you find yourself able to reach it once again. Just like you could before. You also smack yourself because that's where you left your spare set of casual clothes, of course!

Oh, right. Infinite blackness. Still have that to deal with. You look up, trying to see the broken pieces, but they're out of sight. "Just as well," you think to yourself, noticing that for the first time in a long time, there's no one else. Your thoughts are your own, although they currently sound a bit like an echo. You take a deep breath and focus, trying to remember the voice. Quickly a strange tingling sensation spreads from your hands to your arms and beyond, something you don't even try to stop, and once it's reaches your mind you let it fully wash over you. A fear of death, a fear of blackness, fear of changing into the very darkness that [Character]Character/Self feared, but also a strong sense of life you never had before...and a curious bit of knowledge. Knowledge about how to bring light to a darkened mind. "Time to put that to the test," you think, and you open your mind and will the blackness to take form. Sun, sky, clouds, dirt, stone, walls, the Academagia, everything from grass to the five-handed tree that loves to play with passing students, the bugs that crawl over the leaves and the students that walk past, Familiar and birds to populate the land and sky. You're suddenly reminded of how you once went from seeing Lee's spell circle from a bunch of lines to a number of broken parts that made one whole, and now you're putting that knowledge to use. Don't just bring all the pieces - make it whole!

The blackness does as you command, and slowly but surely it begins to take shape. You end up going on an absolutely unashamed power-trip as you dance from one end of the blackness to the other, painting the world with your fingers and making grass grow with the taps of your feet, until you're back in the illusion of the Garden Gallery where you began. The unicorn is back to the way it should be, the path is back to normal and even again, and the plants have returned to their usual...not as bend-y selves. There's a better word for that, but you don't know it. And as you turn to look at the empty unicorn statue you feel some manner of presence coming from all around you. Something that tells you that you're not alone, or at least not as you were a moment ago. The voice said that you trying to remember [Character]Character/Self would defeat the purpose of going through the effort of re-uniting, but right now you feel like you won't forget. If only because man, did you make some stupid decisions recently. Well, that's over and done with. Never again, too, you promise yourself that. Confident and satisfied with the results you nod to yourself, and only yourself, turn around and start walking. It's noticeable that your eyes feel a bit different, but that'll pass sooner or later. And if it doesn't, hey, guess who doesn't have to worry about visiting the infirmary again! That's right, you! There's just one thing you really wish you knew at this point.

Where the heck is the exit of this place!?
--- +1 Character SL, proceed with stage 10b ---

 

The words come out confidently enough, but Lee notices your hesitation. "Are you really sure, [Character]Character/Self? This experiment might not work out unless you've confident in both yourself and your voice. Remember what you're dealing with here."

Oh, screw it. "Remember that I don't know what we're dealing with! How can I be confident nothing will happen considering everything that's at stake and everything? Like...can I at least read through your master's writings? Maybe get a clue from that? I'd take almost anything at this point."

Lee shakes his head. "I'm afraid I can't allow that, the book is simply not of a topic that one as young as you should read about. And I'm not just talking about Mastery. My Master used the book as a diary as well, and he, too, went through the full process of puberty."

"...I really don't want to know, do I?"

Lee shakes his head again, and while it doesn't look any different you can just see a smile behind his mask regardless. "You do not. If you still have doubts, simply confide within your voice and remember that neither of you will disappear come the end of it. I'm afraid that's all I can offer."

It's so frustrating to get stopped at the last point, but at the same time it's just so scary, too. Well, nothing more to it, you suppose. You'll just have to keep trying until you eventually are ready.
--- +1 Stress, stop adventure ---

And that's the last roll of the b path, the rest is just roleplay and the "which attribute do you wish to increase" option...in theory. I promise nothing, cuz that's actually still a bit nebulous at this point.

 

There's a reason for that...

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Stage 10a END (yes, I clarified that - there's a reason):

 

"Whatever do you MEAN you can't craft a golem!?"

Back again in Lee's hideout, watching him mull over the stack of books he's surrounded by, looking a bit downcast while lazily staring in your direction from his chair. You're furious because after far too long Lee has finally finished all his researching, but the news he has for you is less than positive. You'll not mince words, it's beyond frustrating. It's infuriating.

"I'm not especially happy about it either, but I'm afraid that facts are facts. Even discounting the task of gathering all of the materials required, something that I cannot do because I'm bound to this hideout, as well as converting this room into a proper crafter's workshop that we'll no doubt need, which for the same reason I also cannot do, crafting a proper golem body simply isn't going to happen. I've extensively reviewed all of the material you've brought me, and the numerous details are simply insurmountable without at least you being able to pull your weight even more than I could. And as only a first year student I'm afraid that simply isn't going to happen."

"What about you being able to cover those gaps with your magic, like you said? I can get stuff, that's not a problem, the problem is you being able to put it together."

Lee sighs and shakes his head. "It simply isn't enough. I can stack Phemes on top of themselves until they reach the sky, even you can do that, but I simply don't have enough fundamental knowledge to pull this off. There is a reason why wizards aren't perpetually a day or two away from being an omnipotent expert on any subject that suits their fancy. Understanding and knowledge are two different things, and no amount of magic will compensate for that."

"What does that even mean? I've cast spells on myself before, why can't you!?"

"What I'm saying that mere spells aren't enough. Could you cast enough magic to allow yourself to single-handedly craft all the pieces of a pocket watch and put it all together, and than infuse it with all the complex enchantments to make it run even after running afoul of a stray Negation? Could you empower yourself enough to lift an entire building with Negation? To freeze an entire lake with Incantation, or to turn the entire sky purple with Glamour? No. The spells you have understanding of simply aren't good enough to allow that no matter how much knowledge you grasp for or how well you cast any magic. There's limits, and it's those same limits that I've run into. Crafting a golem to the specifications of a minimally functional human body is a significantly harder task than I had estimated. A finger alone consists of so many moving parts, all of which would have to be crafted and assembled so perfectly, that I simply cannot do it. And that's if it's even possible. I hate to say it, but even if you were to become a master of all types of craftsmanship overnight it still might not be enough. There's certain limits to the materials we have access to that we simply might not be able to overcome. Not without several airships worth of enchantments, but those could possibly interfere with the voice's control over the body if it ends up overpowering it's 'will', to put it one way. Not to mention that if you wish to protect those enchantments against the laws of Negation that would only add even more to their necessary complexity. So unless you can not only become a master craftsman overnight and possibly the world's leading expert on Negation...it's simply not possible."

You march up to Lee and glare him and all his work over. Not that the latter can really perceive it, but it's the thought that counts. "Oh...fine, what's the problem, than? Why couldn't you craft even a single finger and what issues do the materials add?" Lee takes a roll of parchment and hands it to you. You unfurl it and look it over, quickly realizing that it's a diagram of how Lee probably intends (or intended) to craft one of the golem's fingers. And you're taken aback by how many parts there are. There's easily over a dozen, many of them attached to at least three others. You sit down, still looking over the diagram, and say to Lee, "Why are you over-engineering this so much? Can't you just cast a roughly cylindrical roll of metal and call it good?"

"How do you expect your voice to to bend such a finger?"

"Eh, magic? I mean I remember what you said about a golem needing to be designed with strings, but isn't this just excessive?"

Lee shakes his head. "Could you cast a spell that would allow a random branch of wood to grab a rock like a hand?"

"Eh, yeah? That's easy."

"And could you cast a spell that would allow several anvils worth of metal to dance like a actual hand-crafted marionette?"

"Well...no, but...is this really necessary? Like, I get that a golem like this is going to be complex but this is just excessive." Again Lee shakes his head, and your anger is slowly being replaced with dread for incoming disappointment. And, not coincidentally, increasing amounts of disappointment...

"To be perfectly honest this is not excessive enough. A golem build to these specifications is going to have very little options in the way of movement, and be likewise limited with hand-based work. As I said, I was going for functional. A golem like this will not be able to even attempt to pass for human, not without enough Glamour to make it literally invisible. I'm not an expert on this subject, so I couldn't give you an accurate guess, but rest assured that this way your voice would be stuck with a body the size of a mid-teen that has the locomotive abilities of a toddler. Not to mention, the expressive abilities of a stone. If you want to come up with a better design be my guest, but even this relatively simple one I couldn't craft to save my life."

Hanging your head you can't help but let out a sigh. Of course it wouldn't be so easy. And apparently you're still hungry for bad news because, for whatever reason, you ask, "And materials? There was a problem with that, as well?"

Lee nods, which you can just barely see out of the corner of your eye. "Simply put, I can't imagine what we'd even craft this golem out of. Wood is too flammable, stone is too heavy and brittle even if we craft it from granite, metal is likewise too heavy no matter which metal we end up using, and of course there's plenty of metals that have a problem with rusting, so water would also be a problem...simply put, there's no material out there, at least that this materials knowledge book mentions, that would be suitable without brining up a host of problems."

"Even flesh and bone?" you ask, noticing a second later just how incredibly dark that sounded because of how casually you asked that question.

"Other than flesh and bone, true, but unless you know how to collect and preserve the corpses of one or two, what, thirteen- or fourteen-year-olds that's no less an unrealistic solution. And I hope you don't."

Lee's matter-a-fact answer to your question drives the point home that this discussion has officially gone places where you're not comfortable with following it, so with another sigh you slowly stand up, preparing to leave before you end up in a situation you'll regret. Like the one you're in right now, to name just one example. "Lee? If...if I study as hard as I can, get as much of the basis covered as possible and somehow, somehow, manage to craft that golem...could you extract the voice from me and place my voice in it?"

Lee stares at you again, studying you or just thinking or whatever it is he does that you can never see because of that darned mask of his, and after what feels like far too long he shrugs. "My Master did record how he managed to extract those who came before me and I've the means to replicate that process, or at least the means to study how it's done. But as for crafting the 'brain' that would power the golem, no, that is something you'd have to determine on your own. Further, not to hammer yet another nail in your dream's coffin, but I've also done some considering about how anyone would maintain such a golem's body after it's created. Needless to say, that will bring up issues in it's own right, particularly if we use metal for the moving parts because that would somehow have to be kept lubricated so as to prevent significant wear and tear. Some of these parts are far more complex and oddly connected than the gears in a large clock, after all."

Yeah, at this point you feel like you've heard enough. So what are you going to do?

"This isn't over, Lee. I'll study myself into the ground and when you see me next year...you better be ready."

"Ready for what?" Lee asks.

"To start working on the crafting project to end all crafting projects. I don't care how many obstacles I'll run into or how often I bang my head against them until I finally discover a solution, but Gods willing before my next school year is up I'll have this voice removed from me and placed inside the body that I imagine."

Lee lets out a sigh, and before you leave asks, "And how are you going to accomplish that?"

"By working myself and everyone else I can manipulate to the bones. I don't care how, but I'll make that happen no matter what. This isn't over, Lee. Trust me. This isn't over..."
--- +1 Strength, +1 Dedication SL, END ADVENTURE ---

Cliffhanger! Of course, you're not going to craft a human-style golem in Y1. But, Y2? Will that allow you enough fundamental skill to use magic to cover the rest?

 

...Maybe. Depends if the adventure exists in the first place, and if it does, whether this path will exist as well. Whole lot of "if"s, but "if" it all works out...there'll be some fun to be had by the PC and Lee alike as they try to complete their masterpiece. Whole lot of details...and those might not work out.

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